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excellent writing
skilled art
historical bonus 3
total score 8
subvert comics _ Subvert Comics 2 _ Subvert Comics 3
Subvert Comics #1
Subvert Comics #2 Subvert Comics #3
REVIEW SCORE: 7
REVIEW SCORE: 8 REVIEW SCORE: 8
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keyline
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Subvert Comics
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1970-1976 / Rip Off Press - Keith Green Industrial Reality
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Manuel Rodriguez, born in Buffalo in 1940, grew up in the working class; his Spanish immigrant father toiled as an auto body repairman while his Italian mother was a struggling artist. Rodriguez was proud of his Spanish heritage, which led to shouting matches with neighborhood Irish boys who taunted him by calling him "Spain." The derisive nickname stuck to Rodriguez through high school, but as he began to develop a reputation in comics some years later he realized he was getting confused with Charles Rodrigues (of National Lampoon fame), so he adopted Spain as his official moniker.

High school was a unique phase of life for Rodriguez, as he became a juvenile delinguent who shoplifted and stole cars, but also had a passion for art in all forms, including comic books. As a younger boy, he used to draw cartoons on the sides of household trash bags to entertain the garbage men who picked them up. He was angered by the 1954 Senate hearings (featuring Fredric Wertham) that resulted in the heavy-handed censorship of comics, which took away his beloved EC comics. It was likely the first of a million times he got pissed off at the establishment.

After high school Rodriguez left home to attend art school in Connecticut, where he learned a lot but also recognized that his realistic drawings were out of vogue in the age of Abstract Expressionism. He quit art school after three years, returned to Buffalo and took a menial job in a telephone wire factory, where he continued his art education by drawing the industrial machines and his co-workers. He also also drew the motorcycles and fellow members of the Road Vultures, a violent, law-breaking motorcycle gang that he joined in the early 1960s. Rodriguez evolved into a political leftist who supported Marxism and the Socialist
Labor Party, which was not quite the sinister badge it might be today.

After several visits to New York City, Rodriguez finally left Buffalo and moved to the Big Apple in early 1967, when he began producing weekly comic strips for the East Village Other (EVO). At first Rodriguez produced a variety of comics, but in 1968 he created Harry Barnes, a.k.a. Trashman, who became Rodriguez's most popular and well-recognized character.

Trashman is a cocksure, well-armed underground comic superhero clad in black leather with a black beard and thick black hair. Though he never met a pussy he wouldn't mount, as an agent of the mysterious anarchist organization Sixth International, Trashman mostly fights against the enemies of the working class. In his post-apocalyptic world, Trashman is continually pitted against a fascist police state, tyrannical mega-corporations, and evil political leaders. He's expertly trained to use a variety of weapons and has mastered the "para-sciences," which enable him to alter his shape and molecular structure to any desired form and prevent him from being killed by conventional weapons.

Most of the Trashman stories from EVO were first compiled in The Collected Trashman in 1969, and after Rodriguez moved to San Francisco at the end of that year, Trashman starred in 88 pages of hyper-violent adventures in three issues of Subvert Comics. The first two were published by Rip Off Press and the third by Justin Green's brother, Keith Green.

Despite his super (para-science) powers, Trashman always remained a comic-book reflection of Rodriguez's own social and political beliefs, which echoed counterculture positions in the '60s. It was a tense and turbulent time in Trashman's heyday, as America seemed perpetually on a knife's edge; beset with racial tension, violent conflicts, assassinations, and a futile, unwinnable war in Vietnam. Trashman's stories take place in a ruptured society with a totalitarian form of government, mass poverty, repressive social control systems, a military-like police force, and a lack of individual freedoms. Anything sound familiar?

Rodriguez blazed a new trail with Trashman, taking the well-worn genre of comic superheroes and giving it fresh life with authentic energy from the urban streets of the '60s and '70s, filled with raw sexual energy, profane slang, and a blunt, savage style. His post-apocalyptic world and dark attitude was emulated by much more famous productions that followed it, such as the Blade Runner and Mad Max films, Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns, and the V for Vendetta comics.

After Subvert Comics' run was over Trashman continued to appear in publications like High Times, Heavy Metal, Weirdo, and Zero Zero. Rodriguez also featured the character in two later issues of Zap Comix, after which Fantagraphics published another Trashman compilation in 1989 (Trashman Lives!). As the Amazon description for that compilation declares, "Trashman became the Superman of the New Left, idolized by the Weathermen and admired by a generation of young people disillusioned with the collapse of the American dream."

In the biography that his long-time wife Susan Stern wrote, Rodriguez said, "My hopes are that mankind will build a more just society." He passed away at his San Francisco home in late 2012 after a long battle with cancer. Subvert Comics is a lasting testimony to everything that was justifiably wild—and incomprehensibly unfair—in the world of Spain Rodriguez.