To those of us marooned in damp, dark 1970s Britain, the experiences of the average US youngster often felt far more dangerous and exotic than our own drizzle-soaked existences. They had Vietnam and Watergate; we had the Three-Day Week and Edward Heath. They had ‘head shops’ filled with bongs and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers; we had newsagents selling Rothmans King Size and The Beezer.
But our respective flights of fancy perhaps had more in common. Kids on both sides of the Atlantic found mental refuge from the everyday in the darkly fantastical, and the stunning 1971 graphic novel created by Michigan teenager Jim Cheff would surely have resonated with British children who had already been entranced by the dystopian stories of The Prisoner and Planet Of The Apes.
As Jim puts it himself in his story’s final frame: “Freedom is a state of mind…”
Over to you, Jim…
“I was 13 in 1971. With my head full of sci-fi and sword and sorcery novels, I created my first comic book, which I called Armageddon.
I was living in River Rouge, Michigan when I made Armageddon. River Rouge is a small industrial city, just outside Detroit. The famous ship of Gordon Lightfoot’s song ‘The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald’ was built there, at the Great Lakes Engineering Works.
I remember River Rouge as a place of smokestacks and factories. My favorite memory of River Rouge were the annual ‘Rouge Days’ events. The best of these, for me, was the night-time showing of movies and cartoons on a big screen at the baseball field, with everyone watching from the bleachers.
I also remember seeing a local band play a smoking rendition of ‘Eli’s Coming’ during Rouge Days, and it solidified my newly-forming love of rock and roll.
From the cover of Armageddon and the ‘poster’ illustration, one might glean a pale reflection of my admiration for the paintings of Frank Frazetta.
The story I attach here – ‘The Seekers and the Lost’ – was the second of the two stories in Armageddon.
There might be a glimmer of my veneration of Ray Bradbury’s fiction. I was a huge fan of Fahrenheit 451. I liked stories where the protagonist escapes from a society that they were previously part of, after realizing there was something something corrupt or immoral about it. Later, I would enjoy this theme in the movie Logan’s Run.
In ‘The Seekers and the Lost’, one can also find what I believe was my first attempt to use Zipatone sheets (‘Zipatone’ — the Seventies, indeed!)
The character in my story was not actually rejecting a world he was a part of. Rather, he was escaping from a prison situation imposed on humans by an invading alien race. Still, he chooses to live a solitary life of supposed freedom away from the rest of the captured humans. And I definitely had the philosophical Bradbury in mind when asking if freedom is simply a matter of having a big enough cage.
Armageddon was printed by my dad on the copy machine where he worked. I made about 50 copies. My mom helped me collate and staple the books in our basement.
I talked our local head shop (the Seventies, again!) into offering some for sale, amidst the incense burners, bongs, and black light posters.
Nowadays, my artistic influences lean more toward Edward Bawden than Frazetta. But my undying love of science fantasy can be found in Mary Farfisa’s Outer Space Radio Theater, the children’s radio show I write and produce, and also draw comics for.
And my current artwork (unfortunately, with no Zipatone shadings) can be seen at jimcheff.portfoliobox.net.”
Thanks Jim! Felt Trips is a collaborative effort. If anyone wants to contribute their own childhood drawings from the era, I would be utterly delighted – please drop me a line using the “Contact” link at the top of the page. A good quality scan would be perfect, but – if not – then a clear photo of your artwork, lying flat, is fine. And maybe a few words of explanation, too: when the drawings were done, how old you were, what inspired you to tackle those particular subjects? Thanks so much.
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