The Nowhere Snob Accidentally Gets Into Comix
GROTH: What was your interest in comics at this point?
MOSCOSO: My interest in comics was not much, other than my entertaining my children.
GROTH: Well, with reference to the six-panel sequence that appeared in Radical America Komiks, you wrote me a note saying, “This is how I got into comics as an adult, as entertainment for my 4-year-old daughter, circa 1965. Usually I would ask her what the characters were saying and put it in balloons.” Expand on that a little, because it was really entertaining your daughter that revived your interest in comics.
MOSCOSO: When I was into my fine-arts painting, any comic-book influence that would appear in my paintings, I would purge, because it was not art. That’s what happens when you become a snob. You close yourself off from opportunity. That’s what’s wrong with being a snob. Fortunately, I got rid of that one, otherwise I’d still be a snob and nowhere. A nowhere snob!
GROTH: So when you were doing the posters, and you were involved with Rick Griffin, you really weren’t interested in comics.
MOSCOSO: No, I was interested in the movies. I had seen Antonioni’s Blow-Up. And, when I saw that movie, I said, “I know how he made that movie.” I can’t explain to you any better than that, but I understood how he made the movie, which meant that I understood how I could make a movie. And I said, “That’s what I want to do. I want to make movies.” And where this first shows up is in the Pablo Ferro poster, which is a six-panel sequential poster. Pablo Ferro is a high-school buddy of mine, who I looked up in ’67 and we hit it off. We were on the same wavelength. He was doing the titles for Dr. Strangelove, the refueling sequence, when the planes are hooking up together and the music is “Try A Little Tenderness,” and the final sequence, which is when the atom bomb goes off, and the song is “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when …” I thought that was Stanley Kubrick. It was Pablo Ferro. And I didn’t bother to look at the credit for who did the titles. And meanwhile he’s collecting my posters, especially my Neon Rose posters. But he doesn’t know they’re mine because he can’t read the signature. So we meet, and here we are digging each other’s work, not realizing it, and he says to me, “Hey, I’m sending out a Christmas mailing, will you do me a poster to send out instead of a card?” And I said sure. Now, this is after I had seen Blowup, and I had decided I was going to get into movies. So I said, “All right, you’re in movies; I want to do movies,” I said to myself, so I’m going to do a sequential poster, like a storyboard. And not only that, but I made it move by making it a red-blue motion poster, that if you flash red-blue lights on it, he’s playing the violin, so I have two key positions for him, in each panel, playing the violin. His cousin and his brother, who worked in the company, come in, put flowers into the violin case. My wife, dressed in a butterfly costume, comes flying out of the violin case. That’s the story.
He was working on 57th Street in New York. After I figured out what the storyline was going to be, I told him we needed a butterfly costume. Pablo says “OK, there’s a costume shop across the street.” I love New York for this. So we walk across the street and say, “We need a butterfly costume.” He says, “We got two. Which one you want?” We picked out one. I mean, can you imagine walking across the street and asking for a butterfly costume and getting it? It’s far out. Anyway, we did all the principal photography of Pablo and all the people involved. Pablo hired a professional photographer and used his studio, but we did our own direction and did our own acting for the still photographs. So I came back with the photographs for the layout; all I had to do was put it together.
Gail and I show up at our door on Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco, open the door and what do I see, but Rick Griffin’s comic-strip poster, the one that he did that was in imitation of the Sunday Chronicle pages. It’s Family Dog #89. On the top where it would say San Francisco Chronicle Funnies, it says, The Family Dog. And what is it? It’s Walt Disney on acid. The balloons say nothing, or say “foreign” languages that you can’t read. It knocked me out because here I’m doing a sequential poster in New York — no one had been doing sequential posters to this point — and Rick is doing a sequential poster in San Francisco, at the same time, without knowledge of each other. I look at it and said, “Boing!” And soon after, we got together and because of his cartoon influence, I changed from live-action photography, which is a hell of a lot more trouble, especially sequences and stuff like that — it’s like making a movie — I then picked up where I had left off with my daughter and my comic. I’d been drawing Mickey and Minnie and Donald, but the one that they show in the SDS thing is not Mickey Mouse, it’s a character that has Mickey Mouse ears that he takes off. So then Rick and I did a poster for the Pinnacle in L.A., which was a comic-strip poster, especially at the bottom.
