Wednesday, June 07, 2023

Cheech Wizard's Book of Me by Vaughn Bode

When you get The Complete Something, you expect some kind of explanation of what Something is, maybe a potted history, maybe an appreciation by an illustrious colleague or someone famous from a younger generation. Sure, the audience mostly knows the details of Something, but there's always a host of commonly misremembered and mythologized factoids - plus makers of books do want to draw in new readers every once in a while.

Cheech Wizard's Book of Me is, I think, The Complete This. And there is a foreword by cartoonist Vaughn Bode's son Mark Bode - himself a reasonably notable cartoonist - as by "Da' Lizard" - which does, in its single page, give a few details. And there's some scattered text here and there with some other context.

But Book of Me starts out with about thirty pages of sketchbooks and similar non-story material, which admittedly does include a lot of character explanations and even a map of Cheech's world, but lacks a certain focus. (It also seems to memorialize a whole lot of material that, from the evidence here, were never actually created as stories.) Then there's some multi-page stories, I think mostly from '60s undergrounds, before we transition to the mostly single-pagers from the National Lampoon run in the early '70s, the bulk of the continuity and the pages here.

Last is a clutch of stuff that I think is all by Mark Bode, long after Vaughn's death in 1975, since all the copyright indications I can find start with "20." These are obviously different in tone and style and manner, though also clearly in the Vaughn tradition.

All in all, it comes across as a whole lot of stuff, with only a minor through-line. The NatLamp material has a continuity, with characters being added, events building from one story to the next, and so forth. But that's maybe fifty pages in the middle, roughly a third of the total. The rest is all less focused and more scattered, with festival posters, full-page illos and what might be a couple of graffiti installations in addition to the sketchbook stuff up front.

All that said: you might be asking what is the This here.

Vaughn Bode created the character of Cheech Wizard in his mid-teens, around 1957, and the character bears the usual hallmarks of an author-insert: he gets the last word all the time, he always wins, he gets all the hot babes with essentially no effort, and he's the center of everything. He also talks a lot. Well, undergrounds are relentlessly talky to begin with, but this one is mostly Cheech, using Vaughn's oddly clipped and somewhat distracting abbreviations all the time.

Cheech is a hat. We can see what seem to be legs in tights coming out of the bottom of the comically oversized be-starred wizard's hat, but he's basically a hat and a voice - no arms, no face. He claims to be the greatest wizard ever, but never does any magic. He never does much of anything - this is an underground comic, again - other than lazing around, drinking, tormenting his anthropomorphic lizard assistant, and fucking. As noted before, the women here are all gorgeous semi-nude fleshy creatures - other than a foul-mouthed four-year-old girl whose dialogue and character have not aged well - who exist pretty much just to be available for Cheech to fuck.

I should note yet one more time that this is an essentially underground comic. In my cynical opinion, undergrounds were about a cluster of a few things: drinking and drugs, free love, sophomoric philosophical musings, and agitation against anything considered "the Establishment" - sometimes vague, sometimes specific. Vaughn Bode ticks off a lot of drinking, only a bit of drugs, lots and lots of free love, fairly bland philosophy towards the end, and only some scattered anti-Establishmentism.

It is about as sexist as you would expect, from a comic that appeared in the early NatLamp. Not horribly so - the characters pretty much would all claim to love women, especially the friendly ones - but the idea that women are people is somewhat alien to all of them. It's also occasionally racist as well, with two notable "Asian" characters. The first is a one-note, one-appearance Vietnamese ninja assassin stereotype; the second is his brother, equally stereotyped but at least on the positive side, with traditional insight into The Wisdom of the East.

This is a heaping helping of You Had to Be There, aimed mostly at Boomer nostalgia, with some spillover into my generation. (I collected NatLamp not too long after this era, but never really gelled with Cheech Wizard when I saw those strips.) It is The Complete This, though, so if you're at all interested in "the hat," this is where to go.

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