ImageTexT: Interdisciplinary Comics Studies

ISSN: 1549-6732
Home » Vol. 1 , No. 1 » Artists »

Robert Williams, 'Underground(s)'

By Robert Williams
The following is a transcription of Robert Williams' presentation at "'Underground(s):' 2003 University of Florida Conference and Comics and Graphic Novels." Where possible, the images he refers to in the slide show portion have been re-scanned from Hysteria in Remission or other sources and are included as figure references. In other cases, the quality of the video was such that only small thumbnail-sized screen captures were available, and those are provided in the right margin as illustrations.

Well, I've got about five or six directions to go with the conversation. In fact, I'm probably going to verbally herniate trying to explain myself here. I guess I should give a run down of myself. John [Ronan] did a pretty good one, though.

Coming to this thing was a real eye-opener because I had no idea people were taking these comics so serious. I understood the intellectual potential in underground comics, but gee, this looks like a serious affair. I and Bill Griffith and Diane and Kim have the advantage of actually being back there in that period of time. You have to see this thing in context, and it was a pretty funky god damn thing when it started, and the only way, I think, anyone in this room could experience the underground comics world in the late 60s—this sounds a little off the cuff—but I think the only way today to see what the underground comics world was like is probably to get yourself a fifth of Jack Daniels and call up S. Clay Wilson and have him lead you around town because it was a very loose knit group of people that had youth going for them and had a feeling for a future that was an open experience.

Robert Williams delivering his lecture at the Undergrounds Conference

You have to remember the United States prior to the Vietnam War was a very, very constipated culture. And, like, 1963 was almost identical to 1953. The cars were different, and then there was rock ‘n roll music, but America kept very conservative and conformity was the rule.

It started out in a bunch of odd ways. One of the most obvious things to the comic book world was the suppression of comic books in the early 50s and the survival of the EC only through MAD Magazine now. As a child I had come to really appreciate ECs. It started to die out just as I had developed an appreciation for graphic literature. I remember exactly when the first MAD Comics came out. They were outstanding. All of a sudden in the early 50s, there was, like, no more interest in comic books. There was like Classic Comic Books and a few Carl Barks comic books and what not, but the richness of the comic books in general. . . Like, I used to make a beeline for the comic book stand at the drug store, and all of a sudden it was like none; the comics were gone. You know I thought, "I’m alone on this." You know, a lone experience. Then I talked to other people later, and they'd say, “Yeah, I remember when the ECs died out. Yeah. Yeah.” Then later on I got to meet the underground comic book artists. We had obviously been bearing a vendetta against the comic books code.

There was another enemy here that I don’t think you’ve heard of. Now, me and Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin belonged to a section of the underground comics concerned with the graphic imagery and you look at comic book history now and you really don’t understand that. When the underground comics came out it was just as wide open as your god damn imagination would let you go. And there were no rules; we didn’t even have political correctness, you know. It was just what you can think of and what you want to do. And the audience buying our comics was not like this big, large group of intellectual, it was like a small, arcane bunch of other intellectuals—you hope. Because there were no comic book conventions. You couldn’t look into the faces of the readers unless you run into them on the street and say, "well, I saw such and such comic." That was the only cash on your following. So the following was an arcane little group, but you could do what you wanted and not be embarrassed and do flipped out stuff.

Now I personally—and I guess Buddy Wilson and Spain Rodriquez to a certain extent—belonged to an earlier drug culture prior to the Vietnam War, which was a lot more woolly. This was before the element of peace and good faith to man, and the hippie movement had slipped into the drug culture. It was a more of an open, Bohemian, criminal drug world in the 50s. So, when we started doing the underground comics, we still had left over imagery and anxieties that we were expressing from an earlier period. Now, I remember when LSD hit the scene, and that was just not a drug of indulgence and laying on your back and being goofy and acting silly in front of your friends. It took the human mind, and it developed five or six different facets to examine one thing. There was no drug like that. It wasn’t like just getting loaded and acting goofy and laying down. It was, like, making you think. You were not drunk. You were forced to think, and think, and think. In fact, you over-thought. So, LSD played a great deal of influence on some of the early comic stuff, especially with some of my early comic friends like Rick Griffin and Moscoso, Crumb to a certain extent, and Wilson definitely.

