Greg Stacy’s FAT LOT OF GOOD

January 4, 2007

There’s a Shadow on the Fair…

Filed under: Art,OC Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 11:05 pm

(Published in OC WEEKLY… Oh, let’s say 1998 or so.)

 Circuses scare the heck out of me, they scare the heck out of you, and they scare the heck out of everybody else. Let’s all just admit that right now. Hapless drifters being fired out of cannons, men with greased mustaches snapping whips at surly beasts, guys with missing (or extra) fingers trying to sell you bags of greasy, overpriced popcorn. And the clowns! Lord, don’t even get me started on the damned clowns. Those floppy shoes, the greasepaint dripping down their necks and staining their hideous clownsuits, the mirthless cackling. Oh, the horror, the horror.

Roy Hassett’s art achieves the seemingly impossible; he takes the world of circus and carny folk and somehow makes it seem three times as skuzzy and nightmarish as it already is. A typical Hassett composition features a sneering, troll-like little girl-creature riding a swing that hangs from the gaping, toothless maw of a wild-eyed elephant. The colors are psychedelic in their intensity, and the linework squiggles across the page like thousands of little neon worms. The clowns and other carny folk in Hassett’s art reek of failure and perversion and shame; you get the feeling that they’ve run away with the circus because they had nowhere else to go. If you took way too much acid and stayed up all night reading Something Wicked This Way Comes, the resulting hallucinations would play like a particularly chipper Disney cartoon compared to the freaky world to be glimpsed through the window of Hassett’s work.

Drawn with those eyeball-blistering, citric colors that only magic markers can provide, Hassett’s work has the weird, crude vitality of the best outsider art. But this outsider is actually an insider; in real life, the weirdest thing about Hasett is how very unweird he apparently is. Yes, Hasett does work for the circus (at least in a sense), but no, despite what his drawings would lead you to imagine, he’s not the salty, half-mad old cuss who sweeps up after the animal acts. As half of the Hasett and Davis Co., Hasett is a marketing whiz who books games and rides for fairs and carnivals all over the land. In a wacky little twist of fate, one of Hasset’s recent gigs was Long Beach’s Fourth Street Fair, which took place a few weeks back and mere yards away from Artscape, the delightfully funky little gallery-boutique where Hasett’s art is currently on display. Step through Artscape (be sure to check out Rick Frausto’s fantastic little monster-robot sculptures, recently raved about in these pages by our own Rebecca Shoenkopf) to the little room-within-a-room at the back of the gallery; journey within, and you’ll be surrounded on all sides by Hasett’s work, an experience I suggest you prepare yourself for with a strong meal and perhaps a shot of liquid courage. Hasett has somehow taken the colorful, corrupt spirit of every circus everywhere and penned it up in one little room, and those four walls are putting out some NASTY energy.

There’s plenty of nastiness to be found just a few doors down from Artscape at The Metamorphosis show at the cavernous Long Beach studio gallery recently re-christened The Space (it was previously known as the ARK Gallery), along with lots of charm, some real stunners, and a dab of the usual art-school bullshit. As soon as you enter, your eye is caught by two works zig-zagging across the floor like big origami snakes; Carol Powell’s Girls in T-Shirts & Underwear and Girls with Teddy Bears feature depictions of preadolescent girlie hijinx drawn in a moody, noodly style with what appears to be a bic pen. It’s more subtly disturbing, and more poignant, than Hasett’s work, calling to mind some of the best prisoner art. By comparison David Knight’s two paintings, Jump and Dream, are more technically accomplished yet infinitely less interesting; Jump depicts a chair engaged in an Evel Knevel-style daredevil act, jumping through a flaming hoop and emerging with its upholstery unsinged, while Dream shows a chair in the midst of a Henri Rousseau-like mirage. Knight’s obviously grasping for surrealism here, but unfortunately these paintings do not so much evoke the dream-state as they simply make you drowsy.

