Zap Comix

zap comix

Zap Comix is an underground comics which was part of the youth counterculture of the late 1960s. ‘Zap’ #1 was published in San Francisco in late 1968. It featured the work of satirical cartoonist Robert Crumb. Some 3,500 copies were printed by Beat writer Charles Plymell. ‘Zap’ #1 was the first title put out by publisher Don Donahue under the ‘Apex Novelties’ imprint.

Philadelphia publisher Brian Zahn (who had published earlier works of R. Crumb in his tabloid called ‘Yarrowstalks’) had intended to publish an earlier version of the comic, but reportedly left the country with the artwork. Shortly before ‘Zap’ #3 was to be published, Crumb found photocopies of that earlier issue, drew new covers, and published it as ‘Zap’ #0. The first issue was sold on the streets of Haight-Ashbury out of a baby stroller pushed by Crumb’s wife, Dana. In years to come, the comic’s sales would be most closely linked with alternative venues such as head shops.

After the success of the first issue, Crumb opened the pages of Zap to several other artists, including S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, ‘Spain’ Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, and two artists with reputations as psychedelic poster designers, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin. This stable of artists, along with Crumb, remained mostly constant throughout the history of ‘Zap,’ which published sporadically. It was typical for several years to pass between new issues; the most recent issue, #15, appeared in 2005. Griffin died in 1991; a two-page story by artist Paul Mavrides appeared in issue #14. Mavrides was invited to contribute when Crumb announced that he no longer wanted to work on ‘Zap.’

‘Zap’ #1 was unlike any comic book sensibility that had been seen before. Labeled ‘Fair Warning: For Adult Intellectuals Only,’ it featured the publishing debut of Crumb’s much-bootlegged ‘Keep on Truckin” imagery, an early appearance of unreliable holy man ‘Mr. Natural’ and his neurotic disciple ‘Flakey Foont,’ and the first of innumerable self-caricatures (in which Crumb calls himself ‘a raving lunatic,’ and ‘one of the world’s last great medieval thinkers’). Perhaps most notable was the story ‘Whiteman,’ which detailed the inner torment seething within the lusty, fearful heart of an outwardly upright American. While a few small-circulation self-published satirical comic books had been printed prior to this, ‘Zap’ #1 became the model for the underground ‘comix’ movement that snowballed after its release.

While the origin of the spelling ‘comix’ is a subject of some dispute, it was popularized by its appearance in the title of the first issues of ‘Zap.’ Design critic Steven Heller claims that the term refers to the traditional comic book style of ‘Zap,’ and its mixture of dirty jokes and storylines.

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