Fluke Fanzine Presents: Loisada
"When Bobby took the reader out on the street with him he always translated "down and out" into romantic and attractive."
So says the foreword in Fluke Fanzine's 12th installment, a "Presents: " issue where the entire issue is a series of Bobby Madness comics comprising "Loisada," a story named for Madness' slightly hackneyed rendering of "Loisaida," a Puerto Rican diasporic name for Manhattan's Lower East Side. I didn't know Bobby Madness well before this but I had unknowingly come across his work in a Cometbus anthology I had that was so big I literally could not take it with me in my cross-country move because it got left out of some boxes last minute.
"Loisada" is a story about Bobby and his friend Chris living the punk lifestyle in the Lower East Side in 1980, bouncing around between punk shows, drug dens, women slumming it, and then a brief adventure to the suburbs. It opens with some folks with needles in their arms and proceeds pretty much as you'd expect.
Bobby is 14-15 at the time – a little shit squatting around NY and pretending he's a tastemaker; but, really, who better to stir up shit?
The comic has underground bona fides: it is raw, there are typos, even sometimes lead-ins to pages where the sequences of words don't make sense. Panels are unfinished, but Madness has chops. He does a lot of cool things with a page and with his story.
I'm a sucker for breaking panel conventions to create textures. In the top left Chris's angular shoes click through a panel border that dumps down into a caption. Chris's starry-eyed NYC ramblings are framed by this border while he himself becomes all angles. I like the extra touch of his tie turning into a real cynical stock-market-spike shape too, dovetailing with other more direct but not overdone contempt for Reagan and what 1980 represented the beginning of.
I love how sardonic the bit is on the left, and how on-the-nose the bit is on the right. Madness often expresses his cynicism through his own voice (the benefit of being on the page as a cynical teenager!) and rarely has to make someone else say some unbelievably dumb shit to get his point across. But just after a page titled "PUNK SHOW" he has a guy step up to the mic and say "Anti Regan and stuff man yeah!" It's just so self-aware and so good! The whole comic is him buying the punk viewpoint so to have this page make this guy look like such a dingus feels so real.
And then, of course, there's Reagan talking about prosperity next to Bobby head first in a dumpster. But "Bobby head first in a dumpster" is the whole book! The streets are the book, they are the place where they sleep and where Bobby tells drug dealers to fuck off and where they fight and where dickhead cops wail on them for no reason. Reagan wasn't a fixture for him: he was part of the backdrop. He was a talking head at best.
For that this image rings way more true than a lot of other political satire. There is no context to drum up, no tension to manufacture in order to make some insidious point about Reagan. Here he is and there they are, where they always are.
Well, I guess it helps that Reagan looks like a fucking corpse here. And Madness is very good at drawing how he feels about people.
That's Madness rendering The Cramps' lead singer Lux Interior. "CRAMPS" is rendered in drips, as his his recap of the show on the right, but even without these panels I would describe Interior as "dripping" over the crowd: it's just how this panel feels. His back straight as an arrow, his pointing finger drooping, his hair drooping, his back side pulling downards towards the ground. You can feel that Madness didn't think Interior wasn't cool, but he did think he was completely fucking loaded. In fact I would argue between the words and the picture, the only thing the words and picture agree about is just how loaded he was that night.
To the left is Madness's most detailed drawing of his friend Chris. Look at that hair! This is the beginning of a page of Madness saying nothing particularly nice about Chris, ending in a note that he will probably die an early death (he has since passed). It makes the slightly crooked, dirty drawing of him look earnest. Still, I feel a lot of love in this picture, although it could be me projecting the various Chris's I've had in my life (I'm thinking of one in particular, a pot dealer who I once unwittingly B&E'd with to drink beer and watch an Arkansas Razorbacks game: "Pig fuckin' sooie").
