Monday, December 02, 2013

A Long, Strange Strip

Though never a fan of the Grateful Dead, I always enjoyed interpreting song lyrics in comic form, so I happily accepted an invitation to contribute to Kitchen Sink's Grateful Dead Comix in 1991. 

I'd done comix adaptations of song lyrics in the past, many of which appeared in my friend Mary Fleener's minicomix series Chicken Slacks. I illustrated songs by Louis Jordan, Ben Vaughn, The Residents, Half Japanese, the Velvet Underground, and Beaver & the Trappers. 

To prepare for the Grateful Dead project, I picked up a book of GD lyrics to look for something that suggested a narrative, and finally settled on "Tennessee Jed," with words by Robert Hunter.

My original art was black & white, which the publisher photographed and converted to a two-layer "blue line" for coloring. Back then, the line art was shot onto a clear acetate overlay, and the artist applied color to a second layer of Bristol board, was printed with the art in pale blue. I added color to the foreground characters by painting on the reverse side of the acetate with animation cel paints, then used the Bristol board layer to create the textured backgrounds, applying a combination of ink, paint, colored pencil and collage, including several wallpaper samples. It drove the printers crazy, but it worked out all right.

I recently ran across scans of the eight-page story on a Tumblr feed called The Bristol Board. It was rather flattering to see this tagged a "forgotten masterpiece."

The comics were also collected in a book. The paperback version is readily available today. There was also a snazzy hardcover version, in an edition of 500 copies, which included a plate signed by Jerry Garcia. 

Each contributor received a copy of the hardback, which was a nice little bonus. I sold my copy long ago (for much more than my page rate!). I still have all of the original art, if some fanatical Deadhead is interested in buying it as a lot. For each page there's a tight sketch on tracing paper, the black & white inked art, and the two-layer colored finals. All serious offers will be considered!

Oh, and I still can't stand their music.

1 comment:

  1. What is it about their music which doesn't really appeal to me either? Strange cuz I like other stuff similar to theirs. Oh well, s conundrum to take to my grave for pondering.