An Interview with Victor Moscoso

Rock ’n’ Roll Cartoonists and Equal-Opportunity Desecrators

GROTH: Previously, comic-book artists didn’t really see themselves as artists, in the same sense as you guys did. They saw doing this as work, as a job. They weren’t self-consciously artists. They didn’t care about the original art, for example. They drew it and gave it to the company.

MOSCOSO: It’d end up in the garbage, most of the time.

GROTH: Were you conscious of embodying a different attitude toward the work?

MOSCOSO: I was. And so were the other artists, because they were keeping the artwork too, and selling it.

GROTH: Where did that enormous shift in attitude come from?

MOSCOSO: Directly from the posters. Directly. Because I remember my first poster ended up in the garbage. However by about my tenth or fifteenth, I was keeping them all. By my fifteenth or twentieth, I was in Life magazine. By my thirtieth or fortieth, I was in the Museum of Modern Art.

GROTH: So it was an extension of the attitude you evolved doing the posters.

MOSCOSO: If it happened with the posters, it was happening with the comics, I figured. Actually, there were three, significant countercultural art forms that came out of that era: first, the psychedelic posters, then the underground comics, then the psychedelic album covers. My Steve Miller cover. Crumb’s Big Brother and the Holding Company cover. That’s not psychedelic, but psychedelic comics, because they became a mixture there, obviously. Griffin and I changed horses in mid-stream, from the posters to the comics, and my attitudes went with it. Crumb used to put all of that down, Shelton was very hip to that. We were the rock ’n’ roll artists.

GROTH: In what sense did Crumb put it down?

MOSCOSO: Because it’s not his style. His style is where you put yourself down. Self-deprecating. His style was non-glamour. His style was very different. Whereas Griffin and I were slick, cool. We were masters of our craft and proud of it

GROTH: How did you feel about Raw and Weirdo in the ’80s?

MOSCOSO: Oh, I liked ’em. I liked Raw when it was big. Didn’t like it when it was small. Same thing with Mad. When Mad was a comic book, I liked it. When Mad became that little pocket book? That was it. Actually, when Kurtzman left, that was it. What was the other one?

GROTH: Weirdo.

MOSCOSO: Oh, fine. I thought it was great that an amateur artist could get published. That was great. All of those things, I thought were right on. And extensions of what we had started with Zap. And women’s comics like Tits and Clits. And then, these militant feminist women come around, putting us down. I said, “What? Here, we set up a model that you can use and have used in women’s comics — Tits and Clits, Fresca Zizis, Wimmin’s Comix and a number of titles done by women — we give you the model that you can use and you’re putting us down because of our portrayal of women?” I said “What about our portrayal of men? Is Captain Pissgums the Douglas Fairbanks of pirates?”

GROTH: You’re equal-opportunity desecrators.

MOSCOSO: Really! We fuck over everybody, equally and evenly, men or women! And I’m saying, “You’re myopic! You’re choosing to focus on where we put down women. Well, how many times do we put down men and make them look like fools? Count them; compare them.” Here, these women have the ability to speak their mind, and what do they want to do? They want to shut us down. I said, “You bastards!” Not all the women. I’m talking about those militant ones. Just like all the comics ain’t the same, obviously all the women ain’t the same.

GROTH: Trina’s been pretty vocal about what she considers misogyny in underground comix.

MOSCOSO: That there is misogyny? Of course there is. Who’s arguing?

GROTH: Well, you’re arguing that it’s less misogynistic than misanthropic, aimed at both sexes.

MOSCOSO: It is misogyny. In fact, Wilson even wrote a story about a guy who looks like Mick Jagger and he titled it “Misogyny.” So what? There’s misogyny. What about misandry, the female equivalent of misogyny? Where women put men down. What about that? Is it all right for them to put men down? Do they have the right to hate men? What about that women’s group called S.C.U.M., the Society to Cut Up Men. Do they have the right? Come on! Don’t give me that bullshit. You get a little power, and what do you do? You hit the weakest guys. In fact, you hit your friends. You hit your allies.

GROTH: Well, victims always become victimizers.

