Saturday, 3 November 2012

Rand Holmes (1942-2002)

The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective (Fantagraphics Books, 2010)
by Patrick Rosenkranz
(from The Blog & Mail #408 & #409, 24/25 October 2007)
Apart from my one-hour signing [at the 2007 TCAF] (and thanks again to all five people who showed up) the only other thing I was scheduled for was the Tribute to Rand Holmes panel Saturday morning with Jeet Heer and Rand Holmes son, Ron. Very small turnout -- the place really emptied out after the Finding Nemo panel -- but among the audience members were Robert Fulford, Chester [Brown] and Chris Oliveiros, the Drawn & Quarterly publisher. The panels were all held in the second floor chapel (or "chapel" as the boys would have it in the program booklet). Odd to think that it's less than a hundred years since the day when no self-respecting gentleman's college would be without its chapel. Jeet started things off by explaining that the artwork in the presentation featured nudity and explicit sex, so if anyone was of a strict religious persuasion and was apt to be offended he suggested that they should probably leave before we got started. So, I got up to leave. Which I think might have gotten a laugh, but my hearing's so bad, I might have imagined that part.

Ron had a lot of artwork done in powerpoint format and since I really only knew the oversized Collected Adventures tabloid collection (which I bought new at Now & Then Books back in '72) and the comic-book sized Hitler's Cocaine second issue it was quite an eye-opening experience to see all of the alternative newspaper Georgia Straight covers Holmes had done during the same time period in that same amazing, meticulous Wally Wood style. (Georgia Straight is a play on Georgia Strait, the body of water between the mainland and Vancouver Island). On stage, I basically just described how difficult the Wally Wood style is to do and attempted to point out the feathering on one of the covers but (I've had this problem before) you can't get it with slides or scans or enlargements. So I tried to describe it as best I could.

I had no idea that Rand Holmes was a real Daniel Boone back-to-nature type. I knew he had bought a place on a remote island off British Columbia (north of Washington State on the "left coast" for the geographically challenged among you) only because I had gotten an invitation earlier this year to a retrospective that included the notation "Please RSVP if you plan to come as this is a remote community and transportation and accommodation need to be pre-arranged." Had this been back in the "gravy train" days I would have been there like a shot. Alas, it was about four months into having to run this whole operation solo and there was just no way I could justify the expense.

It turns out that Holmes used to work on his comics for six months of the year and then basically would just live off the land for the other six months of the year. Since my idea of "roughing it" is black-and-white television, I found that pretty impressive. There is an "Art of" book in the works right now and Ron talked about that a bit, as well as showing slides of Holmes' later paintings which he had switched to pretty much completely from comics work in the last decade of his life.

After the panel, I was standing and talking with Chester and Chris and asking if they were interested in grabbing some lunch somewhere (a complete novelty: I never eat at conventions until the day is over) and Ron came up right at that point so I invited him to come along. So we got a chance to talk to him some more about his dad and look at his own artwork (he had a sketchbook with him). He had a big meticulously crafted picture book of photos from the Rand Holmes retrospective on Lasqueti Island that I hadn't been able to get to. Everybody in their homespun clothing, a big communal meal laid on for a few dozen folks, the whole thing looking like every hippie commune from the 1960s I had ever imagined. I pictured me in the middle in my sports jacket.

"Hey, how about that George W. Bush, eh? Doesn't he have this whole Iraq thing by the short-and-curlies or what?"

And then we started talking about a Complete Harold Hedd volume and how that might sell. I guess Rand had to sell some of his artwork toward the end there but the oversized Harold Hedd has clean enough reproduction that you could probably get away with filling in the blanks with scans from it. Then we got into the whole Ron Turner at Last Gasp, Denis Kitchen at Kitchen Sink thing. Rand Holmes went from one to the other at some point and I guess Denis was pitching Kathy (Rand's widow) to have the same kind of relationship he has with the Eisner and Kurtzman Estates. Ron didn't know what the situation was with Ron Turner. Well, I said, I'd be happy to muck in a bit if he thought it would help

(one of the advantages of being Crazy Dave Sim: I told him if he wanted he could tell Ron Turner that Dave Sim was ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth at TCAF about him ripping off Rand Holmes. Chester and Chris laughed) It was a very enjoyable lunch and certainly made me wish that I had actually met Rand Holmes at some point.

What we finally agreed on was that I would write Ron Turner a letter and Chris could do the same and just see what that did. So this is what I wrote:

28 August 07

Hi Ron:

I met Ron Holmes, Rand's son, last week at TCAF – I was part of a panel saluting Rand on his induction into the Doug Wright Awards Hall of Fame – then went out for lunch with Ron and Chester Brown and Chris Oliveiros of Drawn & Quarterly. Basically Ron was asking my advice on what the estate should do about Rand's posthumous relationship with LAST GASP and the now-defunct KITCHEN SINK. He said that you had contacted the family a while back when they had the celebration dinner/fundraiser out on the island but he was kind of vague as to what it was that you had to say.

