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‘The Complete Zap Comix’ box set is the greatest thing in the history of the world, ever


 
Over the Halloween weekend I was visiting my family in Wheeling, WV (it was my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary) and I needed to buy a cheap one-hitter to help get me through it. There’s only one place to buy that sort of thing in my hometown and this would be Wheeling’s sole smut emporium, the very downmarket Market Street News.

Thirty-five years ago, in better economic times for that town, Market Street News was still a dirty book store, but back then it also sold bongs, rolling papers, fake drugs like “Lettuce Opium” or “Coke Snuff,” British rock mags, National Lampoon, biker rags like Easy Rider and Iron Horse, High Times and a small handful of underground comics. A bead curtain separated the front of the shop from the over 21 area and the place smelled heavily of incense, cigarettes and Pine-Sol. It was here, age 11, where I bought my first issue of High Times, the October 1977 issue with Johnny Rotten on the cover and the now infamous “Ted Nugent shits his pants to get out of the draft” interview. What kind of degenerate sold a little kid High Times?

Let me assure you that I was not an innocent child. By that age, I’d already read Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce!!, I owned a copy of Naked Lunch and had already tried getting high (unsuccessfully) by eating fresh ground nutmeg and morning glory seeds, something I’d read about in that book’s infamous index section. I wanted to do drugs, I just didn’t know where to get ‘em (aside from “Lettuce Opium,” which yes, I admit that I tried.“Coke Snuff,” too!)

I couldn’t “score” real drugs, but at the age of 11, in a low level smut shop in a podunk West Virginia town, I was able to get my mitts on something equally mind-expanding (and only slightly less illicit): Zap Comix. Lewd, crude, incendiary, mind-blowing in the extreme and incredibly smart, I embraced Zap Comix wholeheartedly, even if I, a sixth grader, was considerably younger than the audience of “adult intellectuals” it was ostensibly intended for.
 

 
Although Zap founder Robert Crumb himself was already a very well-known and widely respected artist and counterculture hero by the time I discovered Zap in 1977, I can’t image that it was too much earlier than 1973 or ‘74 that something like Zap Comix would have had the kind of distribution that would have allowed it filter down to small town America. The first (#0) issue of Zap came out in 1968. Not every small town had a head shop at that time, of course, and even when they did, carrying Zap Comix—which presented some completely insane stuff, images WAY more perverse than anything that was being cooked up in Denmark or Sweden at the time—was probably not worth the heat it would bring, especially in that line of work. If they can bust you for selling bongs, why carry filthy and obscene comic books to further tempt fate?

Most people probably found out about Zap generally around the same time I did, no matter what age they were. Unless you were living in a big city or in a college town, it would have been highly unlikely to have encountered it otherwise. This is why I associate Zap with the punk era. At least that’s when a copy first made it into my young hands.

Crumb did the first two issues on his own before ultimately assembling a “Magnificent Seven” of the best underground artists around—San Francisco poster artists Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso, Marxist biker cartoonist Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton (the creator of “The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers”), painter Robert Williams, the demented S. Clay Wilson and later, after Griffin’s death, Paul Mavrides, known for his Church of the Subgenius graphics. The Zapatistas were a sort of “supergroup”—the dharma warriors of comics. Inkslingers. Revolutionaries. The best of the best. Their only yardsticks for comparison were each other and that sort of fraternal competition raised the bar and kept their art constantly evolving and their social satire razor sharp.
 

 
Like punk (and Burroughs, Lenny Bruce, Firesign Theatre and John Waters) Zap Comix kind of helped to deprogram me at a young age during my rustbelt Christian upbringing. My deeply religious parents never looked twice at my “funnie books” but if they had they’d have been utterly appalled, finding between the covers of Zap Comix characters like S. Clay Wilson’s gay pirate “Captain Pissgums” who liked to have his crew of perverts, um, piss in his mouth or the “Checkered Demon,” a randy devil cheerfully doing the most obscene things that I’d ever seen depicted on the printed page. It was shocking then and it’s equally shocking today.

Take a look at this short piece from S. Clay Wilson titled “Head First”—IF YOU DARE.

See what I mean? Remind yourself that this strip is now nearly half a century old. The reason I linked to it is because embedding it would probably have made our advertisers very nervous about what kind of people we are! Crumb’s Zap contributions were never as out and out repulsive as Wilson’s, yet he was still utterly fearless in portraying his own infantile sexual fantasies and neuroses (and finding willing groupies to help him act them out along the way. Which he then wrote about in subsequent issues of Zap. Heavy meta…).