Now I want to go back to this other enemy, this other element. Now, almost all the underground cartoonists—I don’t want to say blanketly all but I think blanketly all—had fine arts backgrounds. Now it is a real weird dichotomy that all the people in this room, I would presume, are from the English Department. Where are the people from the Art Department about these comics, see? That is a rare situation. What is going on there? It’s odd. Almost all of these artists at one time had fine arts backgrounds. Well, if you went to art school from 1959 to 1964-65, you were subjected to a curricula of abstract expressionism. Now something happened back in the late 40s. . . And we have an enemy. We have an adversary. A guy named Clement Greenburg, who was an art critic from New York. Clement Greenburg pushed abstract expressionism. Now I’m not against abstract expressionism. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an enemy of any "isms." But what he did was he sacrificed and used representational art as the whipping boy to push abstract and modern art. So he got an enormous following in New York, and he pushed Jackson Pollack, and a number of other artists and he put them up at the forefront. And the way he did this was pointing out that this kind of art was the art of the intellectual; people that can draw are the retarded people. That’s the retarded past, you see. The problem lies in if you get 100 people or 200 people or 500 people, there is going to be an element of that group of people that can draw, that have a propensity for skill and draftsmanship, see. Now a long time ago, those used to be your artists in our culture. 100 years ago when you found someone that could draw, you would say, "This is a gift from God. This guy has been blessed." But now if you have someone that can draw, "well he has got a facile skill, a slight of hand and he should do something else, you know." So for forty or fifty years, all the people that could draw or had any facile skills or had hand-eye coordination or any rich imagination were forced into the sub-arts: the illustrations, the comic books, B movies, movie costumes, fashion of one kind or another. So the art world has made itself more anemic, and more anemic and more anemic, completely clearing out people that could draw. About fifteen years ago in Art City, at Art Center School in Los Angeles at Pasadena, they passed a rule. Now Art Center is one of the finest art schools in the country, and they teach draftsmanship and illustration and all kinds of art, but they have a fine arts department. They passed a rule—nobody in the fine arts department could use any of the power tools because they'd hurt themselves. You've got a statement there, see?

So anyway. When I got to meet the Zap artists, for the first time in my life I had run across kindred spirits who went through the same thing I did. They could draw but were denied any standing in art schools. It was just a sad situation. Well, for some reason in California—I don’t want to make a statement here touting California—but for some reason on the West Coast things seem to happen that don’t happen on the East Coast. And I thought about this for twenty or thirty years. Why is it that you have underground comics, psychedelic culture, punk rock culture, biker culture, tattoo culture, skateboard culture. You have all these cultures that come out the West Coast. And I think the reason for this is because the East Coast is still under that shadow of sophistication that comes from old Europe. Like, you can see it in New York. You go to New York and the word is "sophistication." You have to be very sophisticated; to function in New York you have to be an "urban sophisticate." In California, you can let it all hang out. There is a big difference. You can be a very successful person in California and be very care-free.

I was in the underground comic business on and off for twenty-five years. I applied to get into Zap Comics early on. I applied to Gilbert Shelton through the Print Mint, and Crumb had Gilbert send me back a letter and accepted me. And. . . the ability to do just what the hell I wanted, just what I could think of, I could do. So I was with Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso on the side of the graphic arts. Now I was versed in comic literature. I had read comics all my life, I appreciated it, but I was an artist too and I wanted to get off on wild thought patterns. There wasn’t a giant audience to correct me. This was a bunch of guys on dope. It was a time when Crumb was like God. I could talk to him, smell his farts, and do anything else. He was a partner.

But, what had happened was that the psychedelic rock poster movement had evolved into comics. The people that put out the psychedelic rock posters were people who were in the art world that, when they were young teenagers early teens, they had seen EC comics and then they had that interest in going toward. . . they were familiar with Harvey Kurtzman and that whole school of thought. So it was no trouble at all for the psychedelic culture movement to lap over into comics, you see.

