Review by Win Wiacek
Randolph Holton Holmes was a unique individual: a self-taught artist who grew up troubled, found peace and sufficiency, if not fame and fortune, and died far too young in 2002. Available in wrist-wrenching paperback and soothing digital editions, this superbly curated compilation and biography re-presents scads of sketches; reproductions of drawings; cartoons and paintings he created in later life, along with diary entries over the years. These are preserved alongside a copious collection of his wickedly wonderful underground and alternative comic strips for fans and the soon to be devoted. As with other artist overviews from Fantagraphics, the art and strips are combined with a biographical essay revealing the artist alongside their work, here down to editor and curator Patrick Rosenkranz.
If you are liable to be offended by raucous adult, political and drug humour, or beautifully illustrated scenes of explicit sex, unbelievable comedic violence and controversial observations, Holmes’ work isn’t for you.
Holmes was born in Nova Scotia on February 22nd 1942 and raised in Edmonton, Canada. His early life was remarkable, and included honing a prodigious artistic talent through diligently absorbing the work and drawing styles of Jack Davis, Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman (who bought Rand’s first professional efforts for Help! magazine) – and most especially Wally Wood.
Working for The Georgia Straight in 1969, one of many youth-oriented, counter-culture newspapers that blossomed during the period, Holmes created signature character Harold Hedd. It ran as a regular strip, and was assembled in 1972 into an outrageously hilarious, adults-only comic. A second volume followed a year later.
Holmes was by inclination a completely liberated sexual and political satirist. Sadly, his meticulously lush and shockingly explicit strips often obscured powerful social commentaries by being just too damn well-drawn. However, he generated an astounding amount of cartoon and comic work, which appeared so many underground anthologies that following his career has always required diligence, so their being gathered between two covers is welcome.
In 1982 Holmes moved his family to the idyllic, isolated artistic community of Lasqueti Island where he increasingly concentrated on a self-sufficient lifestyle, with oil painting replacing cartooning as an outlet for his relentless artistic drives. Here, with other creative hermits, he built an art centre that has become his lasting monument. He passed away from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2002 and this book followed the first retrospective show compiled by his family from the treasury of superb material he left behind.
As well as a photo-stuffed and highly engaging history, this volume contains a wealth of artwork from early doodles to teen cartoons; illustrations and covers from his commercial art days; sketches; paintings; fascinating excerpts from the journals he kept for most of his life and a wonderful selection of his comics.
Rand Holmes was a true artist in every sense of the word: mostly producing work intended to change society, not fill his pockets. This terrific tome is a splendid and fitting tribute, one any grown-up art lover will marvel at and cherish.