The goalposts have moved quite a bit over the decades as “obscenity” has been redefined by culture, AND YET that vile, hilariously fucked up strip has lost virtually none of its power to offend. This is only one of the reasons to love S. Clay Wilson—whose work ultimately sets the tone of Zap because his is the wildest, most feral and least compromising—his willingness to basically puke on his reader’s sensibilities, no matter how “far out” they think they are. The sole purpose is to be brutally offensive, no more no less. You can look for something deeper, go ahead, but I’m not sure you’re going to find it in a piece like “Come Fix” (click for pdf) in which a lesbian biker chick injects semen intravenously with an interesting result.
 

The front and back cover of Zap #14 by S. Clay Wilson
 
In the context of the late 1960s that was something both sickening and ENLIGHTENING. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with flower power or hippie. Zap Comix was cynical and dark, twisted and perverted, full of “gags, jokes, kozmic trooths.” Zap wasn’t interested in persuading you of anything, it wanted to beat its epiphanies into you.

This is another reason I see Zap Comix as being aligned with punk, because philosophically-speaking it was. Indeed in its crudeness, lewdness and desire to shake its readers out of their complacency, Zap anticipates punk (and a lot of other things!) and surely would have influenced many of punk’s prime movers who undoubtedly were exposed to it.

Anyway, when I bought my one-hitter, I got into a conversation with the guy behind the counter and I mentioned that I used to buy Zap Comix there when I was a kid. Then the very next morning in the hotel I read an article in the New York Times about how Fantagraphics were publishing the complete run of Zap, along with a sixteenth and final issue, in a deluxe slipcase box set weighing over 20 lbs, complete with sixteen high quality giclée prints of each Zap Comix cover.
 

The front and back cover of Zap #13 by Victor Moscoso
 
I immediately wrote to Fantagraphics fab director of publicity Jacq Cohen and requested a review copy of The Complete Zap Comix. It was sent Fedex two-day shipping, which seemed to me to be the longest two days of my entire fucking life. An eternity. In fact, it ended up being a day late, and by that time, I was truly salivating over the prospect of its arrival. I was not disappointed. I’m a man with a lot of toys and The Complete Zap Comix went immediately into my “prized possessions” category. If you’re reading this thinking “Yep, I need that” trust me, you do need it. However, as far as pricey Christmas presents to yourself go, you might not want to wait for Santa to lay this one under your tree because it’s probably going to sell out. Only 2500 have been printed and from what I can tell anecdotally from how many friends of mine are buying it, it won’t last long.

The irony of turning something that was once sold in dirty bookstores into a $500 collectible is delicious, but I can’t think of a more deserving title than Zap. The production quality of The Complete Zap Comix is first rate and the pages are clearer than they’ve ever been, blown up to 9.75” x 13.25” and painstakingly cleaned up digitally. Everything comes in a sturdy, gold-embossed slipcase and there’s a separate book dedicated to “The Zap Story,” an oral history/scrapbook that also reprints some Zap rarities and “jams” where each of the artists would complete a frame or two—upping the ante in the process—and then pass it on to the next guy.

In the title here, I declare that The Complete Zap Comix box set “is the greatest thing in the history of the world, ever” and I’m only semi-exaggerating. Seeing the whole of the Zap run laid out like this, it seems obvious—so very, very obvious—what a profound and truly American cultural treasure this is. This is great art of historical and cultural importance that changed people, blew their minds and inspired them. I know that it changed ME. Zap Comix deserves to be reappraised and valued for what it’s truly worth and Fantagraphics has done an amazing job with this stunning box set.

Now the Smithsonian Institute needs to step up to the plate while the remaining Zap artists are still alive and kicking against the pricks and give them their due. It could happen. It should happen. Let’s hope it does happen.

Below, one of the greatest—and most eerily prophetic—comics EVER by Gilbert Shelton, “Wonder Wart-Hog’s Believe It or LEAVE It!”...Um… he could be talking about TODAY’s America, here, couldn’t he???
 