Now, me and Rick Griffin and Moscoso really went into the abstract, nutty comic strips that were not dependent on sequential logic. In other words, the panel would contrast the next panel, would contrast the next panel. And looking back on that now, it’s kinda goofy, but at the time we had it’s own intellectuality and we appreciated that. Now, everything was great while we had our little esoteric group involved in comic books. But after about 1970-71, when the audience started getting bigger, they started. . . you didn’t have that little special group. You had people that were more objective and not so friendly to the comics and they wanted a story. That story better be logical or cute, see? Not just our psychedelic ramblings. So after the 1970s, the undergrounds comics was never what it was again. It got sophisticated. It got a much broader base. I was probably one of the first ten underground artists, and inside of two years, there was close to a thousand underground cartoonists all over the United States. I heard about people in Mexico and Michigan and stuff, and they were printing little things. So the thing just, it just blossomed into, you know, a very formal thing. The thing is just, you have to remember, when it started out, it was just a little funky thing. It was, like, little better than a biker gang or something, you know? We were loaded all the time and used foul language and our minds were in the gutter, so to see this thing brought to this great intellectual level. . . maybe later; maybe you can diagnose each little story? Anyway, I had made a living of selling oil paintings while I did underground comics, and in fact, I supported myself selling underground comics by doing oil paintings. I had a much larger following doing the doing the paintings even though I was never accepted into the formal art world. So I discovered in the 80s. . . well, I was trying to get shows and, you know, galleries would look at this stuff, “Well, this looks like comics or something. This isn’t like art.” So I was kind of down on my luck. I could find millionaires to buy my stuff, but I could get no publicity, no critics to cover me, no institutions that would back me.

So, there was a fellow named Gary Panter that started punk rock art in Los Angeles, and some people credit Gary Panter with being the father of punk rock art. Now, Gary Panter—if you’re interested in underground comics, you should study Gary Panter because he did some really funny underground new wave publications. But it started out of after-hours clubs and they woudl have after-hours clubs in Los Angeles, and what it was, was a front to sell booze, not liquor, but it would be an art show. So you’d have all these loaded people coming out to these clubs and they’d go to these after-hours clubs loaded, and there would be an art show there, but you would have to buy the booze. So, the art that they would show was like this real scratchy punk rock stuff. So I thought, “Well, hell, I can whip out some scratchy stuff.” This is really an underground audience; this is underground people. I might be twenty years older than the rest of these people. And I come out with a series of paintings called “Zombie Mystery Paintings,” and they just went like hotcakes. They just, I just won a whole new audience. Now, in these clubs young people would come drunk; they’d come mischievous; they’d cut the paintings; they’d urinate on the paintings. It was a real open situation. So the paintings had to be rough. The paintings had to be, so that if they got cut, you could just stitch them up and they’d look just as good stitched up.

So, anyway, a lot of artists start getting in on this—there was enough artists and there was some comic book artists that were falling back into this and seeing what was happening—and it seemed like there was enough people involved in this that it could actually be a situation where we could survive without the formal art world. And what came out of this was, we come out with a magazine called Juxtapose. Now, me and my wife, Suzanne, founded this magazine, started in 1994. And, uh, what it is, it started out as kind of an underground version of the surrealist publication, Minotaur, which was popular in the 30s. And the magazine was always a success; it just was always a very successful magazine. It immediately went into the black. The publisher of this publication is High Speed Productions; it does Thrasher Magazine in San Fransisco. So anyway, this little pathetic rag here is the number three art selling magazine on the stands. It is outsold by Art in America and it is outsold by Art News. It outsells Art Forum, you see. A direct child of underground comic books, see? Now, it’s got a lot of underground artists in it, but it has one drawback that you might not like: it has never, and we do not allow sequential stories in here. Because the minute the magazine becomes sequential stories, it is a comic book. It is no longer an art magazine. You can have as much art in there as you want, any kind of art you want, but they cannot be sequential stories. See.

I’m going to go through my slide show here real quick. John has showed some of my stuff here previously, inadvertently, but I’ll see if I can add color to that.

[Figure 1] Okay, this is my new book, Hysteria in Remission, front and back over. And this is forty years of black and white drawings. This is the work I did when I was the art director for Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, the car customizer in Maywood, California back in the 60s, which is a story in itself. That was a real outlaw underground world. In fact, there was a three-day shootout with the Hell’s Angels while we were there. This also has got some of the work I did for Black Belt magazine when I was the young art director for this karate magazine. It has got a lot of my early work, my very first work in the early 60s when I was editorial cartoonist for the Los Angeles City College. And then it goes into my regular underground comic repertoire.

Now, I have to warn you, if you’re a sensitive person, some of this stuff might bother you because my publisher put this together and insisted on everything, an unabridged book. So me being a little older and a little more discrete, I wasn’t really for that, but I did it, I have to answer for it. So I’m gonna take you through some of this stuff.