Your senses are jolted back to wakefulness by Jim McCamant’s Self Portrait, a solid gold turd mounted on a wall plaque (I still haven’t figured out if this guy has zero self-esteem or if he really needs to get over himself), while Vladi Komanska’s two works, the pleasantly hideous collage Lovely and the wacky-ass acrylic painting There is a Frog in Everyone, leave you feeling concussed and whoozy, in a good way. Unfortunately somebody has to tell Komanska that the little Black Flys and Parental Advisory stickers he adorns his work with aren’t quite the clever touch he apparently believes them to be. His art isn’t tied to a specific era, yet those stickers ensure that it’ll seem dated by the century’s end, if it’s not already. It might not be too late to save these paintings; I’d strongly reccommend that Komanska gets busy with a razor blade, some sand paper, and a little turpentine… whatever it takes to get those damn stickers off of there. Greg Lama’s Flying Lama is an odd bird, literally; a creature of the air cobbled together out of feathers, little leafy bits from artificial plants, and the remains of a Klingon spaceship model. Can’t say I get his point, but I applaud his ingenuity in devising such a thing. Misha Mar Heo’s Archetypal Barbie, on the other hand, strikes me as being both haphazardly crafted and groaningly obvious. It’s Barbie… and she’s knocked-up! For decades Barbie has endured the barbs of feminists, wise-guys, and snooty cultural critics, and it’s hardly affected her at all; she’s simply gone about her merry way in her fantastic plastic world, working hundreds of careers simultaneously (everything from tending the counter at Mcdonalds to being an astronaut, and this was years before Sally Ride) and yet still finding plenty of time to frolic with all of her little plastic pals. Jeez, no wonder so many little girls grow up to hate her so. Artists can (and do, endlessly) put Barbie in bondage gear, cut off all her hair or smear her with menstrual blood, but they’ll never succeed in wiping that little smirk off her face. If Heo thinks she’s gonna take Barbie down a peg by sticking a bun in the old girl’s oven, she’s got another think coming.

While Heo’s Barbie is about as shocking as buttered wheat toast, the same could hardly be said for Antonio Tomaselli Montalva’s She Waited Screaming, a small treasure hidden in The Space’s east end. Montalva’s sculpture depicts a fearsome, sphinx-like female creature with big cat haunches and wiggly wire claws. She’s not much larger than Heo’s Barbie, which you’re thankful for. This girl eats fellas like you for breakfast and then gobbles up real tough guys for lunch. She’s the scariest little wonder in the dark carnival that’s currently camped on Fourth Street. Step right up!

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December 28, 2006

The Man Behind the Eightball: Dan Clowes dares to keep clowns off drugs

Filed under: Art,Geekery,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 2:00 am

(Published in OC WEEKLY… uh, sometime in the ’90s. Probably ’97 or so, around the same time that Clowes had one of the Ghost World girls declare that they hated anybody who could ever write for an alternative newsweekly. Sigh… I still love you, ladies!)

Picture this: A strange invader – part human, part mid-’50s tin-toy – has just parked his rocketship above the streets of a gray urban metropolis and climbed down a rope ladder. Clearly, he does not come in peace. With one metal claw he beats upon a little war-drum mounted to his belly, with his other claw he brandishes a pistol firing thick spurts of a pink, mutagenic goo vaguely resembling Pepto Bismol. This slimy stuff has already transformed much of the city’s population into grotesque, unhappy-looking freaks, and the homely, inexplicably naked nuclear family cowering in the scene’s foreground are clearly the next in line for transmogrification. All would be lost, but a green ray has just blasted a hole in the stunned spaceman’s groin. The ray is being fired from outside the scene, from just about exactly where we’re standing. The fate of the world, it would seem, rests in our hands. A mysterious apparition hovering over the action complicates things still further: it’s the bland face of a bald, bearded, bespectacled older gentleman who bears a striking resemblance to Sigmund Freud. He holds something in his hands that looks like a remote-control device. Does he control the killer spaceman? Or is he us, firing the ray that saves the day?

