It is easy to exaggerate the importance of work that was formative to your own, and for that reason I have resisted calling Mark Alan Stamaty’s MacDoodle Street a “forgotten masterpiece.” Revisiting the work, 25 years after my first encounter with it, I now realize that resistance is futile.
MacDoodle Street was a weekly comic that began in the Village Voice in 1978 and was collected in book form in 1980. I stumbled upon a remaindered copy in the bargain bin of my university bookstore around 1985 during my sophomore year of college. Despite my love of cartooning I was aware of little else than superhero, Archie, and contemporary newspaper comics. When I considered my future in comics it was hard to picture, given my interests and skill set, where I fit in.
I had never seen anything like MacDoodle Street before. I was both thrilled and puzzled by it. The strips nominal center was Malcolm Frazzle, a poet dishwasher whose attempt to follow his muse and write his poems (and later save the world) is interrupted by the Conservative Liberation Front, genetically altered dish-washing monkeys, and other various plot digressions all a result of Stamaty’s own anarchical tendencies.
Weaned on the slick surfaces of Marvel comics, the art struck me as crude— an obsessive scrawl that invaded the page, a la Marc Bell, filling it with inventive and inspired doodles. Stamaty’s also crammed his strips with fastidious cross hatching and stippling, collaged photos, small paintings made by his characters, caricatures (Howard Cosell, Albert Einstein, Babe Ruth, etc), and even a dental x-ray. Stamaty was ready to do whatever it to took to keep up with the torrent of ideas, characters, asides, and metaphors that were pouring out of him. I imagined Stamaty as a crazy street person, manically wandering the streets of Greenwich Village muttering and laughing to himself, hearing a thousand voices only half of which emanated from the crowded streets.
I have never read a comic strip that was this much alive. Stamaty comes at the reader in so many directions at once. It’s as if a classic adventure strip was fending off a Dada invasion while the battlefield (comics’ formal conventions) does somersaults as an ever-changing cast of broadcasters comment on the action. It often feels like Stamaty is barely in control of the strip— like a parade marshal who could be trampled at any moment by the odd and untamed menagerie that follows him. It’s a funny and thrilling spectacle that has more than a whiff of danger.
Jules Feiffer compared the strip to Thomas Pynchon and S.J. Perelman and the collection’s cover calls MacDoodle Street a “comic strip novel.” This isn’t a publisher’s hyperbole. Stamaty was in love with a certain kind of absurdist novel and his goal was to write one himself. It was very important to him that the word “novel” be on the cover of the book. Whatever one calls Stamaty’s work it is a singular vision that belongs to no school but his own. I’m a fan of his kids’ books and Washingtoon strips, but MacDoodle Street is by far Stamaty’s most inventive and inspiring work.
— James Sturm