 
More classics from Zap Comix after the jump…

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
The amazing old Paramount Records ads that inspired R. Crumb


 
The story of Paramount Records is a fascinating one—the beginning is set about 100 years ago, in a Wisconsin furniture company that began pressing records in hopes that’d help them sell record players, which in their early years were indeed whoppin’ big ol’ pieces of furniture. The middle sees that furniture company curating and releasing a jaw-dropping and still legendary catalogue of classic early jazz and Delta blues 78s by the likes of Charley Patton, Ma Rainey, and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The end of the story sees the closing of the company and disgruntled employees flinging those now priceless shellac records into the Milwaukee River and melting down the metal masters for scrap. The whole story can be found in greater detail online, or in the books Paramount’s Rise and Fall and Do Not Sell At Any Price.

What concerns us here are the label’s print ads, which ran in The Chicago Defender. I’ve tried mightily to find the names of the artists who drew these. People in a better position to know than I assure me their identities are lost to the years, though they may have been staff illustrators at a Madison ad agency. The loss of that knowledge is a damned shame, because without knowing it, those artists altered the history of underground comix, by serving as an acknowledged influence on that form’s grand pooh-bah, Robert Crumb. Even a superficial glance at some of these ads reveals a precursor to Crumb’s famous signature style (it’s strikingly evident in the slouching posture of some of these characters), and Crumb paid direct homage to these artists in a series of trading card sets that have been compiled into the book R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country—the comix artist’s abiding passion for the music of the early recording era has never been a secret.

Here are a few of those ads. Where the ad copy is adequately readable, I encourage you to give it a look, because some of this stuff is priceless—I’m wondering how many old blues songs weren’t about wangs and adultery. Bear in mind, please, that the ads I chose to post here weren’t necessarily selected for resemblance to Crumb’s work. Some I simply felt like sharing because they were just too much!
 

 

 

 

 
More after the jump…

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Leave a comment
‘Crumb’ director Terry Zwigoff’s first film, ‘Louie Bluie’

movie poster
Detail from Robert Crumb’s poster for ‘Louie Bluie’
 
Before I even knew who R. Crumb was, I was obsessed with Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel Ghost World (I know, I know, I’m in my 20s, give me a break). As per a lot of weirdo girls my age, I read the book and watched the movie religiously, eventually looking into director Terry Zwigoff’s more famous work, his documentary Crumb, which was buttressed again by my interest in comics, and my love of Zwigoff’s tone.

The root of Crumb and Zwigoff’s friendship was actually their shared love of Americana and roots music—Zwigoff played in Crumb’s string band, R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders—so it makes sense that Zwigoff’s first project was a documentary on Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong, country blues fiddler, folk artist and expert story-teller.

The movie is an absolute gem, and Armstrong’s story and music, along with Zwigoff’s genuine love of the music, really shines through.
 

Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Robert Crumb talks Paris museum show, new interactive animation
07.25.2012
03:56 pm

Topics:
Animation
Art

Tags:
Robert Crumb


 
Dangerous Minds pal—and man about town in Los Angeles, New York and Paris—Michael Kurcfeld has just posted a new interview with Robert Crumb on the occasion of the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris retrospective of his work. The show is on view until August 19.

You get to catch a peek of “Chichi Biguine,” the delightful Max Fleischer-esque interactive piece Crumb made in collaboration with Frederic Durieu, starring his “Mr. Natural” and “Angelfood McSpade” characters. Interestingly, Crumb also addresses criticism that “Angelfood McSpade” is a racist stereotype.
 

 
Via The Los Angeles Review of Books

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
R. Crumb’s reject New Yorker cover art
11.11.2011
01:08 pm

Topics:
Art
Queer

Tags:
Robert Crumb
R. Crumb
The New Yorker


 
Nadja Sayej got the bottom of why the New Yorker didn’t use this art by Robert Crumb: They never told him...

Did the rejection offend you?
I’m in a privileged position because I don’t need the money. When you go to the cover editor’s office, you notice that the walls are covered with rejected New Yorker covers. Sometimes there are two rejected covers for each issue. I don’t know what the usual policy is, but I was given no explanation from David Remnick, the editor in chief, who makes the final decisions.

Has the New Yorker attempted to commission work from you since this cover?
Yeah, Françoise [Mouly, the art editor] keeps mailing me these form letters, which they send to various artists they like to use. It says something like, “OK, so here are the topics for upcoming covers.” They send it out a couple of times a year or something. But it’s a form letter, not a personal letter.

