LAIT: But you had another total flip-out experience with another magazine about 10 years later, right?
LAIT: The Realist is my all time favorite publication. In its time, it was all that guys like us had, and. …
LYNCH: But we gotta explain its appeal to us at the time to the comix fans who are reading this interview. Dig. The New York based Zat magazine has, since their inception a few years ago, been running installments of a previously unpublished screenplay by Zoe Tamerlis (comporting materials from Pier Paolo Pasolini) titled Curfew USA. Now in 1986, you won’t find very much stuff as sincere as this screenplay. It’s a noble project. Anyway, in Curfew USA, the following snatch of dialogue appears between the two principal characters:
UNA: “I made the headlines before I had realized myself in the small print. In the contract with myself. With the IT in me. And you say you love me. Love can only be between revolutionaries. Otherwise, Americans live love as a form of hatred where both partners desire each other.”
ALDOUS (pensively): “You mean our act cannot grow from our love, our love must grow from our act.”
LAIT: Wait a minute. You re losing me here. How does this relate to your first exposure to Krassner’s mag, The Realist?
LYNCH: Bear with me. The first time I remember contemplating this concept, which I just stated in the Tamerlis screenplay dialogue that I quoted, was in 1959, when as a 14-year-old I first read Havelock Ellis’s The Psychology of Sex (originally published in 1933). Concurring with Bertrand Russell, Ellis states “… the love of two people for each other is too circumscribed to be by itself the main purpose of a good life. There must be purposes which stretch out beyond the individual couple into the great world outside and into the future, purposes, maybe, which can never be achieved but are always growing.” Or in the words of Lord Russell himself, “It is only when love is linked to some infinite purpose of this kind that it can have the seriousness and depth of which it is capable.”
LYNCH: So by 1960, I had already read a great deal to prepare me for both the psychological and the physiological aspects of puberty. And in 1960, when I first saw The Realist, my “cause” (the promoting and defending of the free exchange of ideas) came into intense focus.
LAIT: But originally there was nothing altruistic about your espousing this cause. Originally you sought out a cause because you thought that having an inflexible dedication to a cause would help your relationships with women? Is this what you’re saying?
LYNCH: By now, who knows? It’s a Zen thing. My cause is part of my superego now. There’s nothing I can do about it. I could never really enjoy making it with a pro-censorship chick, I don’t think. Who knows, though. It might be a weird kick. Take my advice, Jackie. Don’t listen to anything I say.
LAIT: Hey, I respect this stream of consciousness thing, man! OK, so in 1960 you saw your first issue of The Realist. What then? Don’t hold anything back, man. Get maudlin!
LYNCH: So after reading my first issue of The Realist, I was in a daze which almost bordered on frenzied religious ecstasy. Never before had I seen on the printed page the things that heretofore I had thought to be the stuff that only I had thought. Here were ideas in print that I’d never thought would ever see print. It was a total shock to me to see that there was this enclave of people — writers and cartoonists within the pages of The Realist — who had the same thoughts as I did. Here was a magazine that pointed out, through satire, the hypocrisies in the society that nobody else dared even speak of, let alone print discussions of. After digesting every word of the first issue I had seen of The Realist, I was more filled with hope for humanity than I had ever been in my life. I felt I wasn’t alone! There were others! I felt a tremendous love rush. I got a bus and went downtown, and I looked at the people of the city in which I lived in a whole new light. Now I knew my cause. I knew my role in the scheme of things. Since that day, the possibilities of what a free press and the free exchange of ideas could mean has expanded in my mind beyond the limitations of what I had previously thought Thomas Jefferson was talking about. However, in retrospect — I now believe that in all probability Jefferson’s vision (in this area, at least) didn’t preclude any restrictions on freedom of communication, and this thing that was a new concept to me in 1960 was most likely a major step in the manifest destiny of what Jefferson was talking about. So who can tell why we choose our cause? Did the free-exchange-of-ideas cause overtake me out of spiritual reasons — or did I choose it through intellectual means — or was it simply that I happened to be reading The Realist when a hormonal rush overtook me, and had I instead been listening to a Bobby Darin record at that time, would I have devoted my life to becoming a Vegas lounge singer rather than a free press advocate?
