Their undersung art changed comics. Their marriage changed each other.

[ad_1]

Carol Tyler extended her arms as about a dozen filmgoers, some of them sobbing, gathered around to hug the artist and tell her how much her life story meant to them. As viewers embraced her one by one, Tyler says she thought: “This person needs this.”

The emotional scene followed the world premiere of John Kinhart’s documentary “Married to Comics,” which chronicles the intertwined personal and professional lives of Tyler, the lauded 71-year-old comics creator, and her late husband, Justin Green, whose early ’70s work as part of the San Francisco underground comix scene influenced such future legends as R. Crumb and Art Spiegelman, both of whom appear in the film.

“Married to Comics” cracks open the revealing dimensions of a loving and sometimes teetering relationship across four decades, including how each partner craves the isolated time to pick up a brush and pursue their distinct careers. They have fights. They retreat into art. They reconcile.

Tyler exudes a sense of the no-nonsense survivor. She meets life’s challenges head-on. So it was when she became involved with Green in San Francisco in the early ’80s, and when he later had an extended affair. She picked up and pointed to a spot on the map: She would leave him and head to Cincinnati — where he would eventually move, too.

Green was always charming, she reflects, and before they met, he always had girlfriends. Her friends urged her to have a casual romance, but she says she sensed “depth and mystery.” Plus, she didn’t want to become just another woman who came in and out of the life of Green’s first child. Her first words to Green in person were: If we get married, I’m not changing my last name.

Tyler married Green in 1984. She often put her comics work on the back burner to help parent Green’s daughter.

Tyler adapted to her new life while her husband struggled with his mental health — “OCD and social phobia,” says Tyler, noting that her heart “cracked open with compassion for him.” He attempted to meet his responsibilities while pursuing the increasingly obsolete field of creating hand-painted signs.

Tyler and Green shared separate space within the same structure in Ohio: He lived on the first floor, she primarily on the second, and they even had separate front doors. Tyler says a secret to a happy marriage is to have separate kitchens. She has a phrase of loving advice she followed for living with loved ones who have OCD: “Be near, steer clear.”

For so many of those years, Green and Tyler received too little industry recognition given their brilliant storytelling gifts. As Crumb says: “Most people even in the comics scene today still don’t really know much about Justin.” In the film, such rock-star cartoonists as Phoebe Gloeckner, Trina Robbins and Chris Ware speak to the couple’s talent.

“Married to Comics,” presented at AFI Silver Theatre as part of Maryland’s annual Small Press Expo, came to fruition precisely because Kinhart, a Maryland documentarian, became fascinated with the booming genre of memoir comics and particularly the work of Green, whose 1972 book “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary” is a foundational alternative comix autobiography.

In the confessional comic, a young Green bares his soul and id through the lens of his OCD, vividly illustrating his neurotic thoughts on sex, sin and the Catholic Church. “Binky Brown” soon influenced a generation of artists, including Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

The book “just set the bar early on, so I was kind of blown away by just how revealing it was,” Kinhart tells The Washington Post. “It features a lot of relatable stories, but at the same time, it had a lot of almost repulsive aspects to it.”

“Because he was going through this experience, I couldn’t relate to him with his visions of [phallic] rays, his obsessions with the Virgin Mary — it’s almost like a car wreck where you just can’t look away,” Kinhart says. “But at the same time, because I was so intrigued by the medium itself, I wanted to see the formation of the primordial early steps of the genre.”

In the film, Kinhart calls “Binky” a “watershed moment” in comics, and his discovery of that book sets him off on a decade-long mission to tell the story of Tyler and Green (who died last year). Green first struck him as reclusive, Kinhart says, but at Small Press Expo in 2013, he was introduced to Tyler, the creator of such autobiographical comics as “Late Bloomer.” She told him: “If you want to get to Justin, you gotta go through me.” He won her over with his enthusiasm and sense of propriety.

One of Tyler’s biggest motivations in agreeing to do this film, she says by phone, was to spotlight Green’s rightful place in the genre alongside the late Harvey Pekar (“American Splendor”), Crumb and Spiegelman (“Maus”). “There are these hugely influential artists, and he just wasn’t sticking up for his legacy,” she says. “He almost preferred to be forgotten.”

Yet as Spiegelman likes to say: “Without ‘Binky Brown,’ there would no ‘Maus.’ ”

Tyler says she has struggled with loneliness since Green’s death — “he was my center of gravity” — and appreciated her daughter Julia’s presence at the AFI event. Among those closest to her, all she has left, she says, “are Julia. And God.”

Sharp. Witty. Thoughtful. Sign up for the Style Memo newsletter.

Tyler’s own industry recognition came about two decades ago. She had published alternative comics in the 1980s and ’90s, but 2005’s “Late Bloomer” drew prizes and praise from such artists as Ware, who has called her “one of the true greats” of that underground comix generation. Her book trilogy “You’ll Never Know,” about how World War II affected her father and the collateral impact upon her life, further grew her reputation as a world-class cartoonist. She also became a respected academic, teaching comics, giving lectures, picking up awards.

Today, Tyler still splits time between Ohio and Kentucky. She moves on like a steady force of nature, yet she doesn’t view mere survival as a “triumph.” The Chicago-born artist does what she’s always done: Sees a challenge and meets it. She weathers feeling depressed by anchoring herself at her drawing table and doing the work.

She is eminently happy for Kinhart that “Married to Comics” was well-received by hundreds at its AFI premiere. The documentary has received interest from several American film festivals — and it’s scheduled to play at the Beacon Cinema in Seattle on Nov. 5 — so appreciation of Tyler and Green might continue to grow beyond comics.

Tyler hopes people see the film and know that life’s messiness is to be embraced. Look at her marriage. “Even though there were sparks and confusion and problems, there’s still that … ” Tyler says before pausing a beat. She searches for the perfect words:

“We shaped each other.”

[ad_2]

Leave a Comment