Dugan under Ground

Dugan under Ground

by Tom De Haven

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The final installment of De Haven's dazzling tour of twentieth-century America, revealed through the world of the comic strips and their creators. In 1967, the Summer of Love, Roy Looby, a gifted young cartoonist, deserts his mentor and joins the drop-outs of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury. There Looby creates "The Imp Eugene," a libidinous comic book character who

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The final installment of De Haven's dazzling tour of twentieth-century America, revealed through the world of the comic strips and their creators. In 1967, the Summer of Love, Roy Looby, a gifted young cartoonist, deserts his mentor and joins the drop-outs of San Francisco's Haight Ashbury. There Looby creates "The Imp Eugene," a libidinous comic book character who is a far cry from his mentor's signature figure, Derby Dugan—the cheerful icon of a more optimistic generation. Celebrated and vilified for his creation, Looby soon disappears, rumored to have lost his mind during the drug-fueled creation of a cartoon masterpiece, and it's to his long-suffering brother, Nick, to find him. A long, strange trip across a wildly changing America, Dugan Under Ground is a rich, inventive tale celebrating the mythic qualities of American popular culture.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The ageless Derby Dugan, comic-strip kid, is back, complete with magic yellow wallet and Fuzzy the talking dog, in this entertaining sequel to Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies. Dugan, passed from artist to artist like a cursed heirloom, has met a hard road in the 1960s, as the hobo adventures that carried him through the Depression and the war years aren't playing to the Kennedy-era nuclear family. Candy Biggs, his current artist (who only received Dugan after being stabbed in the chest with a pencil by his previous creator), drinks his way through Dugan's decline, watching his beloved comic strip vanish from one newspaper after another. Candy's only solace is teaching the Way of the Comic Artist to Roy Looby, a weird, talented neighborhood boy, and his kid brother Nick. In Roy's hand, Dugan morphs into the Imp Eugene, a randy roustabout who epitomizes the late-'60s independent comix craze, smoking dope and gallivanting with chicken-headed busty women. Roy moves to San Francisco and becomes an artist icon, bolstering his fame by disappearing for weeks at a time to produce Eugene's new adventures. Nick, ever the suffering Salieri to Roy's Mozart, is left behind in New Jersey with Roy's abandoned wife and young son. Finally, Nick, who narrates most of the novel, sets off in pursuit of his brother, trying to lay his own claim to Eugene's psychedelic world. This is a nostalgic romp through the funny-book business, as well as a compelling look at the people who struggle to make art out of four-color panels. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The enigmatic life of a renegade cartoonist is and isn't revealed by the testimony of those who knew, loved, and hated him: a fascinating, frustrating partial sequel to De Haven's Funny Papers (1985) and Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies (1996). Roy Looby learned his trade from newspaper cartoonist Ed "Candy" Biggs, the last of several illustrators who produced the famous "Derby Dugan" strip, featuring an indomitable itinerant orphan (Little Annie's brother, you might say) who always defeated the bad guys. But Roy's creation "The Imp Eugene" proved to be Derby's X-rated evil twin, provoking the question "How did America's once-beloved and always optimistic little orphan boy turn into this- . . . maniac?" That's the subject of De Haven's parallel narratives, both of which offer glimpses of Roy as a sullen teenager; as first among equals in the Lazy Galoot Comix Collective, formed in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district in 1970; and as a homeless recluse who keeps disappearing. Thus, we come to know a great deal about Roy's younger brother Nick, his embittered "inker" and gofer; his former publisher Joel Clark, arrested-development personified, who ends up lecturing to college students on the art of comics; Roy's former wife Noreen and somewhat devoted groupie Cora Guirl; and especially the irascible Candy, whose memories of the waning "great days" of newspaper cartoons provide many of the liveliest pages here. Indeed, our attention is drawn much more to them than to the pivotal, yet almost undrawn figure of Roy Looby-a narrative choice De Haven defends in a tongue-in-cheek metafictional epilogue that seems to suggest yet another novel about the cartoonist's life in the offing. One hopesthat's so, because this one-an antic, distracting Citizen Kane-does finally fail to deliver on its very considerable promise. A shame, too, since Dugan Under Ground positively rattles with energy, invention, and roughhouse wit. It's chaotic-and quite wonderful.