This scene of cartoon carnage graces the cover of Eightball #18, the latest issue of an amazing periodical from cartoonist Dan Clowes, and it serves as an interesting contrast to Clowes’ earlier work. Clowes first made a splash on the comics scene in the late ’80s with the debut of Lloyd Llewellen, a campy, seriously retro comic that chronicled the adventures of the book’s titular character, an early ’60s swinger who was constantly getting entangled in ginchy sci-fi adventures involving aliens and beatniks and curvy dames with big, B-52-style bouffants. The book was one long, snide, adolescent giggle, and when it folded in 1988 Clowes’ small cult of fans must have assumed he’d soon be back with more of the same.

But with the publication of the first issue of Eightball in 1989, it was immediately clear Clowes’ work had undergone a major evolution. Like a Velvet Glove Cast In Iron, the saga Clowes began in issue #1, had a truly nightmarish quality. Velvet Glove began just as Twin Peaks was hitting it big, and the articles comparing Velvet Glove to Lynch’s work were endless. Indeed, there were parallels to be drawn – Clay Loudermilk, Velvet Gloves’ feckless protagonist, lives in an irrational, violent, vaguely Eraserhead-like America where monster births and dismemberment are treated as little more than creepy inconveniences – but while the Lynch of the early ’90s was an artist in rapid decline, Clowes’ talent was just beginning to fully blossom.

Early issues of Eightball featured entertaining but relatively lightweight satirical pieces that might have been more at home in the pages of Lloyd Llewellen. In fact, Lloyd actually starred in a couple of them before Clowes dropped the character for good. The best of these pieces was probably the Dan Pussey stories, which took a long, unblinking look at the absurdities of the comic book industry and its artistic domination by books about super-powered guys in their underwear. (In an interview, Clowes once noted that there’s hardly anything “natural” about the marriage of superheroes and comic books: “What if every novel or film was about clowns who took drugs? It would be just about as strange.”) Clowes later admitted that poor Dan Pussey, the terminally repressed superhero artist who starred in these stories, was a nightmare projection of the geeky hack that he himself nearly became, which perhaps explains the passion, almost hysteria, of these strips’ attacks on the comics industry’s stagnant and polluted “mainstream”.

Once Velvet Glove and the Dan Pussey stories were completed, Clowes’ work underwent yet another startling evolution, as the artist ditched most of the wise-guy attitude that had made his name. Caricature, the main story in Eightball #15, tells the heartbreaking tale of Mal Rosen, a self-deluding soul who travels the land, eking out a meager existence drawing caricatures at county fairs. He’s managed to get by for years without realizing just how desperately lonely and unfulfilled he is, until one day when he meets Theda, a troubled teenaged girl with whom he strikes up an ambiguous friendship. As a recovering caricature artist myself I can say that Clowes gets every miserable detail of the profession exactly right, right down to those awful, all-too-frequent moments when a family plops their literally deformed, developmentally disabled child in your chair and expects you to make the kid look “funny”. The relationship between Mal and Theda feels just as true. Few stories in any medium, and none that I can think of in the tragically underused medium of comics, have handled loneliness and narrowly missed connections with such depth and grace.

As good as Caricature was, it was merely a dry run for Ghost World, a series of interrelated but not exactly serial stories that draws to a close in Eightball #18. Ghost World follows Becky and Enid, two bright, aimless, would-be hipster teens who may or may not be in love with each other. They spend their days watching crappy TV, rummaging through boxes of junk in thrift-store bargain basements and imagining elaborate biographies for the various weirdoes they spot on the street, until the day comes when Enid has to decide whether or not she’s going away to college. This new development puts their friendship to the test, and the fear of losing each other eventually drives both girls to desperate, alarmingly petty behavior.

In Ghost World, Clowes displays such skill that he makes a good case for the argument he puts forth in the Modern Cartoonist booklet included in Eightball #18: “(Comics) are in a sense the ultimate domain of the artist who seeks to wield absolute control over his imagery. Novels are the work of one individual but they require visual collaboration on the part of the reader. Film is by its nature a collaborative endeavor. Comics offer the creator a chance to control the specifics of his world in both abstract and literal terms.”

The pity of it is that so few comics creators take advantage of this absolute control. Clowes does, and in the pages of Eightball he creates work that is the equal of art being done in any medium today.

