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The Climbing Cartoons of Sheridan Anderson

The Climbing Cartoons of Sheridan Anderson. Text by Joe Kelsey. High Peaks Press, Wilson, Wyoming, 1989. 143 pages, illustrated. $12.95.

Sheridan Anderson died in 1984 at the age of 47. Those who may not recognize the name will surely recognize his work, gathered here from various published and unpublished sources. As a self-appointed chronicler and satirist of our sport during an era when it was constantly in danger of taking itself too seriously, Sheridan (as he usually signed his drawings) was something of a household name among a subculture that owned few houses.

When word got around last summer that this long-gestating volume was finally in print, I hurried to grab the first copy I could find. Not to be disappointed: if one of the functions of climbing is to produce lasting memories, then this book is an effective antidote against at least some of the dangers of aging. Any climber who was old enough to read when Summit stopped publishing will enjoy having it on his shelves.

Begun as a collaboration but completed as a posthumous tribute, this modest collection contains a representative majority of Sheridan’s work, organized loosely into anecdotal chapters based roughly on subject matter. Joe Kelsey’s text is meant to complement, not analyse, the cartoons, though occasionally he is forced into providing context for us in order to capture the volatile climbing scene that Sheridan caricatured. Joe’s task is not easy, as Sheridan’s oeuvre is hardly an organized one; but he carries it off well and manages to avoid upstaging the artist with his entertainingly discursive prose.

There is an appropriate “underground comix” look and feel to this edition, whose initial printing ran to just 1,000 copies. It is a labor of love, and the foreword by Dick DuMais (who catalyzed this project) as well as the obituary by Royal Robbins (reprinted from Mountain) make this obvious. At a time when books about climbing are growing larger, heavier, and more pretentious in an effort to sell to a wider audience, the blatantly unambitious nature of this work is refreshing.

Ronald A. Matous