ZAP COMIX & UNDERGROUND COMIX
Zap Comix was published in 1967 in San Francisco by Robert Crumb, a young artist from Philadelphia who had come to Haight Asbury, dropped acid and saw a new way of drawing comics--one that used the cute, familiar style of the Sunday funnies to mask subversive and sometimes frighteningly perverse messages and insights, many of them quite profound. R. Crumb is one of the great pioneers of underground comix (Sixties slang for uncensored alternative press comics), and Zap was more than Mad on acid--it became a forum where the finest experimental young comic artists of their generation could get together, break taboos and freely express what was on their mind and how they saw America changing in the late Sixties. The story of Zap reminds us that the story of comics in America is the story of how the ongoing changes in American society are reflected through comics.
Zap is still published today, and we are happy to announce that a new issue is planned for publication later this year. Like Spain, R. Crumb remains true to his Sixties ideals; there is no censorship in Zap, and all profits are shared equally by the contributing artists.
In his article "Zap Comics", Steven Heller provides an excellent overview of the magazine and its artists.
"Zap Splits!" was the news that noted poet and comic writer (and longtime Spain Dark Hotel collaborator) Bob Callahan delivered in 1998. Callahan, who edited the groundbreaking The New Comics Anthology (1991), writes with an insider's knowledge concerning the personalities behind Zap. Fortunately, like the news of Mark Twain's death, the announcement of Zap's ending was a tad premature. But take note: don't mess with Spain--he'll put you in a strip!
Even Wikipedia is compelled to cover Zap Comix.
A fine account of why Zap Comix #0 is one of The Greatest Comics.
Robert Crumb became a national media figure with the release of Terry Zwighoff's documentary Crumb (1995), but he is more than the preternaturally gifted creator of such Sixties counterculture icons as Mr. Natural, Fritz the Cat, and the hippie slogan, "Keep On Truckin'." In the opinion of noted art critic Robert Hughes, he's "the Breugel of the second half of the twentieth century." Like Spain, Crumb has strong EC roots, having worked with Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman in the mid-Sixties.
One only need read his masterful Zap #11 (1984) story "Patton," about the fascinating, tragic life of doomed blues great Charlie Patton, to see what this talent can do when he executes a story he clearly cares about, guided by a strong narrative through-line. Works like "Patton" show why there's no reason why comics can't be serious art.
The Lamiek Comiclopedia entry on "Robert Crumb" is first-rate. So is the Comic Art & Graffix Gallery entry.
The Crumb Museum is a terrific showcase of his work. You can see his work on Zap Comix and Other Covers.
You can order R. Crumb's work directly through him at Crumb Products.
S. Clay Wilson
Robert Crumb has thanked S. Clay Wilson for liberating his work and encouraging him to explore his dark corners. S. Clay has not only gifted the world with such lovable, irrepressible characters as the Checkered Demon, Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates, and Ruby the Dyke--he has led by example and showed other artists not to shrink away from depicting taboos or forbidden subjects, but instead he exhorts them to go where the energy is, where the danger lives.
S. Clay's work has been variously described as grotesque, sick, disgusting, shameless, twisted, shocking, violent, degrading, and apocalyptic. No question. But his work is also very funny, and when you consider how much his work was admired by such Sixties Black Humor gods as William S. Burroughs (whose Naked Lunch was made to be illustrated by S. Clay--Dr. Benway is nothing but the Checkered Demon with a stethoscope) and Terry Southern, author of Candy and The Magic Christian and the screenplays of Dr. Strangelove and Barbarella, you realize how S. Clay's work fits into the realm of Swiftian satire and over-the-top Sixties put-ons. L'epater le bourgeois, baby, and let's see what shocks you! The gleeful freedom with which S. Clay violates taboos is infectious.
A very good Lamiek Comiclopedia entry on "S. Clay Wilson".
"The nastiest and ugliest of the underground masters": Last Gasp Comics, the publishers of Zap, offers a lot of S. Clay's wonderful work for sale.
This in-depth interview with S. Clay is aptly entitled, "Please Cap'n Pissgums, Don't Cut 'Em Both Off".
In 1968, Gilbert Shelton published the first issue of Wonder Wart-Hog, his hilarious satire of Superman, superheroes, and Middle American hypocrisy in general. Remarkably, the adventures of the Hog of Steel were distributed via a mainstream newsstand network (just like Gil Kane's Comics Code-busting His Name Is Savage that year), which meant that Shelton was able to expose underground comix to a much broader audience than before possible.