MOSCOSO: They do. That’s what pisses me off. There are feminists that would argue what I’m arguing. They say, “Hey now, freedom is freedom. You open the doors, you open doors for everybody, not to just set up a different set of rules.” What the hell’s the difference between the extreme feminists and the Hayes committee or the Comics Code Authority? Let ’em put a list down: “Women shall never be portrayed in any negative way,” just the way the Comics Code Authority said cops should never be portrayed in an unfavorable light. They’re just replacing one set of fascist rules with another set of fascist rules. Great. I’m going to join your party.

Zap’s Unofficial Bottle Washer

GROTH: I’m curious about how it comes to be that a new Zap is published. Who’s the guy who corrals the artists, gets them to do the work, and basically puts it all together?

MOSCOSO: It’s kind of a group effort. I’m kind of the unofficial bottle washer.

GROTH: Someone has to keep track of this stuff.

MOSCOSO: Yeah, I take care of the business because nobody else is taking care of the business, which costs me. I was just watching Ralph Nader: all the CEOs should have to pay for their jobs! Not the other way around. That’s what I do with Zap. It costs me! Those fucking copyrights. I don’t charge for my time. The artists pitch in by doing jams, to which we all raise the money, because that’s the way it works. It’s all our property. So, I’m kind of like the lightning rod. I don’t tell them what to do. I can’t annoy them. What I’ll say is, “Hey, let’s do another Zap.” Or somebody will say, “Hey, let’s do another Zap,” and I’ll say, “OK, let’s do another Zap.” We keep saying that to each other, and eventually we do another Zap. I describe Zap as a democratic anarchy, which seems like a contradiction, but somehow … it is! We are a contradiction. But we’re the longest-running underground comic book going. When I think about it, I think, “Wow, we’re the Rolling Stones of underground comix.”

GROTH: If the last issue is to be believed, and I haven’t talked to Robert [Crumb] about this, he seems to want out.

MOSCOSO: Oh, he can do that any time he wants. That opportunistic scoundrel! I may have slapped him on the arm, for which I apologized. I was wrong. But what does he do? He does a comic strip about it, and then threatens us by saying that this is his last strip and if we don’t print it in Zap he will print it elsewhere.

GROTH: That was a pretty great three strips all of you guys did. Crumb did the strip you just mentioned. You and Spain did a rejoinder of sorts to it, and Mavrides did a two-page strip about it.

The Rashomon of Zap, from Moscoso and Spain’s point of view; panels from Zap Comix #14. © 1996 Spain and Victor Moscoso.

MOSCOSO: Yeah, what I refer to as the Rashomon of Zap. So Crumb then sends us this strip, and he says, “Here’s my next two pages,” ’cause Williams had said, “Come on, join the party. Do a couple pages at least.” So he did. “I’ve had it.” Actually, it worked out real good. I thought Spain put it very well: “Hypersensitive Cartoonists Rend Their Garments over Minor Bullshit.” That is good. Anyway, he sends us this piece, and basically challenges us. I’d already apologized to the guy for laying a finger on him. So here he is — and I thought it was water under the bridge — and he comes out with this bullshit story, which is not the truth. So Spain and I said, “That’s bullshit, man.” So we put our side of the story.

We had just invited Mavrides in. Not only had Rick died, but Crumb doesn’t want to be in it. So we said, “Hey, let’s get somebody else. Who’re we gonna get?” Throwing names around, Mavrides came up. He was already part of the family, having worked with Gilbert on Freak Brothers. And so he heard about the story, so he did a take off on “The Death of Fritz the Cat,” where the ostrich girl stabs Fritz with an ice pick.

Paul Mavrides’ version of events. Also from Zap #14. © 1998 Paul Mavrides

GROTH: That was pretty inspired.

MOSCOSO: It cracked me up! “Hi yourself, mister fucking movie star.” I did say something very close to that. This is good shit, man, for a bunch of old men. We still got our sense of humor about us. And out of a minor incident, and with Shelton’s history of Zap, we got about five or six pages out of it.

GROTH: When you confronted Robert, and you say he was insulting, were you genuinely pissed off?

