The great underground cartoonist Justin Green passed this weekend. Here's an expanded version of the piece I wrote about my 2004 encounter with him in the early days of this blog. This one’s adapted from a blog post from 2005.
In 2004, at the Barnes and Noble where I was an Assistant Manager, my Manager, Jennifer, got a call from a "Justin Green" asking us to stock his latest book. He said he’d like to do a booksigning. She handed me a note with his phone number telling me to deal with him and set up a signing or not as I pleased but that she had more important things to do. I was, like, “Is this THE Justin Green?” She was clueless and told me to ask him when I called him back.
Do you know Justin Green? Along with R. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Vaughn Bode, S. Clay Wilson, Spain, Trina, Jaxon, Jay Lynch, Skip Williamson, Frank Stack, and Dan O'Neill, (among many others) Green was one of the pioneering writer/artists of "Underground Comix." If you're under a certain age, you've probably never even seen an Underground. Birthed in the early sixties, they flourished briefly a decade later, not just pushing the envelope on controversial subject matter but tearing that envelope open, chewing it up, and setting the leftover bits on fire! The sex probably shocked Larry Flynt, the violence perhaps curdled the stomach of Charles Manson, and the political sentiments were decidedly left-wing, much to the chagrin of the Republicans in power at the time!
The undergrounds also invented the autobiographical comic. You know, the type that wins all the awards these days and gets reviewed in TIME. Justin Green's BINKY BROWN MEETS THE HOLY VIRGIN MARY was easily the most prominent and influential of these. Based on his Catholic upbringing, it remained in print from Last Gasp for many years, more recently collected as a graphic novel itself along with some of the artist's other works.
It turned out that yes, it was indeed THE Justin Green I called, a spectacularly modest, soft-spoken white-haired man who now lived in Cincinnati and made his living doing freelance design work and signs for businesses.
This was a man whose work I had discovered in THE BEST OF BIJOU FUNNIES back when I was still too young to be reading Undergrounds. He is a living legend, featured in 2004’s NEW SMITHSONIAN BOOK OF COMICS (along with his wife, Carol Tyler!) and even cited by reluctant media darling Robert Crumb in interviews as a major influence!
Needless to say, I arranged the autographing for his book, MUSICAL LEGENDS, for an upcoming Saturday afternoon. He arrived on time and I had a table all set up for him in a prominent storefront area but, sadly, few people stopped to chat with him, let alone buy his book. Thus, I hung out as much as possible with him myself, talking comics and getting him to sign a copy for me at least. He seemed very surprised that I was so familiar with his work for some reason. He invited me to come see his studio here in town but I was too awed to take him up on that.
Justin Green deserves to be celebrated because he started something new and he did it better than just about anyone, directly or indirectly inspiring hundreds or thousands of others over the years. Thank you, Mr. Green! And thanks for allowing me to spend a memorable afternoon with you at B&N that day.
Rest in Peace.