Mark ‘Sparky’ Whitcomb on the Dibden Stage — well, on the Dibden Stage atop the shoulders of unicyclist and fellow Subhuman Dave Booz! From the Johnson State College stage production Obysseus, a potpourri of theatrical oddities, performances, dance and music, 1976; photo compliments of Dave and Brenda Booz, ©1976, 2009 Dave Booz, posted with permission.


As I wrote last week, the theater scene at Johnson State College (hereafter JSC) was pretty lively and adventurous during the two+ years I attended Johnson…

My closest compadres weren’t in the art department — being a small college, JSC had relatively tiny class capacity. Damn it, almost all the art classes available to freshmen were full during my first semester, so I ended up pursuing technical theater.

So, my friendships were forged in the immediate vicinity of the dormitory building I was in, and in the theater department where I studied under Richard Emerson.

My dorm room was in Governor’s — specifically, in the half-basement bottom floor. I initially shared it with two roommates, though eventually just Joe Mangelynx and I took over the room (and that was a relief).

Those of us who were tossed together in the Governor’s subfloor by fate dubbed ourselves the Subhumans, and quickly we bonded with some like-minded spirits on the floor above us, including Mark ‘Sparky’ Whitcomb and his roommate Wade Butler.

Over the two years, the blurring between my circle of friends via the Subhumans and via the theater and (eventually) art departments led to some pretty wild spectacles, primary among them the above-pictured unicycling portion of Tim ‘Doc’ Viereck’s Obysseus event on Dibden Stage. Dave had become a familiar fixture on the campus green on his unicycle, and Dave and Sparky worked up this act, which Doc welcomed — and it was a pretty suspenseful few minutes on that stage! Dave and Sparky zipped around Dibden Stage in style, with nary a hesitation and sans any accidents.


There were other weird bleeds, transmutations and acts of osmosis — and none were weirder than Roger Nelson’s April 27th, 1976 Spring Silence event.

Roger (who is peeking out from the back cover image below: that’s his face over folded arms under the tape decks in the photo collage) was (if memory serves) head of the JSC Psychology Department, and he conceived of an environmental event that would orchestrate the sounds — and central lack of sound — in the central JSC green, around which all the primary brick structures (theater, labs, classrooms, dorms, cafeteria) were clustered.

It began at 7 PM, with a cacophony of orchestrated music, voices and sound, which spiralled down to complete and utter silence — save that of nature — at 8 PM sharp. Then, the cycle reversed itself, building to the dramatic cut-off at 9 PM, and another early evening silence cloaked the campus, starker than ever in contrast to the two hour event.


Above: Spring Silence program book cover; below, program book back cover.


Like many of the faculty at JSC in the mid-’70s, Roger was both brilliant and a complete eccentric. But it was great fun to be a part of his planning and work closely with him on the design and execution of an elaborate, magazine-format Spring Silence program booklet — 12 pages total, every page a dense collage composition communicating something intrinsic to Roger’s master plan.


Geometry, mathematics, biology, geology, and various esoteric audio conceits, concepts and compositions played key roles in the entire enterprise. It was my job to boil Roger’s copious notes, clippings, quotes, graphs, charts and graphs into a coherent (well, at times, if you were properly good and stoned) whole.

I seized the opportunity, and pulled together this publication almost entirely on my own. I did everything in terms of physical production: every collage, every drawing, all the hand-lettering (save those collage elements pulled from materials and texts Roger provided) were my handiwork, producing the final paste-ups and boards from which the Johnson Press team printed the final product.


All this was done in the wake of completing the final stages of Abyss #1, which I’ll get into later in the week. Though some bibliographies of my work acknowledge my first comics work appearing in Abyss #1 (1976), in many ways the Spring Silence zine was just as important to me, and as complete a culmination of my graphic interests and relative skills at that time.

  • As I wrote last week, the amazing Cal Schenkel — who designed and executed most of the graphics and album covers for Frank Zappa’s body of work –
  • – was a hero to me and a huge influence, though it’s rarely apparent in my commercial comics work. I couldn’t get enough of Schenkel’s work, and Spring Silence was the closest I ever came to that realm of graphic play — and, I believe, that breed of collaborative chemistry. Working with Roger was a mind-blowing and expanding experience, opening me up to all kinds of experimentation in my work and my life.

    Here, then, for the first time anywhere, is a peek at the front and back cover and first two interior pages of Silent Spring.

    As Cat and I work out the particulars of posting an illustrated bibliography of my work on this site, we’ll hopefully find a way to post the entire publication.

    unclemeatA few related Cal Schenkel links, for those curious to find out more:

  • Eye Magazine offers this terrific archived interview with Cal Schenkel, by Dan Nadel;
  • but you should also explore Schenkel’s online gallery (don’t be shy), where he is selling original art and prints,
  • and Cal’s on MySpace!

  • Discussion (7) ¬

    1. Mark M

      For a minute I thought you were going to divulge that was you on the bottom of the unicycle twosome. Thankfully all is right in the world and a Bissette would never stoop so low…as far as we know.

    2. srbissette

      So low? I always thought it was pretty fucking astonishing, what Booz could do on a unicycle. Then again, you could be Mark Martin the racecar driver, in which case I understand.

    3. marlene

      hi Steve, a trip down memory lane with the “archive” stuff, I LOVE the art/designs for this spring silence program, and the Cal Schenkel links led to the Beefhart pages, and the Jimmy Carl BLack pages, ect, ect., all great stuff that i miss seeing/hearing, thanks!

    4. Mark Masztal

      Nope, not Mark Martin. I’m The Other Mark M. I have a weird outlook on unicycles and those type of acrobats.

    5. booz

      hey mark m i bet you were a champion wit it player in high school…

    6. Mark Masztal

      Wit It? Soccer was my sport mate.

    7. booz

      gotcha.. come on you must have played with it………

    Comment ¬

    NOTE - You can use these tags:
    <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>