Iconic underground-comix artist Rand Holmes's art showcased sex, drugs, and the environment

After Rand Holmes touched down in Vancouver in 1969, via Nova Scotia and Alberta, the artist-illustrator soon found an outlet for his comic art in the Georgia Straight.

The illustrated adventures of the fictional Harold Hedd—Holmes’s long-haired, dope-smoking, busking, sexually adventurous, shoplifting alter ego—showed up there regularly, as did art for many Straight covers.

Holmes’s work reflected the horror and soft-porn styling of EC Comics’ 1940s and ’50s publications married to the interests of the youth of the ’60s and ’70s, especially issues concerning sex, drugs, politics, and the nascent environmental movement.

His comic art also appeared in many of the outlets for the exploding underground-comix scene on the West Coast, including Slow Death Funnies, Fog City Comics, and the Straight’s White Lunch Comix and All Canadian Beaver Comix.

After moving to Lasqueti Island in the Strait of Georgia in 1982, Holmes cut back on his comic production, devoting increasing time to surrealistic oil paintings, wood-carving, and carpentry. He died in 2002.

His wife, Martha, hosted a retrospective of his art on the island five years after his death, but no exhibition has since graced the Lower Mainland.

Until now.

On Saturday (August 6), at Lucky’s Comics (3972 Main Street) from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., there will be a display of Holmes’s original artwork. The one-night event, a great excuse to avoid that night’s fireworks crowds and transit headaches, is cocurated by Martha Holmes and Patrick Rosenkranz, the author of last year’s The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective (Fantagraphics). Both will be present for the exhibit, with Rosenkranz providing an illustrated presentation of the artist’s work.

Lucky’s owner, Gabe Linder, told the Straight that he managed to nab the show because of connections who knew Martha and Rosenkranz and through ongoing dealings with Fantagraphics Books. “This [the exhibit] is a conversation that has been happening for the past couple of years,” he said by phone.

Linder said Lucky’s often hosts such events, including book launches, because the shop has a dedicated gallery space in back.

Holmes is not the only underrated artist of what is referred to as the golden age of underground comix, but his genius certainly deserves a wider acknowledgement, and his status as a local demands it.

Below: some examples of Rand Holmes's cover art for the Georgia Straight (from the July 24-31, 1975, issue), two Straight comix anthologies, and one of his later surrealistic oils.

Comments (5) Add New Comment
Jon Shaw
www.jonshawpaintings.com

I really like the lightheartedness of these. I also find a striking contrast between the gas mask work at the very bottom and the other covers, does anybody know if the gas mask work was a cover as well or a separate type of work? (ie a painting in its own right NOT intended for cover publication)?
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Martin Dunphy
Jon Shaw: Thanks for your comment. As I wrote above (perhaps you missed it), that piece of art is one of Rand Holmes's later surrealistic oil paintings. It was never intended as cover art for the Straight, to my knowledge, but I cannot state with certainty that it was not commissioned for another publication.
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Patrick Rosenkrarnz
The title of the gas mask painting is Son of Global Man, a tip of the brush to Rene Magritte's Son of Man. It is part of a series of surrealistic painting Holmes did in the 1990s, hoping to publish them in Juxtapoz magazine, but so far they are unpublished except in my book.

I hope you came to the event Saturday night at Lucky's. It was great! Hot, sweaty, crowded and exciting.
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Rick H
I would have loved to be there on the 7th. Unfortunately this issue of the Straight was published on the 10th, the day I am reading this. Martin's column was published on the 4th, two whole days before the event, and ONE DAY after the last issue published on the 3rd. Martin, did your article make it into the Aug 4th issue? I didn't see it.

Way to get out in front of that one, GS.
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Martin Dunphy
Rick H:

This article was only ever published on this blog, not in the paper. Looking at the dates you are referencing, Rick, it seems that you might think the Straight is a daily publication. It is a weekly, I'm afraid (at least the print edition is).
I wrote the piece the day after I heard of the event, and I'm told there was a very good turnout.
I'm sorry you weren't able to make it there.
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