Today on the site, the great Nicole Rudick has a thoughtful, extensive review of The Complete Zap Comix. Here is a sample:
American culture was only just waking up to graphic nudity in its publications, underground or otherwise. Playboy and Penthouse readers were well-versed in the female form, but pubic hair didn’t appear in adult publications until 1970 (though those magazines were showing teasing wisps in 1969). Zap’s clits, tits, and dicks may have been drawn, rather than photographed, but the contexts in which the nudity appeared, particularly in the work of Crumb, Williams, and Wilson, was sexually explicit and, in that sense, freshly subversive. “Anything before that was just some secret thing,” Williams says of Zap’s groundbreaking foray into nether anatomy. In 1969, Bhob Stewart curated an exhibition (the unfortunately titled “Phonus Balonus Show of Some Really Heavy Stuff”) for Walter Hopps at the Corcoran Gallery, in Washington, D.C., and included work by Crumb, Rodriguez, and Shelton. If some of the imagery in Zap had only just been introduced to men’s magazines, then its very public presence in a national museum was astonishing. Williams may have said it best: “They weren’t showing cunts and dicks back in 1970 at a major museum. What the hell?” Hopps’s recognition of Zap’s significance, not retrospectively but when the series was in its prime, testifies to the fact that it wasn’t merely a product of its era but defining force. Rodriguez likened Zap’s importance, and that of underground publications as a whole, to the American Revolution: the “anything goes” attitude, the “fuck you” attitude.
Given Zap’s longevity and its stunning level of influence on individual cartoonists as well as its fearless approach to subject matter, it’s amusing to consider retrospectively the judgment handed down during the 1969 obscenity trial on the East Coast over the sale of Zap #4: that the court was unable to understand how “the cartoonists were ‘original,’ or how they were ‘influencing a new generation of cartoonists’ or how they showed ‘enormous vitality.’” The details of the trial itself occasionally have the flavor of a comic book: the clerks and booksellers accused of dealing the work were discovered by the so-called Morals Squad, and the court declared the magazine a part of the “underworld press.” “It is hard-core pornography,” the court concluded, adding, “perhaps that type of obscenity contains its own antidote and eventually becomes a repetitious bore.” There is some truth to this observation. Though Zap ran for another four decades, it could not maintain the kind of shock in, say, 1994 that it perpetrated on readers in 1969. The years since Zap’s inception have seen a proliferation of graphic and illicit comics, films, novels, and other materials; one wonders if we are capable of being shocked in the way we were forty years ago.
Via Tom Spurgeon, I learned of this interesting Miami New Times piece on the family of Batman co-creator Bill Finger’s quest to earn their forebear recognition.
—Reviews & Commentary. Brian Cremins takes a close look at Zak Sally’s Recidivist Vol. IV, following thoughts laid down by Joe McC. on this site. The Washinton Post’s Alyssa Rosenberg writes about webcomics and alcohol.
Nina Martyris writes about Auden, Rabelais, and Charlie Hebdo. Adam Thirlwell looks at Pussy Riot and Charlie Hebdo, and wonders if art can still shock. Read Nicole’s piece again after going through those.