SLAMDANCE 2021 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Susan Stern’s documentary on her late husband, Spain Rodriguez, is an homage to a man of talent and conviction. For anyone who has ever had a connection to comic books, Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez will heighten your knowledge and appreciation for knowing who he was in this fascinating land of art and voice. The filmmaker provides an intimate portrait of cartoonist and comic creator Spain Rodriguez from every possible angle, and then some. With an assortment of fans, friends, family members, and colleagues, Stern shows head-on how his talent was able to provide a sense of connection to those whose voice might be unheard or unwanted.
The film opens, showcasing Rodriguez’s sense of humor as he sings a Jerry Lee Lewis song. It portrays his playful but meaningful personality, emphasizing Stern’s resolution that he was “born bad but with an impulse to draw.” Growing up as a working-class kid in a rough neighborhood in Buffalo, New York, the film exhaustively examines all the pieces of his life that led Rodriguez to become a legendary underground comic with a political voice and purpose.
Perhaps the most interesting facet to Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez is the artist’s connection to so many known and prolific comic creators of our times, including R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Trina Robbins, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, and Ed Piskor, who knew Rodriguez well. Stern also carefully constructs how important cultural revolutions influence his work and spirit. His pictorial satire was constantly under scrutiny, from portraying women as sexual objects with sadomasochistic themes to his outspoken liberal-left opinions against the government and middle-upper class society.
“…an intimate portrait of cartoonist and comic creator Spain Rodriguez…”
His invention of the Trashman and Big Bitch characters was pure anti-establishment and quite forceful. Trashman fights for justice in the spirit of rebellion, and Big Bitch throws customer service to the wayside and got to the point. Yet, his detail, thought, and storytelling through his work was alluring even though it was quite often provocative. Stern also understood how Rodriguez was a man who loved women even if he portrayed them in a lesser complimentary likeness, “his id came out on paper.”
A carefully constructed music score contributes to the life and times of Spain Rodriguez and elevates Stern’s intentions, especially with an appearance by The Fugs. Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez is even able to include a new generation of people inspired by his work and how his daughter worked with her father to strengthen her art and provide an understanding of him until his death. Stern’s use of archival footage and several film techniques, including animation, give the necessary structure in understanding the man and his work. The way she jumps from detailing the formative years of Rodriguez to interviews with co-workers and admirers is seamless, adding to the beauty that was his life.
From the East Village Other to Zap Comix and so many other contributions, Rodriguez’s career as an underground American comic was not only influential, but it will also never be forgotten. Traveling through her late husband’s life as part of the Road Vultures M.C. biker gang, an elite underground comic world, and then as a celebrated artist, Stern documents an interesting side of history told through a rising admiration for comic books and its evolution to the graphic novel art form with artists and critics to help fill in the details. Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez will appeal to the high art elite and the comic book crowd equally.
Bad Attitude: The Art of Spain Rodriguez screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.
"…an homage to a man of talent and conviction."