To experience the work of Derf Backderf is to be transported into the mind of a voracious lover of the comics medium. As someone who didn’t read comics closely growing up and only started reading them critically in graduate school, being a follower/lurker on Derf’s social media pages is akin to being in a masterclass of comics history, contemporary events, to the lasting legacy of punk rock. For me, it’s not a stretch to say that Derf is like the Pekar of punk. But the other great thing about following Derf on social media is the regular delivery of new pages of his Baron of Prospect Ave. webcomic.
Following the exploits of the erstwhile hero and bon-vivant Otto, the eponymous Baron, and his misadventures living in Cleveland during the early ‘80s, the Baron of Prospect Ave webcomic is a continuation of Derf’s first graphic novel Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, itself a wild adventure featuring characters coping with midwestern ennui at the dawn of the era of punk rock. In the interim between Punk Rock and the webcomic, Derf created two dynamic yet diametrically opposite works that are vital to any serious reader’s bookshelf: the haunting My Friend Dahmer and the charming Trashed. Baron is definitely a more lighthearted affair in the vein of Trashed, filled with plenty of off-kilter humor and sly political commentary.
Typical elements of Derf’s oeuvre are in healthy supply here: surreal situations, heavily expressionistic drawings reminiscent of Max Beckmann, misanthropic musings, and appearances from the erstwhile Beatles of the punk rock, the Ramones. I’m always excited to see the Ramones pop-up in the story and Derf always depicts them as the surly outcasts they were, rather than the sanitized visage that others would probably want to remember them as.
And they provide a nice window into the personalities of the other characters, especially Otto, who acts as unofficial roadie and confidante to the group.
At some point in the future, I hope to see The Baron of Prospect Avenue packaged in one volume (I believe that is the long-term plan). But for right now, I’m so happy to wait patiently for new pages of this can’t-miss idiosyncratic, eccentric, and essential webcomic