My longtime friend Bruce Pavitt has been contemplating purging himself of some material possessions for a few years now. (As an obsessive collector myself, I appreciate the impulse.) We recently concluded that the Charles Burns event on October 30 would provide an ideal opportunity to find new homes for a few of his amazing artifacts. As the founder of Seattle's storied Sub Pop record label, his collection is impressive, to say the least. You might want to shield your eyes to for protection from the brilliance that's below.
Many people are unaware that Bruce Pavitt created Subterranean Pop as a fanzine while an undergraduate at Evergreen State College in 1980. A year later he shortened the name to Sub Pop and released issue number 5 as a cassette and mini-zine so readers could hear the music being discussed. The dozen tracks included Steve Fisk, Pell Mell, Cool Rays (Calvin Johnson’s pre-Beat Happening project), and perhaps most interestingly, “Reagan Speaks for Himself” by Seattle sound artist Doug Kahn. Pavitt recruited Evergreen alum Charles Burns to do the cover. This issue of Sub Pop was the direct predecessor to the celebrated record label.
The original Charles Burns artwork for this cassette zine will be offered in a silent auction during the Burns exhibition with a reserve bid of $1,000. (The original Burns artwork for the Sub Pop 200 LP sold 8 years ago for several times this amount to EMP, the music museum founded by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen.) Bids will be accepted through the run of the Burns exhibition, October 30 through December 6.
Pavitt is also offering his collection of pristine copies of Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine. These coveted oversize issues included bound-in copies of Maus and other extras, including the aforementioned Doug Kahn recording from Sub Pop 5 as a bound-in sound sheet (almost never found intact in RAW #4.) It’s worth noting that RAW #4 was delayed because the conservative owners of Eva-Tone Soundsheets, the only domestic publisher of flexi-discs, refused to press Kahn’s piece, and Speigelman was forced to press the disc in Holland.
As Pavitt was showing me this sterling stash of RAWs, out fluttered a long-forgotten letter. In it, Spiegelman compliments Pavitt on Sub Pop 5, mentions a Burns story in forthcoming RAW #4 — but fails to mention Burns’ die-cut cover — and informs him of Doug Kahn’s inclusion.
I found it fairly astonishing that these two visionaries were collaborating on this level as far back as 1981. Who would’ve thought that a decade later, Spiegelman would be honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Maus, forever altering the comix idiom, and Pavitt would launch the alternative rock genre, penetrating pop culture globally? I was sort of stunned by this document. And in the midst of all this we find Charles Burns.
The letter was penned on the back of a proof of Spiegelman’s art for the German edition of DEAD MEN ALL HAVE THE SAME SKIN, which I’d never seen. I find it somehow unsettling to see German language on Spiegelman’s work from this era, given the content of the contemporaneous MAUS.
All 8 near mint copies of the RAW, the Pavitt-Spiegelman document, RAW one shots by Sue Coe and Burns' BIG BABY: Curse of the Molemen, and related ephemera will also be offered at silent auction with a reserve bid of $1,000 through December 6. They will be on display at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery for the run of Charles Burns X’ED OUT exhibition October 30 – December 6.
For more information or to register bids on the framed Charles Burns original Sub Pop 5 illustration or the RAW magazine lot, call Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery curator Larry Reid at 206.658.0110 during business hours.