Sunday, July 3, 2016

Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez's Love and Rockets Returns!

Love & Rockets
Mighty good news for fans of the original series…Fantagraphics Books has announced that Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s legendary, influential comic series Love and Rockets will return in September 2016. The brothers had been doing stories in their L&R universe these past few years, published by Fantagraphics in graphic novel format. The new stories will return to a magazine format for the first time in over a decade, presented as quarterly 32+ page comics in 8½” x 10¾” size with a $4.99 retail price.

The original Love and Rockets series ran for 50 issues between 1982 and 1996. Created by brothers Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, the three artist/writers self-published the first issue of L&R, which was later reprinted by Fantagraphics. Over the run of the original series, Mario gradually dropped out while Gilbert and Jaime developed their own distinct storytelling style.

Gilbert’s tales, such as Heartbreak Soup, were set in the fictional Latin American village of Palomar, were more literary with a degree of fantasy, while Jaime’s Hoppers 13 stories were set in punk-rock SoCal and followed the lives of a group of mostly Chicano characters, including the beloved Maggie and Hopey. Both brothers created detailed worlds for their stories, and relatable characters that would take on intricate personalities as the series unrolled.

The brothers have been recognized for their efforts with multiple Eisner and Ignatz Awards, most recently for their New Stories series, and their eleven Love and Rockets trade paperback collections continue to be among Fantagraphics’ best sellers, year after year.

“Over the past few years, Gilbert and Jaime had each casually mentioned more than once that it might be fun to try their hand at a regular comic book series again after a decade of creating the new annual every year,” says Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds in a press release for the new series. “Gilbert joked at one point that he would simply love to be able to draw more covers — with he and Jaime trading covers, he was only creating one new L&R cover every two years! We agreed that something needed to be done about this, and we’re very excited to return L&R to its comic book roots.”

Watch for the new Love and Rockets on your comic vendor’s shelf in September.

Check out the Fantagraphics Books website!

DVD Review: FM (1978)

FM, the movie
The late 1970s were a time of idealism, a time of hope that reflected the values and dreams of the ‘60s counterculture. The evil President Nixon was gone, Viet Nam was over, Darth Reagan had yet to be elected, and if inflation was running wild, well, there was still meaningful work to be done to improve society. A thread of this idealism could be seen in the music industry where, on one hand, young punks in England and New York sought to overthrow the conventions of the music biz with attitude and conviction.

On the other hand, there were still people who thought that, the corporate side of the industry aside, it was the music itself that mattered and that radio was the vehicle for connecting people and the music that would change their lives. There have been numerous songs written about this concept through the years, but only a few movies have told the story. The film FM reflected that sense of idealism like no other movie before or since.

A moderate box office hit at the time, FM was released in 1978 and featured an ensemble cast that included talents like Martin Mull, Cleavon Little, and Eileen Brennan. It’s the story of a funky little L.A. rock radio station – QSKY-FM – and the staff’s battle with the station’s corporate ownership. Everything is copacetic at QSKY, where program director/morning jock Jeff Dugan (Michael Brandon) serves as the ringmaster over a quirky group of deejays.

The station makes money and pulls an audience, but not enough to satisfy the suits in Chicago, who send a new sales manager to shake things up and pump up the profits. When Dugan refuses to program a series of ads for the military, he’s forced to resign, prompting the staff to launch an on-air strike. After a near riot out on the street by the station’s loyal audience members, the conflict is resolved and the maverick QSKY staff is allowed to continue broadcasting the tunes as they see fit.

FM, the album
Not so much a cohesive story as a series of vignettes that lead to an eventual conclusion, FM is about the music and the people who bring it to us. The cast offers up a rogue’s gallery of radio biz stereotypes – the laid-back program director, the sensitive ladies man (Mull), the earth mother (Brennan), and the funky soul brother (Little) – as well as some nice reality-twisting touches such as the stoned Army officer. The film’s soundtrack – one of the first mega-successful soundtrack albums that would launch a trend in the decade to come – sounds like a veritable “who’s who” of 1970’s-era rock, including the title cut written and performed exclusively for the film by Steely Dan. Live concert performances by Jimmy Buffett and Linda Ronstadt are worked into the film, as are cameo appearances by R.E.O. Speedwagon and a then relatively-unknown Tom Petty, and the soundtrack album also includes cuts from Bob Seger, Joe Walsh, Steve Miller, and the Eagles, among others.