That’s where we got the idea to do a comic magazine. This was before we ever saw Zap. Zap was first published in March of ’68, but we didn’t see it ’til that summer. So we did this poster, then started work on “Luna Toon,” my strip, and “Hike,” Rick Griffin’s strip. All the work had already pretty much been done before Zap #2, although we were going to mix them together. When we saw Zap #1, what I was really taken with was the newsprint. See, Rick and I were thinking of good paper, color, much more expensive. The posters were selling for a dollar. Zap #1 sold for 35 cents, only 36 pages. Crumb also invited S. Clay Wilson, who showed up in town just at that time, to do something for #2. It’s interesting how these things just happen. Nobody can design things like that. Rick and I were going to do a comic magazine because of Rick’s comic-book influence on me.
We were working on “Luna Tune” and “Hike” together. We were going to intermingle the panels. The panels are the same, if you’ll notice, in Zap #2. But since Crumb and Wilson were doing their own strips, Rick and I figured we should do our own strips, like they’re doing. That way, there’ll be four individual artists, rather than one collaboration and two individuals. So we separated the stuff, and then we did some other pages, because we didn’t have the full 48 pages completed. So, we filled in the book — knocked it out real quick, too. It’s interesting, because with the posters we were very fast, and we carried that speed right into the comics. Later on, it was going to get heavy and slow down, but at that point, both Rick and I were producing whatever it was that we were doing very quickly. And that’s how I got into the comics — by accident.
GROTH: What was your reaction when you saw Zap #1 for the first time?
MOSCOSO: I said “Far out!” I was familiar with Robert Crumb’s work because I had seen it in Yarrowstalks, a tabloid that came out of, I believe, Philadelphia. And when Gail and I were in New York in ’67, I saw Crumb’s work, like “Life Among the Constipated.” I couldn’t tell if it was an old man drawing young, or a young man drawing old. Just like the old-time comics on acid. Crumb was very enamored of the archaic comics, the early comics and early newspaper strips, just like he was with early music. I was already familiar with his work, but what really got me was the format. Color cover, newsprint inside. Not only that, black and white.
GROTH: What impressed you so much about that?
MOSCOSO: Its cheapness! Cheapness equals availability. Availability equals distribution. You can get rid of millions of them for 50 cents. If we had to charge $5, we wouldn’t have sold as many. That’s what I saw. I looked at that and I said, “That’s it!” Not only that, it smelled like comics when I was a kid. Newsprint has a certain smell, a certain feel. I love that cheapness.
GROTH: It sounds like you thought you could do this without going to a big corporation. You didn’t need a huge investment.
MOSCOSO: Yeah, we didn’t need a big sponsor, and we could control our work. And the deal we made with the Print Mint, with Don Shenker — not with Bob and Peggy Rita; that was a different story entirely — the deal was Don would pay for the printing and the film. Film was ours; copyright was ours and, after he paid off all of his expenses, we would split the profits. Artists would get half, and the producer would get half.
GROTH: Bob and Peggy Rita owned Print Mint. Who’s Don Shenker?
MOSCOSO: Don Shenker owned the Print Mint prior to Bob and Peggy. He sold it to them, which I’m sorry about, because they didn’t appreciate comics in the same way that Don did. In fact Bob and Peggy hated comics, but loved the money. I wish Don Shenker had stayed on. Bob and Peggy tolerated the comics because of the money. They kept telling us that royalties had to go down because of all of their expenses.
GROTH: Typical new-owner whining. So, you had a second epiphany with Zap.
MOSCOSO: Kind of, yeah, ‘cause here I am in the comics. I wasn’t a comic-book artist; I was a poster artist. Next thing I know, I change horses in mid-stream.
GROTH: Now tell me how you hooked up with Crumb.
MOSCOSO: He invited us in. He knew who we were. After all, we were famous. Griffin and I were famous in Zap #2. Zap #1 was a sellout on the Haight-Ashbury. He printed up, what, a thousand comics on a multilith machine. The maximum size is probably 11 by 17, max, if that big. Actually, it’s probably a little smaller than that, because the first Zaps weren’t even trimmed; they were just folded into signatures, stapled and sliced. I have one copy. I gotta get Crumb to autograph it. Make it more valuable.
GROTH: So, he found you.