MOSCOSO: Oh yes, yes. That was the way we normally did it. Crumb would say, “I don’t
want to be in Zap. I don’t want to be in Zap.” Come on man, come along, go to the jam. He’d go to the jam and he would have a great time. We’re not kidding. That’s the truth. When Suzie Bright took her clothes off, it was Robert Crumb who said, “Would you keep your cowboy boots on?” I mean, we’re torturing the shit out of him with that one, right? What the fuck? And he’d keep saying, “Why do you want me in Zap?” We’d have to nag him. I’d say, “Look, Robert, if you’re not in the next Zap, I’m going to tell all the guys, and we’re all going to call you up and we’re all going to nag you.” And he’d say, “Oy vey, OK.” And this was a pattern, so I figured. OK, we’ll both call him up. He knew what was going on. Both Spain and I had left messages on his answering machine, and the reason we did it at that time is because Williams was in town for the show. And so here we could get together, and we all dug actually getting together, face to face, sitting down and drawing and having a good time. And every time that Crumb went to one of those things, he had a good time. He’d say shit like, “What do you want me in Zap for?” And I said, “Because you’re commercial. Come on, now.” And we’d go pick him up. This time, he says, “No. I’m not interested. I have more important things to do.” That’s a quote, man. “I have other plans.” And he just flung ’em on us. He didn’t call up the night before and say, “Hey, look, fellas, don’t come over here, because I’m not going.” We wouldn’t have gone there. Here was the same old story. “OK, Crumb, nag, nag, nag, come on, have a good time, nag, nag, nag.” This time, he actually insulted us by meaning it, and not calling us up ahead of time, and having us drive all the way over to Zwigoff’s place [in San Francisco] — well, it wasn’t that far, but it was the idea —he basically said, “Go fuck yourselves.” That’s what pissed me off. And my misfortune was I happened to be standing right next to him when he said that and it was like a knee-jerk response.

GROTH: So you actually whacked him on the arm.

MOSCOSO: Ahh, I slapped him; I didn’t whack him. It was like hitting a reed in a pond, you know how it just wiggles back and forth? The guy’s a wimp. If he’d been a 6’4” guy, then it would have been all right for me to punch him, but come on, what kind of chickenshit guy is Victor Moscoso that he beats up on a wimp like Robert Crumb? That’s chickenshit. What I should have done is just say, “OK, bye,” and walked away.

GROTH: There was one panel where you depicted yourself as being annoyed at yourself for letting Robert get to you.

MOSCOSO: “He could have called last night and avoided all that. Shit, you let him get to you, Victor.” That’s documentary, right there. That is what I felt and why I was upset, because he could have called. All it took was one phone call to either Spain or me.

GROTH: In all three versions of the story, Wilson just kind of stands around glumly and doesn’t say a word.

MOSCOSO: No, he decided to be apolitical about it. So we decided to put him in our strip, and I figured, what the fuck. Captain Pissgums up, I’ll put a parrot on his shoulder. And have the parrot speak for him. In the last panel, Wilson’s drinking a beer, but the parrot belches.

GROTH: So he wasn’t militant about getting Robert back in.

MOSCOSO: He didn’t want to participate in the strip. At first it was, “Come on, he insulted all three of us.” But Wilson said, “Look, I don’t want to be part of this.” We said, “All right.” Spain and I had feelings about it, since he threatened us with publishing it elsewhere. That’s what did it. So we had a response. If you are called a certain thing, and you don’t respond, you are guilty. That was bullshit, so we had to respond. But Wilson didn’t give a shit, so we included him in there, but not as a participant. He didn’t want to participate.

GROTH: Do you think Robert’s going to be in the next one? What the hell are you going to have to do to him?

MOSCOSO: He doesn’t have to be in the next one. He can stay out of it. I mean, I think it’s going to drive him crazy. He thinks that Zap can’t exist without him? The fool. Is he believing his own publicity? He says he doesn’t want to be in Zap, but he wants Zap to die. He says that. I wasn’t in Zap #9. Rick missed a couple of Zaps. No big deal. All I said was, “I’m not going to have anything for Zap #9. Go ahead without me.” That was it. No big deal. Griffin just didn’t submit anything; we went ahead without him. Crumb has to make a thing of it. See? So, he must care a lot, right? Otherwise he wouldn’t give a shit. He wouldn’t do a strip. So we have to do one more Zap without Crumb, just to fuck with his head. How’s that, Robert?

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