Rand Holmes Retrospective

Underground artist Rand Holmes died five years ago, in 2002, but his body of work was resoundingly resurrected on March 17th and 18th at an art show and celebration in his honor. It was held at the community hall on his remote island hideaway of Lasqueti in British Columbia. Pen and ink original pages from Harold Hedd Comix, covers for The Georgia Straight, sexy cartoons for the Vancouver Star paper, science fiction comics and covers, as well as self-portraits, landscapes and the group of mysterious oil paintings he began ten years before his death were spread out through the main room. All day and into the night people arrived, with kids, food and musical instruments. The beer and wine bar opened on the front porch and the herbal remedy society convened on the back veranda. Five island sheep who died to provide meaty victuals were steamed, skewered, and barbequed with love. It was an art show, it was a party; it was an arty-party.

Holmes’ neighbors and admirers came from nearby and far away. Some were comic collectors on a pilgrimage. Most were friends and fellow islanders, curious to see what this quiet, unassuming man produced during his lifetime. Few people had ever been invited into his studio, and most had no idea what sort of things he drew. Once a year, he would bring one painting to the group show at the Lasqueti Art Center. He didn’t talk much about his past; the 1970s were long gone and nobody cared about ancient history.

Rand Holmes had been the best-known counterculture cartoonist of the Vancouver scene for his character Harold Hedd of Harold Hedd Comix, a pot culture hero who, in classic comic tradition, thwarted evil (the police and prohibition) and got the girl in globetrotting madcap adventures.

His hilarious stories featured dope smuggling, standing up to ‘the man’, wholesome enough sex and nudity, and political commentary. Hedd and his cousin Elmo flew a bomber load of pot from Mexico to British Columbia, and dove for Hitler’s secret cocaine stash on a submarine off Nova Scotia. His later comic stories ventured into outer space and horror, and chronicled the musical adventures of the Grateful Dead.

Rand Holmes made no attempt to disguise his fondness for marijuana in his life or his published work. In fact, Hedd comic books were probably instruction manuals for many young readers. Holmes once told me that he didn’t care if people objected to his explicit depictions of sex and drug use. “I’m not an immoral person, and I put into my comics what I feel is right. I would personally be outraged if anyone saw fit to tell me what should go into them; I think I should have the same rights as any novelist, painter, or songwriter.”

Holmes obviously had a rich imagination. His fantasies took place in an inner landscape that only he truly knew, not only in his writing, but also in his lifestyle. He might have been born two centuries too late, for he really felt he belonged to the 1700s of long ago. He constructed his own black powder rifles, made skin clothing, and periodically headed off alone into the woods with his weapons, a bit of flour and salt, and lived off the land. He had a private little cabin tucked away in the old growth where he could live like mountain men of yore. He needed that time alone so that he could create, said his son Ron. It was as necessary as breathing, for him to get his space. The Rand Holmes Retrospective in his honor, which I had an opportunity to be part of, was my contribution along with others in keeping his spirit alive.