Wolff & Byrd by Lash Batton
Wolff & Byrd - 'Counselors of the Macabre' #12.

Batton Lash was an American comic writer and artist. His career is a triumph of creative individuality and will power. Throughout his entire career he promoted his work personally and by using every possible media platform. He co-founded his own publishing company, Exhibit A, and produced comics in print as well as online. Lash managed to keep his firm running outside the mainstream comic industry and that for almost 40 years! His signature series is the witty horror comic 'Wolff and Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre' (1979, renamed 'Supernatural Law' in 1994). Centering around a law firm defending ghouls and monsters, 'Supernatural Law' satirizes both horror stories as well as the justice system. Lash also wrote narratives for established franchises, such as 'Archie Comics' and 'The Simpsons' comics. Late in his career he made several web comics expressing libertarian viewpoints and criticism of the Obama administration. His work has often been awarded. 

Early life and career
Batton Lash was born in 1953 in Brooklyn, New York, as Vito Marangi. He studied cartooning and graphic arts at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Two of his teachers were Harvey Kurtzman and Will Eisner, whom he regarded as major influences. Other graphic influences were Steve Ditko and later Paul Pope, Alex GrecianKyle Baker, Frank Miller, Chris Powell, Rick Smith, Bosch Fawstin, Pat Lewis and James Hudnall. In terms of colouring he was fascinated by Tatjana Wood's work on 'Witching Hour' and 'House of Mystery'. After graduation, he worked a daytime job in advertising for five years for a small agency in Brooklyn, New York, until he was confident enough to become a freelance cartoonist. He made illustrations for Garbage magazine and Penny Stallings' book 'Rock 'n' Roll Confidential' (1983). His first steps as a comic artist were done in the spring of 1977 as an assistant to Howard Chaykin. He worked on the graphic novel 'Empire' (1978), with an original script by Samuel Delaney. For several years he shared his studio with fellow artist Bob Smith.

Wolff & Byrd / Supernatural Law
In 1979 Lash went to the weekly newspaper The Brooklyn Paper, where he suggested making a comic strip for them, since they didn't have one. The Brooklyn Paper circulated in many streets and boroughs, among them Court Street, known for harbouring a lot of law firms. This gave the 25-year old Lash the idea of situating his comic strip in an actual law firm in Court Street, Brooklyn. He created three main characters: lawyers Alanna Wolff and Jeff Byrd, who are aided by their secretary Mavis Munro. Mavis was inspired by actress Jessica Harper in the film 'My Favorite Year' (1982). Unfortunately Lash had no legal background or knowledge. He therefore made his protagonist's clients supernatural beings, such as werewolves, vampires, witches, ghouls and other monsters. Wolff and Byrd would specialize themselves in defending these misunderstood creatures and act as their legal representatives. On 19 September 1979 the first episode of 'Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre' ran in the Brooklyn Paper. It was subtitled "an offbeat courtroom drama."

Graphically 'Wolff & Byrd' is a throwback to 1950s comics like Archie Comics and the E.C. horror title 'Tales From the Crypt'. Lash enjoyed referencing old horror stories and throwing in puns. At the same time the series is also a witty satire of the justice system. The contrast between the seriousness of the legal profession and the outlandish nature of these horror creatures was a masterstroke. Situations are often driven to their absurd extremes. In 'Zombie Wife' a man murders his wife, but she becomes a zombie and sues him for murder. It turns into a tough case, since the legal defense questions whether an undead person can claim to have been "murdered"?  In 'I'm Carrying Satan's Baby' a woman wants to perform an abortion, but without consent of her husband, since he is no longer able to think for himself, having sold his soul to the devil. Wolff & Byrd' invites to repeated reading, as many background gags and double layers are sprinkled along the series. The stories were written and drawn by Batton Lash, later assisted by Trevor Nielson and Melissa Uran.

'Supernatural Law' #24 (Exhibit A Press).