[Figure 2] This is Ed “Big Daddy” Roth here. This is about 1967. He’s holding a fiberglass and cardboard cyclops skull that I made back in the late 50s. Now this skull here had a couple of write-ups in small newspapers. And it was stolen by the Hell’s Angels, painted day-glow, and put into an after-hours biker club and somehow returned to Roth. And then later it went to a museum. Oh, and incidentally, this is the model for the Grateful Dead album cover with the cyclops skull on it.

[Figure 3] Okay, this is on of the ads that I did for Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. Now, this is in the mid 60s, which are fairly conservative times. This stuff is pretty nutty and I was . . . but when I got the job at Roth’s I got a list of things I couldn’t do, a big list of things. I couldn’t use the term“mother –,” I couldn’t refer to “god —,” or bodily fluid. This whole list of things. So somehow I worked around it, and still upset them.

[Figure 4] OK, now here’s me at the hot rod. Now, this is my indulgence in life, and I don’t want this to take away from me presenting myself as an intellectual, but I do have this side of me. And both of these are ’32 Fords. The one on the left is a ’32 Ford Coupe and the one of the right is a ’32 Ford Roadster. But the one, the Coupe, is now painted black and the Roadster is now painted chartreuse and purple with a red band around it and a big cartoon character of a cactus with its ass on fire and flames coming off of it and the name of it is “Prickle Heat.”

[Figure 5] Okay, now, I’ve got a number of these. I’ve only done in my life about eight or ten hotrod paintings. And I don’t do them anymore. And I’ve got this following for this thing and I’m . . . you know, it’s something I could milk. I could milk this but it’s just not my world, you know?

[Figure 6] Now, here’s a painting that’s suggestive of all the monster business that went on in the Roth era. That’s an oil painting, oil on canvas.

[Figure 7] Okay, now. This is a large, very large painting. It depicts the board track they used to race on. This is in the middle of Beverly Hills in the 1920s where three famous race drivers died. This painting is now hanging in the foyer of Nicolas Cage’s big mansion in Bel Air.

[Figure 8] Okay, now I’m working for Roth, this black militant come in named Ron Feringa, and he belonged to the group called “Us.” And he was a very notorious guy, and I don’t know all the political details about him, but he was in prison for torturing a woman and what not. So, anyway, he comes into Roth’s studios and said, he wanted an artist to draw a lion. So, I’m the guy that drew the lion and did the little logo for him and it ended up on the cover of life magazine.

[Figure 9] Ok, now, here you got . . . John previously showed this. This was, we should mention this, this has a guy named Antonio Gaudi in it. Now, every one of you know who Antonio Gaudi is. Twenty-five years ago, no one cared to talk about Antonio Gaudi because we were under the pressure of the Bauhaus, we were into Bauhaus culture. And the knicky-knackies and stuff on your buildings and that Nouvean Art was just, really out. So it took the psychedelic culture to bring back Anotnio Gaudi, and to really understand the floral beauty of his architecture.

[Figure 10] Okay, this was my first ZAP cover. you’re gonna see a lot of my stuff here that’s overloaded and loquacious. The pictures talk too much. Now let me explain something to you. When Mad Comics came out—’52 I think it was; I might be wrong, ’52—they had an element to them that no other comic had. The word “mad” really meant “mad,” it meant “psychosis.” It wasn’t just a joke catch phrase. MAD Comics was supposed to represent a mental problem in a funnybook. One of the problems that occurred in the comic book was what was called . . . I mean, there wasn’t one single spot on there that hasn’t been drawn on. It was just neurosis crawling off the pages. So this was something that was passed on to the ZAP artists. They brought that little taste of revolution with them to the comic book. Now, I've been at comic conventions and art get togethers, and I’ve heard people look at a picture, a formal thing, and go, “Oh, that’s too busy. That’s too busy. It should be more simple.” Well, yeah, that’s right. It's probably not the right art for them.

[Figure 11] And here’s the culprits as they stood. This is the last picture ever taken of all the seven. Paul Mavrides has since joined the group. It’s Spain Rodriquez to your left, and then S. Clay Wilson putting on the face, me in thinner days, and then in the middle is Rick Griffin and then Gilbert Shelton. Looking behind him is Crumb and then there is Victor Moscoso and Greg. Now since Rick Griffin has passed on after trying to stop a van with his head off the back of a Harley-Davidson. So, although he died, his heart is in somebody else’s chest pulsing away right now, so Rick is with us in some form.