GREEN: You got involved with fandom in the early ’60s too, didn’t you?
LYNCH: In about 1961 there was a letter column of Cracked magazine from Joe Pilati. Pilati was publishing a little fanzine called Smudge, which was about humor/satire fandom. Smudge contained articles about the men behind Mad, Cracked, Help, Sick, and other big-time newsstand satire mags that existed at the time. Pilati’s Smudge had a circulation of under 100 copies. It was printed in purple ink on a Ditto machine. Anyway, Pilati sent an issue of Smudge to Cracked, and the Cracked editors printed his letter about Smudge along with his address. I spotted this Smudge plug, as did Artie Spiegelman in Rego Park, Long Island; Don Dohler in Baltimore; Phil Roberts in Michigan; Jay Kinney in Ohio; and a whole group of other young kids who had an interest in this sort of thing. We all got our copies of Smudge, and in the pages of Smudge we learned of other little humor/satire fanzines. Eventually we all sent for copies of Don Dohier’s fanzine, Wild. Skip, Artie, and I all wound up drawing cartoons for Wild when we were kids. It was through this humor/satire fanzine network that we all got in contact with each other initially. So when you look at the big picture, Cracked was responsible for linking us all up into contact with one another very early in the game.
GREEN: Later you were a writer for Cracked?
LYNCH: In the years between 1963 and 1966 I wrote for Cracked. Especially during ’63. I wrote a great deal of stuff for Cracked in ’63. I had moved to Chicago by then, but most of my writing was done through the mail. Once in ’62 I went to Manhattan and visited Bob Sproul, who edited and published Cracked at the time. I guess it was around ’62 that I started writing for Cracked. When Sproul and Betty Martin were the mag, they bought lots of my stuff. Then Joe Kiernan became editor, and I think there may have been budget cuts — or maybe he didn’t like my stuff. I don’t know. All of the sudden I wasn’t writing for Cracked all that much, and I was writing for Sick instead. Then I went to New York and met with Dee Carusoe, who was doing Sick at the time. I liked the fact that when I wrote for Cracked it was mostly drawn by Bill Ward, an artist whose style I liked. Sick would give my stuff to guys like Bob Powell to illustrate, and this didn’t turn me on. Powell was a good artist, but only for the super-hero type stuff. His satire stuff didn’t impress me. Cracked and Sick paid about the same at the time.
GREEN: What did they pay writers then?
LYNCH: In 1963 I got $15 a page. I know that sounds unbelievable by today’s standards — but in 1963 my rent was $30 a month for a two bedroom apartment. Cigarettes were like 35 cents. Playboy cost 50 cents then. Now what is it? Four bucks? In ’63 you could eat for a week on four bucks.
YOE: Many of the pages you wrote for Cracked 23 years ago remain in print today in their anthologies.
LYNCH: Yeah. And they’ve been reprinted months ago I noticed one strip that I wrote in ’63 that Ward drew. It was a one-page thing called “The Chicken Killer.” So a few months ago Cracked reprinted it for about the five-millionth time — but they had Howard Nostrand redraw it. The original Ward version must have rotted away over the years. GREEN: Do you get paid again every time they reprint these pages?
LYNCH: No. But that was the deal back in those days. I liked Sproul. I liked Cracked. Cracked was part of a business where you get paid once and that’s it. Those were the rules, and we played by ’em. With underground comix, you get paid a percentage of sales and you retain your copyrights. With regular comics you get paid once and that’s it. But I have no resentments against Cracked. I lived high on the hog in ’63 thanks to Cracked. Those $15 checks added up to a lot of 1963 money. I had a full — time job in a Chicago department store in ’63, and my annual salary there was like $1500 a year. Today I spend that much on a few weeks’ worth of groceries. It’s a whole different thing now with the money.
YOE: How did all of this lead into the undergound comix scene? How did your involvement with that start?
LYNCH: I was doing cartoons for Harvey Kurtzman’s Help magazine in ’62 and ’63, and in Help I first saw the adult work of Crumb. Now a few years earlier I had seen Crumb’s fanzine Foo, but I kind of dismissed it as being too Disney-like. Skip and Artie and I were doing cartoons for fanzines like Wild and Jack-High (Phil Roberts’ fanzine). Artie was doing a fanzine called Blase, and Skip Williamson was doing a fanzine called Squire. So the zines that Skip, Artie, and I were involved with were all kind of like teenage imitations of Mad magazine. Crumb was doing Foo which was kind of a cross between Mad and Disney. So it wasn’t until Crumb’s work started appearing in Help that I really got interested in his stuff. Also in ’63 I was doing cartoons for Aardvark in Chicago and a magazine called Charlatan in Tallahassee. Both of these started out as college humor mags, and both were kicked off the campus as soon as the first issue came out. Charlatan was published by Bill Killeen, a Kerouacian type guy, originally from Lowell, Mass. At this time, [Gilbert] Shelton was editing the Texas Ranger, a college mag out of the University of Texas in Austin. Jack Jaxon has just published God Nose, and he was working on his own off-campus college mag in Austin called The Austin Iconoclast. I lived in a cheap hotel room in Chicago. I went to Roosevelt University for night courses, got involved with Aardvark mag, took a bus to Tallahassee to meet Killeen, hitchhiked to Miami — where I set up a radio appearance for Killeen on the then fledging Larry King radio show. Charlatan was running reprints of Gilbert Shelton’s Wonder Warthog strip from the Texas Ranger. Help was also running Warthog reprints at this time. Killeen’s girlfriend posed nude in Charlatan, and it got the magazine big national publicity — but when she appeared on Johnny Carson’s show, she forgot to mention the title of the magazine. Anyway, a lot happened during the college humor mag days. And this is when I got in touch with Shelton and Jaxon and a lot of other guys who later became the pioneers of underground comix. Then during this same period, I’d go to Manhattan and hang out with Spiegelman, who later went to Harper College at Binghapton, New York and started a little college humor mag there called Mother. And I’d go to Missouri and hang out with Skip Williamson. And those guys would come to Chicago, and we’d have lots of hip artistic fun.
LAIT: This is when Spiegelman and you started leafleting.
LYNCH: Well, that was in late 1965. Artie and I used to do these wacky projects when we’d get together. This leaflet project may sound pretty trite today, in lieu of the fact that two years later the hippies came along and did lots of similar inane things. But anyway, we thought that since whenever somebody handed you a leaflet on the street in those days it was always an ad, or a political tract, or a religious tract. … We decided to make and pass out totally guileless leaflets. We cut out the dictionary definition of the world “love” and drew a surreal picture around it. We printed it up and passed it out on the streets of Chicago in the middle of winter. It was years before people were conditioned to expect such things from the hippies, who came later. So we had a lot of fun grooving on the confusion of people trying to figure out what the point of our leaflet was. Also — it was a good way to meet chicks. Later, Artie made lots of great leaflets himself. Some were in comic strip form. He became known across the land as the mad leafleteer. It was around this time too, that Artie and Skip and I were experimenting with surreal comic strips. These were printed in various literary mags of the day. I did a few for Nexus, a San Francisco-based literary mag.
YOE: And how did your involvement with underground comix evolve from all of this?
LYNCH: Well, by ’67 I was editing and publishing a mag called The Chicago Mirror with Skip Williamson. This was a satire mag for hippies — which was like a contradiction in terms, since the hippies en masse seemed, by this time, to totally lack a sense of humor. By ’67 hippiedom had become a national fad and converts to it were predictably humorless. So we were doing The Chicago Mirror, and Crumb sent me a copy of the first Zap. Skip and I were impressed by Zap #1, which was the first underground comic I guess you might say. So we changed the Mirror to Bijou Funnies — since we wanted to do comics anyway, and since our readers really couldn’t tell where we were coming from with the Mirror. As we were putting together Bijou #1, Shelton was out in Austin putting together Feds ‘N Heads comics. In the beginning, I guess we figured that these things would only be locally distributed — so some of the same material of Gilbert’s is in Bijou #1 and also in Feds ‘N Heads #1. Then the whole Yippie thing started, and Crumb came to town to check out the Yippie scene at the ’68 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. He stayed at my pad, and he drew some stuff for Bijou #1. I was working at a commercial art studio doing diarrhea suppressant ads then. I spent a week’s pay to print Bijou #1. We got a guy named Lenny on the southside to print the book. Lenny had a four-color press. We bound it ourselves in Lenny’s print shop. The rest is history.
