The Beats, The Li’l Depressed Boy and Populist Literature

Ethan Rilly’s Pope Hats, Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve and S. Steven Struble and Sina Grace’s The Li’l Depressed Boy #15 reminds MICHAEL D. STEWART about the Beats’ desire to bring common language to fiction and poetry.

What brings me to comics like The Li’l Depressed Boy, Pope Hats and Optic Nerve is that they each express an authentic “from the heart” quality using the conventions of comic storytelling. The Beats used their own lives, however dramatized, as the foundation for their works, whereas these comics too draw from the experience of their authors and the “true to life” understanding of their readers. Their formation influenced by other more traditional comics; they take the real world, the world of dead end jobs, youthful indiscretions, popculture enthusiasm and struggles for identity to engage a public lost in the aftermath of post-modernism.

Kerouac too was influenced by comics. As Tomine illustrated in one of his early Optic Nerve issues, Kerouac loved the Shadow and other pulp heroes. His novel Dr. Sax was based on a Shadow-like pulp character he created in his youth. That he would later explore pulp-style stories within his own stream of conscious writing style–famously derided as “typing” by Truman Capote–while still desirous to continue the semi-autobiographical prose that made him famous, gives me a sense of loose connection between the iconoclasts of counterculture and the cartoonists of comic subculture.

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Image: Pope Hats by Ethan Rilly

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