Rory Hayes' work finally gets attention
Friday, November 21, 2008
"My kid could draw that!"
No doubt you've heard that phrase spouted at a modern art gallery
once or twice. Perhaps you've even uttered it yourself, along with a
snarky, "That's not art."
We tend to have set-in-stone notions about what constitutes art, and
can get riled up when confronted with something that doesn't meet our
Comics fans in particular can be a conservative lot, trumpeting the
ability to render a contorted, physically perfect human specimen
above all else.
But does a high degree of artistic skill and craftsmanship
automatically result in the ability to make great comics? After all,
comics are as much about pacing, timing and narrative dexterity as
they are being able to make pretty pictures.
Take the case of Rory Hayes, for example. Hayes was a member of the
underground comics movement of the 1960s, though he tends to get
relegated to the background, behind more well-known figures such as
Hayes is finally getting his due in "Where Demented Wented," a
collection of his work from Fantagraphics Books edited by Dan Nadel
and Glenn Bray.
Part of the reason Hayes slipped under the radar was because he
wasn't as prolific as his compatriots. Nor did he have their artistic
chops; his art, at least initially, comes off as amateurish and
stiff. His early death, at the age of 34 in 1983, no doubt played a
part as well.
But probably the biggest reason he never achieved much recognition
was due to the intensity and stark horror of his unique vision. Here
was an artist who gazed into the abyss and drew what he saw.
Hayes' initial comics were gory homages to the EC horror comics of
the 1950s, usually featuring knife-wielding teddy bears plotting
The turning point seems to be his attempt to do a sex comic. Hayes
used the opportunity to pour out every misogynist and misanthropic
fear that welled inside him, resulting in the most unerotic (and just
flat out grotesque) pornography in history.
From there on out, Hayes' comics become more psychedelic and
narratively disjointed, but also more gripping and fascinating.
There's the strong sense of exorcism at work here, that Hayes was
driven to put this material on paper, perhaps hoping that by giving
his demons voice he could silence them.
That didn't work. Hayes eventually died of a drug overdose, as the
heart-breaking afterword by Hayes' brother Geoffrey (also an artist),
Hayes' work is not easy to digest. But it is visionary and
compelling. The guy knew what he was doing.
CHRIS MAUTNER: 255-8481 or firstname.lastname@example.org