Where Demented Wented Book Release
Desert Island Comics, Brooklyn, NY 8/8/08
[Gary Panter, Bill Griffith]
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“This is the largest crowd that Rory’s ever had,” laughed Bill Griffith, only half-jokingly. Desert Island Comics was packed Friday night, in joint celebration of Fantagraphics’ upcoming Rory Hayes anthology, Where Demented Wented and a posthumous celebration of the artist’s 59th birthday. The owners Brooklyn-based shop had diligently swept all of the store’s waste-high shelves into the its remotest corner, but the space was still standing room-only, at best.
Griffith’s bafflement at the matter was palatable. After all, Hayes was never really recognized in his lifetime, whatever minor fame he achieved paling in comparison to habitually lauded peers like Robert Crumb and S. Clay Wilson. Posthumous fame hasn’t exactly been forthcoming, either. For all intents and purposes, the newly-issued Fantagraphics volume is the first widely available anthology of Hayes’s work.
[Bill Griffith, Geoffrey Hayes]
The attendance could no doubt–at least in part–be chalked up to the panel that had been culled together for the occasion, moderated by Picturebox founder and Demented co-editor, Dan Nadel, and featuring the aforementioned Griffith (he of Zippy fame); Hayes’s brother and fellow cartoonist, Geoffrey Hayes; and the inimitable Kim Deitch (who, was sadly absent from the proceedings, though the Gary Panter, who was present amongst the audience, was more than happy to fill in from the other side of the store’s impromptu table).
Geoffrey reminisced about brothers’ early years, as burgeoning comic artists inspired by the likes of Carl Barks. Griffith happily touched on nearly everything else, from early stories involving well known peers (and Hayes admirers) like Crumb, Deitch, and Spiegelman, to some his short-lived career as a burgeoning horror film director, to the artist’s later years scraping together a living working at a San Francisco-based comic shop while selling the occasional print to a philanthropic admirer—nearly every tale, however, was peppered with the inevitable reference to Hayes’s growing battle with drugs, which ultimately ended his life at age 34.
Most telling, however, amongst Griffith’s accounts, were the near constant references to Henri Rousseau, a fellow insider-outsider artist whose “primitive” art was lauded amongst contemporaries like Picasso, but largely ignored in his lifetime, in favor of his more famous peers.
Asked whether any contemporary artist claimed Hayes as an inspiration, Griffith couldn’t think of a single one. “But they will after this book comes out,” he added, optimistically. Surely there couldn’t have been a more appropriate forum for such a hopeful sentiment, inside a Williamsburg alternative comic shop, walls lined with a wide array of two-dimension figurines crafted by a large cross-section of up-and-coming artists for an event crated by Picturebox’s own Lauren Weinstein. A cursory glance around the shop revealed exactly where demented has gone.