Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
HAVE YOUR DONATION DOUBLED!

If you are able to donate $100 or more for our Annual Fund Drive, your donation will be matched by another generous CounterPuncher! These are tough times. Regardless of the political rhetoric bantered about the airwaves, the recession hasn’t ended for most of us. We know that money is tight for many of you. But we also know that tens of thousands of daily readers of CounterPunch depend on us to slice through the smokescreen and tell it like is. Please, donate if you can!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

ZAP Comics Redux

by RON JACOBS

 

I’ve always been something of a comic book fan. Captain Marvel, Batman, Green Lantern, even Richie Rich and Archie. When I was 10 years old and was evacuated from the small military base I lived on in Peshawar, West Pakistan because of a war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir, the thing I remember the best is the incredible number of comic books at the disposal of all the youngsters I was evacuated with. We spent hours reading comics that other military dependents and GIs had donated to us. When our plane stopped over in Tehran for a refueling on its way from Kabul, Afghanistan to Istanbul, Turkey the Red Cross and USO volunteers gave us each a bag lunch and three comics. Mine were two Supermans and a very old Captain Marvel. I don’t remember the contents of the lunch at all. The first few days in Turkey, all of the boys over six years old slept in a barracks dorm on Karamursel Air Station. There were several hundred comic books strewn around the place. Unfortunately, we eventually had to go back to school and my comic reading time was cut short. Although I still read them when I could, my obsessive binge was curtailed.

I regained some of that obsession the day I saw the first three ZAP Comix in a head shop in Germany. For those of you unfamiliar with ZAPs, they were the best of the underground comix that were published in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s. R. Crumb, Denis Kitchen, Spain, S. Clay Wilson, Moscosco, Robert Williams and so on-all of the best artists filled the pages of these psychedelic, mind-bending, rude and antiestablishment exercises in expression. Part of the rebellion against the moralistic Comics Code that mainstream comics had to adhere to, underground commix laughed in the face of this attempt by the puritans to regulate what people could read. If someone was looking for a way to be offended, they could find it in ZAP. For the rest of us, ZAPs and their sister publications were cutting social and political criticism. Whether it was R. Crumb drawing and writing a story about Whiteman, the screwed-up representative of male middle-class America or S. Clay Wilson sharing his intricately drawn tales of brutality and excess among bikers and pirates, these comix rearranged the often-dull world we live in. They weren’t light reading and sometimes not very pretty, but neither is the daily news. At least comix are fun.

GIs loved Dopin’ Dan, a hapless GI who fumbled his way through the man’s army stoned on weed and whatever else was around. A Beetle Bailey for the Vietnam generation of soldiers, Dan’s primary concern was staying alive, staying high, and making a fool of the lifers who tried to rule his world. Gilbert Shelton from Austin had his tales of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, three twenty something men who had dropped out of Middle America and moved to the hippie ghettoes. Their bumbling adventures avoiding cops, the draft, and work were not only humorous, they were what we were living. ZAP Comix combined such underground comix characters as Mr. Natural and Coochie-Cootie, The Checkered Demon and Trashman, Agent of the 6th International. The latter was an anarcho-syndicalist superhero created out of the cartoonist Spain’s interest in politics and the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War. Often quite sexist in their portrayal of women, these comix reflected the society they existed in. The sexism did not go unanswered, however. Several women cartoonists began a series of commix they titled All-Wimmin Comix that saw the new world of the counterculture from a feminist perspective. Like much good satire, these comix used exaggeration to make their point. It was this exaggeration (that bordered on the grotesque at times) that got them in trouble with prudes of the right and the left.

I recently purchased the most recent issue of ZAP-Number 15. Like its predecessors, there is something to offend anyone who wishes to be offended here. Heck, parts of it offend me. Is it for children, like other comics supposedly are? If your definition of children means those younger than high school age, my answer would be no, at least in most cases. Ken Kesey (an avid Captain Marvel fan) once noted in a published conversation with Paul Krassner that when his kids read underground comix, their style of play “turned inward.” Kesey attributed this in part to the cartoonists’ tendency to use their art as a way to work out some of their demons. Adults, argued Kesey, either had enough of their own demons to deal with or had built enough walls that enabled them not to take on someone else’s. Children, on the other hand, don’t have such walls. Despite this, I would rather see a ZAP comic in the hands of a child than support a call to limit their sales or censor their content.