To Infinity and Beyond!: The Naked Cosmos

Filed under: Art,Geekery,OC Weekly,TV,Weird — gregstacy @ 1:53 am

(Printed in OC WEEKLY, June 23, 2005)

Once in a great while, usually when it’s very late at night and you’ve been restlessly flipping around the more disreputable end of the TV dial, you come across a show of perfect, transcendent strangeness. It could be Dr. Gene Scott’s mix of fierce televangelism and dancing bimbos. Or Dr. Franklin Ruehl at his desk in outer space, discoursing on the Phantom Army of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Or some forgotten Spanish-language B-picture where fat guys in wrestling masks battle vampire babes. Or even (you lucky dog) your first Ed Wood movie. Whatever it is, you wake up the next morning wondering if it was real, or if you dreamed the whole thing.

Gilbert Hernandez’s new, straight-to-DVD TV series, The Naked Cosmos, is like all of those shows put together into one mind-frying package; this is concentrated public access weirdness and should not be taken without first consulting a physician. Hernandez, the justly acclaimed cartoonist who co-creates the Love and Rockets comic book series with his brother Jaime, made his name crafting bittersweet stories of life in the fictional South American town of Palomar, stories that are often compared to the works of such writers as Carson Mccullers and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But with The Naked Cosmos, Hernandez lets a different side of himself out to play, cutting loose with a wild parody of/homage to all the kitschy TV he grew up loving as a dorky Oxnard kid.

The Naked Cosmos is a kind of surreal kiddie show hosted by Quintas (Hernandez), a Beatle-wigged, pop-eyed, psychic dandy who takes us on an unforgettable journey through inner and outer space accompanied by the lovely Mistress Velda (Hernandez’s wife, Carol Kovinick) and Ego (Hernandez again), a mellow hippie boozer with the power of teleportation. Quintas faces opposition at every turn from his masked clone, the seethingly envious Kalisto (Hernandez yet again), and both are rivals for the affections of the cheerfully oblivious Velda. All of them report to the Chief (Kovinick), a lady who wears a bondage cat hood and issues her orders over the phone in Spanish. Every now and again the action stops cold for a short film presented by Zansky, a jolly expatriate from another dimension. Hernandez portrays Zansky via the old summer camp trick of drawing a face on your chin and standing on your head, a perfect example of the show’s nutty, low-budget ingenuity. The budget for this thing is so low, in fact, that Hernandez doesn’t even use split screen effects when he holds conversations with himself: the camera just cuts back and forth between Hernandez in different costumes, emoting with hammy gusto and clearly having the time of his life.

The DVD features four 22-minute episodes, bloopers, portraits of the characters by Hernandez and other artists, and an original, 20-page comic book, making this an absolute steal at $15.95. Issued in a limited edition of 2,000, The Naked Cosmos is only available for purchase online (at http://www.brightredrocket.com/nakedcosmos) or at America’s very hippest comics shops. The next time you’re restlessly flipping the TV dial in the dead of night, fire up this thing and you’ll go to sleep a few hours later confused but happy.

Attack of the Big Heads Floating in the Sky

Filed under: Art,Movies,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 1:38 am

(Printed in OC WEEKLY, August 18, 2005)

One of my earliest memories involves standing on the sidewalk outside the Fox Theater in Long Beach and staring, slack-jawed, at the poster for the original Star Wars. Painted in a lushly pulpy, retro style, the poster featured the then-unfamiliar images of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, Darth Vader, etc., all beneath a zippy, Flash Gordon-ish logo. But this poster, which was already enough to stop me in my tracks, had a strange, arty, postmodern touch that left me baffled: it was painted so that it resembled a faded, posted bill, with another bill beneath it featuring the movie’s credits and rips along the left-hand side showing a plywood construction site wall underneath. This was obviously a brand-new movie, with ray guns and robots and weird little hooded guys with glowing eyes, yet the poster looked like a tattered relic from a bygone era. It was, in retrospect, absolutely the perfect poster for a movie that took elements from a lot of other, older movies and scrambled them together to create something new. But all I knew at that tender age was that this was a movie I had to see.

