In the 1960’s, the hippie subculture was in direct opposition to the Vietnam War and the government. Naturally, this subculture would influence comics as well. But with the Comics Code prohibiting depiction of drug use, opposition to the government, and sex, how could anyone express this rebellion? Enter the Underground Comix movement.
The first Underground Comic was God Nose, pictured above. It was published and created by Jack Jaxson. It mocked Christianity, calling them the “fools [God] rules. Like many Underground Comix, this was self-published, and in black-and-white. It was also not sold on newsstands or in grocery stores, the usual venues for comics in those days. Instead, it was sold in “head shops” . Both of these factors allowed Underground creators to bypass the Comics Code.
Underground Comix were filled with everything the Code prohibited: drugs, social commentary, bad taste, sexuality, nudity, bad language –it didn’t matter. Some of the noteworthy creators included the following:
Gilbert Shelton: created the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (a trio of hippies) and Wonder Warthog (a superhero parody starring a super -powered pig who masquerades as a human)
Robert Crumb: created Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat. The iconic image of a man walking with the caption “Keep on Truckin'” is probably his most famous artwork. Fritz the Cat was animated by Ralph Bakshi, and became the first cartoon to receive an X rating.
Vaughn Bodé: creator of the Cheech Wizard.
Denis Kitchen: This underground publisher founded the Krupp Syndicate and Kitchen Sink Press in 1970, home to such creators as Will Eisner, Trina Robbins, Art Spiegleman, Robert Crumb, and S. Clay Wilson. He also founded the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund to protect creators from censorship.
Trina Robbins: one of the few women involved in the movement. She would go on to help co-create Vampirella with Frank Franzetta for Warren Publishing. In the 1980’s, she became the first woman to work on Wonder Woman.
Bill Griffith: creator of Zippy the Pinhead, who he would later publish as a newspaper comic.
Kim Deitch: creator of the Sunshine Girl, a character he created in a psychedelic strip for the East Village Other. He founded the Cartoonists Co-Op Press.
The Underground Comix movement was soon followed by the Alternative Comics movement in the 80’s, which I will discuss when we move into the Bronze and Iron Ages of Comics. It also helped lead to a weakening of the Comics Code’s restrictions, leading to more mature publications, and allowing comic books to gain a wider audience.