What’s most interesting about the idealism shown by FM is the reality that would come afterwards. The writer, Ezra Sacks and director John Alonzo obviously believe that by standing up for what is right, we can make a difference. I wonder how the fictional QSKY staff would react if they knew that, little more than twenty years after their courageous strike, the radio biz as they knew it would be gone.

Dominated by corporate interests and media conglomerates, the radio industry today is just one part of a philosophy of synergy where large corporations mix radio and television stations with newspapers and publishing in their profit portfolios. More than a bit dated and somewhat na├»ve by today’s standards, FM evokes a simpler time when, perhaps, the music really did matter… (L.A. Entertainment, released July 22, 2016)

Buy the DVD!
Buy the CD!!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Review: Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School (2003)

Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School
The music industry is a brutal business. I've seen young bands, innocent and hopeful, chewed up and spit out by the great maw of the industry star-making machinery. Trend-driven and dominated by marketing, the corporate music biz is all about one thing – how many units have you sold – and "art" has to hide its pretty little head lest it be trampled underfoot by almighty commerce. Musicians that flirt with a major label deal (and many indie label deals) often end up broke, broken and disillusioned, driven into bankruptcy and addiction while working on the record company plantation.

Writer/musician/filmmaker Michael Dean is a major label survivor, a talented musician and gifted wordsmith that has seen it all and done it all at least twice. Primary songwriter and bass player for early 1990s alt-rock band Bomb, Dean has recorded music with a dozen bands and served his time touring the country in the back of a van. Dean's excellent documentary film – D.I.Y. Or Die – offers interviews with a diverse range of artists including Lydia Lunch, Mike Watt, Ian MacKaye (Fugazi) and Ron Asheton (Stooges), among many others. Dean knows what the hell he's talking about when it comes to making art and music.

Hot on the heals of his informative guide to digital video, $30 Film School, Dean follows up with $30 Music School, an essential guide to making music and maneuvering through the industry minefield. Dean is a stone-cold realist but he is also a dreamer, an artist working on his own terms while preaching a holistic, Zen-like approach to making music. It's no surprise that $30 Music School should lead off with a chapter on "band politics," perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of making music. Interpersonal relationships in a band context are often tricky and fraught with the perils of clashing egos and expectations. Dean's experienced perspective on the subject offers invaluable ideas and information on the dynamics of making a band work, how to handle industry relationships with managers, producers, etc and what issues and pitfalls to expect as you begin your career.

From this meaty first chapter, Dean delves into songwriting – what makes a good song, the writing process, the elements of a song – basically a primer on capturing your thoughts in words and music. Chapters on instruments, accessories, electronics and equipment provide useful information for even the veteran musician while chapters on recording and its various aspects, computer software and making your own CDs are fine examples of Dean's D.I.Y. aesthetic.

Where Dean really shines, however, is in the business sections of $30 Music School. From booking gigs, promoting yourself and selling your CDs to dealing with labels and contracts, lawyers and managers, Dean's experience and knowledge provides a blueprint for young bands to follow. Dean offers a realistic perspective on the industry and what the young musician should expect, starkly outlining both the positive and negative aspects of a career in music, pulling no punches as he shares stories from his own life and career. Interviews with musicians such as Henry Rollins, Joan Jett and David Brockie of Gwar offer varying viewpoints on making music while an included CD offers software demos, examples of Dean's music and film and other valuable tools for the aspiring musicmaker.

