Ogri, Ogri, Ogri …
Original artworks from the cult cartoon ‘Ogri’ by Paul Sample will be on show at blackShed Gallery from 17th May until 31st July. Forty works and associated merchandise will be available for viewing and purchase. Gareth Stevens, who helps out at the gallery, previews the exhibition and virtually meets the artist.
The Art of the cartoonist is perpetually viewed as lower in stature to contemporary Art. How mad is that? And how good is it that a local contemporary Art Gallery will have none of that nonsense.
I caught up with Paul Sample via a Zoom call. Whilst his impossibly talented painter son Robert lives in St Leonards, he lives in a vicarage in Shropshire. The conversation was difficult to guide. Whilst I wanted to inquire about the possible influences of the great US cartoonist Robert Crumb and the creator of the NME’s ‘The Lone Groover’ Tony Benyon, Paul just wanted to tell me stories. On how ‘Ogri’ was born; Paul delights in talking about his early biker days. The first time he rode his ‘Rocket Goldstar’ in excess of 100mph (don’t try this) in 1965, he started to hear rattling, immediately shut down the throttle and had to stop. This incident worked its way into becoming the first embryonic comic strip that would later develop into the fully fledged ‘Ogri’.
I thought I had never seen the work of Paul Sample, but whilst preparing this piece, happenstance led me to a Flann O’Brien novel in a charity shop, complete with cover artwork by the man himself. I realised I knew his work quite well. I kept going back to the book and realised that the man’s drawing – nay, observational skills, were incredible.
So who is Ogri and what of his creator? Although the cartoon strips of Paul Sample were the staple of Bike magazine almost uninterruptedly for 37 years, they were not just concerned with the world of those obsessed with motorcycles. More than that, they spoke of life in general.
Ogri himself is a man of integrity – he knows right from wrong, is pragmatic and even though he never lives by the rules and doesn’t put up with any bullshit, he has integrity. He sports a chin that outweighs ‘Desperate Dan’s’ – and is, dare I say it, almost phallic in nature. Paul says that ‘Ogri’ is every biker’s ideal: the biker they want to be. Loosely based on a Marvel superhero, Paul Sample poses the question, “What would a superhero who loved motorbikes and lived next door be like?”
Malcolm, his constant companion, has a much more fragile frame and never matches up to Ogri’s heroism. Paul tells me that if Ogri were the supreme biker (and man), then Malcolm represents the vast majority of us – the rank and file who, whilst always trying to match up to Ogri’s pedigree, never quite get there.
Whilst some of the comic strips are ‘unreconstructed’ (a mild understatement) – look deeper and you will see that the work at times reflects more profoundly on wider issues to do with life itself.
What would a superhero who loved motorbikes and lived next door be like?
The character of Mitzi is controversial. Whilst she rides her motorcycle wearing nothing but fishnets and a basque, she is very much in control of her sexuality and deals with predation and any clumsy stereotypical attitudes decisively and practically. In strip 251 she eruditely leads Ogri to understand a more nuanced and important difference between love and desire.
The process of creating a twenty-frame cartoon strip is complex and problematic. Alongside the prominent plot, there is always the subplot concerning Kickstart, Ogri’s ever present dog, as well as all sorts of other details. To be able to deal with such complexity in a way that doesn’t undermine a commitment to drawing is astounding.
Ogri is a living totem who embodies freedom and self-determination. He lives beyond established etiquette using his bike as a means to cut a swathe through convention and routine. Beyond that Paul Sample is a master draughtsman who thankfully decided to put his skills to a cause that would reach more people than the rarefied world of contemporary art.
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