Sunday, June 9, 2024

Artists I Like: Vaughn Bodé

Another great artist who has had a profound influence on me is Vaughn Bodé*. Many of you will be saying "Duh" right now.

I have went through a few different broad artistic phases in my life. One of them, perhaps the most profound, to be honest, was during my 30s (I turned 30 in 2000). It was not until around 2001 that I first got my dirty hands on any Vaughn Bodé books. His style and influence had already seeped into my work via other routes, most notably the 1977 Ralph Bakshi film Wizards. Now, the history of that movie is that Bodé and Bakshi were working together on it and Bakshi for damn sure took a shit load of Bodé's style and work directly into the film. But Vaughn died in 1975 and thus was unable to continue that work. There is a lot more to that whole story, including a lot of bad vibes between Bakshi and Vaughn's son Mark, but that's a story for another time.

The point is I didn't have direct experience with the artist's work until I was in my 30s and it was about that time that I hit a mini mid-life crisis of identity. And, consequently, my entire artistic approach was reborn. I found my voice. And the work of Vaughn Bodé was instrumental in making that happen.

Bodé was one of the names in the 60s/70s underground comix movement, though he wasn't part of the whole San Francisco scene. He was editor of the East Village Other for a time, which was an arty tabloid, a kind of underground answer to the Village Voice, I think.

He was prolific as absolute fuck. I mean seriously. The man died at age 34 and left behind countless comic book pages, stories, tons of book covers and interior illustrations, and inspired the modern grafiti movement. By age 34 I had barely found my own artistic voice.

What drew me into Bodé's work was the immediacy of his forms and lines, and the utter lack of filter. His comics, such as Deadbone Erotica and Cheech Wizard, had zero fucks to give when it came to being polite or decent. Tits, ass, and dicks were frequently drawn. Hell, just look at one of his little lizard guys... they all have a little dick bump. It's super fun. But also... satirical and scathing. Some of Bodé's pieces are so extreme they are very hard to look at today, not only bordering on "is this OK??" but crossing over into "I'm pretty sure this is not OK"**. But he was clearly trying to make a point, not just being an edge lord. From commentary against war and capitalism, to commentary against racism and sexism... he was saying a lot.

Vaughn described himself as bisexual, pansexual, omnisexual, transvestite, transsexual, gay, hetero, and all of the above. He clearly did not want to be put into a box. 

*BTW, you can type "Bodé" with the accented "e" by using Alt+0233 on your standard keyboard. Maybe on a Mac it's like Macbutton+0233. I don't know Macs.

**For example, some of the Deadbone strips feature strongly racist caricatures of Asians. Also, many of the strips feature women being murdered and otherwise assaulted. Though, to be fair, it's still within that context of "making some kind of social commentary point". Sometimes I get it, other times I don't get it. But this is the complex and difficult relationship we have to have with complex and difficult material. It's not cut and dry. The creator is not a shining beacon of purity, he's a troubled, clouded, brilliant, beautiful human being whose work shocks, amazes, and fills one with wonder. And sometimes cringe.

Page from the original Cobalt 60. Drawn on typing paper, I believe.

Collab with Larry Todd.

Cheech being himself.


  1. Cobalt 60 will always hold a place in my heart. It's too bad that no one did a full series of comics on Necron 99 (speaking of Bakshi stealing from Bodé).

    1. Yeah. What would have been super awesome is if Bakshi and Bodé had teamed up and made a Cobalt 60 animated movie. I Know Mark Bodé has been trying for many years to get a Cobalt 60 movie off the ground, but so far no luck.