In its 500+ pages, Dean's $30 Music School provides the reader with a comprehensive overview of the music industry, preparing young musicians for the wild roller-coaster ride that is the music industry while offering valuable, life-affirming reinforcement to jaded veterans as well. Along with its companion volume, $30 Film School – which offers even more of Dean's impressive philosophy on art and life – $30 Music School is one of the most important weapons that a musician can add to their arsenal. Buy your guitar, buy your amp and then buy and read these two books. Nothing else will come close to preparing you for the life you've chosen. (Course Technology, published December 12, 2003)

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2004

Related Content: Michael Dean's $30 Film School book review

Educate Yourself, Fool!

Book Review: Michael W. Dean's $30 Film School (2003)

Michael Dean's $30 Film School
The cover of Michael Dean's excellent $30 Film School really says it all – "write, finance, direct, produce, shoot, edit, distribute, tour with, and sell your own no-budget DIGITAL movie." Your humble critic would be remiss, however, if I didn't go into the details as to why this book is one of the most important tools available to an artist. It doesn't matter whether you're making films, playing music, writing books or slapping paint on an old piece of plywood, no matter what kind of art that you are creating (or aspire to create), you owe it to yourself to read $30 Film School. Why? Because author Dean goes beyond the nuts and bolts treatment of how to make your own low-budget film and lays out a lengthy, holistic and people-friendly philosophy for making art the DIY way.

Michael Dean is no neophyte to the creative world. He was the primary songwriter and bass player for the mid-80s San Francisco band Bomb, which recorded a couple of indie and one major label album, and he continues to write and play music today. He's written and marketed a novel, and has crafted two hefty and useful tomes in $30 Film School and its companion, $30 Music School. Dean is also the producer/director/cameraman of the documentary film D.I.Y. Or Die, which features interviews with folks of various artistic persuasions, from musicians (Ian MacKaye, Mike Watt, Ron Asheton) and poets (Maggie Estep, Beth Lisick) to indie filmmakers (Richard Kern) and music producers (Steve Albini). It's the story of the creation of D.I.Y. Or Die that lead to the writing of $30 Film School.

For those who want the cold, hard facts along with a dose of punk-inspired philosophy, Dean provides plenty of technical information and helpful shortcuts. The book thoroughly explains the ins-and-outs of digital video, the benefits of DV versus other film and video formats, the trials and tribulations of computer editing, proper audio editing and other aspects of low-budget (but not low quality) filmmaking. Dean goes into details on specific software and hardware that it available to digital filmmakers and covers DVD authoring, video distribution and the many legal aspects of filmmaking.

It's in the less-tangible areas of filmmaking that Dean excels, however, the chapters on fundraising, producing and directing a film all showcasing the author's hard-won experience and "treat people right" philosophy that every aspiring artist should follow. Information on publicity and marketing your film, touring with the film and interviews with other artists fill out the 500-page guide and an enclosed CD-ROM disc offers demo software, film clips and various forms and other tools created by Dean.

With $30 Film School, Dean shares the knowledge gained not only from his yearlong D.I.Y. Or Die project, but also from a lifetime of working mostly outside the system, of making music and film and literature with an independent spirit. Dean's writing is fluid and entertaining, reading more like a conversation with a new friend than like a boring old technical manual. $30 Film School is packed with information, but it's the subtle ideas that Dean injects between the lessons that serve the artist best. Highly recommended for any creative mind, Michael Dean's $30 Film School is the best of a new breed of user-friendly guides, a book that will inspire the reader to reach for the stars and never settle for less. (Cengage Learning, published May 13, 2003)

Originally published by Alt.Culture.Guide™ zine, 2004

Related Content: Michael W. Dean's $30 Music School book review

Educate yourself, fool!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: Midnighter, Volume 1: Out (DC Comix)

Midnighter, Volume 1: Out
I’ve long found Midnighter to be one of the most interesting characters in the DC Comics universe. While some have dismissed him as a mere Batman doppelganger, there’s a lot more to this rough ‘n’ tumble creature of the night than Bruce Wayne could imagine. Created by one of my favorite writers, Warren Ellis, and artist Bryan Hitch (no slouch himself!) for the WildStorm Comics series Stormwatch, Midnighter earned some degree of notoriety for his status as an openly homosexual anti-hero character.

