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.
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.