The page of spot cartoons of The Man first appeared in The Sword of Damocles; it later ran for 13 weeks from October 1, 1965 through February 18, 1966 in The Daily Orange, the Syracuse University newspaper.
Later, The Man was printed in paperback form by Syracuse University by the Office of Student Publications, then in underground newspapers, then syndicated to college newspapers, then translated for Linus magazine in Italy, and finally published as an underground comic by The Print Mint in 1972. The Man continues to this day to be one of my most sensitive and haunting cartoons."
- Vaughn Bodē Index, George Beahm, 1976
Vaughn Bodē created the character known only as "Man" in 1963, around the same time he produced Das Kampf in Utica, New York. At the time, he and his wife Barbara were living on welfare in a tiny apartment. Bodé drew 17 pages of comics featuring Man, but figured nobody would really like it, so he shelved the project. Two years later, Bodé enrolled in Syracuse University and become their resident superstar cartoonist. His "Man" first appeared in the Sword of Damocles as a single page of vignettes featuring the title character. The Man then ran as a weekly comic strip in the campus newspaper, The Daily Orange, from October 1, 1965 to February 18, 1966. In May, the university's Office of Student Publications compiled The Man into a book (with a print-run of close to 2,000 copies) which was sold on and off campus. It was one of the first commercially produced underground comics. At some point, the originals were ruined in a flood. In 1972, the strip was reproduced from the Syracuse book, with a new full color cover, by the Print Mint in California. This second printing had a run of 20,000 copies, followed by another 10,000 copies three years later.
The Man is about a simple-minded caveman who possesses the power of language but not much else in the way of advanced intellect. Man leads an ordinary caveman life of hunting, killing, eating and sleeping. He does not have any companions or friends, but he is very fond of his lone weapon, a spear, which he named "Stick." He calls Stick his friend and has one-sided conversations with it. Without any human companionship or interactions, Man struggles to contemplate what his life means. He tries to formulate deeper thoughts about his empty stomach or a night sky filled with stars, but he can't articulate what he is feeling.
Via Dan Steffan at the Yahoo! Bode fan mailing list: "I once owned one of the originals illustrations from 'Base Ten' but had to sell it in one of those sad, 70s poverty purges. *sigh* But I do own the original art for 'The Man' that Vaughn gave to Richard Wilson. I bought it from a dealer who got it, I believe, from Wilson's estate. Shortly after Bode gave the strip to Wilson there was a flood in Vaughn's basement that destroyed all the other originals for the strip, except one page that wasn't in continuity format. The Wilson page is the only surviving example of one of Vaughn's most important works. It is one of my prized possessions."
The biography of Greg Kurma in the collected edition, though dated, is illuminating:
Von, or Vaughn Bode as he is known to insurance men and the U.S. Government, has been the cartoon conscience of Syracuse University since September, 1965. The Man, a series of most aptly described as comic in its conception and epic in its approach, represents his most thematically realized composition. At twenty-four, Von has been two years in the Army, three years in commercial art, and is presently an illustration major at Syracuse University. His three year old son is said to be 'spoiled completely with stories of bears and Indians.' But bears and Indians aren't the only characters in Von's world. Like Cecil B. DeMille panorama, a cast of thousands of unique characters lies behind his pen waiting to be born.
"I used the pen name 'Von' throughout the first 19 years I drew. From 5 to 24 years old, I never signed my entire real-time name; not until 1962 when Dave Breger and especially Milton Caniff encouraged me to use my own name which they insisted was quite artistic in sound and design." - Vaughn Bode