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Images of “Omaha The Cat Dancer” (1992) (review): Benefit for Reed Waller—“Love is all around”

by Various Artists and Bozos

Kitchen Sink, 1992

RUMMAGING AROUND FUTURE DREAMS overstuffed comics and books fantasy shop, I turned over a neglected stack on a bottom shelf and found a square envelope with a logo I immediately recognized: a totem of wings spread down and across, framing a tousled heart in the corner with an all-seeing eye in the center dripping a globular tear, obviously styled after psychedelic poster and comix artist Rick Griffin (actually designed by Raphael Schnepf ). The envelope contains a portfolio of limited-edition postcards by thirteen West Coast artists, hand-pulled at Visuals Northwest studio in Portland, Oregon, where I had heard about and seen fragments of the project, created as a benefit for the family of Rick Griffin, facing medical bills shortly after his untimely death in 1991. I was stunned to hold a set in my hands. The quality of the art is a small part of the beauty, subsumed by the inspirational concept that made it happen, and the evident love and devotion planted in each piece by the contributing artists. Carl Rohrs, who did the psychedelic TRIBUTE lettering on the envelope, put it nicely on the stamp-side of his card, saying “For almost thirty years, Rick Griffin was my guide to the proper amount of artistic excess.”

This experience is undoubtedly the reason I so enthusiastically grabbed IMAGES OF “OMAHA” the cat dancer in comic book format, created as a benefit for Reed Waller, who was still alive in 1992, following treatment for a serious medical condition, but was also facing extensive medical bills. Rube that I am, I had no acquaintance with the adults-only “Omaha”; and I’m sticking with that story. Here is another model for the proper amount of artistic excess, dabbed at with love and devotion by some sixty artists in two issues. The “Omaha” strips were drawn by Reeder and written by his partner Kate Worley. I can’t name all the contributing artists, and know only a few of them, though those few indicate a cavalcade of celebrity talent.

The Collected Omaha the Cat Dancer, Vol. 1 by Reed Waller

Again, the art is enhanced by rotating around a single theme in highly individualistic ways, and again, the art is subsumed by the inspirational concept that made it happen. My favorite piece, and I’m sticking with it, is the comix-style scene by Terry LaBan shown here, replicating my own pet experiences with an aquarium of African cichlids: one dominant Moori male with a choice of female partners, and a few always pregnant, eggs in mouth, while the single magnificent Peacock male is alone, and at times runs up and down the glass murmuring, “I gotta find a woman.” The impulse fluidly crosses species.

The stunning part of this collection I found when I started reading the Introduction to the first issue, two full pages of single-spaced text that put coasters on my brain from the first instant, so I was unable to take a breath to see who wrote it until I finished in burbling chuckles and bewonderment: How is it possible to write this way? Bozos all. Of course, it was Harlan Ellison. Quotations are impossible, but the Introduction by Steven Brust in the second issue supplies the flavor. Finding he had to follow “Harlan,” he went into crisis mode: “he’s going to rant across the pages … and I’m going to look like a schmuck.” Then half-way through he paused to read Harlan’s intro, which he had probably just received in the post, considering when this was written, and then wailed, “Ah. Just as I thought. Please wait while I go shoot myself.” I feel the same. Let’s see if you have reached this far.

Omaha the Cat Dancer (Kitchen Sink), Edition# 14: Kitchen Sink:  Books

The Afterword to the first issue by Neil Gaiman rambles through his early memories frequenting seedy nightclubs with editors and publishing types, and talking to his first nude model, presuming by the locution he has talked to others since. Asking her how she felt posing nude, she answered, “It beats working the night-shift in a Bradford biscuit factory,” which gives pause for thought. Feminists and racists as well can do better by looking at a larger human picture, to become humanists, and shape arguments to improve life for all people, women and men, young and old, black, yellow, brown, and white, objectified on the night shift and the day shift all over the place. This is about systems and conditions, not indignant attitudes and righteous poses. Saving the planet, saving animals and habitat, such as the marker Spotted Owl species in Oregon, or particularizing genders or colors, does not mean much and cannot generate general sympathy if we do not also concentrate on saving people, all of us at the same time.

Seeking salvation or at least a little redemption reflects on such benefit events like these for Rick Griffin and Reed Waller. Possibly this is a distinctly American phenomenon, where health insurance is so tenuous, so communities are induced to organize bake sales to help someone in need. Focusing on a sensible system of health insurance for all is probably the first step to establish a sensible government, with regional autonomous funds separated from fickle legislators, substituting science and maybe real democracy, while keeping the enterprise moneymakers require. In this scenario, insurers are not the enemy, rather the first harbingers of socialism, managing the way we govern personal risks for the whole population. Panoplies of art and artists raise the symbols of our needs.

Good, I got through this without mentioning tits once. I can say I got this comic for the writing and deep thoughts; and I’m sticking with that story.