D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer
Publisher: Tinto Press
Biography is a tricky game, especially when the facts surrounding a person’s life are, shall we say, murky. Layer onto that, especially in the matter of celebrity biography, the prior-knowledge and expectations of the audience. What you potentially might end up with is a thick and viscous broken narrative full of appeasements and speculation. Luckily, D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer, Ted Intorcio’s latest release from his Tinto Press, navigates what is murky and those presumptions with a storyteller’s ease and an artist’s skills.
That’s right, this a comic about the death of Alfalfa.
My Dallas, Texas pre-cable/internet latchkey kid childhood was full of after-school television and Hostess Cupcakes. As choice was limited, most of my 4 channel options were re-runs of things like The Rifleman with Chuck Conners, The Three Stooges, and the perennial favorite, Hal Roach’s Our Gang, better known as the Little Rascals.
Our Gang was kinda subversive shit, if I recall correctly. In it a group of kids created chaos, undermined authority, embraced and perverted (simultaneously) ideas of misogyny and racism, and played it hard for laughs. While “Spanky” was the leader of the group, and “Froggy” was spectacularly awesome, the Little Rascal people often think of was “Alfalfa” with his cowlick, freckles, ill-fitting suit, and squeaky singing voice.
As Intorcio writes in his introduction to this book, “(Alfalfa) embodied an ideal from a simpler time that we, as culture, may have lost sight of. It was that what really mattered was not looks or money, physical strength or even above-average intelligence but guts, determination and a stalwart belief in one’s self. Despite all of our imperfections and the ever-present fear of a beating from the Butches of the world, we went after what we wanted and would mange to achieve some success in life, however meager.” Alfalfa was a hero. As awkward as he was, he always won our hearts.
Apparently, though, Carl Switzer, the young actor who played Alfalfa, was kind of an asshole. He was the kind of asshole who would supposedly drown a goat. He was the kind of asshole who pissed on the studio lights to get out of work. He was the kind of asshole who was gunned down in 1959, the events surrounding this event apparently being a bit nebulous.
D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer tries to sort through the questions about Switzer’s death, life, and legacy. Intorcio does so through manipulating various interviews and recreations of events in an interesting pastiche, like a Memory Quilt recounting the life a surprisingly unpleasant person. This narrative choice requires a bit of piecing together on the part of the reader and, as such, is more viscerally effective then a traditional time-line. As the facts surrounding Switzer’s death are convoluted and are dependent upon the agenda of the individual recounting it, Intorcio allows for many voices, but through placement and emphasis seems to have his own perspective. As he says, his “own ideas about what happened that night in 1959 were greatly altered by the gathering of information from sources beyond Wikipedia and E! Mysteries…”
Then again, who hasn’t said something like this before.
Any way you slice it, though, Intorcio emphasizes that Alfalfa was an asshole, regardless of the easy psychological explanations as to why that might have been so. Whether he deserved to be shot to death, though, is left up to the reader. The artist in Intorcio keeps his work open and true to intent.
It’s not often that you have your childhood heroes so utterly upended to the point where your sense of right and wrong gets eroded and your moral structure wafts even further into the miasma of relativity, yet you’re still able to get up in the morning, drink your coffee, go to work, make it through your day, and resist all the urges you have to start screaming and never stop. Art can do that for us and to us. Cowlicks and freckles can mask the worst evils.D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer holds up a mirror to the illusions foisted upon us in order to show the truth of our corruption.
- Daniel Elkin
You can purchase D.O.A. The Death of Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer from Tinto Press here
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