Ahh, the endless subversive thrills of underground comix. It is hard to fathom in these everything-goes days of informational overload, but during their early 70’s heyday, they were a thumb in the eye to everything holy and sacred about American culture, including its worship of bland, morally-incorruptible superheroes. Instead of lame-os like Superman and Captain America we had pervy creeps like Fritz the Cat and weed-smoking slackers The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. Rife with drugs, violence, sex and sedition, these thoroughly adult “funnybooks” were counter-cultural timebombs. Once you’ve read an issue of Bizarre Sex, Death Rattle or Cocaine Funnies, Archie and Jughead just won’t do anymore.
The underground comics (or “comix” as they were widely known) phenomenon sprouted from the fertile artistic well of San Francisco in the late 1960s. Some of its earliest practitioners/pioneers included Gilbert Shelton (Freak Brothers), S. Clay Wilson (The Checkered Demon), Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead) and of course Robert Crumb (Zap Comix, Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural). It took a few years for these gritty, greasy comics to slither across the pond, especially since Britain had a knack for banning this kind of hippy-dippy counter-culture stuff. In fact, the bible of British hippies, Oz magazine, was undergoing an obscenity trial in 1972 and was withering on the vine when it split off into its own short-lived underground comic offshoot, cOZmic Comics. The title combined strips borrowed from American comics with new British artists like Mike Weller, Ed Barker and Malcolm Livingstone and became the flagship for underground comics in the UK.
Cozmic Comics ran for three years and eventually a handful of spin-offs were released, including Animal Weirdness, Half-Assed Funnies, and Rock ‘N’ Roll Madness Funnies. Rock ‘N’ Roll Madness Funnies only ran for two issues and then vanished, but it serves as a crucial snapshot of an era that treated its rock stars like untouchable gods. As is the job of any subversive, Rock ‘N’ Roll Madness Funnies turned that notion on its head, filling its pages with zonked out weirdos blowing their minds and millions on drugs and death trips. Many of the stories in both issues were written by musician/journalist Mick Farren and drawn by Dave Gibbons, who would later go on to fairly massive success with titles like 2000 AD and The Watchmen.
None of the stories are particularly hard-hitting and everyone’s favorite, a tawdry descent into drugs and debauchery by a Crumb-ian rock n’ roll cat named “Dirty Pussy,” was never credited. But what makes these two comics so eminently cult-y are the stunning covers by American artist Greg Irons. Irons was a prolific poster artist from SF who had worked on the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film and was also responsible for the frequently hair-raising underground horror comic Slow Death. He died in 1984 after getting hit by a bus in Thailand, which is a helluva time/place/way to go. The covers he created for Rock ‘N’ Roll Madness Funnies achieve what they’re supposed to—portray a slice of live, out-of-control, all-knobs-to-the-right rock action. But in his attempt to concoct the freakiest, wiggest-out cartoon bands imaginable, Irons managed to lampoon rock stars who didn’t even exist yet. Issue one’s skinny glam rocker is such a shoo-in for Antichrist Superstar-era Marilyn Manson that you would assume he was capable of time travel or ESP, and issue 2’s thoroughly amazing blood-splattered tableau seems to predict both hardcore punk and corpse-painty black metal in one-over-the top image.
More after the jump…