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Vaughn Bodé

vaughnbode01Contributed by Diana Green

Vaughn Bodé, entrepreneur of underground comics and creator of Cheech Wizard, was self described as “ auto-sexual, heterosexual, homosexual, masso-sexual, sado-sexual, trans-sexual, uni-sexual, omni-sexual.”

Vaughn had a troubled childhood. His mother had to work constantly, due to the drinking of his father, poet Ken Bodé. In response to this, Vaughn immersed himself in fantasy worlds, both those of others and the hundreds of worlds he created.

He had a brief stint in the Army, but was dismissed for medical reasons in 1958. As his greatest refuge from a harsh youth was in art, he went on to Syracuse University, from which he graduated with a BFA and high honors. Some sources give this year as 1960, others as 1965. While at Syracuse, his first published comics work appeared in the student newspaper, the Daily Orange, and his illustrations appeared in the school literary magazine, Vintage. His cover for Vintage #3 is a premonition of his future work, replete with lizards, nubile, buxom women, vivid yet controlled color schemes, and a border that also serves as part of the setting.

In 1961, he married his childhood sweetheart, Barbara. Two years later, their son Mark was born. They divorced ten years later but remained amicable.

The formative years of Bodé’s career were spent in advertising. At this point, he was a fairly typical looking ad exec, with short square haircut and drab business suit. Finding the atmosphere stifling, he submitted work to the East Village Other, a New York underground newspaper that was publishing the early works of Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez, among others. Upon hearing from Trina Robbins that his work was being ignored and abused at the EVO offices, Vaughn went in person to see to the matter. This resulted in the creation of an all-comics underground paper, the Gothic Blimp Works. Gothic Blimp was Vaughn’s brainchild, and he became its editor.

Art by Vaughn Bodé
Art by Vaughn Bodé

This served as a catalyst for his strip Deadbone appearing in Cavalier magazine for several years, and for a long run with the character Cheech Wizard in the National Lampoon this time, as a result of exposure to a burgeoning youth culture, Vaughn began to come to terms with his sexuality. He began exploring different outlets for his sexuality and his spirituality. By 1972 he had changed his appearance from corporate nerd to androgynous glamour queen. He also began experimenting with bondage. In 1973, he presented himself as a candidate for sex reassignment surgery, but rejected the idea when female hormones killed his libido. His journey is presented in two autobiographical works, CONFESSIONS OF A CARTOON GOOROO and SCHIZOPHRENIA. The former is an essay written with Vaughn’s unique approach to the language which is heavily influenced by James Joyce and Walt Kelly. The latter is a full color comic story in which Vaughn stands on the moon in Bodé drag (hose, makeup, slit dress/robe, but no falsies) discussing his coming to terms with his sexual identity.

On July 18, 1975, Vaughn was experimenting further with pushing the bounds of his consciousness and his sexuality simultaneously. He was combining autoerotic asphyxiation, the practice of choking one’s self with a noose while masturbating. The noose releases when the subject passes out, supposedly intensifying the orgasm, and bondage. He had done this before, but this time, a necklace became tangled in the loop used for strangulation. The noose did not release, and Vaughn died.

Like Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, Bodé became more of a cult figure in death. His work is more read today than ever. The bulk of his major work is in print through Fantagraphics. Vaughn’s son Mark is a successful cartoonist in his own right and has continued the Cartoon Concerts Vaughn created.

Images are © and ® Mark Bodé. Used without permission.

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