Did you receive an apology?
An apology? I don’t expect an apology. But if I’m going to work for them I need to know the criteria for why they accept or reject work. The art I made, it only really works as a New Yorker cover. There’s really no other place for it. But they did pay me beforehand—decent money. I have no complaint there. I asked Françoise what was going on with it and she said, “Oh, Remnick hasn’t decided yet…” and he changed his mind several times about it. I asked why and she didn’t know. Several months passed. Then one day, I got the art back in the mail, no letter, no nothing.

The Gayest Story Ever Told (Vice)

Via The Daily What

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
‘Watch Out Kids’: Legendary UK underground publication


 
Dangerous Minds pal Mick Farren will be performing at SPACE Exhibitions in London this Thursday night, where the 1972 alternative comic he put together with the late underground psycheledelic cartoonist, Edward Barker will be be on display. Watch Out Kids features Barker’s own work along with work by Spain, Robert Crumb, Malcolm Livingstone, Gilbert Shelton and others. From Mick’s email:

The event is a re-examination and maybe a celebration of the agitprop tome Watch Out Kids that Edward Barker and I put together way back in the 20th century. The book was a highly subjective compendium of counterculture graphics and the rogue philosophy of the psychedelic left. Since a gallery show, by definition, is primarily visual, the major tribute is really to the work of the late great Edward. But I will be showing up with master guitarist Andy Colquhoun - a once and future Deviant and Pink Fairy - plus our new friend and percussionist, Jaki Miles-Windmill, to perform poetry and other rhymed writings.

The deal is that doors open at 6.00pm; allowing us to stand around, drink free beer, pose and chat, observe and be observed, until sometime just after eight, when we the performers get down and perform. Finally after the show, we head into the after-party at which a good time will be had by all.

For the exhibition at SPACE the entire book will be displayed on the Library walls alongside a video archive featuring a new interview with Mick Farren by SPACE curator Paul Pieroni. As a lifelong Mick Farren fan, I am gratified to see that this national treasure is beginning to be properly respected about a year in from his move back home to England. (Farren lived in New York, then Los Angeles, where I know him, for many years). People of Great Britain, a counterculture legend walks among you (again).

Preview Thu 1st Sept, 6 - 9 pm at SPACE Exhibitions, 129-131 Mare Street in Dalston. 020 8525 4330

Below, Mick Farren interviewed about the underground press by John Peel.
 

 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Big Robert Crumb retrospective in NYC
03.21.2011
10:50 am

Topics:
Art
Heroes

Tags:
Robert Crumb

image
 
This Friday, March 25, 20011, The Society of Illustrators is presenting “R. Crumb: Lines Drawn on Paper,” an exhibition of his original artwork spanning the past four decades. Both R. Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb will be in attendance at the opening. On Saturday night, Crumb will be performing with the East River String Band, but that performance has already sold out.

This 90-piece exhibit showcases seminal covers and interior pages from ZAP, HEAD COMIX, THE EAST VILLAGE OTHER, MOTOR CITY COMICS, BIG ASS, HOMEGROWN FUNNIES, SAN FRANCISCO COMICS, and much, much more.

This retrospective, curated by BLAB! magazine founder Monte Beauchamp, editor of The Life & Times of R. Crumb (St. Martin’s Press), presents key pieces culled from the private art collection of Eric Sack, with contributions from John Lautemann, Paul Morris, and David Zwirner.


Society of Illustrators, 128 E. 63rd St., NYC, March 25, 7:00pm-10:00pm

Below, The Confessions of Robert Crumb documentary:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Special Exits: An interview with Joyce Farmer

An exclusive interview with Joyce Farmer, author of the extraordinarily powerful new graphic novel Special Exits (Fantagraphics). No less of an expert than Robert Crumb himself has said of Special Exits, “One of the best long-narrative comics I’ve ever read, up there with Maus. I actually found myself moved to tears.” High praise indeed!
 
Buy a copy of Special Exits.
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Robert Crumb extols the virtues of Joyce Farmer’s new graphic novel ‘Special Exits’

image
 
Dangerous Minds pal Deborah Vankin has gotten some nice scoops lately from the normally press shy Robert Crumb in her new gig contributing to the Hero Complex blog at the Los Angeles Times. Speaking to Vankin, Crumb recently extolled the virtues of Special Exits (Fantagraphics), the new graphic novel, 13-years in the making, from Joyce Farmer.

“It’s a completely unique work,” he says. “Nobody else will ever do anything like that again.”

