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SchizophreniaReview - Schizophrenia
by Vaughn Bodé
Fantagraphics Books, 2001
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Jan 15th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 3)

The work here called Bodé/Schizophrenia was written in 1973 and appeared first in black and white in 1974; it is reproduced for the first time in color.  Vaughn Bodé died in 1975; the cause of death is not given here.  Indeed, there’s no explanation of who Vaughn Bodé was or why the publisher, Fantagraphic Books, thinks that it is worth reprinting this artwork.  Also in this 128 page book are “Confessions of a Cartoon Guru,” which is mostly a journal entry about himself; black and white comic-strip works called “The Man,” Scratch 22,” and “January 7, 1973;” a color comic strip called “Larry Stickletodd;” and a few other images from Bodé’s work. 

The themes in these works are solitude, humans versus nature, the expansion of consciousness, eroticism, self-denigration, the violence of humans, and suicide.  Bodé seems to rail against society and its restrictions, small mindedness, politics and intolerance.  Reading through these pieces, one gets a powerful sense of Bodé’s strong emotions, a mixture of tragic sadness and exuberant celebration of himself.  The journal entries are the most distinctive and bizarre pieces here; they go on for pages, sometimes almost incoherent.

My mind blows on goes my body whirls and twirls, like a hot Rock DERVISH, orange Buddha cloth flowing.  I sing, dance, chant, and laugh into ecstasy.  I cry for hours, like BLLEDING a river from every pore until I AM GASPING ALL AWARENESS OF LOVE, the huge “SORROW OF LOVE.” 

 

Don’t go back, please, stay up and see how to see as you’ve never seen before.  What is man without the SON to show light and grow their seeds.  ALL MY ONE, WHO ARE YOU NOW? FEEL THAT INTONESS OF FAR BEING? FEEL SONGS UNSUNG YET DREAMED?  We are YOUR GIFT FROM HIGH WE ARE, DO YOU KNOW? 

The art style has a psychedelic flavor to it, and there are plenty of mushrooms and speaking insects and reptiles, as well as stars and planets.  His drawing is confident and lively, and the work here is distinctive and challenging.

            Nevertheless, the ideas here now seem dated.  It has been quite some time since the idea of acid-trips as journeys of exploration were in vogue, and the when Bodé says that his cartoons are “the reflected experiences of a ‘real’ other world place. … I’m simply going back into my head and capturing what I see and hear.” it seems like he might be capturing his hallucinogenic experiences. 

            This book may well appeal to those who don’t recoil at the mention of the word “hippy.”  The sensibility behind this work is firmly in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and Bodé died when this movement was just past its peak.  For someone like myself, who was far more influenced by the punk movement, the word hippy is a clear insult.  But I still like the music of Marc Bolan and T. Rex, and I can see the appeal of Bodé’s work. 

            In one of the journal essays, Bodé mentions Robert Lindner’s book The Fifty-Minute Hour.  Bodé says he when he read the book, he “cried like a lost boy threatened in some giant darkness.”  “I was struck numb, petrified that I could be ‘cured’ of my own universe.  Fortunately for me, unlike Lindner’s patient, I had chosen art ... for my work, an art form that demands an intensely active imagination, cartooning.”  It’s interesting to speculate what experience Bodé had of the mental health system, and whether he was ever given a diagnosis – his journal entries certainly seem manic at times.  It’s also tempting to read manic depression into the highs and lows that Bodé depicts.  But of course, that’s a terribly simplistic way to approach an artist’s work. 

            That still leaves the question why he called one of his major (autobiographical?) pieces “Schizophrenia.”  In the 1970s, as the ideas of psychiatrist R.D. Laing started to enter into popular consciousness, and the work of French historian Michel Foucault and the Deleuze and Guattari published their work on capitalism and schizophrenia, there was some tendency to see schizophrenics as heroes in a struggle against the oppressiveness of modern society.  My guess is that this is how Bodé saw himself, and so whether or not he was diagnosed with a mental illness, he identified with the character of the schizophrenic as he saw it, which is to say, a visionary and a rebel. 

             

© 2002 Christian Perring

 

Links:

·          Fantagraphics Books

·          Poem Toons: A collection of illustrated poetry by Vaughn Bode.  (Slow to download images)

·          Vaughn Bode Site

·          VAUGHN & MARK BODÉ

·          Cheech Wizard Animated Cartoon by Mark Bode

·          Mark Bode web site


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