The Breaking Wave of the Past

April 5, 1996

Sometimes the past breaks like a sleeper wave on the big, big beach of life and before you know it you've been sucked down into the undertow of forgotten images and feelings, and find yourself far from the shore of the present. When that happens, you have to swim hard to reach the surface, and then, shaken and dazed, with no strength left to struggle, you can let the waves of time carry you back to today, to where you belong.

For me, this past week has seen a veritable riptide of pop culture, the waves breaking unexpectedly, the undertow of remembrance pulling me into the depths, the tide carrying me gently back to shore, where i lay gasping upon the sand, amidst kelp and flotsam brightened by the broken surfboards of those who have drowned before.

The surf was up this week in unexpected e-mail from Ray Orkwis, whom i met once at a comic book shop in Berkeley, California, circa 1978, and never saw again; in a tin of Sonny Boy Brand Lucky 13 Dream Incense depicting a black man in a World War Two army uniform, his head under a thought-cloud of lucky numbers; and in a copy of the late Rick Griffin's eccentric 1970 comic book, "The Man From Utopia," where a two-page story called "On the Road Again" sharply brought to mind the Magnetic Dogs of my youth and the lost friend who gave me three sets of them over the years.

"On the Road Again" taught me something new too, because in re-reading it for the first time in many years, i suddenly saw Larry Marder's Beans, the Beans from "Tales of the Beanworld," forming right there on Rick's page. They appear as "The Dumb Ones," a tribe of small, unrolling stones, each with the cutely alert eyes and the mossy tufted hairs of Larry's Chow Sol'jers.

I feel certain that Larry, who had not yet created the Known Beanworld when Rick's story first appeared, saw that image and filed it away in the great museum of his brain, alongside the works of Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jack Kirby. I feel certain that it was there, on tap, to be brought forth later in the Lichtensteinian and Duchampian manner, as found, appropriated art. Was this process conscious or unconscious? That i do not know. Does it matter?

Seeing that page was the breaking crest of the week's time-wave; but it was the dark undertow that really got to me. I spent an afternoon in my office with Miles Griffin, Rick's 14 year old son, teaching him to use Adobe Photoshop so he could draw his favourite character, The Maxx. Rick's voice, his blond hair, the beatific smile, the sly humour, all of that was there in Miles, ready to roll for another generation. It was genetics in action; it was uncanny; and, most poignant of all to a sentimental parent like me, it was heartbreaking to realize that Miles never got to know his father well; he has Rick's genes, but Rick's presence is gone from the Earth.

I showed Miles "Tales of the Beanworld" and a photocopy of "The Man From Utopia;" he tipped his head to one side and grinned. He didn't say anything. He just took it all in. Then he picked up a red pen and circled one of his dad's stone-proto-beans and wrote Larry Marder's slogan next to it: "A Most Peculiar Comic Book Experience." And, believe me, it was, especially when he added the word "Beans?" and signed his name in a child's proud scrawl: "Miles Griffin."

I sent the photocopy to Larry. He's a big wheel at Image now and doesn't have much time for his back pages anymore. A secretary opens his mail for him these days, so i wrote "personal" on the envelope, return-addressed it "The Woman From Utopia," and breathed a prayer that he will actually get it. And getting it, i hope he'll "get it," too.

Thus passes the past. Onward.

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