first amendment: 2 Live Comics

Jesse Marinoff Reyes:

2 Live Crew Comics
June 1991 issue, #1 (one shot)
Illustration: Stan Shaw (b. 1962)
Design: Dale Yarger (1950-2012)

Another design in our ongoing tribute to my friend, Dale Yarger.

---JMR Design---

Part one of two, the cover: When Dale was the art director (or senior designer, as it was titled) at Fantagraphics, they ran an imprint-offshoot called Eros Comics, taking a stab at the “adults-only” comic book market as it manifested itself at that time—which usually consisted of comics with “sexual situations.” However the ribald lyrics of the rap group 2 LIVE CREW qualified, the primary reason Eros published this one shot was political. 2 LIVE CREW had run afoul of the American Family Association (AFA) who thought their records went beyond the parental warnings of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), founded in part by former-second lady, Tipper Gore, which cautioned against the sale of records to minors that had their warning stickers on them. The AFA’s lawyers pushed then-Florida Governor Bob Martinez to examine the band’s 1989 album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be and determine whether it was (outright) obscene.

After more legal wrangling, a U. S. District Court Judge ruled the album obscene and illegal to sell in 1990, which caught many record store dealers in a bind (record store clerks were arrested by undercover cops if they tried to sell it; and members of the group were arrested when they performed its content in clubs). The matter was eventually settled in the band’s favor in 1992, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit overturned the ruling and the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. As Nasty As They Wanna Be went on to sell two million copies, hit 29th on the Billboard Top 200, and made Luther Campbell and the group First Amendment “heroes” despite being, all things considered, an altogether second-rate rap act with “potty mouths.” I remember remarking at the time, “why couldn’t it have been Public Enemy!”

Danny Hellman reminded me, “Public Enemy had the class not to attempt lyrics like “Heyyyy We Want Some Puss—ayyyy.” Nope. Just good, clean all-American stuff like Black Revolution and takin’ down whitey for his evil deeds (you’d think a Republican or two might have noticed). Right on!

So, Eros Comics had a First Amendment test case subject, with all the naughty bits included when they published this collection in 1991, with written contributions by such stalwarts as Christopher Hitchens and Dave Marsh, expanding upon and illuminating the work of Campbell, David Hobbs (the DJ, Mr. Mixx), Chris Wong Won (Fresh Kid Ice), and Yuri Vielot (Amazing V); along with the illustrator-comic artists noted on the cover, (the aforementioned) Shaw and Hellman, Peter Kuper, Jim Blanchard, Chris Kegel, Pat Moriarty, J. R. Williams, and Bob Fingerman.

Dale Yarger was the art director (or senior designer, as it was titled) at Fantagraphics at the time and was responsible for designing all of the material they produced. Here, on this cover posting, you can see his approach to the masthead design and cover layout, and his approach (additionally) to the splash layout of the table of contents which are spread across the inside front cover and first page (see the companion posting on this page). At around this time, I was the art director/designer of Harris Comics in New York, and whereas my approach was influenced by the Silver Age and Bronze Age comics I grew up with—mostly by Marvel and DC Comics and Warren Publications—Dale’s approach was an extension of the “rock underground” look to Seattle alt-publications that he was so important a contributor to—a very bold graphic look and gritty typographic feel, driven by a counter-intuitive, even avant garde design sense. The effect is especially noticeable on the contents spread, and indicative of the kind of design Dale brought to the table at Fantagraphics which set them apart immediately from other indie-comics publishers, and the “majors” themselves.

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