Rarely is the word “seminal” as doubly appropriate as it is when talking about the goo-splattered pages of Robert Crumb’s “Zap Comix.” The American underground comix (only an X would do) had its big bang there in 1967, when Crumb drew “Zap #0.”
Or so goes hippie legend.
As Spain (the cartoonist, not the country) humorously put it decades later in “Zap #14”, after the gold rush, during the de-mythologizing process: “And what’s this s**t about Crumb starting underground comics? He may have put out the first comic but me and Kim Deitch were doing comics for the East Village Other before we ever heard of him, and before us was Bill Beckman, Trina and Nancy Panizika. Just setting the record straight.”
Sure, but Crumb was the pater familias of the Zap clan, (which included Spain, Victor Moscoso, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams.) Crumb’s work was the big umbrella under which the lot gathered to hash out the future of counter-cultural funnies. Crumb made it easy: he hovered sardonically above the hippie movement, bemused by the LSD-driven non-sense, (although not beyond partaking.) That meant his satire reached wider than San Francisco.
The others were more IN it, but more insular for it. Griffin and Victor Moscoso were definitive masters of psychedelic poster art: Griffin was down with the Grateful Dead, and Moscoso (perhaps the most formally artistic of the crew) practically plastered the Summer of Love with his eye-melting posters. Spain had even biked with the Road Vultures gang whose adventures he chronicles. The biker territory is also amply covered by S. Clay Wilson in “Zap.” Wilson’s intricate-yet-chaotic art is inventively vulgar, using slangy stream-of-consciousness text that convolutes itself into resembling that of William S. Burroughs, but he returns to his obsessions, (bikers, pirates and zombies) so frequently that it gets tiresome. Robert Williams could also be shocking in the pursuit of the psychedelic, but weird as his Coochy Cooty character is, I wager Williams will always be most remembered for his “Appetite for Destruction” artwork.
It made sense for Crumb to be the first to give up on “Zap” in the 2000s. (WELL, Griffin, who had become a born-again Christian in the 70s, died in 1991, but that was hardly a voluntary retreat.) It’s not that Crumb had gotten too big for his buds after the unlikely mainstream fame brought by Terry Zwigoff’s biographical documentary. It wasn’t even that he was busy with his other work, (Crumb was always effortlessly prolific). He was simply aware that the times, they had majorly a-changed. The kids had moved on to Daniel Clowes by then, and far-out stories of Haight-Ashbury freak-outs were from a world as distant and quaint as P. G. Wodehouse’s. Late-comer Paul Mavrides, (whose work I know very little about, beyond the fact that he contributed to Shelton’s “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers”) was brought in to the fold to make up for Crumb’s absence, but it wasn’t the same.
In 2014, Fantagraphics published the final issue of “Zap” (thus far), which means the anthology endured for nearly 46 years. That’s a longer stranger trip than anyone could have reasonably anticipated.
RATING: Trashy MASTERPIECE!