Like Lash expected, many lawyers and judges enjoyed the comic strip. Thanks to the humorous fantasy setting he could get away with numerous unrealistic plotlines and details. But he soon realized this limited the creative possibilities, rather than open them. Many times he got stuck with a story, because he had no idea whether a certain detail was possible in real life? After a while he decided to educate himself. Lash read many books about law and real-life trials. The cartoonist preferred non-fiction sources. He avoided crime fiction, because novelists often take liberties with real-world institutions to move the plot along. Lash visited as many trials as he could, observing the proceedings and taking down notes. In 1980 he was a courtroom sketch artist during the trial of maffiosi John Gotti. The artist also talked with real lawyers and eventually found his college friend Mitch Berger to be the best "creative consultant". Berger wasn't just a lawyer: he had experience in the cartoon industry too. He published an editorial cartoon magazine named Bullseye and often helped cartoonists with publishing deals. As such he had a much better understanding of how legal matters could be translated in a comics script. From 1989 on they would often brainstorm together. Whenever the cartoonist wasn't sure whether a certain legal point, situation or sentence was possible or what legal term to use he'd ask Berger. Many times he would suddenly mention something which triggered a new plotline, though Lash stated that his lifelong friend came up with funny gags as well. After a while 'Wolff & Byrd' got a reputation for accuracy. Many readers assumed that Lash must've been a lawyer himself. Lash fed the urban legend by dressing up formally during public appearances, looking like a real attorney.

Sonovawitch, by Batton LashWolff & Byrd, by Batton Lash

While Lash wasn't a real lawyer he sure had the same dedication and verbal passion. 'Wolff & Byrd' ran in the Brooklyn Paper until 1996, almost 18 years on end. Between 1983 and 1997 it was picked up by another weekly, National Law Journal, which allowed the series to be published nationally. It therefore reached the right readership, but otherwise remained unknown outside this niche. Andrion Books released the first book collection in 1987. Lash went through great lengths to promote his signature series, from introducing it at conventions to hand-selling it in the street. He drew 'Wolff & Byrd' stories for such publications as Polyhedron, American Fantasy, Monster Scene and indie comic books such as 'Satan's Six'(Topps), 'Doc Stearn... Mr. Monster' (Eclipse), 'Munden's Bar' (First Comics), 'Frankie's Frightmare' (Cat's Paw Comics), 'Crack-a-Boom' (Caliber Press), 'The Big Bigfoot Book' (Mojo Press) and 'Panorama' (St. Eve Productions). He took the time to redraw older episodes when he felt they could be improved. Slowly but surely its readership increased, following Lash's personal motto: "One reader at a time." Many were impressed that Batton Lash managed to keep his black-and-white comic strip running for decades, despite not appearing in mainstream publications. And all through pure self-promotion and -publishing.

'Supernatural Law Big 1st Amendment Issue' (2005).

In May 1994 he and his wife Jackie Estrada (who was administrator at the Eisner Awards in San Diego since 1990) established the publishing company Exhibit A Press. From that moment on they could launch 'Wolff & Byrd' as a bi-monthly full-colour comic book series. After the 24th issue the title was changed into 'Supernatural Law'. Between 2005 and 2013 it also appeared as a webcomic on WebComics Nation. After the site closed down it moved to Supernatural Law's own website. By taking chances with every possible platform, Lash managed to keep his series financially profitable and constantly reaching new audiences. He was a pioneer of kickstarting campaigns to fund new volumes. In 2005 he created a special issue of 'Supernatural Law' revolving around the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Five hundred copies were donated to the Fund to sell at conventions. In the fall of 1998 a spin-off series was launched around Mavis Munro, which lasted five issues. It featured graphic contributions by Barb Rausch, Terry MooreJimmy Robinson, Chris Smigliano, Jon "Bean" Hastings, Dan DeCarlo, Bob Smith, Bill Morrison, Mike Kunkel, Billy Martinez, Alex Robinson, Mary Fleener, Jaime Hernandez and Lea Hernandez.

'Supernatural Law'  #26 (Exhibit A Press).

Archie Comics: Archie Meets the Punisher
In 1994 Victor Gorelick, editor of Archie Comics, wanted to create a crossover with a Marvel Comics series. When discussing the idea with Lash and writer David Scroggy he joked that Gerry Conway, John Romita Sr. and Ross Andru's vigilante superhero The Punisher might form a swell team with Bob Montana's teenage characters. What started as a joke eventually became a real publication. 'Archie Meets the Punisher' (August 1994) was written by Lash, with artwork by Stan Goldberg and John Buscema, while Tom Palmer inked, Jack Morelli lettered and Barry Grossman did the colours. The odd premise got a lot of media attention, particularly since both comics were so vastly different in style. 'Archie Comics' is one of the most iconic teenage romance comics, while The Punisher was a gritty and violent superhero series. While the violence was toned down in 'Archie Meets the Punisher', the plot still involves the characters fighting against drug dealers, something Archie Comics never addressed before in its entire run. Surprisingly enough 'Archie Meets the Punisher' was both a critical and commercial success. It opened the doors for more crossovers between Archie and other franchises, such as 'Archie Meets Kiss' (Alex Segura and Dan Parent, 2012), 'Archie vs. Predator' (Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, 2012), 'Archie Meets Glee' (Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and Dan Parent, 2013), 'Archie vs. Predator' (Alex de Campi, Fernando Ruiz, 2015) and 'Archie vs. Sharknado' (Anthony C. Ferrante and Dan Parent, 2015).

