The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective

Written and compiled by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60699-170-1

Randolph Holton Holmes was a unique individual: a self-taught artist who grew up troubled, found peace and sufficiency if not fame and fortune and died far too young (March 15th 2002). Now this superb retrospective compilation and biography, featuring scads of sketches, reproductions of drawings, cartoons and the paintings he created in his later life are preserved with a copious collection of his wickedly wonderful underground and alternative comic strips for fans and soon to be devotees.

As usual I’ll deliver here my warning for the easily offended: this book contains comic strips never intended for children. If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or beautifully illustrated scenes of explicit sex and unbelievable comedy violence, don’t buy this book and stop reading this graphic novel review. You won’t enjoy any of it and might be compelled to cause a fuss.

I’ll cover something far more wholesome tomorrow so please come back then.

Rand Holmes was born in Nova Scotia on February 22nd 1942 and raised in Edmonton, Alberta (yes, in Canada). After a rather remarkable early life (no clues from me – the whole point is to get you to buy this book) which included honing his prodigious artistic talent by absorbing the work and drawing styles of Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman (who bought Rand’s first profession sales for Help! magazine) and most especially Wally Wood, he became a jobbing cartoonist and illustrator at The Georgia Straight in 1969, one of the many youth-oriented counter-culture or “underground” newspapers that blossomed during the period.

Whilst there he created his signature character Harold Hedd which ran as a regular strip, and was assembled in 1972 into a hilarious adults-only comic-book The Collected Adventures of Harold Hedd. A second volume followed a year later. Married young and always restless, Holmes generated an astounding amount of cartoon and comic work, appearing in White Lunch Comix, All Canadian Beaver Comics, Slow Death, Fog City Comics, Gay Comics, Dope Comics and Snarf among many others.

He was by inclination a totally liberated sexual and political satirist, and his meticulously lush and shockingly explicit strips often obscured or masked powerful social commentaries by being just too damn well-drawn. He produced strips for Rolling Stone and Cheri magazine. In the 1980s he worked briefly in the mainstream comics market when the Direct Sales revolution first flourished, producing EC flavoured yarns for Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds and reuniting with long-time publishing collaborator Denis Kitchen for horror anthology Death Rattle and the fabulous mini-series Hitler’s Cocaine: the hip, trippy, spectacular return of Harold Hedd (included in its entirety in this volume).

He had married a second time in 1982 and moved his family to the idyllic, isolated artistic community of Lasqueti Island and increasing concentrated on a self-sufficient life-style, with oil-painting replacing cartooning as an outlet for his relentless artistic drives. He built, with other creative hermits, an art centre that has become his monument.

He passed away from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2002 and this book is the result of the first retrospective show compiled by his family from the treasury of superb material he left behind.

As well as a photo-stuffed and highly engaging history this volume contains all manner of artworks from early doodles to teen cartoons, illustrations and covers from his commercial art days, sketches, paintings, fascinating excerpts from the journals he kept for most of his life and a wonderful selection of his comics work.

Those last include many ‘Out to Lunch’ hotrod strips, early Harold Hedd pages from the Georgia Straight, sexy horror yarn ‘Raw Meat’, assorted ultra-nasty Basement Man tales, ‘Nip an’ Tuk Those Cute Little Fuzzy Mices’, Harold Hedd in ‘Wings Over Tijuana’ and an unfinished story, as well as the aforementioned ‘Hitler’s Cocaine’ saga, ‘And Here He Is… the Artist Himself’, ‘Killer Planet’, ‘Junkyard Dog’ (written by Mike Baron), ‘Mean Old Man’ (written by Rob Maisch) – a powerful yarn that smacks of autobiography and the artist portion concludes with a gallery of the stunning paintings that filled his later days.

Rand Holmes was a true artist in every sense of the world and mostly produced work intended to change society, not fill his pockets. This book is a wonderful tribute and one any grown-up art lover will marvel at and cherish.

© 2010 Patrick Rosenkranz, with the exception of the Rand Holmes diary entries which are © 2010 Martha Holmes. All artwork © 2010 Martha Holmes. Individual comic stories © their respective writers. All rights reserved.