Unlike the Caped Crusader, Midnighter displays supernatural skills courtesy of bioengineered enhancements that were performed on him at some undetermined point in his youth. Super strength and speed, combined with a souped-up healing factor that places him somewhere on the spectrum between Marvel’s Wolverine and DC’s Lobo, help make Midnighter a force to be reckoned with. Throw in his fighting skills and a preternatural ability (either via a computer chip or supernaturally) to predict the outcome of nearly any close quarters combat he engages in, and Midnighter is nearly unbeatable.

Midnighter, Volume 1: Out

Also different from Bruce Wayne/Batman is Midnighter’s capacity for interpersonal relationships. Throughout his portrayal in Stormwatch and, later, The Authority series, Midnighter was linked romantically with the Superman-like character Apollo. In the recent Midnighter solo series from DC, though, Midnighter has split from his long-time partner and is living the life of a free-wheeling bachelor, suffering the ups and downs of single life. As compared to his previous incarnation in the aforementioned series, this new portrayal of Midnighter takes him out of his once-ubiquitous battle gear and frequently shows him in “civilian” clothes.   

Out is the first graphic novel from the recent Midnighter series, collecting issues one through seven, all originally published in 2015. The book includes a complete story arc that, while going a little ‘arty’ at times with its jumpy plotting and story-telling, nevertheless tells a fine tale of the hero’s attempts to gather up dangerous super-tech that had been stolen from his creator. Fans of gratuitous violence will be rewarded, as Midnighter is possibly the most deadly creation in the DCU short of Lobo, the character reveling in the battle without thinking much at all about the consequences. A character of such extreme power and abilities as Midnighter is difficult to write, but Steve Orlando does a strong job in balancing Midnighter’s alter-ego with his private life, and even manages to throw an unseen plot twist in at the end of the story arc.

Midnighter is an interesting, if controversial character, and I hope that DC continues to support the book and allow the series’ writers and artists to develop the character. Midnighter is an adult-oriented book, not just for the overt violence but also for sexual situations, but in the end it’s an entertaining outing by one of DC’s lesser-known heroes. Grade: B (DC Comics, published February 23, 2016)

Buy or Die, Bucko!

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book Review: Zap Comix No. 16 (2016)

Zap Comix No. 16
When the Reverend was a wee teen back in the dark ages of the early ‘70s, I was enamored of underground comix. I had been raised on a steady diet of Marvel and DC superheroes (Daredevil, Black Panther, The Avengers, and Batman) during my single-digit years, so it wasn’t such a large leap to dive headfirst into characters like Mr. Natural, the Checkered Demon, and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The day that I discovered Zap Comix is the day that my life took a left turn into a surrealist anti-authoritarianism that I’ve dragged with me well into middle age.

After seeing an advertisement in the back of an issue looking for people to sell comix, I contacted all the major underground publishers and soon became Nashville’s resident “college sales rep” for The Print Mint, Last Gasp, and Rip Off Press. I fed my own growing comix addiction by placing new issues on consignment at Hillsboro Village head shops near Vanderbilt University, using the profits to pay for my own comix. It was a pretty good gig for a year or so as the publishers were cranking out new issues at a prolific rate. About the time that I graduated from high school in 1975, the bottom fell out of the underground comix biz and I drifted into other hustles (like writing…). 

Zap Comix No. 16

Zap Comix was the granddaddy of all undergrounds, the ground-breaking, earth-shaking first shot across the bow that proved that comix were a legit art form, and funny books were not just for kids anymore. Artist/writer Robert Crumb published Zap #1 in 1968, selling copies out of a baby buggy on the streets of San Francisco. The success of the first issue led to Crumb enlisting a number of talented friends to contribute to the second issue. Thus was the Zap collective created – ringleader Crumb along with artists S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Robert Williams, Victor Moscoso, and Rick Griffin – all of whom would be responsible for creating and carrying Zap Comix into the new millennium.

