Well folks, October was a crazy busy month for us at East Coast Toys and Games. We vended at five different events, including the Wolfville Vintage Market, the Curio Collective, the Halifax Record Fair, and the Funky Flea Market (twice). All of this culminated in one of our biggest events of the year: Hal-Con. Thanks to everyone who came out to see us at any of these events. Needless to say, with such a packed schedule I had to skip October’s edition of Forgotten Silver. After a short hiatus, I wanted to try something a bit different, but let’s handle some housekeeping first.
Since my last column about the transitional period between the end of the Canadian Silver Age and the beginning of the Canadian Modern Age, a few things have happened that I want to highlight here. First, my pal Robin Bougie released the third issue of Gutter Hunter. Bougie’s “Adults Only Guide to History’s Wildest Independent Comics” continues in fine form and is extremely entertaining. I have been a fan of Bougie’s work for some time and Forgotten Silver readers may remember that one of my Comic Book Daily entries was reprinted (with permission) in Gutter Hunter # 2. This time around, Bougie has published some original material by me where I get candid about how I got into researching comics. I also helped with some of the research on one of Bougie’s pieces, where he writes about Heralds of Canada (a comic from Quebec that I have yet to write about here). Like previous issues of Gutter Hunter, this issue is loaded with Canadian content. Mr. Bougie also immortalizes me in a drawing and has inspired me to grow my beard back for the first time since before the pandemic. If you want to see my material in Gutter Hunter # 3 you will have to order a copy from the Cinema Sewer store (be advised that this stuff is NSFW).
The past month has also brought a bit of tragedy to my life. My boyhood chum, Shane Welin, died on October 6 after spending much of the year undergoing treatment for tongue cancer. In what is a horrible coincidence, Shane is my second good friend to die from tongue cancer in less than a year. My colleague Dr. Jean-Sébastien Guy died last November. Both men were in their 40s and played pivotal roles in my life at different times. They did not know each other, but were both strong supporters and long-time readers of Forgotten Silver. This month’s column is dedicated to their memory.
And because I like to make things weird (and gutter hunting is fresh in my mind again), I decided to choose something strange and somewhat offensive to cover this month. I like to think that both Shane and Jean-Sé would get a chuckle out of this.
This month I am going to look at some comics from the 1990s. This deviates from the original mission of Forgotten Silver, so perhaps this column can be thought of as something of a backdoor pilot for an occasional dip into weird Canadian comics from the 1990s.
When Joe Matt died unexpectedly on September 18, the Canadian comic community lost a pioneer. Despite the fact that Matt was never Canadian to begin with, he left an incredible legacy in our country due to his membership in the “Toronto Three” and his role in establishing the early Canadian Modern Age alongside his two comic creating misanthropic pals Chester Brown and Seth (aka Gregory Gallant). Matt died of a heart attack at his drawing table in a situation that almost feels like something he would have conjured up as a comic strip.
Matt’s style of self-deprecating autobiography is a hallmark of early-1990s Canadian independent comics. Indeed, his Peepshow was one of the key early series published by Drawn & Quarterly. Peepshow actually debuted in 1987 as a series of strips and was first published in 1992 with a graphic novel through Kitchen Sink called Peepshow: The Cartoon Diary of Joe Matt. The Drawn & Quarterly series also debuted in 1992 and was published periodically until 2006 (ending with issue # 14).
Peepshow was actually the fifth autobiographical independent series published by Drawn & Quarterly between 1991 and 1992. The others include Canadian icons Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet, Palooka-Ville by Seth and the continuation of Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur (which moved over from Vortex). American Mary Fleener’s lesser-known series Slutburger rounded out the early offerings of the fledgling comic company.
One of the things that I adore about Peepshow is how it depicts the author in relation to the other members of the Toronto Three. Matt presents himself as the ultimate curmudgeon of the group. In his comics he is an outsider among outsiders. He is the greatest misanthrope of the three.
The first issue of Peepshow features a single story called “Ipanema: A Summer Vacation Story.” The strip focuses on Matt’s dysfunctional relationship with his girlfriend, Trish Schutz, and his fantasizing over an “exotic” woman named Frankie who is new to their friend group. Between his interactions with Trish and fantasies about Frankie, Matt meets up with Seth and Chester Brown around Toronto as part of their everyday routines. In fact, Matt first encounters Frankie at a record store while hanging out with Seth and Brown. He hears the song “The Girl From Ipanema” during this encounter, which he then projects onto Frankie.
All of this culminates with Matt and Schutz attending an end of summer barbecue hosted by Seth and his then girlfriend, Jeannie. As it turns out, Frankie also attends the barbecue. At the event, Matt comes to realize that he and Frankie have nothing in common after she reads some of his comics, but doesn’t find them funny and then subsequently rejects looking at some View-Master reels that Matt has brought along with him (everyone else at the party loves the View-Master, though). The comic comes to an end with Matt and Trish in bed talking about why Frankie doesn’t seem to like him.
