One of the stranger and more obscure creators in comics history finally received his due with the new "Where Demented Wented: The Art and Comics of Rory Hayes" retrospective, courtesy of Fantagraphics Books. Hayes (1949-1983) became known in underground comics from the late 1960s to the mid 1970s for his simultaneously childish and obscene artwork and stories. The new book is edited by Glenn Bray and Dan Nadel, who also directs the publisher PictureBox.
Nadel spoke to CBR News about "Where Demented Wented" and Rory Hayes, whose divisive and drug-fueled comics career ultimately ended early, though the influence of his work remains visible throughout indie comics.
CBR: Do you think it's possible to categorize Rory Hayes' work? It seems so unlike anything else.
Dan Nadel: Actually, I think it's very much in the tradition of horror comics. I think what he's doing, you look at the storytelling, it's in the "Little Lulu" style or the EC Comics style. I've always found his comics incredibly easy to follow. There's always a beginning and a middle and an end. Rory was obviously an idiosyncratic artist. But his work was clearly the art of a cartoonist. He knows how to tell a story in panels.
But Hayes' artwork itself is very unique.
His art is scratchy and highly personal. Most horror comics were done in the classic illustration style, and the horror came about in the plot. But Rory drew horrifically. The very lines and marks were horrific. That makes him unique in comics.
But that doesn't make him unique in visual culture. And apparently he was quite aware of that. This idea that he was some kind of outsider artist is overstated. He was an artist pure and simple, and very ambitious. He suffered from personal problems and was self-taught, but then R. Crumb was self-taught and suffered from personal problems. It's not that different from Krazy Kat. But Herriman was canonized and Rory wasn't.
Do you think that had to do with the often graphic nature of Hayes' writing and art?
Mostly, he just didn't create comics for very long. He stopped publishing in 1976, which was the year I was born. I stumbled into his work in 1990 or 1991, so I've been aware of it for a long time. Artists I really respect like Kim Deitch or Bill Griffith would refer to him with a lot of frequency. Then two years ago, in "Art Out of Time," I featured some of his pages.
How much did you know about Hayes' life before taking on the "Where Demented Wented" project?
What I knew is essentially from reading the same things everyone read. His trajectory is interesting and sad, that he died so young and the drug addiction and all that. It's not terribly unusual for lots of different artists, but sad nonetheless.
What pushed you to start "Where Demented Wented?"
Our friend Gary Panter, three or four years ago now, said, "Boy, it would be really great to do a Rory Hayes book." My friend said Glenn Bray has this amazing collection of Hayes' art, and I contacted Glenn and he supplied a lot of artwork and a ton of guidance, and it just came together.
Did the artwork in the book come from Bray's collection? How did you decide what to include?
The goal was to make the most compelling case for [Hayes'] artwork possible. To that end, we chose the best work we could find. I think he's a major talent. There is a sort of progression to the work as he becomes more comfortable and his personal life unravels. There's not that much more of his art out there. We're only missing like 30 pages of comics.
Do you think you achieved your goal, have you made the case for Hayes?
I'm happy with it. It does exactly what it needs to do. The goal with all these books is to treat the subject seriously and the book provides amazing material. And also to provide scholarship and text for people that want to get into, to learn more about the context and the work itself. It's a complete kind of volume with a certain amount of seriousness that's too often lacking. I'm not interested in laudatory essays or bullshit celebrity endorsements. I don't like wacky design or people doing their own drawings on top of it. I just want serious attention to it. All we've got is the work, why fuck with it?
There's an interview with Hayes reprinted in the book. How did you select that piece, or was there much more out there?
There was one more, I think it was in Cascade, and it's available online, and that's been around a bit more. But I think that's it. I'm not that surprised. [Hayes] wasn't terribly popular and he faded out very quickly. If you look for any number of underground creators, you won't find much until they hit a certain celebrity status. It just wasn't being documented. There are odds and ends. Outside of Crumb, Spiegelman, Griffith and Deitch, the work wasn't very well liked.
Hayes always had critics who said there wasn't anything to his work beyond the vulgarity of it. What's your response to that?
Is there a lot more to it? Sure. There's a lot to it. There's probably a lot to be gleaned from it. He was using comics in a way that hadn't been used to that point. I've never understood, "Oh, it's just ugly," or, "Oh, it's just vulgar." I don't think the work's ugly or it's really vulgar. It's ugly or vulgar in the context of Al Williamson. But there's many other contexts in the world. There's as much going on in his work as in many of the underground cartoonists. It's someone exploring his inner world and having a direct experience of it. And was his inner world very interesting? Yes, it was to me.
Is there anyone working today who is creating comics in a Hayes-like tradition?
I'm not sure who I'd point to. There's nobody out there ripping him off. There's nobody like that. And I don't think you could. It's as much about an emotional state as it is about aesthetics. It's almost an impossible aesthetic to copy. It's all personal, there's nothing there to hold onto.