1. CRUMB. GRIFFITH. SHELTON. THESE (AND other “sequential artists“) were the visual architects of my immediate post-adolescent universe; whose spare-but-dense works were strewn reverently on the couches and mattresses of my very late teens and very early 20s; whose fractured catchphrases (“Yow! Are we having fun yet?” “Hey kids, while you’re out smashing the state keep a smile on your lips and a song in your hearts!” “Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope!”) worked their way into the conversations of my fellow-freakly peers. These artless artists depicted the wide mad world in ways we could all grok in fullness. Like the Punk and New Wave music we listened to, they made us feel we weren’t alone.
2. That feeling was so strong that, one strange and twisted night, my roommates Ralfh and Sputnik and I almost climbed into “Infection” (Sputnik’s phlegm-yellow 1967 Valiant) to hunt down Bill Griffith, the San Francisco-based creator of Zippy the Pinhead, and tell him how much we idolized him for Getting It. (Fortunately for him, we changed our minds. But what a time we might have had!) His (and the others’) work had that profound an effect on our mutual gestalt. We lived in Concord, California, which was another name for Dullsville USA; if anyplace made it hard to be an oddball, that was it.
3. There’s a distinction to be made between “comics” and “comix”: “Comics” are usually gaudy, four-color escapist fantasies depicting people with impossible talents and superheroic powers. “Comix,” on the other hand (sometimes called “underground comics”), are more workaday alternate-realities that shed light on this life. Satire is a heavy component of comix. So is a sardonic sense of humor and a love of the grotesque.
4. And this is the appeal, at least for people who like to laugh at (or otherwise don’t quite fit into) mainstream culture. It can be lonely down on the sub-levels — and it’s always nice to have someone else answer “no” to the question, “Is it just me?”
5. A quick Googling informs me that many of these now-seminal works are available in online PDFs (really, what isn’t?). But if you’re interested, try ordering them in their original forms from their original (or current) publishers. Not only will it add to the experience, but you’ll help support some dear, if unmet-in-the-flesh, friends. Yow!
I’m interested in your take on much of what’s going on in contemporary graphic storytelling, both serialized comics and graphics novels, once you get off the Marvel-DC superhighway. People like Warren Ellis, Kieran Gillan, Brian Vaughn, are taking the art form any number of fascinating directions…
I have no take at all, I’m afraid — I haven’t kept up with the comix (or even comics) scene in years, and the names you cite are wholly unfamiliar to me. Not for religiomoral reasons or anything as foolish as that; I simply drifted into other interests. I’m glad the vibe is still going strong though!