Published by Fantagraphics, 328 pp, $39.99, softcover
Early reviews of The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective are heralding it as a much-deserved tribute to a forgotten genius, an assessment that comes as something of a surprise to someone used to seeing Rand Holmes’s work on an almost daily basis, framed and hanging on the walls of the Georgia Straight’s old Burrard Street office. Around these parts, Holmes, who passed away in 2002, has been a revered figure for decades.
It is true, though, that until the publication of this volume, the cartoonist and one-time Vancouverite seemed fated to become a cult figure, his work remembered only by those who possess slowly crumbling copies of the newspapers and comic books in which it was originally published. In fact, that might be just what Holmes would have wanted. He wasn’t exactly focused on fame and fortune, and he spent the final two decades of his life on tiny Lasqueti Island, building a log house with his second wife, Martha, and generally enjoying his obscurity.
But this retrospective makes it abundantly clear that Holmes deserves better than footnote status in the history of underground comics. Through excerpts from the artist’s own journals and interviews with those who knew him, Patrick Rosenkranz presents his subject as a man of contradictions, both prodigiously gifted and painfully insecure. Nor does he portray Holmes—who essentially abandoned his first wife and their two infant children in Edmonton when the West Coast hippie counterculture beckoned—as a saint.
The real draw here, of course, is the copious reproduction of Holmes’s work, from the hot-rod cartoons of his teen years to his 1970s Georgia Straight covers and Harold Hedd strips, to the painstakingly wrought, allegorical oil paintings of his last decade. Even when his subjects were frankly pornographic, scatological, or narcotic, Holmes’s art was always marked by sharp visual wit and a sometimes astonishing attention to detail. He was indeed a genius, and thanks to Fantagraphics, he won’t be a forgotten one.
This is a far-reaching sampling of his oeuvre, but it’s not a complete collection, so here’s hoping Rosenkranz’s efforts will stir up sufficient interest to justify a second volume.