Even today, after all these years and those sad, wretched prequels, that poster (co-painted by noted poster illustrators Drew Struzan and Charles White III) still has the power to remind you of what you loved about the original Star Wars trilogy. This was an unforgettable poster in a decade of unforgettable posters. It was impossible not to feel a shiver of real fear when you first saw the poster for Jaws, with that nightmare shark approaching the unsuspecting swimmer from below, his monstrous head the size of a semi-truck and his mouth overflowing with a million dagger-sharp teeth. And who could resist the goofy charm of the original Bad News Bears poster, with telling caricatures of Walter Matthau and the rest of the cast provided by the great Mad Magazine artist Jack Davis? When I grew older, I also learned to appreciate the movie posters of earlier decades: the snazzy deco of the silent era; the towering, stone logos of the ‘50s biblical epics; the fluorescent, psychedelic insanity of the ’60s.

But sometime in the late ’80s, movie posters all started to look alike. It was one poster after another featuring blandly flattering photos of the stars, almost invariably looking straight at you and surrounded above and below by type. This look was employed for comedies, dramas, indie pictures, historical epics, whatever, and movie marketing people had a name for it that really said it all: Big Heads Floating in the Sky. The Big Heads poster evolved because of something called equal likeness, a newly developed contractual feature specifying that if one star appeared on a poster, his co-star (or co-stars) were guaranteed to appear on the poster atexactly the same size. The poster for 1992’s A Few Good Men, for instance, features exactly half of Tom Cruise’s face on the left-hand side and exactly half of Jack Nicholson’s on the right, with the resulting design being as blandly symmetrical as a discount-brand package of frozen peas. The MPAA also began to wield increasing control over posters, arbitrarily vetoing anything they deemed objectionable. The original poster for Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow, for instance, featured a spooky painting of the Headless Horseman carrying his own head; the MPAA rejected the image as “too graphic,” so it was replaced with a forgettable poster featuring the Big Heads of Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci.

There were a few potent deviations from the artless norm, such as the wonderfully unnerving Silence of the Lambs poster that featured a death’s head moth over Jodie Foster’s mouth—a moth that, when you looked really closely, actually featured an image of seven naked ladies from Salvador Dali’s painting Female Bodies as a Skull. But mostly it was all Big Heads, all the time. Pretty much the only thing you had to look forward to were the holidays, when those blandly flattering star photos suddenly sported ridiculous Santa hats for Christmas or party hats and noisemakers for New Year’s Eve.

It’s tempting to declare that the movie poster is a dead art, but in recent months there have been some encouraging developments. The poster for the indie picture A Good Woman features the kind of art deco illustration rarely seen since the days of Fred and Ginger, while the poster for the Bad News Bears remake was a clumsy but obviously heartfelt shout out to the Jack Davis original. Revenge of the Sith may have disappointed on almost all counts, but at least its poster featured some strikingly old-fashioned design by none other than Drew Struzan.

It’s been a very long time since I stood outside a theater and stared, slack-jawed, at a movie poster. But if the movies have taught me anything, it’s that no matter how bleak things look, there’s always the chance for a happy ending.

November 25, 2006

at Play in the Fields of the Lord: Rivers and Tides

Filed under: Art,Movies,OC Weekly — gregstacy @ 6:35 am

Time works so differently for children, and they have such long, busy days. Each school day is an eternity of tedious lessons and tasteless fishsticks, and when they’re finally released from their daily captivity — still in mid-afternoon — there’s time yet for naps, time for cartoons, time to mount an expedition into the wilds of the backyard, to dig deep grooves in the soil, fill them with piles of crunchy leaves, run the garden hose for hours and see what happens. In a child’s day, there is time enough to build your own little world out of the puddles and rocks and twigs that most adults step over, barely noticing, as they rush through days that can seem like they’re over before they’ve begun.

