The pioneering underground comix artist Manuel “Spain” Rodriguez has died, age 72. Born in Buffalo, NY, Rodriguez built his early cartooning career in New York where he contributed to The East Village Other. He was known for his ‘muscular, inky style’ which owed influences to EC Comics of Wally Wood. His years riding with biker gang the Road Vultures also contributed to his cult status. Rodriguez met Crumb, Art Spiegelman and other iconic lefty artists in the late 1960s in New York, where they formed the new cartoon art form that became known as underground comics.
Despite the respect his work received in the world of underground comics, Mr. Rodriguez never quite attained recognition of the form’ s household names such as Crumb or Harvey Pekar. But that seemed to suit him just fine. “I’ve always been kind of content to labor in obscurity,” he told The Buffalo News in September.
In 1969, he relocated to San Francisco during the ‘summer of love’ and hooked up with underground comix artists like R. Crumb who were publishing stories for titles put out by Last Gasp Press. This included Crumb’s Zap Comix and Skull Comics. He later contributed to other well known titles including Rip Off Comix and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor.
Spiegelman, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus,” called Mr. Rodriguez a seminal figure in the underground comics movement and a member of “the great tradition of proletarian artists.”
He was an archetypal character, somewhere between crazy artist crossed with left-wing radical crossed with working-class Latino hood,” Crumb, who lives in France, said in a documentary made this year by Mr. Rodriguez’s wife, journalist and filmmaker Susan Stern. “He had a big influence on me through his artwork. “He was top-of-the-line in that generation of underground, breakaway cartoonists,” Crumb said.
Rodriguez most acclaimed work was ‘Trashman’ a satirical anti-hero ‘inspired by lefty political and road warrior narratives’. Though in his later years, he produced a wide range of non-fiction works including the autobiographical My True Story and Che: A Graphic Biography about the life of Marxist revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara. Rodriguezis survived by his wife and his daughter, Nora Rodriguez, of San Francisco; and his sister Cynthia Rodriguez of New Palz, N.Y.
Photo: Babylon Falling