You remember Robert Crumb, right?
That guy who unleashed a flurry of wacked-out psychotropic hand-drawn fantasies that burned up the retinas of potheads in the 1960s via his seminal ZAP Comix? Well, here in Taos, there's a guy named Michael North, 48, who is carrying on the tradition begun by Crumb, and he's ready to launch the first issue of his Taos Comics Sunday (April 1).
So pervasive was Crumb's reach in the '60s and early '70s, a whole crop of homegrown newspapers and comic books flooded cities and towns where counterculture freaks hung their beads and headbands. In them you could find everything from organic gardening tips to cool ways to decorate your roach clips to serious reporting on the sociopolitical upheaval surrounding one Richard M. Nixon.
It was all revolutionary and subversive, and done as a way to take the media by the horns and grind it into a grassroots network owned by no one and nobody.
Along those lines, North has been quietly nurturing the ideas behind his new venture in the only place one would imagine could provide the most fertile ground: The Mesa.
"I originally did it because I wanted to make something satirical based on actual people, places and events, and maybe just blow it out of proportion a little bit to make it funny," North said in an interview after Tempo noticed a recent Facebook post about his impending publication.
As one might imagine, North finds a lot of material out there to provide inspiration.
"You don't even have to be a writer. You could just look around you," he said. "I'm not a writer anyway, so, this is perfect."
North's comic is all hand-drawn in black-and-white pen-and-ink to a size he can easily copy old-school style. Each weekly issue will cost about a buck, but if the idea takes off and he starts making a little money at it, the price might go up to $3.
"I'm more of an artist, but everybody's saying I'm doing a really good job writing this because I'm breaking people up into factions and making a big drama out of it," he said. "I realized since I'm telling it from the point-of-view of 'me,' the main character, I wanted to write his origin, and the more I wrote this character, the more complex he got. He started to remind me of a Marvel superhero named Moon Knight. I was thinking, 'Wow, I should make it like him.'"
That character is called the Mesa Warrior, a Mad Max-like, tactical-outfitted dude who wanders the mesa and gets into all sorts of adventures … and stuff.
While the satire and humor remains, North said that as he continued to draw, some of the story became more dramatic.
Interestingly, North, who was born in Peekskill, New York and came to Taos from Atlanta, Georgia about five years ago, said he gleaned a certain amount of his inspiration from his mom. "She was one of the most prolific medical illustrators of our time," he said. Her name was Peggy Firth.
On the website for Firth Studios (firthstudios.com), North writes, "It is with great sadness that I announce Peggy Firth's passing on the night of July 18th 2015. She was taken very suddenly by liver cancer. She was an amazing woman who dedicated her life to the traditional pen and ink crafting of medical illustrations. As her son I helped her work make it into the new digital age, and it will be a life goal of mine to show the world what she has done for it."
North said he worked closely with his mother, assisting her with the production of her illustrations. After she passed, he said he has embarked on finding his own artistic path.
"I didn't know what to do at first," he said, "So, I went around to people that have lived here for a long time and I asked, 'Do you have any cool old true stories? And, sure enough, I got some great ones. You know, this town has a lot of dark stuff, a lot of dark stories, so I'm kinda leaving that stuff out. I'm just focusing on the really amazing things, and the things that really make us unique."
The first issue comes out to 12 pages and includes a cover, a story and even some ads. "I didn't even have to do any marketing. I just put that thing up on Facebook that you saw, and people started calling me wanting ads. I'm not only designing the ads for them, but this one guy I'm making a superhero for his ads, and we're going to do a spinoff, a little 'zine just for him. This is going way better than I thought it would."
Beyond Taos Comics, North has some ambitious plans. Aside from finding some reliable studio space in town, he said he's also looking at creating a consortium of sorts called the Taos Comics Group made up of like-minded illustrators and storytellers to help flesh out his comic and maybe even create others.
He has an art degree and has worked in illustration almost all his life. "Just never for myself," he said. With an issue slated to publish each week, North said he's also thinking of bringing in some help.
Those interested in helping him with stories, time or expertise can call (575) 741-9086. "Just give me a call and we'll set up a time to talk," he said.
So, watch for North selling his new comic on the streets of Taos. Be sure to tell him to keep on truckin'.