Artist Andy Goldsworthy looks at puddles and rocks and twigs with a child’s imagination and sense of possibilities, but he brings to his work a patience and precision that is profoundly adult. German filmmaker Thomas Riedelsheime’s 2001 documentary follows Goldsworthy as he trumps through his native Scotland making art of the world. Goldsworthy lavishes hours on his creations, briefly bending nature to his will as he connects icicles into an intricate, abstract sculpture, twists twigs into a mesmerizing web, or otherwise commits what certain bumper stickers would aptly describe as senseless acts of beauty. Sometimes nature cooperates, allowing Goldsworthy time to work his magic. Other times nature harshly reasserts herself before the artist is through, and his hard work is swept away by the mercilessly tide, blown to bits by the unthinking winds, or it just plain flops over and melts. If Goldsworthy is lucky, he’s managed to take some beautiful photographs before his creation descends back into the muck from which it came. Otherwise, he just starts all over again, piling stone upon stone, twig upon twig.

Even those who dismiss all abstract art with a sneer of “my kid could draw that” usually can’t help being fascinated by Goldsworthy’s rock piles or icicle works. His ideas speak to the yearning primitive within us all, to that first ape who impressed his handprint into the wet earth outside his cave one prehistoric morning and then stood back to wonder at what he’d done.

If you’ve never seen Goldsworthy’s work, it’s hard to do it justice with words – he sounds like some hippie weirdo who makes piles of stones on the beach. And, let’s be honest, that’s kind of what he is. But he is also a truly brilliant artist. And a kid with time on his hands.

November 21, 2006

Discovering the Jolly Nightmare: The lost world of Charles Altamont Doyle

Filed under: Art,LA Weekly,Weird — gregstacy @ 1:46 am

(Originally printed in LA WEEKLY, November 27, 2003)

 When I was a kid in the late ’70s, Linnea, a dear friend of the family, loaned me a peculiar book entitled The Doyle Diary. It reprinted the 1889 sketchbook-journal that Charles Altamont Doyle (father of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes) kept during his lengthy stay in a Scottish lunatic asylum. If Linnea ever hopes to get the book back, she’ll have to kill me first.

Individual pages of The Doyle Diary can be dazzling, but you have to spend some time with the book to realize what a masterpiece it truly is. The Doyle Diary grants you free access inside Charles Doyle’s busy brain. There are cheeky fairy women and giant polecats, humorously unflattering self-portraits, meticulous studies of the local flora and fauna, political rants and melancholy familial reminiscences, affectionate doodles of the asylum’s cleaning staff and lots of agonizing puns. Overall, one gets the impression of a gentle, highly imaginative Victorian gentleman who somehow ended up in a madhouse but was too polite to inconvenience anybody by making a big fuss about it.

While Doyle’s flights of fancy are entrancing in their own right, one of my favorite drawings in the book features a seemingly unremarkable scene the artist witnessed between two crows. One crow stands with a worm in its mouth, offering it to the other. The caption: “I have just seen this out of the window. Could unselfishness go further?”

In Doyle’s eyes, a simple transaction between two cawing, homely scavengers has been transformed into a touchingly noble act. How could anyone not love this man?

Charles Doyle was born into a family of successful artists. His father, John Doyle, was an acclaimed caricaturist of the Regency period, while his brothers all went on to fame, and his older brother, Richard “Dickie” Doyle, was one of the better-known illustrators of the Victorian age. But while Charles Altamont Doyle showed early promise as an artist, at 17 he was sent off to Edinburgh for a job as a surveyor in the Scottish Office of Works. It was mostly a routine clerk’s position, although he did some impressive architectural design, including a mighty fountain in the courtyard of Holyrood Palace, the queen’s Scottish residence.

At 22, he wed his landlady’s daughter; they had 10 kids, seven of whom lived. For years Doyle struggled to make it as an artist (he illustrated 17 published books we know of) while continuing at his day job, but the pressures of supporting a large family gradually wore him down, and he took to the bottle. Another man might have been proud to have designed Scottish monuments while illustrating books in his spare time, but Doyle knew that by the lofty standards set by his brothers, he was just an anonymous civil servant and Sunday painter with a house full of kids he could scarcely afford to feed.

