FF1991: Jizz

Jizz #1-10 by Scott Russo.

There was an double entendre epidemic going around at the time: Colin Upton’s Big Thing, Roberta Gregory’s Naughty Bits… and Scott Russo’s Jizz, which is, perhaps, only half as entendrey.  A single entendre.

I didn’t remember much of this series, only that it was outrageous and somewhat controversial, but I was pretty stoked to be re-reading it.

Oh, yeah. I had forgotten how much self-loathing was in this book. It reminds me a bit of Ivan Brunetti, only a very juvenile one who’s not very interested in the artwork.

There’s a couple of pages in this style, which I would call “telephone notebook scribble Ted McKeever” (what with all those little teeth)…

… but most are in this very simple, cartoony and rather lazy style. And this excerpt exemplifies why I remembered it being controversial. Russo depicts himself thinking many racist thoughts (always with the Jew stuff), but he also depicts other people saying racist things and then saying clearly that he’s upset at being a witness to those things.

In additions to the comics, there are text pieces and “found objects” like this, often with jokes underneath.

It’s rather sophomoric, isn’t it? It’s very much like what an alienated 16-year-old would create, what with all the outrage and angst…

These free-floating parodies are an opportunity to write shocking screeds but not take responsibility for them.

The humour is often extremely lazy, as in this piece featuring Akira Kurosawa. He’s Japanese, so L/R.

Russo calls the Fantagraphics office and talks to one of the Hernandez brothers. They’re Mexican! Hilarious! Not that he’s the only one to make these lazy jokes…  Clowes does one, and…  Hm, I should have made a note every time a Fantagraphics artist makes the same edgy joke, because I just can recall who else did this…

And speaking of lazy, Russo will do things like use four pages to print facsimiles of a pistol license application. Russo is apparently a gun nut for real (and a Libertarian, possibly) and writes quite a bit about wanting to buy guns, so it makes sense in context, but still… Sometimes reading Jizz it feels like Russo thinks that putting the thing together is a chore, so he just puts in some page fillers.

So it sounds like a rather loathsome package, right? But I enjoyed reading these issues. When Russo pulls himself together and actually draws, it doesn’t look half bad. And while I didn’t really laugh once, it’s frequently amusing, especially the way that Russo seems hell-bent on alienating as many people as possible.

His most frequent targets are other comic book artists, but he also goes after comic book dealers. So courageous.

The final major constituent part of the series are the letters that Russo sends to officials (some of them seem kinda deranged), and the restrained answers he gets back. I feel rather sorry for the people who are wasting their time responding to this dreck. Semi-serious letter above…

… and here’s a prank letter to ex-mayor Koch. I dunno. I’m just old and I only see someone who wasted ten minutes having to respond to this nonsense when they could have been doing something more useful, like sniffing their fingers.

Russo depicts Gary Groth, leading the Fantagraphics Empire. See? His drawing isn’t that bad when he makes an effort.

Apparently Russo had created a small backlog of issues, so the first five were created before he’d gotten any response from publishing the first issue. By issue six, the publishing schedule had caught up with what he was making, and he starts to get letters, reviews and can give critiques of Fantagraphics’ solicitation copy.

There’s also a rather prescient parody of Eightball. Yes, the surrealism in Eightball would work well in a perfume commercial.

And speaking of prescient… (The one on the bottom, not the one about lightbulbs.)

It’s not all parodies and fun. He also has various exposés: Here he reveals the shocking truth about olive oil, apparently sincerely, like this was big news to him. And perhaps these shenanigans weren’t well-known in 1991?

But Russo seems in general rather credulous, willing to believe and print any old thing somebody tells him. Or perhaps he’s being ironic, pretending to believe this stuff?

Russo gets fan mail, which included a used condom. With fans like these…

Oh, yeah, I had forgotten to mention the many pages where he features his parents. (Russo was apparently living at home while doing Jizz.) He unfailingly portrays his father as a racist asshole. Which may well be true, but the way Russo does this makes it seem like he’s doing these strips as revenge (especially with that final panel).

Sales figures! My favourite. Apparently Jizz started at 3K copies, but by issue six, it’s down to 1,800. That can’t be healthy.

Russo tries to do an ad campaign with the slogan “The comic that doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Carol Kalish”. To give some context, Kalish was an editor and sales manager at Marvel comics, and had recently died. The Comics Buyer’s Guide had published a large number of remembrances from people about Kalish, and some people thought that it was a bit excessive.

If only The Comics Buyer’s Guide  had run it, it would probably have sent the circulation sky rocketing, right?

Russo tells how Fantagraphics came to publish him.

The most famous issue of Jizz, if those words in that order make any sense, is the ninth. It’s the story of what happened when Sam Henderson (the comic book humorist) sent a death threat to the president in Russo’s name.

The Secret Service took it seriously and sent out agents to investigate. The entire issue is about the event, and is drawn by Jeff Wong.

Russo’s parents immediately think he’s guilty and told the Secret Service that the note was in Russo’s handwriting.

The Secret Service determines pretty quickly that Russo is innocent, and further investigation leads Russo to point at Sam Henderson as the guilty part. The Secret Service conclude that, indeed, he is. Henderson sends a half-hearted apology to Russo half a year later, but doesn’t really explain why the prank happened.

Russo’s mom is given the opportunity to tell her side of the story.

I remember reading this, er, 25 years ago? Yes. And wondering whether it was true or just a hoax. I think I eventually assumed that it was true, because it’s such a stupid story, and nothing really horrible happened. Surely if Russo had made it up, the Secret Service people would be inefficient and moronic, I think my reasoning was.

But I’ve never checked before, so I Googled a bit now. It looks like other people think it’s true, too, so perhaps it is?

The final issue opens with a vicious parody of the autobio comics artists over at Drawn & Quarterly, drawn again by Jeff Wong. It’s a four page piece, with each page drawn in the style of one of Julie Doucet, Seth, Joe Matt and Chester Brown.

Russo notes that he hasn’t gotten much specific negative critique, other than from that Hernandez joke.

And then Jizz is cancelled, primarily because it’s losing money, but also because Groth has grown ambivalent about the work artistically.

I guess that’s me, too. Like I almost said earlier, it’s like reading an angsty sixteen-year-old’s secret diary slash art project, which is rather interesting. But Russo wasn’t sixteen when he did this, which makes it somewhat creepy, too.

After Jizz was cancelled, Russo didn’t publish anything more, apparently. Jizz has never been reprinted, and I would guess that it’s somewhat unlikely that that would ever happen. But you can still pick up all the issues quite cheaply.

This post is part of the Fantagraphics Floppies series.

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