Further Archie Comics work
In the fall of 1995 Lash wrote a three-part Archie Comics story: 'The House of Riverdale', illustrated by Stan Goldberg, inked by Henry Scarpelli, colored by Barry Grossman and lettered by Bill Yoshida. The main plotline involves Archie trying to prevent an old house in his home town from being levelled to the ground. In 2008 Lash was asked by Bill Galvan to write stories for a new series within the Archie universe. 'Freshman Year' focuses on the first years of high school before the main characters got to know each other. Lash liked the concept, as he'd always enjoyed the Archie characters and the premise opened a lot of new creative possibilities. With most established comic series, especially Archie, a writer is somewhat stuck with the characters, since they don't age and have very outlined personalities. By going back to the characters' early beginnings Lash could fantasize about their origins, but also depict them with a different look. And since they are still young, their personalities are still prone to changes. Lash also threw in some autobiographical elements, well aware they would be recognizable to other readers too.

'From Reinmania with Luv, Baby!', script and layouts by Batton Lash, pencils by Dan DeCarlo, inks by Bob Smith (Radioactive Man #3, 2001).

The Simpsons comics
Lash also worked for Matt Groening's Bongo Comics, where he specialized in writing and drawing stories starring 'The Simpsons' superhero parody 'Radioactive Man'. In March 2001 he wrote the story 'No One Gets Over the Underground!', illustrated by Abel Laxamana, and 'From Reinmania with Luv, Baby!' (June 2001), illustrated by Dan DeCarlo. In Radioactive Man #4 (October 2001) he wrote 'The Amazing Radioactive Spider!', 'The Thing in My Head!' (for which he also provided lay-outs), 'The Beauty Queen from the 21st Century!' and the fake advertisement comic 'What's Worse Than Being a Skinny Girl?', all drawn by Mike DeCarlo. In 'Radioactive Man #575' (May 2002) he wrote 'Don't Look Now, But It's 1984!', which he co-drew with Bob Smith, Art Villanueva and Rick Reese. Lash penned 'Radioactive Man, The Official Movie Adaption' (November 2003), drawn by Jason Ho and Bill Morrison. In Radioactive Man #197 (November 2004) he wrote 'Radioactive Man', co-drawn by himself and Dan DeCarlo, while in the same issue 'The Broadcast Buccaneers!' was completely written and drawn by himself. Lash collaborated with artist Dan Brereton on 'Bongos' in Simpsons Super Spectacular #1 (February 2005). In the same issue he also wrote and drew 'Let's See It Again! The Origin of Radioactive Man', 'Radioactive Man and Roargo' and 'The Little Boy with the Big Dream' (October 2005). In Simpsons Super Spectacular #3 (July 2006) his story 'The Crimes of the Crazy Cat Lady!', was illustrated by George Broderick, and in the fifth issue of the same series (July 2007) he penned 'Mufelatto, the Aliment Man', drawn by Ramona Fradon. In Simpsons Super Spectacular #4 (January 2007) he wrote 'The Day Radioactive Man Quit!', drawn by George Broderick Jr.

During his stay at Bongo Comics Lash only wrote one story based on the Simpsons family themselves, namely 'Springfieldopolis', which was published in 'Bart Simpsons' Treehouse of Horror' (September 2015). This parody of Fritz Lang's classic film 'Metropolis' (1927) was illustrated by Bill Galvan.

Li'l Obama
In 2008 U.S. Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama was elected President of the U.S. Since Lash was a lifelong libertarian he didn't like Obama's policies at all. He created a satirical webcomic 'Li'l Obama' (2008), which focused on the so-called childhood of the newly elected president, depicting him as a scheming crook. The comic was posted on the website of Jim Treacher, who eventually was credited as a gag writer too.