[Figure 12] OK, now this is tasteless, granted. This was the model sheet for a cartoon character that was in a twenty minutes sequence of a two hour ZAP movie that never came about. This was 1970. And this was shopped around, shopped around. Warner Bros. Was going to take it, then they weren't going to take it. Then a studio was and blah. To be honest with you, I don’t know what happened to it. Moscoso with in charge of it and I don't know whether Moscoso wanted too much money. I really don’t know what happened to this. But, I’ll show you a couple of quick color sketches that went with the storyboards.

[Figure 13] It was about a cartoon character who was a great lover, and the world meet with a disaster. And the moon collided with Earth and the population was brought down to almost nothing. So, he was the single surviving male and he had to repopulate the world, so used his male skills to the utmost.

[Figure 14] Ok, now you saw this earlier. I came up with a cartoon character in 1969 called Coochy Cooty. And Coochy Cooty has gotten exactly the acclaim that he deserved, which is probably very little. The reason for that is because the cartoon character was made to be awkward; it was made to be kind of a pathetic, shitty, 1930s animated cartoon character in its image. But in its real functioning life, its personality, it carried on a multi-faceted personality that could only be utilized by someone with a psychadelic mind. In fact he was meant to be androgynous; I have yet to know his sexual character.

[Figure 15] Here's Coochy Cooty just recently done for a small animation thing on a documentary that's being done about me.

[Figure 16] Here's Coochy Cooty as an art item; that's Coochy Cooty in the abstract. Now, this is painted in a bold, emotional, dashing style—just slap that paint on and get out of there.

[Figure 17] My only single comic book and it did very well. I started in 1970, and I think it took me six months. I was racing to the end of my employment checks when I got fired from Roth's and I got it done before my checks ran out. It was a twenty-eight pager that the Print Mint did and it dealt with my little cartoon character. I think to this day, I think it has sold about 45,000 issues, which ain’t bad for a little comic book.

[Figure 18] This is the first story, of Coochy Cooty the main story. I don’t know, I’m not going to drag you through this thing. But there is individual interest at the end, I’ll get you a copy of this thing.

[Figure 19] OK. All comics books, especially underground comics . . . a lot of comic books do utilize the space between the center spreads, but the underground ones almost always did because we had that exceptional white area to carry out an idea, and you could just really goof off in that thing. I never missed a chance to get a hold of the center spread and at Zap we fought, we vied over the opportunity to get that center spread, because you could really visually spread out.

This is a statement on marijuana. And Harry S. Anslinger, the gentleman of 1936, that brought to the public attention the real evil of marijuana.

[Figure 20] This one's a little lurid, and feminists take reservation with this. I don’t know how to express myself about the beauty of women, but I do have a great appreciation for women and I think, you know, beyond the beauty of a beautiful woman’s face, I think there is another area that occupies my libido. That is the pelvic region. Now this particular center spread goes into just about every detail I could find out about the female keister. Now, after I did this center spread it laid fallow for a couple of years. It was made for a comic book, but we couldn’t get it's act together, and in the interim Robert Crumb saw this and of course he beat me to the punch with a nice, cute little ass center spread. So, I have to live in that shadow from here on out.

[Figure 21] When I worked for Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, I had to draw cars, and I had to the learn craftsmanship of some of the finest artists that came out of Art Center School in the industrial design area that did automobiles. And I had to learn the stylization of shiny plate, chrome plate. Well, being psychedelic and couldn’t leave it at that, and I had to see just how far could we take a reflective surface, to what extreme? OK, now this is back, this is done in, this hit the stands in ’71. I started doing this kind of work in ’69. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I was the first person to get into the abstract use of reflective surfaces, to a crazy point. It immediately caught on in the advertising world, and later I had J. Walter Thompson and a number of big ad agencies driving me nuts to have me do stuff for him. I wouldn’t do it, and he would get other artists to do it. So in another two or three years this was an international form of letter and it caught on really big.

Now James Cameron, the director and producer of the Titanic, told me that, his movie—I can’t remember what it was, this chrome thing, the Terminator—he said he was inspired by my work here to do that chrome thing. He is sort of an artist. If you saw the movie, the drawings of that girl that they did in the movie, he did those.

