From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Underground comics (or comix) are small press comic books that sprang up in the US in the late 1960s. The movement was centered in San Francisco in the rest of the United States. Prominent artists associated with this movement who have since gained mainstream acceptance include Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman.
Underground comics (or comix) are small press or self-published comic books that began to appear in the US in the late 1960s. The comix community was centered in San Francisco, but also included important artists and publishers in New York, Chicago and Austin, Texas. Prominent artists associated with this movement include Vaughn Bode, Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch, Jim Franklin, David Geiser, Justin Green, Roberta Gregory, Rick Griffin, Bill Griffith, Rory Hayes, Greg Irons, Jack Jackson, Jay Kinney, Denis Kitchen, Jay Lynch, Victor Moscoso, Dan O'Neill, Ted Richards, Trina Robbins, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Art Spiegelman, Foolbert Sturgeon, Robert Williams, Skip Williamson and S. Clay Wilson.
History and themes
Underground comix reflect the concerns of the 1960s counterculture: experimentation in all things, drug-altered states of mind, rejection of sexual taboos, and ridicule of the establishment. The spelling 'comix' was established to differentiate these publications from mainstream 'comics'. The notion of comic books outside the mainstream was suggested by Harvey Kurtzman when he used the headline "Comics Go Underground" on the newspaper-format cover of Mad issue 16 (October, 1954). The term 'underground comics' was created by writer-editor Bhob Stewart during a panel discussion at the July 23, 1966, New York comics convention. On a panel with Ted White and Archie Goodwin, Stewart predicted the birth of a new type of comic book: "I want to say that just as mainstream movies prompted underground films, I think the same thing is going to happen with comics. You will have underground comics just as you have had underground films. This would be more like James Joyce in comic book form. You can see the beginning of this in some of the cartoon panels that have been appearing in the East Village Other."
Mainstream comics are typically produced by a team (including a writer, a penciler, an inker, a letterer, and an editor), while underground books were often done by a single person. As it can take very long for a single artist to produce a full-length work, many underground artists contributed shorter works to anthology comic titles. A well-known example is the comic Funny Aminals (1972), edited by Terry Zwigoff with short pieces by Crumb, Griffith, Lynch, Spiegelman and Shary Flenniken.
Underground comix were largely distributed though a network of head shops which also sold underground newspapers, psychedelic posters, and drug paraphernalia. In the mid-1970s, sales of drug paraphernalia was outlawed in many places, and the distribution network for these comics (and the underground newspapers) dried up. Although many of the underground artists continued to produce work, the underground comix movement is considered by most historians to have ended by 1980, to be replaced by a rise in independent, non-Comics Code compliant publishing companies in the 1980s and the resulting increase in acceptance of adult-oriented comic books (see alternative comics).
The most popular underground comics have been reprinted many times and can be obtained relatively easily. Many other comix were produced in a single, small print run, and are now rare. Records of comix produced are less complete than those for mainstream comics. A 1982 book, The Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide by Jay Kennedy, is one of only a few relatively complete and authoritative reference works on comix. A small but growing number of university libraries have comics collections, in which underground comics often play a key role.
The term "underground comics" is sometimes used more loosely to also include some contemporary alternative comics.
The underground comics movement also helped to inspire the punk rock movement. John Holmstrom, who started Punk magazine, met Griffith at a comics class taught by Harvey Kurtzman and started his influential fanzine as a result of their correspondence. Holmstrom also published work by R. Crumb and Bobby London in Punk magazine.