Evidently Denis Kitchen is pushing hard to become the same kind of rep that he is for the Will Eisner and Harvey Kurtzman estates, both in terms of intellectual property rights and original artwork. What I told Ron is that I think he has to get a clear statement in writing from you as to where everything stands as you see it and where you see it going from here and then he and the estate have to look at that and see if that aligns with their own thinking.

I frankly told him that this is why I push for self-publishing. My best guess is that you deal with the Harold Hedd material the same way that most underground material is dealt with and has been dealt with from day one. You print up a batch and when those are gone you print up a batch more and you pay people when you can afford to do so. I told him that thought it was unlikely that there were untold tens of thousands of copies being pumped onto the market that you haven't paid royalties on and that it's just as likely that you ran off a thousand back in 1982 and those are still trickling out the way most underground comix are still trickling out. Ones and two's here and there when someone who is interested notices that he (or she) is out of them. Or the reality could lie somewhere between the two. My point on self-publishing is that if you don't have access to the actual orders, print runs and profits then you have no way of knowing what is actually going on.

He and the estate do seem inclined to put out a definitive Complete Harold Hedd Collection at some point. My advice there was to do a POD version first to test the waters. If you get orders for a grand total of 28, then you're probably best to just leave things as they sit, with Ron printing up a batch when he runs out of the current batch and maybe get something in writing about getting custody of the negatives if (God forbid) something happens to Ron or LAST GASP.

I'll be writing about the situation on my daily Blog & Mail which has a time lag of roughly two months between when something happens and when I actually get around to writing about it. I do move things up to the head of the line and out of order if they seem like they are in the This Calls for An Emergency! category. I don't see this situation as being like that. It seems to me just another "Here's why I think you should self-publish" cautionary tale for cartoonists. If you're at all worried that someone is ripping you off, self-publishing is the only way to make sure that that isn't the case.

I'm not sure if I'll hear from Ron again – people come to me for advice all the time and when they don't get the advice they want that's usually the last I hear from them – but it does seem like an important enough issue to warn cartoonists about. If you want to contribute anything to the piece, as I say, you have at least a good month-and-a-half to do so. I'll let you know if I do hear from Ron or the estate. I told him I would be happy to at least send you a fax on this (I still don't have e-mail: one of the last hold-outs) and discuss it on the Blog & Mail but apart from that I figured it was just a matter of everyone putting their cards on the table and seeing how everything shakes out that way. At that point, I can't see me or anyone else having anything valuable to contribute.

Hope you're well and that you're still able to make a go of it in these dry-as-dust days. I might be contacting you about the protocol for reprinting Jaxon's Testicles the Tautologist from Skull No. 3 as part of a series of "Where the humour in Cerebus came from" articles in Following Cerebus. I haven't heard back from Craig Miller, the publisher (who is a real All-Mainstream Guy) but I thought I would give you a heads up .


Ron called a few days later and we ended up talking for a good hour or so (on his nickel!) about our experiences at the opposite ends of the 1970s. Unexpected names we had in common like Mike Friedrich whose Star*Reach experiment really constituted the bridge between the underground and the Direct Sales market ("He used to come around here a lot and pump us for information about printers, discounts, all the technical nuts and bolts"). It turned out that the situation was pretty much as I guessed it was. All of the Last Gasp books were basically done on a handshake deal and (this I had not known) the artists were paid in advance for the entire print run on a given issue. He had finally sold the last of the oversized Collected Adventures Of Harold Hedd the year before and still had a few hundred of the comic-book sized #2 in inventory. He went through the sales history for the last few years and it was pretty meagre. By way of comparison, he went through the sales history for the latest issue of ZAP – which is really the gold standard for undergrounds – and it wasn't a whole heckuva lot better. This is Crumb, Spain, Shelton, Mavrides we're talking about here.

I asked him if he still had the negatives for the Harold Hedd material. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Somewhere." There had been a lot of Last Gasp's printers go bankrupt over the years and in that situation (as Chris Staros and I found out with Preney) you just make sure you get the negatives out of the environment and under your own roof as fast as you can. I pictured the mound of cabinet drawers that dominated the library downstairs for months and the folders I still haven't gone through. And I only had one title to be concerned about. Same situation with Bob Chapman at Graphitti Designs and the Young Cerebus negatives he rescued from Epic Magazine... or the Watchmen negatives he had when DC was getting ready to do the deluxe anniversary edition. "They're here somewhere." Subtext: Listen, Dave, if you want to fly out here and go through the metric tonne of negatives I have sitting in piles looking for the Young Cerebus stories, you just let me know and I'll have a nice lawn chair waiting for you out in the warehouse.

