One of the most simultaneously infuriating, irritating, exciting and compelling parts of conducting research is when one comes across a mystery that cannot be solved. When it comes to Canadian Silver Age comic book collecting, there is one such mystery that Dan, Victor and I have been working on for a couple of years that we have not been able to entirely crack: who is Lord Larry?
In 1980, a man calling himself “Lord Larry” published a one-shot comic book out of Vancouver called Brain Sugar # 1. The comic book is slightly smaller than a magazine in terms of its dimensions, is 34-pages in length, has a glossy colour cover and black and white interior pages. Despite being nearly a decade too late to be part of the movement itself, Brain Sugar is best described as an example of the Underground Comix genre. Both the Kennedy and Fogel guides list it as having had a print run of 10,000 copies, but it has only appeared on eBay a couple of times during the past five years and we only know of a small number of private sales. It is entirely possible that the information Kennedy used (and that Fogel almost certainly derived from Kennedy) is misinformation. Indeed, Brain Sugar and Lord Larry are surrounded by misinformation, which will become clearer by the end of this column.
The comic itself features amateurish writing and artwork, but this tends to be the case for many underground publications. The comic includes several unconnected stories in an anthology format. The first story (which is six pages long), “Golden Greed,” focuses on a trio of protagonists searching for a cache of missing gold in an abandoned town, with the female character being little more than a damsel in distress. The second story (lasting five pages), “They Kill People,” follows a bumbling would-be serial killer getting punched out by several different potential victims. The longest story in the comic, “The Great Campout” is only seven pages long. It is, in my opinion, the best story in the anthology. It focuses on a family from Red Deer heading on a camping trip elsewhere in Alberta, while they leave their grandpa at home. The dysfunctional family does not get along and has a horrible camping trip that ultimately leads to them being arrested, while grandpa has a drug-fueled party back in Red Deer.
Other than one other long-form story (called “Sisters”) that is only four pages long, the remainder of the comic is several one to two-page stories. “Sisters” focuses on a woman who attempts to murder her husband and sister after her more attractive sister seduces the abovementioned husband. All of these stories are violent, explicitly sexist and several promote drug culture. As such, they are not safe for work and I will only be presenting the covers in this column.
I first came across Brain Sugar through Robin McConnell’s apparently abandoned Canadian Comics Archive blog. In a post from July 17, 2012, McConnell states that he learned of the comic from Colin Upton (who is the king of West Coast minis and is someone who I hope to profile down the road). Upton did not know who Lord Larry was either (despite being one of the most connected people in the 1980s Vancouver comic scene) and McConnell’s post was little more than a request for information. Luckily, he provided a scan of Upton’s copy of the comic in its entirety, which you can see at the link presented above (again, this stuff is NOT SAFE FOR WORK).
One of the few people to respond to McConnell’s post about Brain Sugar mentioned that he had encountered Lord Larry as a contributor to another comic called Sadist Illusraded [sic] by someone named “Brent Braineater” (which we later learned was actually called Sadist Illustraded, with the cover of issue # 6 being a typo). McConnell suggests in his reply that Brent Braineater may be Jim Cummins, a Vancouver artist best known for his band I, Braineater (which produced some comics of its own and has existed in various iterations over the years) and who later did covers for Skinny Puppy albums. He continues to work as a well-respected artist today. McConnell posted a cover of Sadist Illustraded # 6 a few days later and then the trail went cold.
When Dan, Victor and I started looking into Lord Larry and Brain Sugar in 2017, McConnell’s blog post was essentially the only information that we could find outside of Kennedy and Fogel, a handful of library holdings and some long-ended eBay auctions that we learned about through Worthpoint. One of the old eBay listings we uncovered was a signed copy addressed to Bruce Sweeney of “Underground Station” fame. Victor reached out to Mr. Sweeney, but unfortunately, he had no recollection of Lord Larry. Victor reached out to Vancouver’s famous Comic Shop too, but they had never heard of Lord Larry either. This was the first of many brick walls we would encounter.
