If you were to base your view of inner-city American life on the mouth-foaming ravings of Donald Fucking Trump, you’d probably come to the conclusion that it’s a 24/7 struggle for survival limned on all sides by vicious gang-banging predators, bloodthirsty illegal aliens, out of control black youths out to shoot any cop they find merely for sport, and homeless derelicts who will do anything for their next crack “fix.” Furthermore, you’d also likely believe that there’s literally no way out of this beyond-hopeless situation (unless you vote for him, of course) because the public schools are all failing, noble police officers get no help in addressing the problems they face because local politicians are all on the take, there are no jobs to be had anywhere within a 50-mile radius of any given “urban core,” and God has left the building and ain’t comin’ back.
But ya know what? That ain’t shit, because if you were to base your view of inner-city American life on the batshit insane comic strips by the late writer H.P. McElwee (a.k.a. “R.D. Bone”) and his artistic collaborator/partner Lawrence Hubbard (a.k.a. “Raw Dog”) as presented in the pages of their self-published Real Deal (variously known as Real Deal Magazine or Real Deal Comix, depending on which of the seven issues you have at hand), you’d think it was even worse than the picture Trump paints.
McElwee and Hubbard pioneered the genre that they themselves billed as “urban chaos” beginning in the early 1990s, and while none of their self-published comics ever made it to any of my local shops at the time, they were definitely something of a cult sensation, particularly in their “home base” of — you guessed it — Los Angeles. Ultra-violence of the most extreme and tasteless variety was the order of the day in Real Deal, with literally every single character out to fuck shit up at all times simply because they can — or should that be every male character, since the women in this OTT inner-city post-apocalyptic-style wasteland are either props and/or nuisances and every last one of them is apparently named “bitch.” So, if you like your beyond-gritty urban survival tales peppered with an (un)healthy dose of straight-up, 80-proof misogyny, this is definitely the comic for you.
As for me? Man, I don’t judge. This stuff is obviously a product of desperate fucking need to create, and to leave it all on the page. McElwee certainly couldn’t “write” in the conventional sense any more than Hubbard — who has carried the Real Deal torch into the 21st century (shit, the ostensibly “alternative” clothing company Stussy even put out a series of t-shirts featuring his art a couple years back, and 2013 saw the release of the first new issue of the comic in almost two decades) since his partner in aesthetic crime passed away from stroke-and-heart-attack-related complications ’round about the time of issue number five — can be said to be able to “draw,” but for a book whose motto was/is “More Rage Per Page! More Slaughter For Your Dollar!,” this thing definitely brings it in spa — err, hold on, that probably isn’t gonna sound right. Let’s just say there’s a whole lot of what’s promised, and then some.
Fantagraphics Books has recently (as in, like, last week) released a handsome, foil-embossed-logo-bearing hardback collection of the “best” of McElwee and Hubbard’s work entitled, simply, Real Deal Comix, and you’ll know within the first couple of pages whether this is the sort of thing for you or not. If you take it all at face value, there are plenty of reasons for anyone — black, white, somewhere in between, or none of the above — to be offended by what’s being proffered here, but for my money I still think I know satire when I see it, and viewed through that lens you’ve gotta say these two guys are absolute geniuses. In fact, their work carries on in the best tradition of the undergrounds by exaggerating social problems to the extreme (at the very least!) in order to illuminate them, and there’s a heavy and obvious blaxploitation influence on this stuff that gives it all an extra dose of, dare I say it, nostalgic innocence.
And while I can’t believe I just said that about a book that features such hear-warming images as a “rent-a-cop” security guard taking an ice pick to the neck and a black short-order cook dunking a screaming white chick’s baby into a deep-fat fryer. there you have it. This is primal, unfiltered, straight-from-the-id work that will have you laughing in spite of yourself on every single page, and it’s so relentless and full-throttle that you simply aren’t given the time to feel all that guilty about it — even if you’re Catholic. It’s sick. It’s wrong. It’s twisted. It’s unforgivable. And it’s completely awesome.
All that being said, if somebody finds Real Deal to be a bridge too far for their sensibilities (or perhaps even their conscience) to cross, I’m not going to chide them for being members of the largely- illusory “PC police” or write them off as “whiny SJWs” or whatever other dumbshit Breitbart-esque term you wanna use. Everything here — from the “adventures” of low-rent hustler G.C. and his goons to the depraved exploits of the urban A-Team knock -off “The R Team” — is toxic beyond both reason and belief. And if a couple of white guys made a book even half this blatantly and deliriously offensive, they’d be branded as racists — and rightly so, because they couldn’t imbue it with anything like the (dare I say it) authenticity that McElwee and Hubbard bring to the table. Is this world of pimps, convicts, casual psychopaths, deranged war veterans, crack whores, petty thieves, degenerate debt-welchers, loser addicts, and lunatic enforcers anything much like what you’ll find in even the worst areas of Watts or Compton? Nah — but that doesn’t make it any less real.
Like all of the best works of art, then, Real Deal — which, pathetic completitst that I am, I now find myself desperately searching for in single-issue form — forces you to meet it on its terms and take it or leave it. And it even goes one better by letting you know “from jump” that it just flat-out doesn’t give a fuck what you think of it either way. Maybe I’m just old-school, but there’s literally no way I can’t respect the hell outta that, and while I’m sure that there have been better, more worthy, and certainly more accomplished works of creative expression than the ugly beast that McElwee and Hubbard have wrought, there haven’t been many that are more raw, more immediate, and more true to their own fucked-up vision. Buy it or die, punk-ass muthafucka!