I hate to be Johnny One Note about this, but it really does point in the direction of self-publishing. It was pure happenstance that Bob was in the right place at the right time to rescue the Young Cerebus negatives. When Epic Magazine became a moribund property for Marvel Comics, the negatives became expendable from the corporation's point of view. All the more so because the material was creator owned. A corporation's first question is always going to be "What's in it for us?" particularly when it comes to storage space and prime Manhattan real estate and looking at the remains of Epic Magazine, it didn't take a PhD in business management to figure out that the answer was "Not a whole lot". Marvel probably pays per square foot in rent what I pay in property taxes on the average room here at the Off-White House.

The situation was very different with Preney Print. Having sold the vast majority of my artwork over the years, I was always aware that Cerebus' future was housed in those negatives and the Preney Brothers were made aware of that. They invested in the flame retardant cabinet that houses the negatives to this day because of my emphases on the subject. They knew they were personally and professionally liable and, given that A-V was their biggest customer, took steps to minimize the risk to whatever extent that was possible. When their own bankruptcy became imminent, they focused on the negatives and made sure that they were a top priority... and that communicated indirectly to the From Hell negatives as well. After Kim and Ger and I had unloaded all of the negatives and stacked them in the library and Ger's former studio, I snapped Kim a salute and told him he was relieved of his command. It wasn't a joke. He heaved an enormous sigh of relief that the weight of those negatives was off his shoulders for the first time since the 1980s and we all went out for a coffee.

So where does that leave Ron Holmes and Rand Holmes' legacy?

It's not the easiest of situations that Ron Holmes finds himself in. It could be worse but it could be a lot better. My suggestion to him was to put together as close to a Complete Adventures Of Harold Hedd book as he could with what was there and then figure out what wasn't there and see about tracking it down. From there I suggested Print on Demand for the sake of testing demand. If the demand is there, you can always go to a prestige hardcover coffee table format up ahead. If the demand isn't there then you don't want to get caught with a printing bill for 1,000 hardcovers and orders for nine of them.

From what Ron Turner told me, this isn't an especially unusual situation. Not naming any names, he told me a couple of anecdotes about several famous underground cartoonists who never bothered to get divorced although they left their wives decades ago and now Ron is having to deal with these not-quite-ex-wives with nothing to support his own position but the handshake agreements he had with the guys in question and his word that he paid them for every copy in his warehouse (the shift to books from periodicals finally put an end to his being able to pay the cartoonist for the whole shot at the time of publication and that's caused some ruffled feathers as well among some of the guys who liked doing business the old way). It comes with the territory, but it's another example of how being a "free artistic spirit" with no interest in "boo-jwah" oink-oink The Man legalisms like Legal Final Decrees can look like the most ethical way for a sincere revolutionary cartoon equivalent of Che Guevara to go through life and end up, instead, causing enormous headaches for someone it has no business causing enormous headaches for. Where do you think the not-quite-ex-wife is going to go looking for her "fair share" of the money that was spent on dope back in the early seventies? Your dope dealer?

Surprisingly, Ron isn't bitter about any of this stuff. He reminisced about Rand: how he had come and lived with Ron for a period of time after he broke up with someone, things like that. I hope Ron and Ron can work something out because, at the very least, I think Ron Turner can fill in a lot of the blanks in Rand Holmes' life story as chronicled in the proposed "Art of" book that no one else can. I told Ron that at the tribute I had said that I would love to have been a fly on the wall when Spain and Crumb and all those guys first saw Rand Holmes' work: what it was like for all those bred-in-the-bone EC Fan-attics to see a fellow underground cartoonist who could actually DO (as opposed to fake) Wally Wood. And not just a cover or a one-time "what the heck" panel. No, Rand could DO Woody page after page after page. All that meticulous feathering and the beautifully spotted blacks, the clean edges, the double lighting on faces.

"Oh, they were jealous," Ron said, laughing. "You better believe they were jealous."

Well, if anyone is interested in contacting Ron Holmes or Rand Holmes' widow Kathy and getting on a mailing list for information about the forthcoming book or maybe buying a print or two, I'm sure the interest would be appreciated. I mean, don't be a pain in the neck, but if Rand Holmes and Harold Hedd were as important to you as they were to me and Chester and Chris, it's always nice to hear it when you have as much of a personal stake in it as Ron and Kathy do. Looks like they haven't changed the email address, it's still randholmes [at] hotmail [dot] com.

And if anyone wants some copies of Hitler's Cocaine or ZAP's or any of the other undergrounds Last Gasp published, they are still in business and completely computerized. You want 20 copies of ZAP #8, Ron will be able to tell you in a few seconds whether he's got them and where they are.

And thanks to Ron for being another old coot in this business that I had so much to talk about with. And (like I say) on his nickel! You can't beat that with a stick.

The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective by Patrick Rosenkranz was published in 2010 by Fantagraphics Books. Holmes' life story is richly illustrated with drawings, comic strips, watercolors, and paintings that span his whole career. The full-length Harold Hedd comic novels, Wings Over Tijuana and Hitler’s Cocaine are reprinted in their entirety together for the first time.