Arriving four decades after its initial assembly by comedy writer and performer Michel Choquette, The Someday Funnies brings together 129 comic strips by 169 artists and writers, all celebrating the calamitous glory of the ’60s. By the time he was in his early thirties, Choquette, born in Montreal in 1938, had toured extensively as part of a musical-comedy duo and contributed such provocations as Son-O’-God comics to National Lampoon. Choquette’s co-workers admired his satires, but also recalled he was “the most anal-retentive human being to walk the earth, bar none.” This penchant for perfectionism became problematic when, in 1970, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner commissioned Choquette to edit a history in comic-strip form of the tumultuous decade just passed.
Globe-trotting right over his expense account, Choquette snared contributions from such happening cartoonists as MAD magazine’s marginalia master, Sergio Aragonés, and Jean-Claude Forest, creator of sci-fi sexpot Barbarella. Federico Fellini twice took time out from film work to respond, redrawing his bizarre geopolitical dreamscape when the first version was lost in the mail. Soon, Choquette’s project had metastasized from a 20-page magazine supplement into a massive tome that publishers worldwide deemed unmarketable. By the close of the ’70s, he was bankrupt and had consigned his obsessively annotated notes, dummies, translations, and stacks of original art to storage lockers.
In 2009, comics scholar Bob Levin wrote a lively essay for The Comics Journal about the dark fate of this legendary treasure trove. Contemporary publishing gears began grinding with uncommon speed, and today The Someday Funnies fulfills Choquette’s decades-old vision of a graphic cornucopia of the ’60s. John F. Kennedy gets assassinated numerous times, most radiantly in Red Grooms’s phantasmagoria of a ’50s beatnik snoozing atop his copy of “Howl.” This proto-hippie dreams of JFK’s wounds, immolated monks, space-walking astronauts, and Nixon’s nose morphing into a B-52 bomber. Similarly, illustrator Baby Jerry’s loopy Acid Trip conjures a daisy chain of ’60s-style hallucinations.
With the unfortunate exception of a series of 2010 cartoons, which innocuously rehash Choquette’s travails and flaccidly interrupt some of the original panels, all of the strips were created in the 1970s. By that decade, flower power fancies had been scabbed over by the Vietnam War, Nixon’s grim reign, and multiple assassinations. (Andy Warhol’s 1968 shooting is referred to in the appendix as “Fifteen minutes of pain.”) Vaughn Bode, whose panels flow as fluidly as Disney animations, drew touching vignettes of lizards in flak vests toting M16s, one trying to stuff his entrails back in after being attacked by “gooks.” And just as the true meaning of the ’60s remains ungraspable, Malcolm McNeill’s illustrations for William Burroughs’s story of electrically stimulated brains and a chick with a dick set inside a cosmic bullring perplex the viewer even as they dazzle. Equally striking, Chlodwig Poth deploys deceptively comical drawings to propel his mordant critique of the bloodthirsty 1966 spaghetti western Django.
With its extravagantly illustrated tales of Tarzan battling “The Man” at the 1968 Democratic Convention, “Frankenstein Incorporated” despoiling the environment, and the My Lai massacre as avant-garde theater, this graphic time capsule reveals that “The Sixties” still define modern America’s contradictory heart.