Archive for the 'Underground Comix' Category

The San Francisco Comic Book Company in Nightmare in Blood (1978)

Nightmare in Blood (spoilers ahead) is a cult film directed by John Stanley, who was writing for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time and went on to host Creature Features (replacing Bob Wilkins) at KTVU from 1979 to 1984. The plot surrounds a series of murders at a horror convention and the event’s guest of honor, a famous vampire actor named Malakai, who turns out to be a real vampire. And Malakai’s “public-relations men,” B.B. and Harris, are actually William Burke and William Hare, the famous 19th century serial killers. The film is loaded with winks and nods to early horror fandom and classic horror films.

When Malakai arrives at the convention, filmed at Oakland’s Fox Theater, he’s greeted with cheers by his young fans, many of whom are—oddly—wearing ape masks. The kids were members of a Planet of the Apes fan club, and one of them was a teenage Fred Dekker, soon-to-be writer-director of Night of the Creeps (1986) and The Monster Squad (1987), two wildly fun films that are now cult classics.

The film features, in a way, Gary Arlington’s The San Francisco Comic Book Company, the first comics-only store in the U.S. The store opened in 1968 and was a nexus of the underground comix scene throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Robert Crumb was a frequent presence, and Simon Deitch, Rory Hayes, and Flo Steinberg all reportedly worked at the store at various times. The hippie character in the clip is not just based on Gary Arlington, he’s named Gary Arlington. Arlington himself, with his own stock, tried to recreate his Mission District store at a bigger location for the scene Stanley wanted. (The San Francisco Comic Book Company was notoriously small, some 200 square feet.) Arlington died at the age of 75 in 2014.

Compare the Nightmare in Blood clip to the absurd scene in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, when Samuel Jackson’s character dotes on a vintage comic book illustration in his comic book “art gallery,” and then berates the man who wants to buy it for his boy because “art” is not for children. What makes it absurd is that the scene is played straight—entirely devoid of humor. A comparison of both films, in fact, explains quite a bit about the transformation of sci-fi/fantasy/horror fandom from a bookish, establishment-wary subculture into a mainstream, corporate phenomenon.

Read more about Nightmare in Blood at San Francisco Weekly and John Stanley’s site.

Richard Corben Cover Art: Anomaly #3 (1971)

Anomaly #3 Corben

Read the story here. More Corben here.

Jack Jackson and Dave Sheridan Cover Art for Slow Death #2 (Last Gasp, 1970)

Slow Death #2

More Slow Death here. Filed under Skeleton Astronauts.

Bogeyman #3 (Company & Sons, 1970)

Bogeyman 1970-2

Bogeyman 1970

Bogeyman 1970-3

Disturbingly brilliant work by Rick Griffin and Rory Hayes (first two illustrations) and Greg Irons (third illustration) from the three-issue Bogeyman series, the underground’s answer to EC’s Tales from the Crypt.

You can read the whole issue at Comic Book Stories.

Richard Corben Cover Art: Anthology of Slow Death (Last Gasp, 1975)

SD 1975-1

SD 1975-2

The ecocentric Slow Death Funnies (“Funnies” was dropped after issue #1) was Last Gasp’s first series, published to coincide with the inaugural  Earth Day (April 22, 1970). There were 10 issues published between 1970 and 1979, with an 11th and final issue appearing in 1992. See a full history and issue by issue breakdown at Comixjoint.

Corben’s colors, like the figures surrounding the loathsome pig-king, seethe with decadence and despair. I get the feeling that the paper itself burns to the touch. Ellison’s description of Slow Death‘s message—“that tomorrow will be much worse than today”—is an apt motto for the underground comix movement as a whole.

Harlan Ellison’s Chocolate Alphabet, 1978

CA 1978-1

CA 1978-8

CA 1978-2

CA 1978-3

CA 1978-7

CA 1978-4

CA 1978-5

CA 1978-6

“From A to Z, in the Chocolate Alphabet” is a short story—a series of short shorts, really—written by Harlan Ellison and first appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (October, 1976). The inspiration for the story came from a Larry Todd painting called “N is for Nemotropin,” which Todd showed to Ellison in 1974 (see the title page above). Ellison wrote the story two years later while sitting in the window of the dearly departed A Change of Hobbit bookstore in Westwood, California.

The comic book adaptation was published by Last Gasp Eco-Comics in 1978, with Todd responsible for all artwork. The original “N is for Nemotropin” painting (below) appeared on the back cover. Note what Ellison calls Todd in the introduction: “one of America’s premier visual technicians.”

Nemotropin Todd

Cotati Con Program, 1973

Cotati 1973-1

Cotati 1973-2

Frank Brunner and Larry Todd splash the front and back covers with their signature characters, Dr. Strange and Dr. Atomic, respectively. Cotati is about 45 miles north of San Francisco.

(Images via eBay)

Larry Todd Art: Infinity #5 (Summer, 1973)

Todd Infinity #5 1973-2

Todd Infinity #5 1973

Todd Infinity #5 1973-4

Todd Infinity #5 1973-5

Todd Infinity #5 1973-6

Todd Infinity #5 1973-3

Todd, who created the notable underground comic Dr. Atomic, was very active in the sci-fi/fantasy zine circuit of the 1970s, including Warren (Creepy, Eerie) and Skywald (Nightmare, Psycho) Publications. He and friend Vaughn Bodē did a number of terrific cover collaborations as well.

The above work is a smashing example of the intersection of counterculture themes (psychedelics, Native American culture, the American biker lifestyle, anti-authoritarianism, sexual freedom, and so on) and the expanding sci-fi and fantasy community. Per psychotropicis ad astra!

The “Aircar circa 1989” on the second page kind of reminds me of the Spinner cars in Blade Runner.

(Images via The Golden Age and Comic Attack)

Greg Irons Art: Berkeley Con Button, 1973

Berkeley Con Irons 1973

Berkeley Con was the first underground comix convention. It ran from April 20 through April 22, 1973 at the UC Berkeley campus and featured Jaxon, S. Clay Wilson, Trina Robbins, Greg Irons, and Larry Todd, among several other now-legends. (Bob Foster posted several photos from the con here.) The Irons button—punk before punk—was actually the three-day pass to the event.

Greg Irons, you might remember, illustrated the hell out of The Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Coloring Album (1979) for Troubador Press, one of TSR’s first licensed products. I like to imagine an alternate universe where TSR hires Irons, who collaborates with Erol Otus on a series of trippy modules centering on raucous, transdimensional pirates and the sentient treasure they’re chasing. The duo eventually take over the company by sheer force of guts and talent. TSR is bankrupt by 1983, but Christ, who cares?

Irons left behind a huge body of work—he’s revered as a tattoo artist as well, so ‘body of work’ carries a significant double meaning—for someone who died so young (37).

(Image via Hake’s)

Richard Corben Cover Art: Anomaly #4 (November, 1972)

Anomaly #4 Corben 1972-2

Anomaly #4 Corben 1972-1

Front and back covers. Images are via The Golden Age. Corben is one of the greats, and what about that title design?


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