Shelton has been a regular contributor to Zap, and he is perhaps best known as the creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Through his character Freewheelin' Franklin, he coined the classic hippie line: "Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope."
Like Spain, Shelton has a very strong political consciousness. Possibly his finest work is his brilliant Zap #5 (1970) story, "Wonder Wart-Hog's Believe It Or Leave It!", in which the zealously right-wing Hog of Steel tells us how lucky we are to live in America, when you consider of the terrible ways some other nations behave. No one's who's read this story can forget the haunting replication of the JFK assassination, with a shadowy sniper perched in a window (clearly the sixth floor of the Texas Schoolbook Depository) beside stacked boxes clearly labeled in Cyrillic, while the window looks out on a replica of Dealey Plaza.
The deadpan caption reads: "Some governments' police agents have been known to assassinate their own chiefs of state for threatening moneyed interests' special tax loopholes or for suggesting the resignation of the government police bureau."
America, what a country.
Droog's Gilbert Shelton Page has an excellent selection of images, with many links.
This Comics Journal interview is first-rate.
Wonder Wart-Hog, all-American hero, shows his true colors.
Gilbert Shelton and the Hidden 1970s is a fascinating exploration of showing how Shelton depicted the true everyday reality of the 1970s, as opposed to the packaged media images of that era. Another sign of how comics can tell the truth when other mediums fail.
Former surfer Rick Griffin died tragically in a motorcycle accident in 1991, at the age of 46. But he left behind some of the most amazing rock posters and album covers ever, including world-famous ones done for the Grateful Dead, and a body of psychedelic work that got the world used to the sight of dueling eyeballs. With Victor Moscosco (see below), he bridged the world between psychedelic rock-and-roll posters and underground comix--a world that was fused together by the head shops of the late Sixties. As Victor Moscosco noted in his interview in the documentary Comic Book Confidential (1989), the posters created the distribution system via the head shops that was later enjoyed by underground comix.
This British site is an excellent introduction to Rick Griffin.
This Lamiek Comiclopedia entry is very fine as well.
As Skip Williamson told us through a bushy-haired, mustached streetfighter in the late Sixties in Class War Comics,, "An' when yer smashin' th' state, kid--don't fergit t' keep a smile on yer lips an' a song in yer heart!"
With Spain and Gilbert Shelton, Skip is among the most political of underground comix artists. But he uses his rollicking, cartoony style to transmit very serious political and social messages. Like the other underground comix artists, Skip was horrified in the late Sixties by the war the fathers were waging on the sons, and he maintained his outrage in the Eighties, when he was one of the few artists brave enough to openly attack President Ronald Reagan, the murderer of People's Park in May 1969 ("If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with!"). The Scum Also Rises (1988) is a must-have collection of Skip's work.
(Spain has noted that Skip, unlike the other artists listed here, never drew for Zap, but he is included here because of his importance to underground comix and his committed political point of view.)
Historical note: Skip's most famous creation, quintessential American huckster and con man Snappy Sammy Smoot, was played on TV by comedian Carl Reiner on Laugh-In in 1968. Smoot's name was a joke, being taken from Dan Smoot, a rabid right-wing ex-FBI man who hosted a notorious Bircher TV show in Southern California known as The Dan Smoot Report.
The Williamson Galley, Skip's official Website.
A bio of Skip.
A Dragon Con bio of Skip.
An outstanding Graphic Classics profile of Skip, with a snootful of Snappy Sammy.
A Lambiek Comiclopedia entry.
Victor Moscoso, like Rick Griffin, showed how music, art and pop culture blended together in his psychedelic posters, rock album covers, and underground comix art. He is perhaps best known for his infamous "Mr. Peanut/Mr. Penis" cover of Zap #4 (1969) that triggered off a legal furore.
Here is his official Website.
The Lambiek Comiclopedia entry features the notorious dancing Mr. Penis.
An excellent Website focusing on his superlative poster work.
Robert Williams is used to draw for Ed "Big Daddy" Roth, so his scary, grotesque images have been influencing the American imagination for some time. He has a wildly imaginative style, and now he enjoys an extremely successful career as an imagist painter. Like Gilbert Shelton, he shows the influence of the magnificently ugly work of maverick comics pioneer Basil Wolverton.
The Lambiek Comiclopedia entry.
Fantagraphics offers his book, Hysteria In Remission.
As the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MOMA) says: "Here you will find the work of Robert Williams, an artist whose paintings have been known to offend. We encourage you to react to his work, to make your feelings known to others who visit. When you are ready to give your opinion, click here."