Ralph Reese #2: Ashcan angst
Recent Ralph Reese artwork (2009) resusitates the T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents characters.
When I lived on West 12th Street during the 1960s, there was a garbage strike. On West 12th between Hudson and Greenwich, huge piles of trash bags stacked up just outside the nursing home facing Abingdon Park. The fetid odor increased daily, and I had to look alert when I walked by because large rats were crawling around inside the bags and suddenly darting out across the sidewalk. There was a rumor that the rats were multiplying, and the longer the garbage strike stretched out, an army of rats could take over the city, marching in a massive parade up Fifth Avenue. Some recalled Dick Gregory's warnings about covert government labs for the breeding of super-rats.
Once I went to an American-International Pictures press luncheon at Danny's Hideaway, where I asked James Nicholson if he would ever produce film adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft stories such as "The Rats in the Walls" to expand beyond what AIP had done with Poe. "No," said Nicholson, "because rats don't sell movies." (That was six years before Willard
was released in 1971.)
Tom Sutton and Ralph Reese reigned as the rodent royalty of comic books, the Grand Vicars of Vermin, and Ralph was equally adept at fashioning festering panels with close-ups of cockroaches crawling into the foreground. Many who read his adaptation of Thomas Disch's "The Roaches" have never forgotten the story. I asked Ralph for some background on those memorable pages, and here's what he told me:
As a native New Yorker, I had a good deal of first-hand experience with cockroaches, garbage cans and urban blight. As a kid, my parents were the supers in an old tenement building, and we had a little apartment in the basement. My brother and I had to collect all the garbage from the building, pack it into cans and haul it upstairs onto the sidewalk before we went to school in the morning. So I grew up poor on the streets.
When I got into doing comics, I wanted to bring a little of that ashcan realism to my work. In the world of comics at the time, there was no trash on the streets, no bums sleeping it off in the gutter. Super heroes never had an attack of diarrhea or just felt too depressed and hung-over to go to work that day. Throughout my career I tended to shy away from super heroes in favor of stories that had more to do with real life. Perhaps this worked to my detriment in the end, since that sort of thing never attracted much of a fan base and now has pretty much ceased to exist.
Labels: disch, ralph reese, rats, roaches