Comic Shots #26 with Josh Christie: American Lager and ‘Cruisin’ With The Hound’

Each week the iFanStaff passes along a tasty drink recipe and an even tastier comic book recommendation. The cocktail (or beer, or wine, or booze) and the comic can both be enjoyed independently, but they have a common theme and when served together they can make for the perfect reading experience.

Cruisin’ with the Hound

Written and drawn by Spain Rodriguez
Published by Fantagraphics Books
136 pages / Black and white / $19.99

American culture – especially American pop culture – has a rosy view of the states’ post-WWII history. Look at Happy Days, for exampleMid-century nostalgia can be sickeningly sweet and relentlessly positive. It’s a comforting way to look at the past (“my, didn’t things used to be so much better”), but it’s one that doesn’t really track with reality. Realistically, any study of the past will reveal the tension, crime and other issues that the US faced in the late 50s. Anecdotaly, I know plenty of folks who grew up at the time and don’t have G-rated stories of their youth.

This warts-and-all view of 50s America is explored in Cruisin’ With The Hound, the new autobiographical collection from Spain Rodriguez. Though Rodriguez may not be immediately familiar to you, you’ve likely seen his work or art from folks he influenced. He’s been making comics for nearly half a century, starting on East Village Other and Zodiac Mindwarp in the 60s and contributing to underground books like Zap Comix in their heyday. Rodriguez continues to put out stellar work decades into his career, including an award-winning biography of Che Guevara that was released in 2008. Cruisin’ covers a lot of Spain’s wild history in over twenty stories, including his breaking-in story as a comic artist. The real focus, however, is his teenage years in Buffalo, NY.

The main connecting tissue of the stories (other than Rodriguez himself) is Fred Tooté, a loose cannon and bad influence if I’ve ever seen one. Creepily, Tooté isn’t drawn with realistic features like the rest of the cast, but with Nancy-esque dot eyes. Rodriguez was a radical youth – a leftist and a member of a motorcycle gang, among other exploits – so Fred can’t take all the blame for his raunchy and violent adventures as a teen. Still, it’s hard not to look at his companion as a bit of a villain.

The collection is fairly slim at just over 120 pages, so I don’t want to spoil too many of the stories here. The pages range from stories of sex and violence during the author’s teen years, to Spain’s membership in the Road Vultures motorcycle gang, to quieter pieces simply about growing up in the 1950s. If you’re familiar with the work of Spiegelman, Crumb and Kurtzman, you’ll have a sense of the humor and raunch that can exist in these old underground comics. Don’t think that, just because the stories are set in the 50s, you won’t see lines like “I’d love to kiss your belly button from the inside.

Spain Rodriguez’s style was heavily influenced by a number of the early comic visionaries, most notably Wally Wood and Jack Kirby. Panels are meticulously and realistically detailed, and pages are laid out dynamically. In an industry where some mainstream books still seem to struggle with the basic storytelling language of the form, the mastery in these decades-old stories is nothing short of amazing. If you’re a sucker for well-drawn machinery like cars and motorcycles, Cruisin’ is worth picking up for those pages alone. The strips are all gorgeously reproduced, a hallmark of Fantagraphics’ collections. For fans of bonus content, Cruisin’ with the Hound includes a Comics Journal interview with Rodriguez about his misspent youth..

A brief aside: In the last year or so, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with the underground comics of the 60s, 70s and 80s. It’s not only an important piece of comics history, but it’s a home for some incredible art and groundbreaking stories. Fantagraphics deserves accolades for their continued efforts to bring these old, oft-forgotten stories back into print.

Rather than pair Cruisin’ with the Hound with some wild, highfalutin beer, it seems appropriate to match it with something like what Rodriguez would have chugged in the 50s. Just half a century ago, the beer landscape in the United States wasn’t anything like it is today. Post-prohibition there wasn’t a brewing industry to speak of in. Neo-prohibitionists argued during World War II that brewing was a waste of time, energy and grain that could be devoted to the war effort. The few breweries that survived the 18th Amendment managed to crush any competition, and brewing with adjuncts like rice and corn instead of grain kept costs low. The light pilsner of Anheuser-Busch and Coors Brewing Company was the law of the land for ages in the states, it’s also the reason that American beer was often compared to making love in a canoe.

More likely than not, light lager was what Spain found on the shelves in Buffalo, NY.

That said, it’ll be a cold day in hell when I recommend you pair your comics with a Budweiser. Though the massive breweries are known for producing “American Lager,” they are thankfully not the only ones taking on the style. A number of regional breweries brew lagers with a devoted following, and they would have all been available at the time of Crusin’ with the Hound. Here in New England, Narragansett (founded in 1890) is the lager of choice. When I was in the Pacific Northwest, Rainier (1884) fit the bill. Yuengling (1829), Lone Star (1884), Old Style (1902) and dozens of others spot the country.

Narragansett Lager, a crisp, clean and easy-drinking beer, is probably pretty close to the lager you’ll find at your regional brewery. Floral hops and a smooth body set it apart from your typical Bud or Coors, and (despite a bit of Iowa corn in the grain bill) it lacks the astringent tannic bit of the mass-produced stuff. Distributed in 16oz cans and only 5% ABV, it’s a perfect beer to sip while reliving Spain Rodeiguez’s wild youth.


Josh Christie is a beer geek supreme, but he won’t turn his nose up at a light lager on a hot day. Follow him on Twitter for plenty of talk about beer, books, bookselling, and even comics.

Please obey the law and only drink if you are of age. Drink responsibly and never drink and drive. Buy the comics that make you happy. Smile more.


  1. It’s 240 here in the SLC and I’ve got 5 more hours before I can refresh myself with a beer and some great comics…