Through the decades, new issues of Zap Comix would appear more sporadically, often at three-to-five-year intervals between issues, some seven years elapsing between issues fourteen and fifteen. Griffen died in 1991, and artist Paul Mavrides was added to the team when Crumb announced that he no longer wanted to do Zap. The revolutionary publication was honored in December 2014 when a deluxe box set collecting all seventeen issues of Zap Comix was published by Fantagraphics Books. A previously unpublished final issue – Zap Comix No. 16 – was included in the box set as a bonus, and has since been published as a stand-alone graphic novel with fetching Robert Crumb cover art.

Unable to cough up nearly $500 for The Complete Zap Comix Box Set, it was with great anticipation that I ordered up a copy of Zap Comix No. 16. Since I’d owned and/or read virtually the entire run of the publication, I knew that the zine could be spotty and inconsistent – Victor Moscoso’s work generally bored me, and S. Clay Wilson’s shotgun approach to pen ‘n’ ink hits the target as often as it misses – but nothing could have prepared me for the mess that is Zap Comix No. 16. The first issue to include material from all eight Zap artist between two covers, it should have been glorious, but the results often make one wish that some of these guys had retired earlier.

Wonder Warthog & The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers

First on the chopping block is Crumb, who readily admits that he’s out of practice on these strips drawn in 2003 and 2004, and it certainly looks it (the book’s cover, drawn in 2014, is a fine return to form, however). Although Crumb’s storytelling skills remain intact, his art here is crude and hesitant, lacking his characteristic energy and on-page charisma. Sneaking his wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb into the book as its first female artist is less subversive than it is lazy, a way to flesh out autobiographical stories with her flat, unattractive, one-dimensional artwork shoehorned into the panels. I have nothing again distaff artists, but if Crumb wanted to include a woman’s work in this final Zap in order to combat the book’s often-criticized misogyny, perhaps he could have found somebody other than his wife, who jokes that she’s the “Yoko Ono” of underground comix. 

Worse yet are S. Clay Wilson’s contributions to this final issue of Zap Comix. Wilson’s long-running characters like the Checkered Demon and Captain Pissgums were seldom the epitome of subtlety, drawn in a rude and crude B&W style that matched Wilson’s raw but spellbinding storytelling. But the strips here, dated 2006, 2007, and 2009, showcase a significant deterioration of the man’s skills. Wilson suffered severe brain trauma in a 2008 accident, and he has been plagued with health issues since that have left him unable to draw. His 2009 efforts, though, are just bad, simplistic and uglier than normal. One guesses that they were included in order to generate some royalties for the tragically sidelined artist.   

This is not to say that all of Zap Comix No. 16 is bad, as there are a few gems to be found among the sludge. Spain Rodriguez’s stories feature the sort of dense, detailed art and gritty storytelling that he’s long been known for, and his tales of the Road Vultures Motorcycle Club are always welcome. Disturbingly, though, Rodriguez’s art is cluttered with un-erased pencil lines for some reason, and faces in some panels were left inexplicitly un-inked. The final Wonder Warthog story by the legendary Gilbert Shelton is one of the book’s color sections and it’s a real hoot, as is Crumb’s four-color “The Unbearable Tediousness of Being,” which displays a spark of his talent. Shelton’s Furry Freak Brothers story – “Phineas Becomes A Suicide Bomber” – was inked by the artist for the deluxe box set but this version was inked by Paul Mavrides. Either way, it’s a classic Freak Brothers farce with the ever-serious Phineas, as always, as the fool.               

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Overall, I’d have to say that Zap Comix No. 16 is a mediocre collection that might have been so much more. Perhaps his own less-than-stellar work is what caused Crumb to shelf the issue in the first place, and maybe it’s merely the last gasp from a formerly revolutionary group of artists and writers that have long since been eclipsed by the subsequent generations they influenced and inspired to pick up pen and ink.

