Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lunar Tunes

Edited and augmented from two pieces originally published at Booksteve's Library in December of 2005.

Wallace Wood died in November, 1981, but in those pre-Internet days, it was early December before I learned of it with the arrival of Cat Yronwode's BUYERS GUIDE obituary in my mailbox..just a few days before my mother's death. It was a rough Christmas. In a way, Woody was almost like family. I had grown up with his DAREDEVIL, T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS and Warren stories, then discovered his MAD work in reprints by age 10 and his EC sci-fi classics as a teenager. I taught myself to draw by copying Kirby and Wood. I was an early member of his personal fan club, FOO, the Friends Of Odkin, in the late seventies and was totally blindsided by his suicide.
After his death, a number of previously unpublished pieces have come to light, the best of which was probably a picture of Nick Cuti’s MOONCHILD and a surprisingly good (and perhaps older than it supposedly was) sci-fi short story printed in THE COSMIC BOOK. Perhaps the worst were the few pages of LUNAR TUNES printed in the final real issue of Woody’s legendary independent magazine, WITZEND.
A few years ago now, David Spurlock’s Vanguard Productions issued THE COMPLETE LUNAR TUNES and did their best to put a positive spin on it. It didn’t work. Taken as it is, it’s an incomprehensible mess with more than half of it clearly screened, pasted up from Woody’s legendary "swipe" file or traced from his own earlier work. Although supposedly intended as a single piece, I’d bet anything it was intended to run…somewhere…in sections, almost like a daily comic strip. This explains the frequent punchlines that are followed by the creator’s philosophical moments before starting up again in a completely different direction a page later.
Taken in context, however, LUNAR TUNES offers a unique, disturbing look into Wood’s tortured mind just prior to his ultimate decision. He was a lonely, bitter, sad, soft spoken, alcoholic, gun loving country music fan who was beloved and admired by thousands who never even met him. After years of abuse, his body was failing him and he seems to have been trying to get his feelings out in the only way he ever seemed to succeed…in his art.
Eschewing any kind of coherent storyline whatsoever, LUNAR TUNES ostensibly stars Bucky Ruckus, from Wood's great 1967 syndicated newspaper Christmas strip--the youthful astronaut with the nifty space/time machine seen on the cover. Also traipsing across the Zipatone lunar landscape are Nudine and Pip from WITZEND’S PIPSQUEAK PAPERS, Snorky the alien from SALLY FORTH and literally dozens of the artist’s throwaway humorous freaks like those that once decorated the covers to DC’s PLOP and the overpacked crowd scenes in his MAD stories.
Wood’s oft quoted "Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace and never trace anything you can cut out and paste in." appears twice and, as stated, he clearly used it as a guide here. His vision was gone in one eye and with it, his sense of depth. Much of his other late work, including the second WIZARD KING book and the second GANG BANG porn comic he did to make money for medical treatments (the third issue was older reprints) were clearly finished by lesser assistants but this looks to me like all Wood, even if it is cut and paste. He was reaching out in the best way he could at that point but nobody saw it. Nobody knew. As I said, if you’re a Wood buff, you’ll recognize stuff from his WOODWORK GAZETTE as well as poses and layouts from a dozen or more better Wood pieces. It will also give you a bizarre look into the mind and imagination of a dying artist who just hadn’t made that final choice yet. If you’re not familiar with Wally Wood, whatever you do, don’t start here. This was the End.
My mother died of cancer that Christmas but we had been expecting that and as hard as it was, I could deal. When I opened that week’s CBG and saw a full cover of Wood art, I was at first ecstatic, then I saw the birth to death dates and I knew he was gone.

The other piece here is the unfinished front and back cover wraparound to THE WALLY WOOD SAMPLER, a fanzine project I began but abandoned in 1982. It was my way of dealing. A few years later, I lost my father in December, also. Decembers are tough. I’m still dealing.

Interestingly enough, in the early nineties, my wife and I lived in a third floor apartment in a lovely, tree-shaded area of the city here known as Wallace Woods.

3 comments:

  1. Good Lord!! No really good stuff here, I think I own collection by him, including Lunar Tunes. I first caught onto him by reading Mad's in the early early 60's. His art just stood out as too good for the magazine.

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  2. I just re-read the COSMIC BOOK story I mentioned above and realized that it, too, is quite a bit of rehashed images and pasteups--just nicely painted up for inclusion in the comic.

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