To the right is Johnny Ramone, during a telling encounter in which Bobby shouted his name but realized he had nothing to say, a really hard moment for him where he got that anti-social imposter feeling. Here Johnny really just looks like some dude (almost like a Family Guy character) but with a dumb shit Ramones haircut (although I guess that's what Johnny looked like?? This is not my scene). The "just a guy at a bar" look really feels like a projection of Bobby's social anxieties and disappointment with himself.
Later he finally makes it to a Ramones show, a really cathartic but melancholy moment for the book, and Johnny is depicted once again, except this time he's on stage and all haircut + power chords.
A moment that got me choked up came during Bobby's exile to the suburbs after getting strung out by some cops. The whole book to this point has been cathartic musical moments at shows, outside of clubs, or fighting inside of record stores. But here, all we see is a close up on some speakers. I generally try to avoid "could have ... but instead ..."-type praise when I talk about comics these days but god damn am I glad that Madness took us in right next to these speakers for this moment.
It made me feel like I was getting a quick reminder: "it's still here, it's still real;" or, rather, I was viscerally but vicariously experiencing Bobby's connection to the music, something that honestly would not have had a distinct feel to it if everything was just ambient pot smoking and musical notes. It's a small thing, maybe, but it didn't feel small when I was reading it the first time.
Madness ends the issue with a few paragraphs on how he can't believe how New York has changed since the last time he was there, along with the obligatory "holy shit Williamsburg." The page above is another of my favorites: just that door and the dimensions of everything feels so Manhattan to me it's hard to fathom (and the hair).
I tend to roll my eyes when people lament fucked-up cities cleaning things up a bit independent of gentrification, but to his credit that's not the path that Madness traces: he explicitly talks about immigrant communities and gentrification in his lamentation. And, shit, even if he didn't, part of me feels like as a part Jewish kid squatting around the Lower East Side he at least earned some of the right. Plenty of panels other than these offer oddly incisive cross-sections of a complicated-ass city: there's not really a question for me that it was his city for some real period of time.
I have very little interest in punk. I've liked one hardcore band ever (Comeback Kid's first two albums are amazing) and one pop punk band ever (I would take up arms for MxPx to the surprise of everyone who knows me) but I find stuff like The Ramones and The Cramps intensely boring. The lifestyle is miles from anything I was raised around and the music doesn't sound like the classic rock I was raised on or the rap that grabbed my ear from age 10 on.
Still, I'd say the two closest-to-punk shows I've been to were Melvins concerts. Once in Williamsburg, and then again in Echo Park.
Talk about gentrification.
Both times, I shit you not, on the walk back to my car from the concert, I passed nearly identical hollowed-out-storefronts that had been converted into... fiddle-playing space? I don't even know how to describe this. It's like there's just... a store that isn't a store anymore, and someone in the corner plays some real Arcade Fire shit and people who are dressed in thousands of dollars of clothing (ironically cheap-looking in Echo Park) are sitting around and listening over-attentively.
I thought I was entering a fugue state when I passed this shit the second time in Echo Park, coast-to-coast, both Melvins concerts, almost a decade apart.
It felt like a stamp on this strange but real privilige that I have to curate my cultural experiences from the comfort of my own home. Even if I'm not the wannabe yuppie bohemian pretending that I like every guy with a beard crooning the same two fucking notes and stomping on a box, I'm still a tourist even within the scope of my own interests: I can't live that shit, man! Or, at least, I'm not, right?
"Punks shake up the status quo --" says Chris, "They don't just zombie walk through life."
Maybe being a punk was performative, but what the fuck do you call my comic reading habits when this is what I do after I read them?
Having no real organizing principle – lacking even an apparently vacuous one, or a silly one – for approaching art, for criticizing art, for navigating and descending upon art as a community is increasingly scary to me. Because maybe punk misses the target, maybe those insufferable yuppies miss the target; but like, there's a target, right? Enjoyment? Fulfillment? If there's a target and we're not "part of a movement" then what are we? Aimless? Is that better?
It can't be.