master of the underground

by Jesse Marinoff Reyes ( Jesse Marinoff Reyes Design, Maplewood, N.J.)

I’ve never met nor have had the opportunity to work with Crumb, though I have friends who know him (and have even vacationed at his home in the South of France—a privilege I can only marvel at). Never mind six degrees of separation! I understand he’s exactly as he portrays himself to be, which is a measure of artistic truth or human honesty I have immeasurable respect for. He’s also turned down a number of times work offers from a former employer of mine, work which would have been “perfect” for them had he done it, which provides me a modicum of schadenfreude as well, considering the players. Thanks for that Robert.

---JMR:For the sake of posterity, I will transcribe the dialogue from the bottom strip, "Everyday Funnies with 'The Snoid from Sheboygan.' He's so hateful!" 1) "Hi! Say, haven't you seen me before?? Tee-hee" 2) "I'll bet if you thought about it you'd remember! Hee!" 3) "Perhaps you were stoned at the time... Giggle, chuckle..." 4) "You happened to glance over at some tree..." 5) "...And there I was, laughing at you again! Snicker!"

He is The Master of the Underground, the Co-Father of Comix, and its most important figure—he is its Jack Kirby (coincidentally, their birth dates are only two days apart). Believe it or not, his first professional gig in 1962 was drawing greeting cards for American Greetings in Cleveland—thusly giving him a connection to that city that would serve him well working with friend, and Cleveland native Harvey Pekar on Pekar’s American Splendor by the mid-1970s—before eventually decamping to San Francisco in 1967 where he became ensconced in the “counterculture” scene—illustrating the Cheap Thrills LP for Big Brother and the Holding Company for example, and launching ZAP Comix (which he literally sold on the street). The rest is, well y’know, history.

Crumb’s decision to relocate to SF was motivated by the success he found freelancing for underground newspapers, a practice he continued for a time after the SF move. One of the undergrounds was The East Village Other, one of New York City’s many alternative newspapers (The Other being even more alternative to The Village Voice—which had literary bona fides and muckraking political aspirations having been co-founded by Norman Mailer in 1955). The Other was one of the first of the true counterculture newspapers to emerge across the country in the 1960s (co-founded by Walter Bowart, Ishmael Reed—who named the newspaper—Allen Katzman, Dan Rattiner, Sherry Needham and John Wilcock in 1965, and enduring until 1972).

The Other was also an important publication for the rise and development of underground comix, featuring strips and full page pieces by Crumb, Trina Robbins, Spain Rodriguez, Kim Deitch, Vaughn Bodé, and a young Art Spiegelman. In 1968, The Other published Spain’s comic tabloid Zodiac Mindwarp, and in 1969 published eight issues of an all-comix tabloid, Gothic Blimp Works with Vaughn Bodé as founding editor—billed as “the first Sunday underground comic paper.” The first two issues featured work by Crumb, Bodé, Deitch, Spain, Spiegelman, Joel Beck, Roger Brand, Jay Lynch, Larry Todd and S. Clay Wilson. Bhob Stewart took over as editor with the third issue, and he introduced a new cadre of contributors, including Larry Hama, Michael Wm. Kaluta, Ralph Reese, and Bernie Wrightson (all of whom would transition to mainstream comics and national magazines, in particular the “funny pages” in the National Lampoon), George Metzger, and Steve Stiles. Stewart and Kim Deitch co-edited the fourth issue. Deitch then continued as the tabloid’s editor, followed by Van Howell and Joe Schenkman who were the last co-editors.

So, y’know, SF can’t take full credit for unleashing the underground Crumb. Cleveland and Philadelphia (his home town and where he illustrated for the underground paper Yarrowstalks), and yes, New York City played an important role. Here, Crumb is in full-flower with his trademark character types, including Mr. Natural and, ugh (!), the Snoid.

Keep on Truckin’ R. Crumb. Keep on truckin.’

East Village Other, October 4, 1968 issue
Illustration: R. “Slim” Crumb
Editors: Peter Joseph Leggieri, Allan Katzman
JMR:In addition to Crumb’s cover, the issue had a four-page “funnies” section, which were full-pages by Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, Kim Deitch, and Vaughn Bodé.

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