Friday, June 12, 2009

Kung Fu and Cheech Wizard.


The other night at dinner I was talking with the Teleodaughter about Kung Fu actor, David Carradine, and the rumors surrounding his recent death. I mentioned another celebrity who was reputed to have met the same fate and the Teleodaughter admitted that she had no idea who cartoonist Vaughn Bodé was, nor did she know his character, Cheech Wizard (examples). This fascinates me since Bodé, at the time of his death in 1975, was immensely popular and he remains one of the three or four most influential comic artists of the last fifty years. Ask any artist to draw something in the style of the 1970s -- or ask a graffiti artist simply to draw anything -- and they will immediately channel Bodé although many of them might not know who he was. In death, Bodé achieved an odd sort of identity-free immortality. He dissolved into his decade and has become its graphic arts avatar. It's not altogether unlike the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. Bodé, who was interested in alternate spirituality, might have liked the idea, although it would not have entirely made up for finding himself so suddenly and embarrassingly dead.

David Carradine's signature TV show, Kung Fu, was ending its very successful four-year run at the time of Bodé's death. Carradine also made a contribution to the zeitgeist of the decade but, unlike Bodé, he stayed around to give an identity to the phenomenon. He had a presentable career since then -- he wasn't one of those actors who makes a career of signing photos taken forty years ago at media conventions -- but his early 1970s TV work defined him. His hardcore fans may prefer to remember his character, Frankenstein, from Death Race 2000 (also 1975) but for most people he was always "that guy who starred in Kung Fu in the '70s, only now he is doing ads for Yellowbook".

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