Ink & Anguish: A Jay Lynch Anthology

Ink & Anguish: A Jay Lynch Anthology

Jay Lynch is the underdog of the first wave of American underground cartoonists. Had he been born 30 years earlier—or later—fame and fortune might have been his as a comic artist. Lynch went through much personal struggle to stay afloat, but he kept going, and always produced first-rate work.

Lynch was much-loved in the cartooning community—he was down-to-earth, approachable and helpful. In 2004, Lynch helped me gain entrance to the weird world of Topps Chewing Gum and gave my first batch of Wacky Packages gags a telephone critique. (He liked them.) Topps turned out to be a nightmare to work for, due to their chronic poor communication, and I ultimately walked away in frustration. But none of that was Jay’s fault, and I remain forever grateful for his kindness. Plus, it gave me the chance to have several long phone convos with him—talks full of laughter and strongly stated opinions.

Lynch’s worldview and personality seeps out of the pores of the amusing, detailed and singular comics, cartoons and illustrations in this first-ever compendium of his work. It’s an apt tribute to the artist’s life and work. It also shows the astonishing progress Lynch made as an artist.

Lynch is best-known for his “Nard ‘n’ Pat” series—an old-school style strip about a hapless, hat-wearing divorcee and his smart-ass cat companion. Like Robert Crumb and Bobby London, Lynch was inspired by the low art that he saw throughout his childhood. Early appearances in Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine and decades of work from Topps got Lynch’s work broad circulation—although he never signed his Topps work until the 21st century.

The comics contained in this volume are comical—sharply written, flawlessly constructed and, as the years go on, increasingly impressive as cartoon art. Lynch founded a Midwestern underground style, with Bijou Funnies, which also featured work by Crumb, Kim Deitch, Skip Williamson, and other major cartoonists, being his major contribution to comix. A hard worker, Lynch pursued the sheer craft of cartooning. By the mid-1970s, his comics and illustration work have a dazzling professional sheen. Gone are the callow, tentative lines of his work c. 1968—every pen stroke is unerringly right, and in service of whatever he’s illustrating. His 1970s color work for such magazines as Oui, Details, Gallery, and the Chicago Sun-Times is first-rate—and very much of its time. Given what a smart social satirist and deft humorist Lynch is, his talent feels wasted on the likes of Oui, but Lynch was always a professional, and his most commercial work still bears his stamp of individuality and quirk.

Ink & Anguish gives the reader a sense of who Jay Lynch was while introducing (or reconnecting) them with his legacy of comics art. Lynch’s was an unconventional life. Outspoken in his likes and dislikes, Lynch was not a hippie. If anything, he belonged to the Beat Generation—a party he arrived at late but kept going until the end of his life. Lynch admired hard-hitting, boundary-pushing people like comedian Lenny Bruce and publisher Paul Krassner. One of his final published pieces is the intensely detailed wraparound cover for an anthology of cartoons from Krassner’s magazine The Realist.

Patrick Rosenkranz’s biographical interludes are well-written and put Lynch’s art and world-view into intelligent context. Towards the end of the book are a suite of stories intended for an autobiographical comic—from which this book gets its title. These stories were done in collaboration with Ed Piskor, and it’s fascinating to see Lynch’s detailed story roughs and then read the slicker finished Piskor versions. Among these strips is one of my favorite Lynch pieces, “Chester Gould,” which recounts a surprise visit Lynch and Crumb paid the eccentric Dick Tracy artist at his tower studio in the Chicago Tribune building. Alas, both rough and final version, which are formatted like a half-page Tracy Sunday comic, are printed without regard for page gutters, and the middle of this great piece is impossible to read without breaking the book’s binding.

Lynch was a contributor to Mineshaft, the digest-sized magazine of comics and prose that is one of America’s great magazines. He drew some of his most detailed pieces for the magazine, and many of them are reproduced here.

Ink & Anguish is a hefty, satisfying account of Jay Lynch’s life and work. I think Lynch would have liked it. It neither praises or exaggerates—the work speaks for itself.