Cover of Zap Comix #1 (Feb. 1968). Art by R. Crumb.
|Publisher||Apex Novelties (issues #1–2, 0)
Print Mint (issues #3–9)
Last Gasp (issues #10–15)
|Publication date||February 1968 – November 2014|
|Number of issues||17|
|Artist(s)||Robert Crumb, Victor Moscoso, S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, Paul Mavrides|
Premiering in 1968, Zap was unlike any comic book sensibility that had been seen before. Labeled "Fair Warning: For Adult Intellectuals Only", it featured the publishing debut of Crumb's much-bootlegged Keep on Truckin' imagery, an early appearance of unreliable holy man Mr. Natural and his neurotic disciple Flakey Foont, and the first of innumerable self-caricatures (in which Crumb calls himself "a raving lunatic", and "one of the world's last great medieval thinkers"). Perhaps most notable in the debut issue was the story "Whiteman," which detailed the inner torment seething within the lusty, fearful heart of an outwardly upright American. While a few small-circulation self-published satirical comic books had been printed prior to this, Zap became the model for the "comix" movement that snowballed after its release.
Zap #1 was published in San Francisco in early 1968. It featured the work of satirical cartoonist Robert Crumb. Some 3,500 copies were printed by Beat writer Charles Plymell, who arranged with publisher Don Donahue for Zap to be the first title put out under Donahue's Apex Novelties imprint.
The contents of the first Zap were not intended to be the debut issue. Philadelphia publisher Brian Zahn (who had published earlier works of R. Crumb in his tabloid called Yarrowstalks ) had intended to publish an earlier version of the comix, but reportedly he left the country with the artwork. Rather than repeat himself, Crumb drew a new assortment of strips, which replaced the missing issue.
The first issue was sold on the streets of Haight-Ashbury out of a baby stroller pushed by Crumb's wife Dana on the first day. In years to come, the comic's sales would be most closely linked with alternative venues such as head shops.
The tagline of Zap #1, "Zap Comics are Squinky Comics!!" has an interesting origin. Art Spiegelman called his girlfriend of the time, Isabella Fiske, "Squink." Crumb liked the word and decided to use it on the cover. Crumb himself credits Gershon Legman's 1949 article "Love and Death" condemning the "horror-squinky" in 1940's comics.
After the success of the first issue, Crumb opened the pages of Zap to several other artists, including S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, "Spain" Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, and two artists with reputations as psychedelic poster designers, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin. This stable of artists, along with Crumb, remained mostly constant throughout the history of Zap.
In 1969, shortly before Zap #3 was to be published (by a new company, Print Mint), Crumb found Xerox copies of the missing pages from the original Zap #1, which (according to fellow Zap contributor Victor Moscoso) successfully captured the linework but not the solid blacks. After being reinked by Crumb, those cartoons subsequently appeared as Zap #0, published by Apex Novelties. Thus Zap #0 became the third in the series (even though it was drawn before #1 in 1967), and Zap #3 the fourth.
Zap's publisher the Print Mint weathered a lawsuit filed over the Zap #4, published in 1969. The publishers, Don & Alice Schenker, were arrested and charged with publishing pornography by the Berkeley Police Department. Previous to that, Simon Lowinsky, who had a gallery on College Avenue in Berkeley and had put up an exhibition of the Crumb’s original drawings, had been arrested on the same charge. His case came to trial first. He was acquitted after supportive testimony from Peter Selz, a prominent figure in the art world. At that point the city dropped the charges against the Print Mint.
After that, Zap was published sporadically, with it being typical for three to five years to pass between new issues. The underground comix market collapsed in the mid-1970s, but Zap continued to be published by Print Mint through issue #9 (1978), when the company stopped publishing comics altogether.
From issue #10 (1982) onward, Zap was published by Last Gasp (which also published many reprints of earlier issues).
Contributor Rick Griffin died in 1991; a two-page story by artist Paul Mavrides appeared in issue #14. (Mavrides was invited to contribute when Crumb announced that he no longer wanted to work on Zap.)
Zap #15 (ISBN 0867196351) came out in 2005, seven years after the previous issue.
A limited edition six-volume hardcover box set containing the complete Zap Comix (ISBN 9781606997871) was published by Fantagraphics in November 2014. Besides including an oral history, portfolio and previously unseen material, the set also includes the never-before published Zap Comix #16 — the final issue in the series. Zap #16 would later be released by Fantagraphics as a stand-alone, 80-page comic in February 2016, with a few changes and additions.
Due to its unusual outside position in the comic distribution industry, a completely accurate count of Zap's circulation cannot be known, but overall sales for the comic's first 16 issues are in the millions. It is important to note that there are three printings of the first issue, the first one being sold on the streets of San Francisco by Crumb himself.
While the origin of the spelling "comix" is a subject of some dispute, it was popularized by its appearance in the title of the first issues of Zap. Design critic Steven Heller claims that the term "comix" refers to the traditional comic book style of Zap, and its mixture of dirty jokes and storylines.
- Angelfood McSpade: (Robert Crumb) A large-built black woman drawn as a racist African native caricature. She is usually depicted being sexually exploited or manipulated by men.
- Captain Piss-Gums and his Pervert Pirates: (S. Clay Wilson) A crew of bisexual male drug-addict pirates that were into a series of kinky and outre sexual acts. His nemesis was Captain Fatima and the butch all-female crew of the SS Quivering Thigh. Captain Piss-Gums is mentioned as one of the Captains attending the Pirate's Conference in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
- Dirty Dog: An anthropomorphic animal comic in which the hero is a horny long-eared hound dog. An all-seeing god is portrayed by a bunny rabbit in a straw boater and striped vest with a movie camera.
- Mr. Goodbar: A clueless hick in suspenders that seems to be the opposite of Mr. Natural. His motto is the unprintable - and literal - "Go Fuck Yourself!".
- Wonder Wart-Hog: (Gilbert Shelton) the 'Hog of Steel': A violent reactionary amoral "superhero" who hypocritically murders and rapes people he doesn't approve of. His alter ego is reporter Philbert DeSanex; instead of being a human disguised as a rubber-masked monster, he is a pig-faced monster who disguises himself as a rubber-faced human.
- Fox, M. Steven. "Zap Comix #1", ComixJoint. Accessed Oct. 21, 2016.
- Zap Comix entry at the Grand Comics Database. Accessed October 27, 2009.
- Heritage Comics and Comic Art Signature Auction #823 By Ivy Press, Gary Dowell, Greg Holman
- Crumb, Robert, Minds are Made to Be Blown
- Odelle, Cole Moore "From Floppity Rabbits to Horror-Squinkies"
- Estren, Mark, A History of Underground Comics, Ronin Publishing, 1993 ISBN 0-914171-64-X, 9780914171645 p.52
- Zap Comix article at The Atlantic. Accessed December 14, 2014.
- New York Times article on Zap Comix. Accessed December 14, 2014.
- Fantagraphics: Zap #16
- Heller, Steven. 1999. Design Literacy: Understanding Graphic Design, New York: Allworth Press
- Zap #3b, pgs.02-11
- "The Zap Show: A Cultural Revolution" exhibit at New York's Society of Illustrators