The oh-so-'60s tale of Michel Choquette and The Someday Funnies - the monumental comics collection that never happened (yet) - is one of the fabled hangovers of the 20th century's most culturally tumultuous decade. For seven years in the 1970s Choquette, an exceedingly well-connected young Quebecer - Pierre Trudeau was a family friend - roamed the world on publishers' advances and his own dime, gathering material for nothing less than a history of the previous decade in graphics form.
By the time he packed it in at Christmas 1977, with the last publishing possibility up in smoke, Choquette had material - the majority of it written and drawn by the same artist, but some a collaborative effort - from 200 people, most of them comics icons like Jack Kirby, but also including such figures as Federico Fellini, Frank Zappa and Pierre Berton. Exhausted, $300,000 in debt and with almost none of the contributors yet paid the $100 on offer, Choquette went home to Montreal, leaving the artwork in London and New York. Small wonder that Bob Levin, a San Francisco lawyer and comics aficionado who spent two years working with Choquette for a story (with samples of the art) in the August edition of The Comics Journal, calls The Someday Funnies, "the loudest of all never-were's."
Contributors riffed on everything from Vietnam and the Berlin Wall to Mary Quant and the pill. Keeping them on target was like herding cats. The mainstream illustrators weren't used to working without a script, while the underground artists refused to commit to specific topics. Artists had their own, peculiarly unique, obsessions about the '60s: novelist and noted drug abuser William Burroughs contributed a script on electric brain stimulation. Europeans had ideas about which '60s figures (Alexander Dubcek) and events (France gets the A-bomb) were important, ideas not always shared by North Americans. And artists of every nationality kept changing their minds. "Almost none did what at first they thought they might, or what I suggested to them," Choquette, now 71 and teaching scriptwriting at Montreal's McGill and Concordia universities, told Maclean's. Or they all had the same idea. "Everyone wanted to do the Kennedy assassination. I had to keep saying, 'I've got that, I've got that."
Canadians may have missed out on Pierre Trudeau's debut as a comics writer. In 1974, Michel and his sister Danielle were dining with Pierre and Maggie at 24 Sussex Drive when, Choquette recalls, the prime minister asked him how his book was going. "I, or perhaps Margaret or my sister - I don't remember - said, 'You should do something for it.' And he came up with 'Happenings' as a possible theme. I would have assigned him an illustrator, but whether he was at all serious or whether it was just to show us all how au courant he was, I don't know." Even if Trudeau had been serious, Choquette reasons, he would have declined in the end, there being no political upside to being associated with "quasi-porno underground art."
But managing the artists was pure fun compared to the pursuit of publication. The project began life in late 1970 as Jann Wenner's idea for a 16-page piece for Rolling Stone. When Wenner dropped out, Choquette turned to book publishers. A deal with Harper was nixed by the publisher's marketing department (comics were for kids); so too with Penguin. He tried to line up European co-publishers, but that required him to keep finding new contributors: a French publisher would sign on if more French artists were on board; that would force Choquette to find yet another co-publisher, an Italian, say, who would then demand more Italians ... Essentially, Choquette was on an endless hamster wheel, forever spending more to find new artists and partners. And never quite getting there.
Since the turn of the millennium, Choquette had watched the burgeoning popularity of all things graphic, wondering if his time had come. One problem stood in the way of a relaunch: the prospect of an irruption of enraged unpaid artists demanding their $100 or, worse, their art back. But so far, so good. The Comics Journal contacted dozens of artists (or their estates) for permission to reproduce the artwork in its story, and found "nearly boundless patience and good will." Choquette has many more permissions to hunt down, but it looks like someday for the The Someday Funnies has arrived. Major publishers and, this time, their marketers, are interested. It may well see print by late 2010, tying off one last loose '60s thread.
Maclean's August 24, 2009