In 1876, after decades of toiling without promotion for the Office of Works, Doyle was dismissed and put on a pension. Later that year he was sent to Fordoun House, a nursing home for alcoholics. His stay at Fordoun lasted years, and it was apparently during this time that he developed epilepsy, a condition poorly understood then. Perhaps addled by his illness or perhaps desperate after years of confinement, Doyle made a violent attempt to escape Fordoun in 1885. He failed, and was sent to the Montrose Royal Lunatic Asylum, where he spent the next seven years and illustrated The Doyle Diary. Following a final relocation, Doyle died a lonesome death at the Crighton Royal Institution in 1893. He had spent 17 years in confinement. By any measure, Doyle lived a tragic life, but nobody who has experienced the wonders of The Doyle Diary would say it was a wasted one.

Unfortunately, Doyle’s rotten luck hasn’t improved much in the decades since his death. While his work inspired a passionate cult following and he’s been cited as a kindred spirit by such modern cartooning geniuses as Dame Darcy (Fantagraphics Books’ Meat Cake) and L.A. Weekly’s own Tony Millionaire, Doyle’s not nearly as well-known as he deserves to be. The Doyle Diary is long out of print (private dealers often sell used copies on Amazon for under 10 bucks) and his surviving art is scattered in collections around the world and rarely seen by the public.

Although I’ve probably read The Doyle Diary a hundred times, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I discovered a note at the book’s end stating that one of the largest American collections of Doyle’s work was at the Huntington Library in San Marino. I called the Huntington and was told that while they did indeed possess a collection of Doyle’s work, it was in fragile condition and only scholars were permitted to view it. They bent the rules and agreed to let me into their archives so I could write this article, although frankly they didn’t sound too thrilled about it. Had they denied me access, I think I would have executed a daring midnight raid, breaking into the Huntington under cover of darkness to explore the archives with a flashlight. Fellow Doyle fans would understand.

My excitement was tinged with melancholy as I sat in the Huntington’s Scott Curatorial Office’s Art Division Print and Drawing Study Room and perused a crumbling album of Charles Doyle’s drawings — an album that once belonged to Doyle’s son, Sir Arthur himself. There was easily enough material here for a whole new book, but this was literally a once-in-a-lifetime thrill; I had exactly three hours to take it all in, and then I’d probably never see this work again.

While his usual playfulness was on ample display, overall the Huntington collection showed a darker side of Doyle than I was used to. There was a sometimes unsettling battle-of-the-sexes theme on display, although you couldn’t always tell which side Doyle was on. One drawing depicting a woman riding sidesaddle on a man’s back was captioned, “To be useful as well as ornamental”; in another, the smartly dressed “Mister Present Times” offered a girl for sale: “Who wants a Bride — now is your chance — going — cheap — but nice!” Elsewhere, Cupid held a hoop through which a man and woman jumped onto the backs of running horses in the eternal circus of love. There were many hapless males trying to catch the attention of unimpressed dames, a dynamic that repeated across the human, animal and fairy kingdoms. Given how so much of Doyle’s life played out in confinement, I suppose a little sexual frustration is understandable.

One simple drawing in the Huntington archives stopped me cold: Beneath a full moon, a fat, leering drunk tipped his glass to the viewer as he tottered atop a horse with a frenzied, mirthless grin. The caption was, “Hurrah! For the jolly night mare!” It was a phrase that aptly described Doyle’s work, perhaps his entire life: the jolly nightmare.

While the public isn’t permitted to see Doyle’s work at the Huntington, representatives from both the library and Doyle’s family have told me that they’d be amenable if a publisher approached them about printing Doyle’s work, although so far there haven’t been any offers. Until that blessed day comes, I plead with you to do whatever you must to experience Doyle’s jolly nightmare for yourself, whether that means scouring Amazon for a used copy of The Doyle Diary or just stealing one from a dear friend of the family. Doyle’s work can be achingly lovely, achingly funny or achingly sad, and sometimes it is all of these things at once.

The art of Charles Altamont Doyle hurts, but it’s a hurt you’ll never get enough of.

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