Nevertheless, McConnell’s efforts had left us with some leads to explore. The first was Sadist Illustraded. In itself, the comic was not much to go by. However, in June 2017, Victor stumbled across an old spreadsheet he had that listed seven issues of the comic published by “Brent Brainless” (later Brent Braineater) with occasional contributions by Lord Larry and another person calling himself “Morbid Marc.” The real name of Morbid Marc was also revealed in the spreadsheet and gave us our first concrete lead. Marc was actually a fairly well-known American mini comix creator during the 1980s (under a different name). Ultimately, Victor reached out to several of his contacts looking for help finding Marc. Within a few weeks, Marc and Victor were in contact with each other. Marc was surprised that we had managed to dig up the comic, stating, “That is probably the most obscure of the obscure things I had anything to do with, in the early 1980s.”
Marc did his best to help us. He confirmed that Lord Larry and Brent Braineater were actually brothers and that they had also produced a digest zine called Clem & Wojo. The brothers were supposedly based out of Vancouver and were part of a punk band. Marc had never actually met them in person and had worked with them through correspondence. He did, however, have some Xeroxed images of the pair that he promised to send us when he had time. Marc also sent us scans of the issues of both Sadist Illustraded and Clem & Wojo. In total, the pair published nine issues of the former and six issues of the latter, all of which were single-sided Xeroxes collated into minis of varying page lengths. As of this writing, I have never seen a single copy of either series come up for sale and I suspect that few copies exist in private collections. Marc suggested that he may be the only person who has copies of each comic and I have no reason to disagree with him.
We did not hear again from Marc for some time, but as we waited for him to dig up the pictures of the brothers, we decided to take a look at the other lead McConnell had left for us: Jim Cummins. Before getting too far ahead of ourselves, we looked at pictures of Cummins from the early 1980s and decided that there were enough similarities between Lord Larry and Cummins to pursue the idea further. Both Dan and Victor reached out to contacts in the Vancouver punk rock scene and the idea was quickly shot down: Cummins denied any knowledge of Lord Larry and we learned that he does not have a brother either, ruling out the possibility that he was Brent Brainless/Braineater. After looking at some of Cummins’ comic artwork and subsequent art offerings, it became clear that his artistic style was quite different from that of Lord Larry and Brent Braineater. The theory was a dead end and the visual similarities between Cummins and Lord Larry were a coincidence.
Quite a bit of time passed before Victor heard anything from Morbid Marc. Then, in 2018, he sent the pictures of Lord Larry, Brent Braineater and some of their friends, as well as part of a letter that Brent Braineater had sent him. A few things stood out. First, Lord Larry was wearing a leather jacket with a large patch on the back for a band called “The Living Abortions.” The patch resembles some of the early insignia used by Victoria, BC punk band “The Dayglo Abortions.” We wondered if the two bands were one and the same, but we quickly ruled this out, as well as any association between Lord Larry and the Dayglos.
The patch was still a lead: knowing that Morbid Marc had told us that the brothers were in a band together, we assumed that the band could have been The Living Abortions. Dan went to work searching for more information, reaching out to various contacts in the BC punk rock scene to no avail. Victor also reached out to some rock journalists and photographers from BC, but no one had heard of the band. By fluke, Dan stumbled across a reference to the band, as well as its drummer, “Larry Lobotomy,” in an issue of Projector from March 7, 1978. The newspaper in question was not based in Vancouver but was the student publication for Red River Community College in Winnipeg, MB. The band appears to be little more than a joke, with the mention that it had recently signed a record deal with X-Tel (which seems to be a play on K-Tel, which sold many records back when vinyl was the primary medium for consuming music). Perhaps the band never existed or was little more than a joke project amongst a small number of friends at Red River College, some of whom eventually moved to BC. This is conjecture, of course, but the band itself ended up being another dead end.