MOSCOSO: He found me. It was because of me and Griffin being in Zap #2 that made it so easy to get the backing. And where were they distributed? The Print Mint was to be the distributor. They were distributed in poster shops, where Moscoso and Griffin posters were selling like hotcakes. Anything with Moscoso and Griffin on it, at that time, would sell. So, we come out with a comic. Who are these guys? Crumb, Wilson — holy shit! “Head’s First.” God! That’s disgusting, and then Zap #3, “Captain Pissgums And His Perverted Pirates?” Oh my God! This is going to ruin our children.
GROTH: Your work never had that perverse quality to it.
MOSCOSO: Nah, I’m too normal. I did some sexually explicit stories. Rumpelstiltskin was one. That was after I did a Rumpelstiltskin job for a textbook company. It’s like drawing in jail, working for a textbook company. So then I did my Zap version, where she fucks everybody.
GROTH: Exorcise those demons.
MOSCOSO: Hey, that’s the other side of the coin. So, I got into it, but not the way Crumb and Wilson did. They were taking on the taboos straight on. And at that point I thought the taboos were all illusions, until Crumb did “Joe Blow.” Then I realized, OK, you can chop off a guy’s penis and eat it. That’s all right. But you can’t fuck your children. There are limits in this civilized society. It’s interesting. That’s the way it works. The comics sold even more because of it, of course, but you couldn’t buy it over the counter.
GROTH: I think one of the reasons Zap worked so well is because you had so many
sensibilities that cohered beautifully together.
MOSCOSO: That’s what I loved about Zap. There was another place that it worked really well — jamming, because each artist had their turf covered so ego didn’t enter into our drawings when we drew together. I don’t remember any ego problems, because we were all equals. We were not impressed by Crumb, the way some people might be impressed by Crumb, because he was just another artist. I don’t give a shit if he created the format for Zap. Rick and I were famous before he was. You’re not going to impress me, buster. I was not intimidated. In fact, I did him a big favor, by helping make him a star faster than he would have been otherwise by tying into the poster distribution, which bypassed the Mafia, Marvel, and DC.
GROTH: Now, when you say poster shops, do you also mean head shops?
MOSCOSO: Poster shops became head shops. First a poster shop, then a poster/head shop, then a poster/comics/head shop, and then after the posters died off, it was the comics/head shop. I’m sure there are exceptions, but that’s roughly the progression of the system of distribution.
GROTH: How did Crumb get a hold of you? Did he just call you up?
MOSCOSO: No, he and Rick ran into each other. Rick showed me a copy of Zap #1, which really impressed me. He says this guy Crumb, whose work I knew, wants us to be in the next issue. We were already doing it. Rick told Crumb, when he invited us in, “You know, we’re already working on a comics magazine.” And he said, “Well, would you like to join this one?”
GROTH: Where and how, specifically, did you first meet Crumb?
MOSCOSO: I probably went with Rick over to his house. All this time I thought he was a Philadelphia artist. All this time, he’d been on Clayton Street, just a few houses off of Haight. He was there all the time. He had been brought there by the posters, like many other artists. The posters were the banners, and they brought all the other artists. And then the comics became the banners, and they brought more artists. The music was doing the same thing.
GROTH: What was your impression of Crumb when you met him? Did you get along well?
MOSCOSO: He thought we were the greatest, man. We were his heroes. After all, ultra-modernistic, abstract expressionist funnies, Zap #1 was his response to Rick Griffin’s comic-strip poster. He saw that, he went home and he drew that strip. So, here we are, the big honchos of the poster trip which is what brought him out here. And so we were his heroes. Oh, he was very nice to both of us. Not like now. [Laughter.] Then he had some civility and respect.
GROTH: How soon they forget.
MOSCOSO: How soon they forget.
GROTH: At some point, you must also have met Spain and Wilson.
MOSCOSO: That was later on. First I met Wilson. He showed up in town. I might even have met him before I met Crumb. He came over to my house, again, because of the posters. Here he comes from Kansas, beckoned by the posters, and comes over to my house and he shows me the work that he’s doing. I still have that lavender portfolio of pirates he gave me. I gotta get his signature too. He called me up. That would happen a lot. An artist would say, “Hey man, I’m an artist and I really dig your work, can I come over and show you my work?” I’d say, “Sure. Come on over,” and that’s how I met Wilson. I think I met Crumb at his place with Griffin.