One day, says Benjamin Marra, he just said fuck it—to the formal illustration training, to the stacks of meticulously selected reference photos, to the baggage and responsibility of being what one might call a … legitimate artist. On that day, a barbarian was born. Actually, a space barbarian was born. And some rogue cops and evil pimps and masked stripper vigilantes and demons of various provenance and power level—they all were born, too, as Marra decided to give in to the festering adolescent impulses he’d suppressed too long. From then, he decided, he’d draw what he loved, which turned out to be everything a teenage boy is forbidden to get into. Which, of course, is exactly why they get into it.
His indie publishing company Traditional Comics—named to suggest the sort of fly-by-night organizations whose output was anything but upstanding superheroes and cornball American moralism—had its highest-profile hit so far with The Incredibly Fantastic Adventures of Maureen Dowd, a Saturday-afternoon basic-cable take on a New York Times columnist who most likely does not really date George Clooney between gunfights with international assassins. But all his comics sizzle with bizarre energy and charisma that comes from the obvious primitive joy that goes into them.
Does Marra simply just love drawing a motorcycle tire smearing some thug’s head into pulp on a sidewalk in Nowhere City, U.S.A., circa 1983? Turns out that ‘Fuck yes!’ doesn’t even do the sentiment justice. The adolescent passion unchained here is matched only in the most ridiculously enduring excesses of punk and heavy metal—the soundtrack to what Marra describes as the kind of artwork that spills out of a sullen stoner in the back of the class in high school. His characters and his plots and his worlds themselves are distorted and deformed beyond the laws of physics and society both, but make up for it with the kind of confident enthusiasm you get only when your sword is also a chainsaw, and you can fly, too.
Outsider comics visionary Fletcher Hanks threatened to destroy all civilized worlds; similarly, Marra’s characters are here to hose to the scum off the streets (or off the edge of our entire dimension) with plenty of blood, sweat and drool. Even his commercial work has a certain engaging obsessive-weirdo feel, but it’s in his sketchbooks and his comics that you find the raw power. He speaks now about the happy things that happen when you’re honest about what you want to create.