For Your Consideration: Fantagraphics’ Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me

Robert Greenberger

Robert Greenberger

by Robert Greenberger

In the halcyon days of yore, you could safely wander the aisles of the major comic book conventions and the program schedule was not so jam-packed so you had free time to go and check out stuff without waiting all day on line. It allowed you to explore and expose yourself to new and different things.

I can’t recall who suggested it, but I wound up sitting in a room at the Statler Hilton Hotel, laughing out loud as a tall, thin, wisp of an artist showed slides, performing voices and sound effects. What I didn’t know until later was that I was attending the first Cartoon Concert given by artist Vaughn Bodé. I didn’t know his work, but soon I was seeking out his works in the dealer’s room. There was Deadbone and Cobalt 60 but the one I thought the most interesting was a walking hat named Cheech Wizard.

Cheech Wizard's Book of Me

Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me

Bodé, 34, died tragically just three years later and while his son Mark continues his legacy, the work itself has gone neglected and often forgotten. Thankfully, Fantagraphics is rectifying that this fall with Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me, a hardcover omnibus collection of Cheech Wizard.

Legend has it that the character was created September 27, 1957 at 2:30 pm by Bodé and he finally began seeing print in 1967. The imp was said to be named after Cheechy Nuts. It was funny, profane, and sexually provocative. In other words, perfect for being run in National Lampoon which it did until Bodé’s death. Last Gasp was the first to collect the strip in 1972 and there have been other editions through the years, but none as complete as what we’re getting.

Whatever he is, Cheech Wizard’s body is largely covered by the yellow Phrygian cap decorated with wizard symbols so we can see his rounded bottom, obviously male genitalia, and legs, either bare or in red stockings. He is constantly on the lookout for a party, a beer, or a willing female companion, a counterculture icon in the making. We never saw his face and any time the subject came up, his response always varied.

Cheech has seeped into popular culture, seen in tattoos, heard in song lyrics (such as the Beastie Boys and Bundy K. Brown). Heck, there was even an eponymous band in the Netherlands for a stretch of the 1990s.

Bodé’s visual influence was strong in the 1970s, evident in Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards and thankfully enough people remembered him to vote Vaughn into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2006. Of the underground commix artists of the 1960s, Bodé was one of the ones primed to crossover to the mainstream had he not died. Born in Utica, New York, he was drafted to serve in the Army but went AWOL, avoiding jail with a psychiatric diagnosis. He then went on to be an evolving cartoonist, getting first published at age 22 in Das Kampf in 1963. He was attending classes at Syracuse University when Cheech Wizard went from sketchbook to print, appearing in the student-run humor publication The Sword of Damocles.

By the late 1960s, Bodé’s work was appearing in underground comix and mainstream publications, such as the science fiction digests Amazing, Fantastic, and Galaxy. This earned him the Hugo nomination for best artist, a year after winning the award as Best Fan Artist. When Trina Robbins discovered him in 1969, he was added to the staff of the underground newspaper the East Village Other, best known as the birthplace for Gothic Blimp Works. In addition, he went on to publish his own mag, Junkwaffel, which ran from 1971-1974.

While Cheech himself may be foul-mouthed, the world he inhabited was a fantasy land with talking animals and bright colors. It was a marvelous place to visit and I very much look forward to revisiting this land. Bodé was a nice man and the few times we spoke at the cons, he was funny and generous with his time. I remember distinctly where I was when word came out that he was gone, one of the first times I had to contend with knowing a man whose works I enjoyed would never draw another image. I am delighted this collection will reintroduce Bodé and his immortal character to a new generation of readers.


Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me


We'd love to hear from you, feel free to add to the discussion!