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Product Details

Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.96(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Sunday Page


In late September 1960, during another one of those wear-a-tie cocktail parties that somebody, some couple, in our little circle liked to host four to sevenish on Sunday afternoons, a cartoonist friend offered me this piece of advice: "Kill the kid," he said, "keep the dog." His name was Dick Macdonald, and what he proposed struck me as so kooky, as so fucking nuts, that I burst out laughing. Dick looked slapped. He saw nothing funny. Well, he'd never had a sense of humor, the poor slob. He'd had a professional one, of course, just not a personal one. But you could say the same thing about most of us Fairfield County comic-strip men. If you'd met us—if you'd had car trouble, let's say, and walked into that house party asking to use the phone to call a wrecker—you'd have taken one gander at our collective stoop and the good cut of our sport coats, then registered the bland murmur of golf anecdotes and figured us all for a bunch of loan officers. Or druggists. "I'm serious," said Dick. "Bury the brat. It'll make you change your way of doing things. A death always does, am I correct?" Of course he was. He was drunk, but he was correct. He was drunk, but I was drunker.

    Although our small tribe routinely spent the weekends drinking, I usually ended up more clobbered than anyone else. Still, I never fell down, I never passed out—and I never "accidentally" copped a feel off somebody's missus, so far as I know. At get-togethers, I usually just wandered from terrace to kitchen to living room, replenishing the ice and the mixed nuts without being asked, smiling at everyone's stories or clucking whenever that seemed called for. As long as I didn't start in again talking about poor Buddy Lydecker, retelling that old tale of woe, people liked me well enough, I think. But they felt bad for me, too, and not because I drank so much. They weren't hypocrites. No, they felt for me because—well, for a couple of reasons. May as well start with Ginnie.

    We still lived together, but over the summer she'd taken up with young Bill Skeeter, a third-rate illustrator, and was there anyone, anyone at all, who hadn't seen my wife go zooming around Westport in that scumbag's white Triumph? With others, and there'd been plenty of others in the past, she'd always been discreet. Not this time. And good Christ, was I ever pitied. Poor Candy. Poor, pathetic Candy Biggs. How can he stand it? Why does he put up with her?

    It was my career, though, not Ginnie's latest affair, that accounted for the constant barrage of advice from my peers. "Make the kid older, Candy." "Make him younger." "Give him a girlfriend." "Let him go blind." I scribbled down everything, every idiotic thing they said, right on the spot—at the post office, the stationer's, the art supply shop. The liquor store. I wrote it all down in a five-cent notepad. Older? Younger? Girlfriend? Blind? "Thanks!" I'd say. "Let me think about that."

    Since we all knew one another's business and work habits, it was common knowledge among cartoonists in our part of the world that I never clocked in fewer than sixty hours a week at the drawing board, and still—still, goddamnit!—"Derby Dugan" kept losing papers and I kept losing income. Either I put the kibosh on that trend pretty soon, or my home-owning days in suburban Connecticut were numbered. So the advice, the tips, the "helpful" suggestions kept coming. My colleagues, God bless and fuck them, were trying to save my bacon. Even so—and I don't mean this too cynically—there was more to their concern than professional brotherhood. If my strip got canceled, which seemed a real possibility that fall, it would be yet another signal that newspaper comics, our common bread and butter, were in serious trouble.

    Everybody used to follow the funnies, it was a national glue, like politics and baseball and polio scares. But over the past decade—since the end of the war, really, and the Second Coming of nylons and gasoline—readership had slumped. And when it came to story strips like mine, it had taken a plummet. We blamed television, of course, we hated television, but it wasn't only the competition we got from Wagon Train or Gorgeous George, it wasn't only that, it was something else, and we knew it. We just didn't like to admit it. City papers that had been around since the Gilded Age were shutting down, and the ones still left were edited now by a new breed of journalism school pricks with nothing but contempt for the "lowbrow" funnies. At every opportunity, they'd hack away some more at the comics, shrinking the sections or else jamming them full of ads for Brylcreem and Toni Crème Shampoo.

    Times had changed. The whole country seemed, I don't know, different. At least to us guys it did. We still had Sinatra, thank Christ, and John O'Hara novels, but on the other hand, big bands were kaput and so were men's hats. Now it was all compact cars, chlorophyll, and Calypso music on long-playing records. Bridey Murphy, Davy Crockett ... the oral contraceptive! Negroes sat in. Lucy dumped Desi. And last July we'd all flocked to see the latest Hitchcock picture, expecting another North by Northwest but finding instead Janet Leigh in a dazzling white brassiere! Twenty minutes later she was dead. So maybe, we'd started thinking, it was our turn now. Our day in the shower.

    "Give him eyeballs, Candy." "Put some hair on his head." "Make him a cowboy." "A Cub Scout." "A ballplayer."

    "Kill the kid," said Dick Macdonald, "keep the dog."

Excerpted from DUGAN UNDER GROUND by Tom De Haven. Copyright © 2001 by Tom De Haven. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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