[Figure 22] Okay. When Gary Panter came out with a little punk rock publication called The Asshole—it’s a little xerox shitty little thing—it took off. It really took off big. This was in the early days. And here me and S. Clay Wilson, old underground veterans, were scratching our heads looking at the success by these young people. So me and Wilson thought, "we’ll do us a little shitty magazine of our own and we'll call it Yama Yama, and The Ugly Head.." I did one half and you'd sixty-nine it and turn it over and he did the other side, which was the other end. I think we exceeded, I think we exceeded Gary Panter. The stuff was a little rougher than his, and a little more psychotic. Now in my new book, I had my pages reproduced in there. I would appreciate if you would take time to, if you think you are a comic book aficionado, sit down and analyze the story in there. It is intellectually fruitful.

[Figure 23] OK. Now, as the underground comic books developed and I got more into them, I went off on a tangent in Zap #6 that a lot of people didn't like. I got my fingers burned and backed off of it. I just got too detailed. A good comic book artist, like Carl Bark would hammer out a page a day, and this is probably a week and a half to do one of these pages. And it’s just one hairbrush and ninety pound black. The original is only inches bigger than the page reproduction, so this thing was done very, very fine. I did an eight page story here called "Masterpiece Written on a Shit-house Wall," which analyzes the work of the cartoon image through the eyes of a cartoon character. So, I’ll breeze through this thing.

[Figure 24] You can see this things loaded, or like I said earlier, "loquacious." There's no place you can visually rest in these things.

[Figure 25] Now, Rick Griffin took my challenge and Moscoso took up my challenge with this tight art work. Crumb hated it and told me so. And in that issue of Zap #6 he did just one little thing himself on facial expressions.

And another thing, it's got hundreds of characters, and of course, it's loaded with pornography.

[Figure 26] OK now this picture here, has absolutely no relevance to this conversation whatsoever to this other than that I just wanted to show you this picture. It's a little color addition here since I've done black and white.

[Figure 27] Now this was in Snatch, and there was the underground comics—and the underground comics were questionable, a lot of the head shops were nervous about them—but we discovered early on, "what if we didn't get busted?" Let’s really get in there and do something; let’s just see how far we can go with this stuff.

Now, let me bring up the matter of paranoia. I have done, Bill Griffith was receptive to this or Kim Deitch. There was a feeling in the late 60s and early 70s; we were in a war; the country was trying to rally the public to support the war; the young people were not behind the war. The young people were getting rounded up, and I had been investigated by the FBI. I was known to be have seen at leftist rallies. I had involvement with Zap comics. When I worked at Roth's, I had a personal FBI investigator come and talk to me and the people at Roth's every week. I knew these things. I was a draft dodger and the FBI agent knew this, so I kinda felt like I was kind of up for grabs. And at the same time we knew that in eastern California they were revamping the concentration camps—the internment camps that they put the Japanese in. So if you put two and two together and you figured, "well if the country swung to the right they'd be packing up dissonance and sending them out in the desert." And we did fit the profile of the dissidents. So we felt like we were really, really cavalier in doing this filthy stuff. We did not do this for prurient interests. We never figured anyone was going to sit around with these comic books and masturbate. That was just not the point of them; it was just open visual defiance. So anyway, this is one of my ruder stories in Snatch.

[Figure 28] OK, since we didn’t get in any trouble with Snatch and Jiz, and a couple of these other comics, I was partying one night with Crumb, Wilson and these other guys. And Wilson mentioned to me, he says, "I was talking to Ken Weaver and he had this real interesting word." I said what, "what it?" A word called "felch." I said, "what does that mean?" He said, "it is a real old term and it means orally withdrawing semen from someone’s lower digestive track after having anal sex." I said, "there’s a word for something like that?" That’s incredible that not only is there a word like that, but it has a provenance. Hell yeah, we’re going to do a felch comic. So I talked to Crumb, "yeah we’re going to do a felch comic."

So this was the splash panel to my comic, The Nectar of Satan, about felching. Now the comic went out for quite a while, and what would happen was the little dirty comic would, if there was no trouble, tend to sell with the big comics, the big underground comics. George DiCaprio, Leonardo DiCaprio’s father, was the distributor for underground comics in Los Angeles. And he said he got a call from one of his head shops that had been busted for their comics. So he had to go down with a lawyer with the owner of the head shop to the court down to see the DA and discuss this thing. Apparently what happened was the cops went around and put all the comics in a box. The DA went through the box looking for something to be really hard evidence and they find that Felch. See? So they were going to base the case on that Felch. Well, I would speculate that with the box was sitting around the police station for a while, and someone dug through that box, and one of the police found that Felch and lifted it. Because the next day when they were down there, DiCaprio and the headshop owner and the clerk were sitting outside the judge’s antechamber, and they heard the judge and the DA in there yelling, “Where’s the felch, where’s the felch?” Well they couldn’t find the Felch, so the case was dropped. And there has never been a case against underground comics because there was no test case.

