San Francisco Chronicle on Spain Rodriguez (1940-2012)
Friday, November 30, 2012
Spain Rodriguez: Zap Comix artist dies by Kevin Fagan. Read the article at www.sfgate.com.
Hard-charging biker. Class warfare revolutionary. Pioneering underground cartoonist.
Loving family man.
That was Spain Rodriguez.
From his role as one of the original Zap Comix artists with Robert Crumb, to his work as a founder of the Mission District murals movement in San Francisco, Rodriguez influenced generations of cartoonists and illustrators with a gritty, in-your-face approach to urban life.
He continued to do so until his death Wednesday at his San Francisco home - inking a poster printed this week for a concert honoring the labor movement and Woody Guthrie.
Mr. Rodriguez was 72, and had battled cancer for six years.
"He was an archetypal character, somewhere between crazy artist crossed with left-wing radical crossed with working-class Latino hood," Crumb, who lives in France, said in a documentary made this year by Mr. Rodriguez's wife, journalist and filmmaker Susan Stern. "He had a big influence on me through his artwork.
"He was top-of-the-line in that generation of underground, breakaway cartoonists," Crumb said.
Engagingly witty, Mr. Rodriguez met Crumb, Art Spiegelman and other seminally lefty artists in the late 1960s in New York, where they were all creating the new cartoon art form that became known as underground comics.
Mr. Rodriguez had recently dropped out of the Silvermine Guild School of Art in Connecticut and created Zodiac Mindwarp, the first underground comics tabloid, when Spiegelman got his first dose of the man in 1967.
"I met him in some sort of street demonstration, and he sort of scared me because he looked like the kind of person who would beat me up instead of showing me how to draw a hand better," Spiegelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of the graphic novel "Maus," said with a chuckle. "But over the years he mellowed out more and more.
"It was kind of astounding to see this street guy come into his own - everything from a family man and a community artist to a well-grounded revolutionary. He's the real thing, a great artist."
Born Manuel Rodriguez in Buffalo, N.Y., to a Spanish immigrant father and an Italian artist mother, Mr. Rodriguez permanently dropped his first name in favor of "Spain" as a youth. In his most recent book, "Cruisin' With the Hound," he recounts how as a young man he rode with the outlaw Road Vultures Motorcycle Club, worked in a telephone wire plant and cultivated a love of rock 'n' roll.
"When I was a kid I kinda didn't like rich people ... I just kinda had a bad attitude," Mr. Rodriguez said in his wife's documentary: "Trashman: The Art of Spain Rodriguez."
"My hopes are that mankind will build a more just society," he said.
Stern met Mr. Rodriguez in 1977 when she interviewed him for a magazine story about underground comics. She recalled that right away, "I thought he was hot." They have been together for 33 years, marrying 23 years ago.
"Spain was so his own person," said Stern, whose film is running with her husband's current exhibition at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo. "He was completely, authentically, humbly himself.
"He could be humble and a bad-ass because he was an artist. He was always observing the world."
Among the nationally published cartoon characters Mr. Rodriguez created were Trashman, a street fighter against oppression of the wealthy class, and Big Bitch, a sort of sexually charged female counterpart.
In addition to Zap Comix, he contributed work to the New York Times, Mother Jones and Hustler. His books include "Che: A Graphic Biography," and "Dark Hotel," one of the first online graphic novels. At the time of his death, Mr. Rodriguez was working on a graphic history of the 2004 San Francisco hotel workers strike.
Passionate about his Latino heritage, he helped found the movement that created murals with Crumb and others throughout the Mission District in the late 1960s and '70s. Mr. Rodriguez also created props and sets for Ralph Bakshi's movie "Cool World," staring Kim Basinger, as well as posters for the San Francisco Mime Troupe and work for Frank Zappa and Charles Bukowski.
Museums that exhibited his work include San Francisco's M.H. de Young and Museum of Modern Art as well as the Whitney in New York.
He is survived by his wife and his daughter, Nora Rodriguez, both of San Francisco; and his sister Cynthia Rodriguez of New Palz, N.Y.
Services are pending.
Kevin Fagan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/art/article/Spain-Rodriguez-Zap-Comix-artist-dies-4075158.php#ixzz2Diu4ynXb