The letter from Brent Braineater to Morbid Marc ended up being the biggest surprise: there is nothing revealing in it that helped us to get any further in our quest to learn more about these two men. However, it was written on the back of a piece of paper that appears to be signed by Jim Cummins and members of I, Braineater, with cryptic information about the band. We were certainly confused by this, but now assume that Brent Braineater was a fan of Cummins and I, Braineater and took on the moniker in order to pay homage to them (dropping his previous pseudonym, Brent Brainless, in the process).
In the end, we are essentially no closer to learning who Lord Larry and Brent Braineater were. We have, for all intents and purposes, ruled out the Jim Cummins theory, have gotten nowhere with the information about The Living Abortions (as, outside of the joke mention in Projector, we cannot find any other reference to them) and have learned essentially nothing else about the men outside of their production of the two mini comix mentioned above. If nothing else, we have been able to add a great amount of information to the mystery that Robin McConnell and Colin Upton first presented on the Canadian Comics Archive seven years ago. Our only new lead is the apparent connection to Winnipeg and Red River College. Yet, for now, we have decided to put our research into Lord Larry, Brent Braineater and Brain Sugar on the backburner.
Given the difficulty in finding sales data about this comic, I would not even want to hazard a guess as to what its current value may be. I recently procured a sold, high-grade copy (in the 7.0 range) for $35 CAD. The comic does not currently appear in the CGC census and there has not been a copy for sale on eBay in some time. This could be a $30 book or a $300 book. We currently do not have enough information to offer a good price range for Brain Sugar at the moment. The same is true for issues of Sadist Illustraded and Clem & Wojo.
One final thought that I have had as I began drafting this column is, why does any of this matter? Part of the reason for delving into our failed research journey, in this case, is to two-fold: a) it gives readers of Forgotten Silver a glimpse into how we go about conducting our research, and, b) it also shows that research is not always “squeaky-clean.” Sometimes research results in dead ends, few leads and great frustration. We have learned much about comics through going down the Lord Larry/Brain Sugar rabbit hole, but we have not solved the ultimate mystery. That’s how research can go and there are many other Canadian Silver Age comics to which this may apply that we have not researched to any extent. What made the Lord Larry mystery compelling for us was that Robin McConnell and Colin Upton tried to find out more information all though years ago, but came up short. So did we. Maybe someone out there knows the answer.
I will be away this week to vend at the East Coast Comics Expo in Moncton, NB. As such, I will be something of a ghost responding to comments while we are away. If you are attending the event in Moncton and have been reading Forgotten Silver, I would love to meet with you. Check us out at the East Coast Toys and Games booth.
Also, I would like to thank Mel Taylor for mentioning my research, this column and Comic Book Daily in a video promoting his reprint of Bootleg Comics and Stories from Studiocomix Press. I really appreciate it, Mel, and look forward reading the comic soon. Mel did work in comics during the 1980s, but his major contributions happened in the era after the Silver Age ended. Studiocomix Press and Carry-On Comics in Waterloo have Mel’s comic available right now.
Thanks for the plug! Every little bit helps. If anybody has any questions about the book they can Email me at [email protected]. You can also check out my other contributions to comics at canadianaci.ca, Bob MacMillan’s Encyclopedia of Canadian Animation, Cartooning and Illustration.
One thing that comes to mind is that John Bell thanks Lord Larry speaking with him for his book. Look up Mr. Bell (he’s out East isn’t he?) and simply ask him.
Btw, I believe I have found another cover for a Sadist Illustrated besides the #6 that I shared the first time. I am still following this mystery myself.
Jim, thanks for mentioning that John Bell acknowledged Lord Larry in “Invaders from the North.” The odd thing is that other than thanking him at the beginning of the book, neither Lord Larry nor “Brain Sugar” are mentioned anywhere else in the text. Bell does mention the comic in his earlier book, “Canuck Comics” on page 54. I reached out to Mr. Bell about Lord Larry some time ago, but he never responded to that message. I should have mentioned all of this in the column, so thanks again for bringing it up.
Yes, John does live in Nova Scotia, but we have never crossed paths in person.
A Brain Sugar just showed up on eBay for the first time in well over a year. It will be interesting to see if anyone hooks into it. It could go cheap.
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