Northeast Ohio has been an incubator for the comics industry.
We all know about Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s “Superman,” but many others followed. Tom Batiuk (“Funky Winkerbean” and “Crankshaft”), Art and Chip Sansom (“Born Loser”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”) are prime examples.
Crumb (“Mr. Natural” and “Fritz the Cat”), Gilbert Shelton (“Wonder Wart-hog” and “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers”) and pop art phenomenon Roy Lichtenstein (who used comic art in his paintings) had Cleveland connections. For a time, Lichtenstein was a draftsman at Republic Steel. But there’s a name you may not recognize that had a huge impact on the world of underground art.
The Sheridan Story
Dave Sheridan is the focus of a new coffee table book titled, appropriately enough, “Dave Sheridan” (Fantagraphics Underground), and what a book it is. Sheridan died at 49, but he left behind an amazing body of work.
Sheridan grew up on East 216th Street in Euclid, and ink was in his blood. His dad was an editorial cartoonist for the Cleveland News, and Sheridan and his brother spent hours drawing on reams of paper their father brought home from work.
His first art gig came right after he graduated from St. Joseph High. Sheridan got $25 from WJW-TV 8 for the now-famous sketch of Ghoulardi that is still used as the logo for Paul Thomas Anderson’s film company.
Sheridan was also deeply influenced by Mad Magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, radio’s Pete “Mad Daddy” Myers, early TV and rock ’n’ roll. He was a regular at D. Poo’s Tool and Die Works when the Flats was just starting to draw people — and not necessarily the most savory characters, either.
Sheridan eventually found himself at the Cleveland Institute of Art and joined the city’s emerging hippie counterculture. Much of that world centered on Hessler Street, and it was around that time that he met up with folks like Shelton, Tom Pope, Fred Schrier and Don Novello (who later made TV history as Father Guido Sarducci on “Saturday Night Live”).
While at CIA, Sheridan used a technique called the “Cleveland Crosshatch,” a style of detailed line art that later became one of his trademarks in the underground cartoon field.
During a cross-country trip, Sheridan’s work caught the attention of publications like the Berkeley Barb and the Berkeley Tribe, Rip Off Press and Last Gasp Comics.
He got a lot of freelance work, too, including album covers and print ads, doing high-profile work for Pink Floyd, Jimmy Buffett and Capitol Records. He didn’t forget Cleveland, designing the cover for John Bassette’s album “Weed and Wine” and doing work for the city’s best underground newspaper, the Great Swamp Erie da da Boom.
Sheridan worked at a time when “intoxicants” fueled the counterculture, and much of his work reflects that lifestyle and perception. His work on the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, which was much like an edgier print version of Cheech and Chong, is a good example.
Some of Sheridan’s best work is in strips featuring his notorious characters Dealer McDope and the Leather Nun. Read into those stories whatever way you like, but a lot of art does spark controversy.
Last issue I said Lake Chautauqua was mentioned a number of times on a popular 1950s TV show. That show was “I Love Lucy,” starring Lucille Ball, who was from Jamestown, New York. Jamestown is also the home of the new National Comedy Center and the popular annual comedy festival.
Here’s a tough one for next time: Name the member of Our Gang/Little Rascals who lived in Cleveland for a brief — and I mean very brief — time.