Spain Rodriguez, Underground Cartoonist, Dies

I cut my comics-lover’s teeth on Trashman, the underground anti-superhero and the creation of Spain (Manuel) Rodriguez (known through the strips only as Spain). He died last week at 72 from cancer.

I used to trace his drawings of the brawny, weapon-wielding mass of muscle, in the hope that I could publish in the East Village Other and Gothic Blimp Works. I eventually worked at the former, but never got my comics published there. And I knew why. The great underground comix artists, like Spain, were so far beyond my reach.

Spain Rodriguez. Photo courtesy Susan Stern and Nora Rodriguez

Trashman (a.k.a. Harry Barnes, who looked a lot like Spain, but, unlike him, was able to change his molecular structure when necessary) was the brilliantly rendered hero of the working classes, champion of radical-left causes, and enemy of the plutocrats. Like Gary Panter’s later Jimbo, Trashman’s world was a dystopian America, which after a nuclear war has become a fascist police state. Funny at times, poignant at others, it was a black comedy that took the 1960s established order to task. Spain once said he took great “pleasure in kicking ass.” And that’s what his comics did so well.

When I became the art director of the New York Times Op-Ed page in 1974, Spain was among the first artists I called upon. I used him on the Letters to the Editor page, but even that small spot filled me with satisfaction. I can recall that vividly, even now.

Read more in the New York Times obituary. And see this short video, Trashman: The Art of Spain Rodriguez by Susan Stern. And if you’re near Buffalo, New York, be sure to check out the exhibition “Spain: Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels & Revolution” at the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College, on view until January 20, 2013.

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