It all started with my parents making me burn my comic books. In 1954 Reader's Digest printed an article by Dr. Frederick Wertham which claimed that reading comic books resulted in "juvenile delinquency." My parents saw the article and called me and my comic books into the living room for an inquisition. Consequently I was soon standing in the back yard beside our rusty 55 gallon trash barrel watching my collections of The Vault of Horror, Mad and Weird Science, and others, going up in smoke. This was a defining moment for me; as the ashes spiraled up into the sky I realized how wrong my parents could be and thus began my lifelong negative attitude towards authority. In 1971 I got even with my parents by founding the Los Angeles Comic Book Company.
I was working in Westwood at the Free Press Bookstore when I noticed this intense, balding little guy hanging out around the comic book rack. We struck up a conversation. He introduced himself as Fred Walker, and we found we had a common interest in E.C. Comics (those same comic books that had caused so much juvenile delinquency back in the '50s). This conversation led us to contact Bill Spicer, a well known authority on E.C. Comics. All of us had a common interest in the comics medium, and its potential, and had been following the "Underground" comix scene ("comix" being the preferred spelling) that had begun with the first Zap. (I had picked up my copy - the one in this collection - at the City Lights Bookstore only a few days after its publication.) Fred was in contact with Gilbert Shelton, the creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, who was then living and working in Venice. Gilbert suggested we might start an underground comic book company in the Los Angeles area. Gilbert contacted Robert Williams, Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez and we all met and discussed the idea one balmy evening in a restaurant in Westwood. Inspired by this harmonic convergence of underground legends, Bill, Fred and I searched out Marty Novell our financial angel (whose parents as I recall put up the $5000) and so was founded the Los Angeles Comic Book Company.
Our first book was LA Comics and consisted primarily of Los Angeles artists. We later went on to publish Mickey Rat, Weird Fantasies (arguably the first color underground comix; priced at 50 cents it was the first nail in our financial coffin). LA Comics #2 and lastly Mutants of the Metropolis, a book so unique that no one bought it, assuring our demise. Bill still has a garage full of them to this day.
Distribution was (and still is) the crucial factor in publishing. In those days comix were sold in what were known as "headshops." For instance, the Free Press Bookstores in Los Angeles were really headshops selling drug paraphernalia surrounded by the protective cover of book sales. Instead of outright sales to distributors in other cities, the LA Comic Book Company would swap equal values of comix (i.e. 500 copies of Mickey Rat for 500 copies of Zap Comics) and then I would go out and sell these traded comix to the various headshops between Santa Barbara and San Diego. As you can imagine the market was not large for all of these titles and so the core of the present collection began to grow in my garage.
The underground comix grew out of the political and cultural foment of the 1960s and '70s and reflected in graphic terms the issues of those times. Political subjects were targets with books like Radical America Komics and Corporate Crime Komics. The Vietnam War and protests against the draft was the subject of Jesus Meets the Armed Services. Comic books like Dope and Cocaine comix reflected the drug use and abuse in the culture. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers were the creation of Gilbert Shelton and the ironically titled Rip Off Press (as close to an artists' cooperative as the comix movement got) and used drugs as its main subject; it cast a jaundiced eye on American society and the hypocrisy in the youth culture, and was funny to boot. Robert Crumb, although he would deny it, had more to do with the underground comix movement than any other person. At a young age, along with his brothers, Crumb had drawn comic books, so in 1967 he self-published Zap #1 which became a focus for other graphic artists like Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez and Robert Williams. Crumb almost uniquely did not share in the values and tastes of the Hippie Generation and went on to produce dyspeptic, but hilarious, portraits of American Society and the culture that he was thought to be a part of. Almost every cause created its own comic book: feminism, marijuana legalization, Black Power, anti-abortion and anti-war. Comics with explicit sexual content also flourished along with comix with gay and lesbian themes. Most of the comic book companies were under-financed and counted on the profits of the previous comix to finance the next. Many artists printed their own comix. Hence, print runs were characteristically low but as evidenced by this collection the number of titles runs into the thousands.
The legacy of the underground comix is mixed. In the late '80s a group of artists avoiding the mainstream publishers like Marvel and DC and began to publish comix books similar in content (super heroes) but with a fresh point of view and retaining the ownership of the characters, something not allowed by the big companies. There also sprang up a totally unique group of comix like Love of Rockets, Raw, American Splendor, Eightball, and Yummy Fur, which introduced adult (even intellectual) content combined with a contemporary artistic sensibility. While few of these books have reached a large audience they give hope that the comix medium will mature further and fulfill the promise that the underground comic book movement began in the 1960s.