Not long after I moved to Boston, at the peak of my publications consumption that included the Boston Globe, The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Real Paper, the Boston Phoenix, Rolling Stone and the Village Voice every time they appeared, I was delighted to discover a new weekly comic strip in the Voice that I thought was the most inventive and zany since the advent of Jules Fieffer (earlier, R. Crumb’s “Mr. Natural” strip was actually a bit tamer than much of his underground comix and he clearly did not enjoy working on weekly deadlines). It was called “MacDoodle St.”, created by one Mark Alan Stamaty and it presented the adventures of a young poet schnook awash in the fast-decaying urban heap of New York City in the late ’70s.
It’s easier and clearer to just show a couple pages from the strip rather than try and fail to describe Stamaty’s scenes of erupting Kraziness —
Stamaty wasn’t deeply topical — punk lurked around his New York, but no hip-hop — though he did have one prophetic flash: the Conservative Liberation Front, a bunch of businessmen who re-wrapped their ties as headbands and began acting like Yippie hooligans. It was an eerie foreshadowing of how, very soon, being reactionary would be cast as being bold, adventurous, unconventional.
“MacDoodle St.” was the high point of Stamaty’s narrative comics. He went on to do the superb, but more contained and topical, “Washingtoon”. My fave installment of that strip was a confrontation between a frustrated buyer and a clerk in a store during the rising craze for bottled water. Stamaty grasped the wacky tension between companies trying to brand their water with the freshness and purity of Nature and the grubby essence of Nature itself. So he came up with the perfect bottled-springjuice name: Crystal Mountain Deer Toad Tick Water.
Stamaty now does completely charming and completely domesticated illustrations for Slate —
– and other publications as well as children’s books (well, I guess he’s always done children’s books for all ages), some of which sound profound and inspirational (Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq), but notably lacking in Kraziness.
All this was prompted because I discovered there was a major earlier work by Stamaty, Who Needs Donuts?, which came out in 1973, when he was 25 or 26. In many ways a warm-up for “MacDoodle St.” it’s got plenty Kraziness and shows a wonderful light-heartedness.
Like Matt Groening, Stamaty was one of those guys comic-strip fans know exist but can’t really imagine — the son of a cartoonist. (Hope this explanatory link works)*
I expected to be more saddened/nostalgic reading vintage Stamaty. Kraziness has been stamped out today and it’s sometimes tough to revisit a vanished world where it felt like an ageless essential. But Stamaty’s work seemed more at ease and philosophical than I imagined. After all, there’s plenty of evidence he can still summon the Krazy when he wants to:
And hey, Who Needs Donuts? was reprinted in 2001 — so there ya go.
Some more scoop on the man:
*[EDIT] Well, the link worked a couple times. I guess as long as I was logged into The New Yorker as a subscriber. Anyway, it’s a moving and informative story of how Stamaty came to identify himself as a cartoonist through the association of both his father and mother’s work in the field. I don’t think it’s been collected anywhere and sure is a shame I can’t seem to include it here. Crap. I’ll log in a few more times over the next few days, so it may or may not work.
*[EDIT][EDIT] Whattaya know? As of June, 2016, the link seems to work again. Let it roll …