[Figure 29] OK this is a surfing story that I did for Rick Griffin. It was in Tales from the Tube which was a supplement underground comic that came with Surfer magazine.

[Figure 30] And I did regular comics, orthodox comics for Petersen Publication. They weren't exactly the greatest thing in the world, but they didn't have any questionable material in them. This was a cartoon character Brody Bodine that was kind of a mindless biker that went from one problem to the next.

Is there a focus on this thing here? Focus that baby in. Is that about as good as you are going to get? [Figure 31] The reason I am showing you paintings here is because these paintings are very obviously directly related to underground comics. In my painting world I always get in trouble because I tell too big of a story because I know how to tell a story.

What we got here is a poor kid that's suffering from cartoon disease. He has read too many funny books and his brain has popped out. He has got all these neurosis and diseases indicated around the side of his brain. You've got slices from his brain out here and shows all the different problems he's got from reading comic books. You see his Dad up there reprimanding him because of the comic book. Then here are the police coming through the door to save him.

[Figure 32] OK now, this is just lurid. Now, you know, I have feminists on me all the time. There's been a real social change—they're not on me like they used to be, but back in the late 80s and early 90s, I was getting death threats from women and I was getting mail continually from women and what not. I was actually getting more support from women than I were women bothering me about this, but I had to take note of it and I have to respect it. But, how can you draw, and not draw naked ladies? Why draw? Why have the skill if you can’t do the most beautiful thing that ever existed? So, I don’t stop doing this, but I try to keep it in an audience that wouldn’t shit their pants over it, you know? So I hope that you all are in sympathy with me on this.

[Figure 33] OK, now this is a cartoon that has got a comic book characteristic about it. It is a painting—Nine Indo-Nostril Pickineers. It’s a little town and there’re all picking their nose. There are nine instances in there of nose picking. So, I’ll move on.

[Figure 34] This is a place where all lost things go. You lose something, you wondered, "where's that sock?" Well, here this guys got it. He’s got a whole world of all these things he's been stealing. So, I don’t know; I'm using op art here, but you can see this reaks comic book, and I am presenting this in a formal art world that thinks this is the most ridiculous thing in the world, yet I make a fairly good living with this.

[Figure 35] Now this is a very large painting. This is in the collection of Leonardo DiCaprio. This painting’s about seven feet wide. This is the story of Piltdown Man. It was a great fraud on the public in 1912 by the English. The Germans had the Neanderthal Man; the French had the Cro-Magnon Man; the Dutch had the Java Man; the English didn’t have nothing. So all of a sudden they found the Piltdown Man. Fifty years later they find out that the Piltdown Man was a fraud. Well I’m going here on the speculation that maybe he wasn’t a fraud, maybe he was real and was superhuman. Now if you look up in the right hand corner, he was supposed to be an extremely intelligent caveman that gave birth to the modern English which is the reason they're so smart. So he is up here in the right hand corner; he’s at a party, the Piltdown Man. He seems to have remarkable social skills; he is leading the conversation while women are swooning over him. And down there in the bottom is his proper place in history, down there with Santa Claus, Paul Bunyan and the Boogey Man and whatnot.

[Figure 36] Now this is just taking a cartoon and making it just a cartoon. The name of this painting is “Child Bride,” and you've just got an "Appalachian" situation of cross-breeding. And you have this little girl here that is the bride. Well, they've taken this simplistic little vignette and made it as important as a piece of nose art that you put it on a billion dollar spacecraft.

[Figure 37] I guess this is the end of my performance. This is a large painting imitating brick of a woman’s posterior that was in Los Angeles County Art Museum in their California show, and I guess this is the end of my performance. Thank You.

 © 2004 Robert Williams (all rights reserved). This essay is the intellectual property of the author and cannot be printed or distributed without the author's express written permission other than excerpts for purposes consistent with Fair Use. The layout and design of this article is licensed under a Creative Commons License to ImageTexT; note that this applies only to the design of this page and not to the content itself.

All content is (c) ImageTexT 2004 - 2010 unless otherwise noted. All authors and artists retain copyright unless otherwise noted.
All images are used with permission or are permissible under fair use. Please see our legal notice.

ImageTexT is published by the Department of English at the University of Florida.