Review by Frank Plowright
The lack of a wider audience for Dennis Eichhorns’s autobiographical stories is mystifying. They’re the writing of man with a broad experience of life resulting in plenty of anecdotes, and he has the storyteller’s instinct to present them effectively. He’s observant, insightful and confident, and there’s a belly laugh to be had from many of his pieces. He doesn’t draw them himself, but since the 1980s pretty well all the great and the good of alternative comics have illustrated for him. Despite this, the one collection of his 1980s and 1990s output was poorly distributed, meaning this 2015 Last Gasp anthology is the most readily available collection of his work.
While some recollections of his young life feature, Extra Good Stuff is largely the experiences of an older and wiser man, one less likely to fly off the handle, and it’s telling that the longest story concerns Eichhorn’s experiences in hospital for a heart condition in 2010. Sadly, five years later, he’d die from that condition.
Eichhorn doesn’t shy from the seedier aspects of his life, or what he’s seen. There are bar room observations, yet all filtered through a genuinely inquisitive and accepting nature. A tale of the biggest penis in major league baseball is told with an underlying sense of wonder that applies equally when viewing a geriatric comedian or an Elvis impersonator on community service in an old folks home. Interestingly, on the occasions when people known to the wider public feature, Eichhorn names them rather than coyly disguising their identities, although he has the sensitivity to do that on a strip concerning his brief fling with a female cartoonist.
As with his earlier collections, Eichhorn can call on a wonderful selection of artists to give his work tone and atmosphere, and their visual interpretations of him vary considerably according to both their own styles and the reference supplied to artists who didn’t know him in person. Jim Blanchard’s conventional portrait for the back cover looks nothing like any other interpretation, as most artists find Eichhorn’s hair and spectacles his most distinctive feature. Pat Moriarity and J.R. Williams are frequent artistic collaborators, but among other fine cartoonists featured are Michael Arnold, Max Clotfelder (gloriously seedy), David Collier, David Lasky, Tom Van Deusen (whose own work cries out for a comprehensive anthology), and Noah Van Sciver. The artistic approaches swing wildly, and perhaps only Eichhorn liked the art of everyone involved, but Ivan Brunetti (sample page) stands out as impressively elegant when illustrating the story of how Eichhorn first began writing, a glimpse into how breaking into a career was easier back in the day.
Online it’s not difficult to find Eichhorn frequently compared with Bukowski, but there’s a far greater spirit of joy to Eichhorn’s work. Bukowski’s a faithful raconteur, but with a narrower view of the world. Eichhorn encompasses the down and dirty, but without excluding an appreciation of life’s pleasures. As noted, collections of his work aren’t easily found, but well worth hunting down.