Going Underground

I’ve long been curious about whether there’s a large treasure trove of lost underground comix from the 70s. All the major artists are reprinted all the time, of course: R. Crumb, Spain, Gilbert Sheldon, Aline Kominsky, etc. But what about the rest? Underground comix was a big thing for a while…

The other week I happened to visit the Last Gasp web site. Last Gasp was perhaps the largest publisher of underground comix in the 70s, and I noticed that they still seemed to have lots of original issues for sale, 40 years later.

So I went through the entire catalogue and bought them all.

I’m not going to review them, but I’ll just make a few notes…

This Ted Richards/Willy Murphy comic turned out to be pretty typical. Lots of sf influences, somewhat funny, but not really memorable. I mean, I read this last week, and I remember absolutely zilch about it.

And I think virtually all of these comics would have benefited from me being totally stoned, which I was not.

This one wasn’t that bad. It’s a goof-off book featuring Jaxon, Sheridan, Spain and even Crumb himself.

This is a series of, er, educational comix exposing conspiracies and other types of forbidden knowledge, and it typical for the way these people Just. Can’t. Shut. Up. Oy, the verbiage.

This is a book about how auto salvage is a really good thing. Yeah, I know. It’s financed by … the auto salvage industry. It’s kinda awful, and is one of the newest books in the collection — from 1980.

This is a series of comics by, uhm, even less experienced artists. Like this one about, uhm, sports.

And this allegory about religion and stuff by David Silverberg, which was pretty readable.

And this is where Spielberg took that sequence from 3rd Encounters of the Close Kind from.

Probably.

Perhaps the most surprising thing for me is how much science fiction there is here. I think the only one of the “major” comix artists that had any interest in science fiction was Spain, but like half of these comix are pretty sf-ey. If not totally readable.

I think this was probably the only sorta “straight out” sex comic, and it’s pretty cosmic. And verbiagey. That’s a word.

A common thread throughout these comix is the way stories get going, and then they peter out in very unsatisfying ways. I’m not going to make any pot references here. Oops!

Some comix are just so bizarre I almost feel guilty for not liking them more. Like this one, “Its a dog’s life” (sic) by Larry Todd. It’s about how small time criminals (and other people who owe money) get their head transplanted unto dog bodies.

Yes.

It’s even more bizarre than you could imagine from that paragraph.

And check out this sub plot:

Actually, re-reading bits of it now, it’s kinda good. I mean, it’s not good good, but it’s ok.

I like how there are three layers of price stickers over the original price. I’m assuming they were raising the price, not lowering it:

Uhm… ok…

Anyway, I think this is the only one of the bunch that’s like good good:

That’s Lee Marrs, Joyce Farmer and Melinda Gebbie.

It’s a bit typical that the best book of the bunch is an anthology. So many of the best underground comix were anthologies — Zap, Wimmen’s Comix, Young Lust, etc. It’s almost as if having editors made things better! Sounds unlikely, but in the case of undergrounds, perhaps that makes sense, since the publishers don’t seem to be very… discerning…

In a way, this small stack of comix reminds me a lot of a random collection of comics from the 80s black and white explosion. For a while, anybody could publish anything. And they did. There were some gems hidden in between the dross, but going through a random selection of black and white comics from 1987 would be hard slogging, I think.

That these comix are underwhelming should perhaps not come as a surprise. After all, Last Gasp still has these comix in their warehouse 40 years later.

My tentative conclusion to my original question is:

No, there’s probably not a huge treasure trove of undiscovered underground comix just waiting to be reprinted to the delight of all. But there may be a couple hiding, and somebody should dig into that mound and republish stuff like Wet Satin.

7 thoughts on “Going Underground”

  1. Hi Lars,
    Your Totally Epic blog snuck under my radar and i was hugely happy to discover it. Today I found this on Undergrounds (from 2015!) and I’m wondering just how many blogs you have done on comics and which are out there waiting for me to find them… Is there an index page for all your blogs about comics? I am currently enjoying following your Elaine Lee adventure. Can’t get enough about comics, and I particularly enjoy your in-depth studies and criticism with hearty laughs along the way. Love reading your blogs.
    Cheers,
    Roger.

    1. There should be a “projects” box to the left there that lists them all. Well, at least in desktop browsers.

      1. Nope.
        “comics” on the left opens the current ELC1993: Ragman: Cry of the Dead page, as also does clicking on “Elaine Lee.”
        There is no way to find “Possibly the Greatest Underground Comix Ever” by following any link on the left.
        Who knows what esoteric comic blogs may lurk in the bowels of Random Thoughts…
        Little Lulu as proto-feminist, Dr Wertham inventing Covid-19, Angelfood McSpade taking the knee…?

        1. I meant the “Projects” box, not the “Categories” one… The “Projects” lists the Epic thing. But you’re right — the “category” pages are completely useless. I’ve never actually looked at them before. :-/ I’ve now added a child theme to make the category pages just list all the posts in a category (with a small excerpt), which should make things a lot more navigable. Thanks for the heads-up.

  2. Wow! Suddenly all these comics blogs have emerged. And I have been reading so many of them that it has taken all this time to say — Thanks. For that useful index link.
    ps. There are really only two more 80’s comics publishers crying out for your exhaustive treatment, so I await First and Comico coming soon.

    1. I’ve got Vortex and Renegade lined up, so they’re next. But Comico would be fun to do. First… I dunno…

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