Obama Nation
A year later comic writer James D. Hudnall ('Espers', 'Alpha Flight', 'Strikeforce: Moritun') teamed up with Lash to create 'Obama Nation' (2009-2012), another web comic satirizing his presidential administration. On his blog Hudnall explained his motivation: "Batton was a free thinker like myself and very patriotic. When Andrew Breitbart called me one day and invited me to be part of his new website that was about to launch I asked Batton to join me in a strip mocking the then president who we both we're critics of. No one at the time was willing to make fun of this president. I felt it was disturbing that everyone was afraid to. And Batton agreed that no politician is above reproach." 'Obama Nation' portrays Obama with Dumbo ears, while First Lady Michelle Obama is depicted as a hypocrite who wants to fight obesity in the U.S., despite being food-obsessed herself. 'Obama Nation' received some national media coverage, when the New York Daily News, Media Matters and left-wing TV pundit Lawrence O'Donnell expressed concern over its racial offensiveness. To them the comic strip reinforced outdated stereotypes about African-American people. Other critics felt 'Obama Nation' wasn't racist at all, just a disappointing satire, since it targeted the presidential couple's physical features more than their actual policies. A few argued that Michelle Obama wasn't a recognizable caricature either. According to Hudnall both he and Lash received a lot of criticism and even death threats over 'Obama Nation'. The webcomic ran on BigGovernment.com, a site ran by Republican pundit Andrew Breitbart. When Breitbart died in 2012 the site received new management. Hudnall and Lash decided to terminate 'Obama Nation' at that occasion.

Gori Lori
Lash was also involved with 'Gori Lori' (Third Nipple Press, 2013), a comic strip created and written by Nick Bodgett (often misspelled as "Blodgett" online, yet his name is clearly spelled "Bodgett" on the cover). Lash and Steve Crompton (inking) provided the artwork. The series could be described as a cross between 'Supernatural Law' and 'Archie' in the sense that the stories take place in a high school set in a post-apocalyptic world, full with mutants. While the protagonist is a young teenager, Gori Lori, it's not exactly a family friendly comic. Many plotlines have a raunchy feel to them, with swearing, bloody violence and gratuitous nudity.

'The First Gentleman of the Apocalypse'.

The First Gentleman of the Apocalypse
Lash continued his political satire with 'The First Gentleman of the Apocalypse' (August 2015) for David Lloyd's international webcomic magazine Aces Weekly. Set in the not-too-distant future, the comic strip takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, ravaged by the U.S. government becoming too intrusive on its citizens. Many people now work for the state, but a few people still keep their own enterprises running. Two of them are the trader Madison Dane and his strong valet Mr. Abraham who travel the country in a double-decker bus. Lash stated that he didn't target any particular presidential administration, since the idea of the comic came to him when president George Bush, Jr. was still in power. 

Other graphic contributions.
Batton Lash provided artwork to Hamilton Comics' short-lived horror comics line ('Grave Tales', 'Dread of Night'), Paradox Press's 'The Big Book of Death', 'The Big Book of Weirdos', 'The Big Book of Urban Legends' and 'The Big Book of Thugs' and Rip Off Press' 'Aesop's Desecrated Fables'. He also wrote and drew a parody of Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' for Neil Hamburger Comic Digest (2012). Other artists who made a graphic contribution were Darick Robertson, Dave Lanphear, Jeffrey Brown, Bill Galvan and Star St. Germain. Lash was additionally co-author of the riddle book 'The Penguin's Putdowns' (TOR, 1992) with Scott Franklin, while Howie Post provided the artwork.

Lash won the Don Thompson Award twice, in 1996 and 1997, but in different categories, respectively for "Best Achievement by a Cartoonist" (which he shared with Sergio Aragonés) and "Best Achievement by a Writer & Artist", both for his signature series 'Supernatural Law'. His 'Radioactive Man' story won the 2002 Eisner Award for "Best Humor Publication", while 'The Soddyssey And Other Tales of Supernatural Law' received the 2009 Independent Book Publishers Association's Benjamin Franklin Award for Graphic Novel. In 2004 he was honoured with an Inkpot Award too.

Final years and death
In April 2009 Lash launched his own Twitter account. The final years of his life were spent in bad health. On 30 August 2017 Lash suffered a seizure and doctors discovered he had a brain tumor. At first he recovered again, but in November 2018 his condition worsened and he passed away in January 2019 from brain cancer. He was 65. His passing was mourned online by fellow comic publishers like Chip Mosher, David Lloyd, Ian Boothby, Rebecca Hicks, Tess Fowler, Rantz A. Hoseley and James D. Hudnall.

Wolff & Byrd at Exhibit A Press website

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