Farmer was once a fellow traveler of S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton and R. Crumb. In the mid-1970s, Farmer, along with Lyn Chevely, decided to counter the male chauvinism they dealt with in the world of underground comix, by publishing a title called Tits and Clits. Tits and Clits called it quits in the late 1980s. Farmer found work as a bail bondsman and cared for her elderly parents. Special Exits is a 208-page chronicle of their slow deaths.

Working from memory and old photographs, and using an old-fashioned dip pen, she sketched, inked and hand-lettered the entire book, panel by panel, page by page, with her face 6 inches above her paper and a patch over one eye. Special Exits took 13 years to create. She didn’t think anyone would actually publish the work; it was, simply, therapeutic.

At this point, if you’re going to have an advocate, it might as well be the underground comics giant Crumb, who made big waves last year with his illustrated “The Book of Genesis.” He liked Farmer’s new work a lot. Though they hadn’t seen each other since the ’70s, they’d kept up through letters. Farmer sent early pages of Special Exits to Crumb at his home in France, and he encouraged her to keep going. When the manuscript was finished, he contacted Fantagraphics in Seattle on her behalf.

The book, which had a healthy first-print run and generated a starred advance review in Publisher’s Weekly, is an almost uncomfortably honest memoir that’s dense with details. It’s also layered with meaning and sub-themes. There’s the family story, the firsthand account of shepherding ailing parents out of this world. But the book is also a not-so-subtle condemnation of nursing homes, as Farmer’s stepmother was treated poorly; soon after checking into a home, she took a sharp turn for the worse and died.

South Los Angeles itself is a character in the book, telling what it’s like to be one of the only white families in a predominantly African American neighborhood in the late ’80s and early ’90s. For a dark two-day period in April 1992, during the riots following the verdict in the Rodney G. King police brutality trial, Farmer’s sick, elderly parents hunkered down inside their house with little food and no electricity, eating soft ice cream and pies for breakfast until the turmoil settled down. Farmer doesn’t allude to it in the text, but she drew barely noticeable bullet holes in the walls of her parents’ home. “It’s just a little detail,” she says.

“It’s a very powerful story,” Crumb said in a telephone interview.  “And the patience to draw all that — you have no idea what that takes!” He puts Special Exits up there with Art Spiegelman’s trailblazing Maus, as well as more recent heavyweights such as Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

As Crumb was about to hang up the phone, he sweetly told Vankin, “Tell Joyce she was very beautiful back then.”

R. Crumb: Joyce Farmer’s ‘Special Exits’ on par with ‘Maus’ (Los Angeles Times)

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
An Atheist’s Review of Crumb’s Book of Genesis

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Robert Crumb’s Book of Genesis (previously covered on Dangerous Minds here) as reviewed by atheist Greta Christina:

Of course I’ve read Genesis. More than once. It’s been a little while since I’ve read the whole thing all the way through, but it’s not like it’s unfamiliar. But there’s something about seeing the story fleshed out in images to make some of its more striking narrative turns leap out and grab your brain by the root. There’s nothing quite like seeing the two different creation stories enacted on the page to make you go, “Hey! That’s right! Two completely different creation stories!” There’s nothing quite like seeing Lot offer his daughters to be gang-raped to make you recoil in shock and moral horror. There’s nothing quite like seeing the crazed dread and burning determination in Abraham’s eyes as he prepares the sacrifice of his own son to make you feel the enormity of this act. Reading these stories in words conveys the ideas; seeing them in images conveys the visceral impact. It makes it all seem vividly, immediately, humanly real.

Now, that is something of a mixed blessing. Spending a few days with the characters in Genesis isn’t the most relaxing literary vacation you’ll ever take. Richard Dawkins wasn’t kidding when he said, “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction.” The God character in Genesis is cruel, violent, callous, insecure, power-hungry, paranoid, hot-tempered, morally fickle… I could go on and on. And God’s followers aren’t much better. They lie, they scheme, they cheat one another, they conquer other villages with bloodthirsty imperialist glee, they kill at the drop of a hat. This isn’t Beatrix Potter here. It’s more like Dangerous Liaisons by way of Quentin Tarantino. With tents, sand, and sheep.

(AlterNet: An Atheist’s Review of the Book of Genesis Illustrated by a Legendary Comics Artist)

(Check out Crumb’s The Book of Genesis here.)

Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment
The Crumb Bible
09.30.2009
06:34 pm

Topics:
Books

Tags:
Robert Crumb
God
Book of Genesis
Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment