Zap was a hippie comic book that blew everyone’s mind.
On February 25th, 1968, Robert Crumb could be seen peddling a strange new kind of comic book out of a baby carriage on of the corner of Haight and Ashbury in San Francisco, the epicenter of the hippie phenomenon then circling the globe. Zap was the cartoon extension of all the other social experiments and art forms feeding off each other at the time, including rock concerts, light shows, psychedelic posters and acid tests.
Zap tested the legal boundaries of free expression by indulging in outrageous fantasy and imaginative violence in its dope-induced yarns. The hippie readers may have come to the magazine for validation of their anti-war, anti-pollution, pro-drug, back-to-nature values, but Zap dared to critique and satirize the messy cultural and social work-in-progress as well -from the underground’s canned and militant “us versus them” to the more troubling and existential “are we them?”- the satirical finger was now simultaneously pointed outward and inward, making the audience and authors legitimate targets.
The exhibition will only include works by Crumb and those artists who joined him in the original Zap lineup: Robert Williams, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Spain Rodriguez and Gilbert Shelton.
Robert Williams is an accomplished painter as well as the founder of Juxtapoz Magazine. His work was included in the 2010 Whitney Biennial. Rick Griffin (the only deceased artist in the group) is most widely recognized for his long association with the Grateful Dead, for whom he completed several album covers, posters and logos.
Victor Moscoso studied at The Cooper Union and at Yale under Josef Albers, employing Albers’ color theories in his optically vibrant counterculture posters. S. Clay Wilson, Gilbert Shelton and Spain Rodriguez all had previous association with underground comix such as East Village Other, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Captain Piss Gums and Perverted Pirates.
Zap Comix remains the best known anthology of its kind, and it continues today (number 15 at last count). Every few years a new issue is published when the artists have completed enough material. The focus of this exhibition is those early Summers of Love (and Haight), when the original seven begat their visionary deconstruction of the comic book with remarkable innovations in storytelling and drawing.
Gary Panter is an illustrator, painter, designer and part-time musician. He made his mark in the ’80s as head set designer for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, a job which brought his jagged art and surreal cartoon ideas into the homes ofAmerica and earned him three Emmy Awards.
Chris Byrne is an independent curator. He is the former Chairman of the Board of the American Visionary Art Museum and, in 2008, co-founded the Dallas Art Fair. This past fall, he organized the exhibition Peter Saul: 50 Years of Painting at Haunch of Venison in New York.