The trade paperback format is perfect for this sort of collection, and I’d love to see Fantagraphics publish the other fifteen issues of Zap in similar graphic novel form (three or four issues per book) for those of us who can’t cough up half-a-yard for the limited edition box set. Considering the uninspired mix of material found in Zap Comix No. 16, I can only recommend the book for hardcore comix collectors. The rest of you should instead dig up some of the early issues to find out why Crumb called his Zap brethren “the baddest gang of cartoonists ever to wield their crow quills together.” Grade: C (Fantagraphics Book, published February 22, 2016)

Buy (If You Must) From Zap Comix #16

Related Content: Zap The Interviews book review  

Book Review: Fantagraphics' Zap The Interviews (2015)

Zap: The Interviews
Maybe it wasn’t the first underground comic book, but Zap Comix was undeniably the most important and influential title to emerge from the 1960s. Zap’s free-wheeling storytelling and frequently anarchic artwork – which ranged from cartoonish to crude, and from psychedelic to carefully-crafted fine art – shattered the limitations of what a comic book could be. Unabashedly adult in nature, with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll filling its pages, Zap opened the door for comic artists to experiment in the pages of mainstream titles published by DC and Marvel as well as influencing a generation of young creators like Jaime Hernandez (Love & Rockets) and Daniel Clowes (Eightball), among many others.

Zap Comix

The first issue of Zap was published by artist/writer Robert Crumb in 1968, Crumb and his wife selling copies of Zap #1 out of a baby stroller on the streets of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. The book kick-started the underground comix business and it wasn’t long until head shops and other counter-culture retailers were stocking titles like Zap Comix, Dopin’ Dan, Young Lust, and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

Given the popularity of Zap #1, Crumb decided to open up the book to other artists, enlisting talents like Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, and Victor Moscoso to bring creative diversity to the book. This visionary group of creators became known as the Zap collective and they shared equally in the subsequent success of the book, which saw new issues published sporadically every few years. Even after the underground comix “boom” fizzled out during the mid-1970s due to too many books and not enough talent to sustain them, Zap just kept on truckin’…

Zap Comix #1
Artist Paul Mavrides, known for his incredible work for the Church of Sub-Genius, was brought on board after Rick Griffin’s tragic death in a motorcycle accident in 1991, and Crumb himself left the title in the 1990s. Spain Rodriguez succumbed to cancer in 2012, and health problems have left S. Clay Wilson unable to draw, so it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see another new issue of Zap Comix. Over the course of 15 mind-blowing issues, however, Zap influenced not only mainstream and alternative comics, but also concert posters, album covers, animation, and even fine art as well as introducing timeless characters like Crumb’s incorrigible Mr. Natural, Wilson’s Checkered Demon, and Shelton’s Wonder Wart-Hog to readers.

Zap: The Interviews

In 2014, Fantagraphics Books published an ultra-deluxe box set that includes beautiful reproductions of all 15 issues of Zap Comix as well as a previously-unpublished 16th issue. While the set includes an extensive oral history of Zap as well as an artist portfolio and other heretofore unseen goodies, its hefty $500 price tag puts it beyond the reach of all but the most well-heeled of comics and art collectors. Hopefully Fantagraphics will see its way clear to reprint the comix themselves in paperback versions for those of us of more modest means.

While The Complete Zap Comix box raised the title to fine art status, the set garnering an impressive amount of publicity upon its release, another Zap-related title was published by Fantagraphics around the same time but to much less fanfare. The ninth volume in the company’s acclaimed “Comics Journal Library,” Zap: The Interviews is a highly-collectible tome in its own right. An oversized (10”x12”) trade paperback running some 264 pages, the profusely-illustrated volume collects previously-published interviews with the eight different Zap artists from the pages of The Comics Journal, as well as a number of unpublished interviews, conversations that range from as long ago as 1972 (the first Gilbert Shelton interview) to as recent as 2012 (including what may have been Spain Rodriguez’s final interview).