Content-wise, ZAP 15 takes on the new police state of the post 9-11 America. While satirizing US residents’ fear of terrorists, Shelton, Crumb and the other artists in the collection take on the puritanical persuasions of the current administration and its manipulation of fear to create the police state it desires. Whether it’s R. Crumb’s autobiographical sketch of his neuroses, Spain’s portrayal of the car-racing culture, S. Clay Wilson’s grotesque artistry portraying the underside of human existence in no uncertain terms, or Gilbert Shelton’s latest Wonder Warthog adventure where in the Warthog’s alter-ego Hebert Desenex loses his job and his superpowers (gee what could that mean?) and then gets arrested for looking like a terrorist just because he’s weird, ZAP 15 continues the grand underground tradition of getting under that bit of the Establishment’s skin we all wear. . Despite the intention of satire (it is a comic after all), there are elements of this comic that are more real than fantasy, more truth than fiction. Than again, isn’t that the nature of satire? To take the facts and make them so real (super real, in fact) that the truth comes through? Jonathan Swift did it back when he wrote “A Modest Proposal,” and the aforementioned Paul Krassner made a publishing career out of it with his now-defunct magazine, The Realist. In other words, many a good satirist adopts the philosophy of “screw ’em if they can’t take a joke.” ZAP and its artists continue this tradition.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

October 18, 2017
Patrick Cockburn
Seizing Kirkuk
John Wight
Weinstein as Symptom: Notes From Hollywood
Matthew Hoh
Bowe Bergdahl: Traitor to American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy
Chris Ernesto
Funding for War vs. Natural Disasters
Aidan O'Brien
Where’s Duterte From and Where’s He Going To?
Jon Bailes
Mental Health and Neoliberalism: an Interview with William Davies
Ramzy Baroud
The Real Reason Behind Trump’s Angry Diplomacy in North Korea
Paul Craig Roberts
Washington, Not China, is the Biggest Threat to American Power
Mike Davis
El Diablo in Wine Country
Binoy Kampmark
Trump’s Iran Deal
Lara Merling
Remember Puerto Rico Needs Fair Medicaid Funding Too
Phil Rockstroh
2 or 3 Things I Know About Capitalism
Eoghan O’Suilleabhain
Rambo Wept: Our Commandos Good, Your Terrorists Bad
Dimitris Bellantis
On Catalonia: Debates in the Greek Left
Robert Koehler
The Calm Before the Storm
Mike Hastie
Napalm Sticks to Kids
October 17, 2017
Suzanne Gordon – Ian Hoffmann
Trumpcare for Veterans? VA Outsourcing Will Create Healthcare Industry Bonanza
Patrick Cockburn
The Real Destabilizer in the Middle East is Not Iran But Trump
Jonathan Cook
The Real Reasons Trump is Quitting UNESCO
Murtaza Shibli
My Friend From ISIS in Raqqa
Kathy Kelly
Wrongful Rhetoric and Trump’s Strategy on Iran
David Bonner
Beyond Taking a Knee: Duane Thomas, Where are You When We Need You?
Tom Gill
Austerity, Macron-Style
Liaquat Ali Khan
Pakistan Faces a Life-Threatening Military Coup
Jeff Mackler
Is Trump a ‘Moron?’
Amena Elashkar
If You Work for Justice in Palestine, Why Won’t You Let Palestinians Speak?
John Feffer
Trump’s Unprecedented Right-Turn on Foreign Policy
Ariel Dorfman
Trump’s War on the Mind
Dean Baker
The Republican Tax Plan to Slow Growth
Gerry Brown
The Return of One-Man Rule in China?
Binoy Kampmark
Climate Change Insurgent: Tony Abbott’s Crusade
Kent Paterson
Assassination in Guerrero: the Murder of Ranferi Hernandez Acevedo
Rob Okun
Men and Sexual Assault in the Age of Trump
October 16, 2017
Vijay Prashad
A Tale of Two Islands
Ben Dangl
Profiting from America’s Longest War: Trump Seeks to Exploit Mineral Wealth of Afghanistan
Jan Oberg
Trump is Moving Toward War With Iran
Thomas S. Harrington
The Baseless Myth of the Poor, Propagandized Catalans
Steve Brown
When a Radio Host Interviews a War Criminal, Is It Churlish to Ask About His War Crimes?
Howard Lisnoff
Capturing the Flag
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS is Facing Near Total Defeat, But It Has Been Beaten and Come Back Before
Julian Vigo
The Fall of Harvey Weinstein and the Sexual Blindspot of Misogyny
James Munson
The Rich Can’t Achieve Plurality, But the Poor Can
Amitai Ben-Abba
The NIMPE Critique of Antifa
Robert Fisk
We Will Soon See What the Word “Unity” Means for the Palestinian People
Alice Donovan
Civil War in Venezuela: a US Joint Operation with Colombia?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail