Review by Frank Plowright
In the internet age only Banksy remains truly anonymous, and many have their theories, but from the 1960s to the 1990s John Peck remained secure under the alias The Mad Peck. Radio DJ, rock poster artist, and contributor of strips to alternative and music magazines, Peck was a multi-purpose cultural dilettante, and this collection is a tour through his work from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. Bespoke ads and rock posters form the opening chapter, accompanied by Peck’s sardonic comments about the progress of his eccentric career. Over later chapters the commentary morphs into explanations of the strips or the times they were produced.
Peck was a cut and paste maestro long before Photoshop, otherwise generating his art from tracings or copies, but repurposing them to good effect rather than just trading off other people’s work. To consider him a cartooning equivalent of the music sampler about fits the bill. So in ‘Flash Burn Funnies’, 1940s superhero the Black Cat, rechristened the Masked Marvel, comments on music, accompanied by her sidekick I.C. Lotz. That morphs into their farcical six panel adventures sitting above suggested themed cassette anthologies, these strips seemingly plotted on a panel to panel basis such are their wild turns. It’s a random approach applied to most of Peck’s subsequent strips.
The majority of these have Peck’s stock characters riffing around a topic connected with an album release as per the sample page, not so much reviews as jazz extemporisations. Peck is extremely knowledgeable, his enthusiasm for what he considers great music shines through, and his commentary is as off the wall as the strips. There’s an attempt at a traditional gag strip ‘Donna’s Diner’, but Peck’s stream of consciousness satire was never going to be mainstream.
So far distanced from the times it was produced, the Mad Peck’s catalogue is very much an acquired taste. Even with copious notes, much of the relevance depends on knowing who Kim Fowley or Willie Alexander and the Boom Boom Band are, so really for music aficionados with broad tastes only. The very occasional opposite side of the coin is Peck commenting on someone then new who’d go on to have a large impact like AC/DC, Madness or the Police, but in keeping with the general tone it’s random. Peck’s work appeared in enough legitimate publications to score a publishing deal with Doubleday, and if you remember his contributions to Fusion and Creem there may be a kick to seeing them again, but for anyone else Peck will mystify rather than entertain.