RIP: Dennis Eichhorn, writer, adventurer, underground comic book creator

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Writer Dennis Eichhorn died last week on Thursday, October 8th, and I’m kinda bummed about it.

With the life that he lived, shared via the stories that he wrote, I imagine he probably went through dozens of different types of business cards, as he had something like a gazillion or so different jobs- detective, publisher, nightclub bouncer, social worker, bartender, concert promoter, driver, researcher, among others.

He lived a life that seemed so outrageous, filled with absurd adventures …so much that sharing his adventures via fantastic comic book stories seemed like the perfect vehicle for him.

As a connoisseur of independent “underground” comic books such as the works of R.Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, Dan O’Neill, Trina Robbins, Skip Williamson, Joel Beck, Peter Bagge, and so many others, I immediately embraced the “Real Stuff” line comic books written by Dennis Eichhorn. The stories were well-written with outrageous art by a lot of different illustrators.

Needless to say, when these comic book stories referenced a certain song close to my heart, I definitely felt some kindred spirits….

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When I was living during a brief time in Seattle in 1996, I tracked down Denny, and we shot a little interview. Growing up in Idaho, he had memories of getting his hair cut by Paul Revere, before the Raiders became the one of the most popular rock bands to emerge from the Pacific Northwest. He was a friend of Phil “Fang” Volk, who a track star at his high school, and he worked directly with Mark Lindsay at a nightclub that Lindsay owned. There were also memories of other bands from the Pacific Northwest, as well as thoughts on the song that became a regional anthem.

I also asked Denny to share his story about how he got involved in writing comic book stories, and he graciously provided me with these words, which I’m sharing for the very first time with this newly-assembled video

https://youtu.be/Cc__DzEer6E

I plan on sharing some of my footage of my conversation with Denny about NorthWest Music in the near future. Please continue to check this website for updates…

When Dennis passed away, I’m grateful I was able to find out fairly quickly via my friends on ye Face***k social network, which also allowed me to learn more about Dennis. J.R. Williams, who illustrated a lot of Dennis’s stories was the first to break the news.

Richard Von Busack recycled a cool photo from Pat Moriarity, featuring Pat, Dennis, J.R. Williams and Jim Blanchard

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Dennis Eichhorn (bespectacled, below, the master of the revels), who just left us at age 70–three-score and ten, let’s not be greedy–was the anti-Adrian Tomine. No insult intended to Tomine’s delicacy and introversion. I just intend to use the much praised Tomine as a compass point to explain where the less famous Eichhorn stood. Eichhorn’s tales of feuding, f’ing and fighting in comic form were beautifully sensitive and rumbustious at the same time. He was one of the few people who could tell you about his intimate love life in print without ooking you thoroughly. Clearly the man loved women. He was a–mostly–unknown master of the autobiographical comic form, a football player, a bouncer, a bartender (in Capitola, where you could, in the 1970s see heinous, murderous behavior). Literally born in a prison, he used his art to captivate many, many others. Glad I met the man once. Eichorn tangled with some serious bruisers, and accidentally put a villain’s eye out once, and yet he couldn’t have been more nice. Thanks for the wonderful stories, which are still out there.

Here’s a wonderful image that R.L Crabb created for a compilation of REAL LIFE comic stories.

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Denny eventually left Loompanics, but I heard from him again in 2003 when he was preparing to collect his best stories into one volume. He needed an interior title page, and asked if I would be interested. I dug out all my old copies of the comics and did my best to mimic the styles of the many fine cartoonists who had graced the pages of Real Stuff over the years…

After I sent him a copy of the piece, he asked if he could purchase the original. I remembered that years earlier, during a particularly dry spell in my career, I went to the post office one day and found a letter from Denny, along with a hundred dollar bill. It was like manna from heaven at the time. I sent the artwork to him, with a note telling him that it had already been paid for as far as I was concerned.

Mary Fleener shared this image and thoughts on collaborations with Dennis.

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Denny Eichhorn understood something about artists. To work with one you must let your story become THEIR story. Oh sure, he would give you a script but that was just a list of ingredients, and the way you mixed ’em was up to you. Denny also understood that the key to good storytelling is a bit of exaggeration here, a touch of blarney there, all told in good fun to keep the reader’s attention. I knew exactly what he wanted with “Bad Trip”, having “been experienced” myself plenty o’ times, and after I was done, he told me how spot on the LSD visual images were….he hadn’t told me exactly how he tripped, but I knew. I felt a great bond with Denny, and I bet everyone who worked with him did, too. My heart goes out to Jane and his family.

Art Chantry provided this image of another publication Eichhorn was responsible for, with more details about his wonderful talents.

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this is the cover of NORTHWEST EXTRA issue #10 from about 1989 or so. my late friend dennis p. eichhorn created and edited this free newsprint magazine in the northwest. i designed the covers through the entire history of the magazine.

it was a gloriously cheapo affair. denny discovered that simply by bidding low (i think it was $50 and there were no other bidders at all) he was able to secure all the syndicated columns for an otherwise uncovered underpopulated region of the country. basically, that meant he was able to buy the rights to print amazing writer’s work for peanuts. you can see the names of the folks at the bottom of the cover who were in this issue. amazing.
denny was also extremely close to the fantagraphics people and even worked at Loompanics, the late publisher of ANYTHING nobody else would publish. denny’s friendly charming personality won over everybody he came into contact with and he became close to ever single name listed on this cover (for instance.) denny was astonishing well- connected. you name the outsider weirdo and chances are he was pals with them.

as a result, i got to work on covers with some of the most interesting illustrators and cartoonists in the world. this is a fine example here. this is actually the crumb family xmas card from that year. denny was on their xmas card list and he loved this thing (each member of the crumb family drew themselves). denny got in touch and asked if he could use it for his xmas issue cover. they said, “SURE!”

the result was that i had to take this little xmas card and turn it into a magazine cover. but, my design cartouche for the covers of NW EXTRA was so bare bones, generic and flexible (intentionally) that i could adapt to just about anything i was handed to make into a cover. throw some red ink in there (for xmas, ya know?) and voila! done!

i also worked with michael dougan, karel moiseiwitsch, s. clay wilson, carol lay, lynda barry, drew friedman, peter bagge, j.r. williams, harvey pekar, several more crumb covers, and a host of others i can’t recall off hand. it was a wonderful opportunity to have worked on this thing with denny. it’s hard to imagine a world without denny eichhorn in it.

Dennis was also a “manager(?)” of the legendary Wild Man Fischer, who provided him with wild stories which were illustrated by J.R. Wiilams and Pat Moriarity for the REAL STUFF comic, and collected into a very entertaining standalone book!

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Once again, Dennis Eichorn was one of those people I wish I spent more time with, as he was filled with a wealth of incredible stories.

Luckily for me, I’m still hearing more stories about him from his friends.

I leave with this image of Dennis Eichhorn, created by R.L. Crabb. This is from REAL STUFF #20 – the final comic of that series. A fitting way to good bye…

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For MORE on Dennis Eichhorn, please check out:

R.L. Crabb’s tribute to Dennis Eichhorn

The Comics Journal obit on Dennis Eichhorn by Tom Van Deusen

The Stranger obit on Dennis Eichhorn by Sean Michael Hurley

Last Gasp obit on Dennis Eichhorn

The Idaho Statesman obit on Dennis Eichhorn

The InkStuds obit on Dennis Eichhorn

The Comics Journal – MORE tributes to Dennis

The Boing Boing Denis Eichhorn Collection

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