Dizzy Ratstein, the Hippest Jazz Comic Ever


I doubt that most jazz fans even know of the existence of these cartoons, published between 1972 and 1982. The first of them, drawn by Marty Nelson, first appeared in an underground comic book called “Fuktup Funnies.” In this one, Dizzy Ratstein is only shown in the first cartoon panel, where he introduces the story and, we would assume, acts as the narrator, but it’s a very cute and funny story. From what I can gather, Nelson, who was not a musician, admired the be-boppers as a maverick lifestyle because they smoked pot (a lot of it!) and shot up heroin (not so much, but it was a major problem in the jazz world from the late 1940s through the late 1950s). You will notice that, in the first panel of Nelson’s story (which you can pull up as Dizzy1 below), there is a syringe on the table next to Ratstein. In the same issue of “Fuktup Funnies” that introduced Ratstein, Nelson also did a cartoon about a much more violent and abusive character named “Dizzy Ducklespie” who hijacks a plane, gets everyone high and rapes the stewardesses, yet manages to come out a hero when he foils a more violent, political hijacker.

The majority of the cartoons, however, were drawn and published by Robert “Bobbo” Armstrong, a West Coast artist who created the “Couch Potatoes,” a group of guys who just sit around all day and watch old reruns of TV shows from the 1960s, and the equally subversive, foul-mouthed Mickey Rat, an obvious satire on Mickey Mouse. There were four Mickey Rat underground comix, two from 1972 and one each published in 1980 and 1982.


It’s not really clear from the cartoons whether Armstrong liked or hated bebop. Although he himself played guitar and musical saw for the retro folk-jazz band The Cheap Suit Serenaders, founded and led by legendary underground cartoonist Robert Crumb, his Dizzy Ratstein cartoons show much more than a surface knowledge of bop. But since this, too, was satire, Ratstein was transformed from a brilliant bop musician to an absolutely terrible one who didn’t know and wouldn’t believe how bad he was. In fact, it is this insider’s knowledge of the music business in general–particularly the cartoon in which Dizzy is hired to play trumpet on a recording session for Donny and Marie Osmond clones–that makes the cartoons so very funny. And somehow, Armstrong makes us like Ratstein despite his miserable lack of talent because his heart’s in the right place. For him, jazz is a holy sacrament, a form of religion.

And there is a real, historic precedent for Dizzy Ratstein. He’s mentioned in both Miles Davis’ and Dizzy Gillespie’s autobiographies. Neither one give his real name (I’m not even sure they knew it!), but he was known to musicians and club owners simply as Demon. He played saxophone so badly that every time he started, the musicians beat the club managers to the punch in trying to stop him and throw him off the stand. He apparently showed up fairly often at the sites of bebop’s birth, Minton’s Playhouse and Monroe’s Uptown House in New York, where such musicians as Gillespie, Davis, Charlie Parker, Ken Kersey, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Christian and Kenny Clarke went to jam after hours, creating and refining the new music. By the late 1940s, among musicians in New York, the phrase “Jesus Christ, Demon, stop that shit and get out of here!” became an inside joke, even for the many musicians who never saw or heard him.

And so I present to you the funniest and hippest jazz cartoons ever. I’d like to state up front that I, of course, do not own the copyright to them, but since (to the best of my knowledge) they’ve never been republished anywhere and are really damn funny, I present them to you for your amusement. They’re really, REALLY good!










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