Kuchar and Comics

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Every year, the Academy Awards feature an “In Memoriam” segment, where the Oscars acknowledge the filmmakers and performers who’ve died since the previous year’s ceremony. During this year’s broadcast on February 26th, avant-garde filmmaker George Kuchar (1942-2011) was listed in the necrology, his image borrowed from his role in perhaps his best known film, Hold Me While I’m Naked (1966).

On The Comics Reporter, Tom Spurgeon briefly noted that Kuchar had drawn comics. Tom wrote, “Arcade contributor and experimental filmmaker George Kuchar apparently made the ‘In Memoriam’ section. So that’s nice. I watched re-runs of The Wire.”

Kuchar’s comics appeared in the first three issues of the underground comix anthology Arcade (all published in 1975), and perhaps his most famous Arcade piece was a three-page humor strip featuring H.P. Lovecraft in Arcade #3 (Fall 1975), which was later reprinted in the first edition of Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft (2002). (Here’s a link to one of Kuchar’s Lovecraft pages and a biography of Kuchar on the Graphic Classics website.) There’s more to Kuchar’s comics connections, however, than Arcade.

Currently available on Netflix Instant is a documentary, It Came from Kuchar (Jennifer M. Kroot, 2009), which chronicles the lives and careers of both George and his filmmaking twin brother Mike. It Came is charming; the brothers Kuchar come across as endearing, slightly creepy, hyper-articulate visual artists whose art and friendships frequently spilled over into the comics world. We see George’s cartoony paintings–of his brother, of voodoo rituals, of a big-breasted Bigfoot, of other monsters like the mythical Jersey Devil (above)–and we see Mike’s drawings for the comic Gay Heartthrobs (such as the cover below). 

It Came also covers George’s collaboration with Curt McDowell, another filmmaker and Arcade artist, on the two-and-a-half-hour long polymorphously perverse pornographic epic Thundercrack! (1975).

In his interview in It Came, Bill Griffith talks about meeting George in San Francisco in the early 1970s, and says that Zippy the Pinhead was partially inspired by “the way George spoke, and the way his mind worked.” It Came also includes clips of Art Spiegelman acting in a couple of unidentified early-1970s movies directed by George. In one of these clips, actress (and Spiegelman’s then-girlfriend) Michele Gross-Napolitano tears Spiegelman’s T-shirt off his body in a sexual frenzy. But as George notes, casting Spiegelman and Gross-Napolitano in his films

helped break them up. She got involved with another guy who was a producer of one of our pictures. But it helped Art, ’cause he moved out of here, left, and he found a new woman with a printing press.

There’s even a brief interview with Boiled Angel creator and censorship martyr Mike Diana, who stars as a janitor and weightlifter in a Mike Kuchar beefcake film titled Statue in the Park (1993). I’d recommend It Came from Kuchar to anyone interested in underground comics, cult cinema, and the cultural history of beefcake.

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