Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Jay Kennedy, R.I.P., and the untold history of The Screw Iran Coloring Book

kennedy_guide1_thumb.jpgWhile I’m on a roundup of “internet death” (finding out through the internet that people you know have died), I should mention the demise of Jay Kennedy, a comics historian and comic-strip editor of major importance who, among other claims to fame, helped launch both “Mutts” (my friend Paul’s favorite strip) and “Zits,” my son Lex’s favorite. Kennedy died recently during a riptide incident while vacationing in Costa Rica. His obit is here.

While I’m not sure I ever met him in person, I do know I spoke with him on the phone in what had to have been late 1981. He was compiling the information for the book at left, “The Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide,” and having decided for some reason that my self-published masterpiece “The Screw Iran Coloring Book” was an “underground,” he had tracked me down for information.

About “The Screw Iran Coloring Book” (and yes, of course I still have copies for sale. Email me.):

In 1980 as the Iran hostage crisis went on and on, I hit upon a great idea: a coloring book, modeled after Neal Adam’s Jimmy Carter coloring book, to be called “The Screw Iran Coloring Book.” Every page would be something rip-snorting fun about the hostage drama, making the ayatollah and the captors look bad, and lining our own pockets with the immense sales prospects. A friend and I set out to execute this plan, hiring an artist, conceptualizing the jokes and writing the captions. As with many things done in youth, this project now seems like a very bad idea — so bad that even Rolling Stone magazine, where we had envisioned advertising and securing the bulk of our sales, a magazine that found ways to advertise drug paraphernalia, sex aids, nudist colonies, and God knows what else, wouldn’t take our ad. In fact, they sent us a terse note advising us that the idea of profiteering off hostages was not cool. And although we hadn’t realized, in our late teenage years, that this could be construed as profiteering off hostages, they were right. I just thought that bad taste was in, and given what was going on in National Lampoon and all and sundry “Newave” and underground comix, that was most definitely the case.

In any event, no one would take our ads and no matter how we tried I don’t think we sold more than 10 copies of “The Screw Iran Coloring Book.” I have no idea how Jay Kennedy heard of it, and I believe that was one of my questions to him, but I can’t remember the answer. Given that he grew up in New Jersey (as did I), maybe he saw or heard of it at a convention in that period when I was a comic-book dealer and was trying to unload them. The fact that he tracked me down to Ocean City where I had moved in September 1981 after the coloring-book debacle, and somehow got my home phone number is a testament to his diligence. You can imagine that I was initially skeptical — someone who was doing a “price guide” of underground comics must have been an unrepentant hippie, right? — and then flat-out thrilled that my printed offering, no matter how pathetic a failure, would be enshrined in history. (Like most writers, I love all my literary children, even the deformed ones.) Kennedy asked me a few questions for his records, and then said he needed a copy of the coloring book to attest that it did indeed exist. I offered to mail him one and he insisted on paying for it. He may have been our fifth sale. Or first — I may have given away the other four.

I enjoy “Mutts” and “Zits” and I’m grateful that a long time ago someone for some reason decided to include my wrong-headed little satire in his book. That makes it all the more real. Even at the time, I felt that having it listed as item “1754. SCREW IRAN COLORING BOOK, THE.” added to its value. If in no other way than this: The coloring book had a published value of 50¢. Kennedy listed it as being worth 50¢ — but he had actually paid for it. And you cannot imagine the joy it gave me to see my own name listed in the “Underground and Newave Artist Index” in the back; to someone whose entire world revolved around comic books it felt like I had some tiny personal share of history. I remain grateful to Mr. Kennedy.

6 Responses to “Jay Kennedy, R.I.P., and the untold history of The Screw Iran Coloring Book”

  1. Rich Roesberg Says:

    Last week a copy of the coloring book sold on e-Bay for fifty bucks.

    (Just kidding.)

  2. leewochner.com » Blog Archive » Immortality, for good or ill Says:

    […] Yes, The Screw Iran Coloring Book is in the collection of the Michigan State University libraries. […]

  3. Victor Says:

    Hello! I’ve tried contacting you, but I don’t think I’ve succeeded.

    I’m working on a new alternative/underground comic reference guide and have been trying to acquire a copy of your coloring book. Would you, by chance, be willing to sell one to me for my collection? It would mean a great deal to me. Please, let me know!

  4. Jim Markley Says:

    I’ve still got my copy, not quite in mint condition. AND it’s still it’s uncolored!

  5. Lee Wochner Says:


  6. Lee Wochner Says:

    p.s. Jim, how’d you get one? You’re probably one of… I dunno… 20 people?

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