There’s a lot of meat in the 264 pages of Zap: The Interviews. One might think that Robert Crumb as, perhaps, the most famous of the Zap artists, would receive a lion’s share of the book, but that’s not the case. The erudite and outspoken S. Clay Wilson and Spain Rodriguez receive nearly as much or more ink than Crumb, and only Gilbert Shelton – at a mere fourteen pages – seems to be shorted here. Plenty of each artist’s work is reproduced in the extra-large volume, providing a visual touchstone for readers unfamiliar with an individual Zap contributor’s work.

Robert Crumb & Spain Rodriguez

Crumb’s lengthy interview, from 1988, is both informative and entertaining, and while I personally would like to have seen a more updated conversation with the artist included here, there’s plenty of other material available for those wanting to discover more about Crumb (and, in fact, Fantagraphics publishes numerous Crumb collections worthy of spending your hard-earned coin upon). Other Zap contributors haven’t achieved nearly the level of fame and notoriety of Mr. Crumb, so it was particularly gratifying to find several interviews with Spain Rodriguez – one of my personal faves – by The Comics Journal’s Gary Groth and underground comix historian Patrick Rosenkranz.

Covering Rodriguez’s childhood in Buffalo NY through his time with the Road Vultures motorcycle gang and his eventual move to the West Coast and Zap Comix, there are 50+ pages here on Spain, providing invaluable insight into his art, his left-leaning working class politics, and the overall unique worldview which colored his gritty, often ultra-futuristic art. The section on S. Clay Wilson is also lengthy, but nowhere near as interesting, as multiple interviews spanning a couple of decades tread a lot of same turf, with Wilson often repeating his stories, sometimes with interesting flourishes, and while these conversations do open a window to Wilson’s blood ‘n’ guts style of artwork, they also become exhausting to read.

Rick Griffin & Victor Moscoso

Zap Comix No. 16
The initial interview with Rick Griffin is also somewhat mundane, although subsequent conversations offer some fascinating nuggets. Griffin was already a well-known psychedelic concert poster artist and surfer legend when he hooked up with Zap, but he seems somewhat reticent in sharing himself with his interviewers in the same manner as Rodriguez or Wilson. That’s definitely not the case with Victor Moscoso, whose brash manner and confidence were a refreshing change of pace after slogging through the Griffin material. The oldest of the Zap collective, Moscoso’s psychedelic-tinged fine art style stood out on Zap’s pages, and his conversations here provide a lot of information on both the man and his art.

As mentioned above, Gilbert Shelton – the legendary creator of such beloved comix characters as the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Wonder Wart-Hog, Oat Willie, and others – definitely receives the worst coverage in Zap: The Interviews. With a mere handful of pages, Shelton isn’t given a lot of room to talk compared to the others, a sin considering his status as probably the second-best known and popular underground comix creator. Ditto for the infamous Robert Williams, whose unique vision and style has made his artwork extremely collectible (and with the prices to prove it!). Williams gets only a dozen pages here and while they touch upon his lengthy history and include a smattering of artwork, the brevity of the section doesn’t do the artist justice. Last but not least, several Paul Mavrides interviews not only provide a lot of back history on the influences found in his art, but also showcase the artist’s indelible sense of humor and intelligence.  

The Reverend’s Bottom Line

Those minor cavils about Shelton and Williams aside, Zap: The Interviews is a fascinating, informative, and entertaining collection that serves as an invaluable companion to the collected run of Zap Comix itself. By looking under the hood and gazing deeply into the inner mechanics of the book and its artists, Zap: The Interviews provides important context for each creator’s work.

With individual copies of Zap Comix readily available from eBay and comics shops at not-too-obscene prices; books by Williams, Rodriguez, and Wilson are easy to find with a little digging; and with Robert Crumb’s nearly entire artistic milieu available in multiple paperback volumes, comix fans can patch together an impressive collection of art and stories in no time. Zap: The Interviews is the place to begin, however, the book introducing the larger-than-life talents that created the comix revolution and proving a place in history for their art and efforts. Grade: A (Fantagraphic Books, published January 4, 2015)

Review reprinted from That Devil

Buy or die, bunkie!: Zap: The Interviews

Got money to spend? Buy The Complete Zap Comix Boxed Set from