The Legend of Wild Man Fischer
By Dennis P. Eichhorn and J.R. Williams
Published by Top Shelf Productions; $7.95 USD
Behind the super-groovy cover of The Legend of Wild Man Fischer is one of the most entertaining and fascinating character portraits ever created in comics.
I read Eichhorn's Real Stuff collection earlier this year, and when I reviewed it for the ADD Blog I said "Eichhorn has had a genuinely interesting life and makes some apt observations about what he's learned, with a compelling narrative style that I like a lot and would love to read more of." The Legend of Wild Man Fischer is even more satisfying than the excellent Real Stuff, because it uses its 64 pages to the fullest extent possible to show us who Larry Fischer is and why he is such a compelling, real-life character. "Shows us," not "tells us." And it does so without mocking or judging him, which is a real achievement. The Legend of Wild Man Fischer is told with respect, and even love for its subject, and that comes through in every section of the book.
If you're not familiar with him -- and I had no idea who he was before sitting down to read this -- Fischer was an "outsider musician" with a unique vocal style who became famous in the late 1960s, especially after creating an album with Frank Zappa. His music was the product of his offbeat worldview, itself informed by his very real schizophrenia. It's impossible for me not to draw comparisons to James Kochalka -- while James doesn't appear to suffer mental problems, Fischer's music and performances were similarly spontaneous and unpredictable and involved similar themes (two of his most memorable compositions are "Merry Go Round" and "Monkeys vs. Donkeys"). Most notably, Fischer's music inspired delighted devotion in his fans, so much so that his tunes became a fixture on Dr. Demento's radio show and even decades later, people who liked his music still become transfixed describing its wonders. Discussing this book with friends who knew Fischer's stuff back then, I've seen this first-hand. You might either love or hate Fischer's music, but if you love it, you really love it.
Of course, the music is one thing, the musician is another. Eichhorn and Williams have a grand time recounting Eichhorn's personal encounters with Fischer, which began when Eichhorn was among a group of people putting together a concert in Spokane. When Fischer arrived in town, Eichhorn treated him to a meal at a buffet restaurant, and Fischer's intense, bizarre behaviour began their long, amazing relationship. Eichhorn recalls the highs and lows of the time they've known each other, deftly walking the fine line between showing Fischer's eccentricity and making fun of it. Eichhorn and the other writers involved in the book (there are numerous short text pieces that add greatly to understanding Fischer) obviously love the guy, and a sense comes through that to know Fischer is a complex, bittersweet process of love, fascination and frustration. He truly lives in his own world, and even if one knows the language and how to navigate the narrow, winding roads, it's clear that you never know when the terrain can change on you. Fischer truly is a "Wild Man," unpredictible, and in need of compassion, approval, support and understanding.
The artwork of J.R. Williams nicely suits Eichhorn's reminiscences, wacky and loose but utilizing an 8-panel grid that allows the storytelling to fully tell Eichhorn's story. The dimensions of the book are smaller than most graphic novels, a compact, manga-like format that makes the tales within seem intimate even as they convincingly convey the outsized personality and effect of Wild Man Fischer.
I came away from the book hoping he's okay, out there (really out there) somewhere in a world that could never possibly understand him. He hasn't had the financial success you might expect of someone who once recorded with Zappa, but thankfully he's getting a third of the royalties of The Legend of Wild Man Fischer (the proof is right in the book), and the graphic novel should serve as a great reminder of this singular character in musical history. It's also a wildly entertaining book, one that you'll enjoy even if, like me, you had no idea who Wild Man Fischer was before picking it up. It's a real education, and one of the most fun books I've ever read. Grade: 5/5
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