The comic is funny, grounded in reality, presents Matt and his friends as complex people and is radically different from the comics that dominated the scene in Canada before the black and white comics crash in the late 1980s. Matt comes across deplorable in the comic, but it is still entertaining more than thirty years after publication.
At the same time, Joe Matt’s comics can be quite difficult to read. His relationship with Schutz is often abusive and his lack of social skills and cantankerousness make him come across as a jerk. He is certainly the master of his own disaster in his stories and is not depicted, in my opinion, as a sympathetic character. However, his slice of life tales always leave an impression.
Matt’s relationship with Toronto and Canada was tenuous at best, as it turns out that he was actually an illegal alien living in Canada. Matt was originally from Pennsylvania, which is also where he started working in comics. He attended the Philadelphia College of Art, where he was classmates with Matt Wagner (of Grendel fame). Matt would work as a colourist on some of the early Grendel comics.
Matt also met Trish Schutz in Philadelphia in 1987 when she was visiting her sisters, Barb and Diana. At the time, Barb was engaged to Matt Wagner and Diana was Comico’s comic book editor. The new couple moved to Schutz’s home in Montreal before heading to Toronto in 1989 so that she could study animation. After they broke up, Matt stayed in Canada illegally until 2002 when he returned to the United States to live with a new girlfriend.
For me, one of the most interesting pieces of 1990s Canadian comic book lore is a little-known one-shot called You’re Short, Bald and Ugly Charlie Brown. This one-shot first appeared c. 1993 and features Peanuts strips that have had their dialogue replaced. As lore would have it, members of the Toronto Three would have copies available when they appeared at zine fairs around Toronto, but would feign ignorance about its origin.
Not taking credit for the zine was part of the fun. Instead, the back cover lists the creator as one Dr. Casey “Sparky” Finnegan. For Canadians who grew up between the 1970s and 1990s these names likely sound familiar, as this is a thinly veiled nod to Mr. Dressup a children’s television show that featured puppets named Casey and Finnegan (with occasional appearances by another puppet named Sparky).
Ultimately, this roasted Peanuts book is a bizarre alteration of Charles Schulz’s classic characters. It’s an uninhibited example of culture-jamming. The zine contains three distinct sections, all of which are quite subversive. The first section replaces the dialogue with R-Rated material where the characters swear, talk about sex, and discuss other adult themes. The second section is a fully formed short story called “Billiards” where Charlie Brown is now referred to as “Diego” and Linus is named “Juan.” In the story, Juan’s mother has purchased a billiards table and slowly descends into madness. The third section of the comic involves several strips where Charlie Brown and Linus are presented as gay men who are struggling to come out of the closet.
Zine buyers immediately assumed that Seth, Joe Matt, and Chester Brown were behind this comic, but the men all denied having anything to do with it, claiming they were selling it for a friend. Eagle-eyed readers, however, can compare the lettering of the three sections with comics released by the men through Drawn & Quarterly. In doing so it becomes obvious that Joe Matt was behind the first section, Chester Brown had written “Billiards” and Seth had crafted the third section of the comic. Nevertheless, the Toronto Three continued to deny involvement for nearly two decades.
This changed in 2010 when Shaenon Garrity brought the comic back into the spotlight via her “Strangest Pictures” column on The Comics Journal Blog and wrote about her suspicions. Soon after, Joe Matt confessed that he had been using old Peanuts strips as blotter-paper while he was inking some comics and accidentally came up with the idea.
You’re Short, Bald and Ugly Charlie Brown is an extremely rare comic. Rumour has it that only 300 copies were printed. That said to my knowledge this have never been verified. I am aware of three cover variants. The most commonly seen is an orange cover. The Poopsheet Foundation has a pink cover variant as the example in their archive. Meanwhile, the copy I have in my files sports a grey cover. It is unknown if these represent different print runs or if the different colours were all available at the same time. If you can find a copy in the wild, expect to pay at least $100 CAD.
Ultimately, this may be one of the most interesting items that that Toronto Three ever produced. I believe that it is their only true collaboration as a group, which makes it more significant than it initially appears to be. I will finish by mentioning a fun little factoid: Seth would go on to work on Peanuts, contributing artwork to all twenty-six volumes of The Complete Peanuts from 2004-2016.
Thanks for reading another edition of Forgotten Silver! Tania and I still have a handful of major events around the Halifax in November and early December before we go on hiatus from doing shows until January. If you are in Halifax and want to see us in person, check out our Facebook or Instagram pages (@eastcoasttoysandgames) for more information.
Next month I will return with something a bit older that is properly from the Canadian Silver Age. Hope to see you then.