GREEN: So there was Zap, Feds ‘N Heads, Bijou, and from there it just grew.
LYNCH: Yeah. Within a year there were a hundred titles. Within two years 300 titles, and so on until it peaked. Then the proliferation of titles began to dwindle, and ultimately it stabilized. Today it’s a viable industry. So where’s my cut?
GREEN: You sound bitter.
LYNCH: No. I am just kidding. We all learned a lot about the business end of it during those years. We gained valuable knowledge, and we got to communicate with our peers. Also I made many a lifetime friend. It was through this underground comix thing that I met Denis Kitchen. When Bijou got big, we joined forces with Denis’ company. Just last month I went out to Kitchen’s farm in Wisconsin to celebrate his 40th birthday with him and all the cartoonists from around the area. I got to talk at length with Reed Waller there. To me, this guy is one of the best guys working in the field today.
YOE: How do you think some of the original underground comix material stands up by today’s standards?
LYNCH: Well, when we first saw Crumb’s early stuff ... I really liked Zap at the time it came out, because it was a thing where Crumb would be taking images from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s — images from our youth — and he’d put them in a modern context. He’s put these images in contemporary situations. You know. Jokes about hippies and drugs and sex and things of the late ’60s. There was something extremely haunting about it at the time, because nobody but Crumb was doing it. Red Grooms was doing a similar type of thing then. Grooms made a film called Fat Feet, which was very much in the same vein as Crumb’s late ’60s stuff. Grooms was doing this for an effete art gallery-type of audience, though. Crumb was speaking to the masses through the comix he did, so to me Robert’s stuff was more interesting because he had the potential to influence society more.
YOE: But today the Crumb-style of art work may not be so radically different. He has influenced a number of artists who today are drawing like him.
LYNCH: I still like Crumb’s stuff. But I know what you’re getting at. It’s like with animated cartoons. In the early ’50s when everything was really smooth animation. Then UPA came out with the Gerald McBoing Boing and Mr. Magoo cartoons, which used limited animation, and these had a fantastic appeal because they were unlike anything else that was around then. Nobody else was doing limited animation then, so at first this UPA stuff was very rare and therefore valuable. But the years go by, and today when you turn on the TV on Saturday morning, everything is limited animation. So Gerald McBoing Boing and Mr. Magoo and those UPA things that were so radically unique in the early ’50s have now lost their appeal due to an overexposure of the style. I work from 9 to 5 at a toy company in Chicago these days. One of the things that makes this job fun is that I work with Jim Engel, who is a great funny animal cartoonist — and a very clever guy. Now Engel is maybe 30 years old, so the whole EC thing was before he was born. I’ve discussed this with him, and although he likes EC art — the stuff that really gets him on a cellular, emotional level is stuff like the Yogi Bear Sunday pages and The Jetsons. So I think what can be concluded from this is that whatever it is that you’re reading when you’re a little kid that flips you out then, whatever that happens to be, that’s what’s gonna be it for you. For Jim it was Yogi. For me it was [Will] Elder, Ernie Kovacs, Eloise Macklehone, and a whole other set of associations.
LAIT: I’ve known you for 25 years — and I’ve noticed that every woman I’ve ever seen you with looks kind of like Imogene Coca, and …
LYNCH: Yeah. Or Eloise Macklehone. Can I help it? Who am I to defy my original programming. But look, it’s still possible for a woman to be beautiful by the standards of our society, and still kind of look like Imogene Coca, right?
LAIT: I can’t decide if your taste in women is a perversion or a blessing. I mean ...
LYNCH: I like women who look like the women I draw. Readers! Send Polaroids! This is a contest. Whoever sends a picture of themselves that looks exactly like the women I draw wins something. A year’s subscription to Psychoanalytic Review! How else can I profit off of this interview? I haven’t got very much product out there on the market these days. At least maybe I can meet women. Send pics, readers.
YOE: Bijou Publishing Empire is still in business, isn’t it?
LYNCH: Yeah. Today we sell reprints of Foo, the 1959 fanzine put out by Robert Crumb and his brother Charles. These are individually numbered sets. Part of a limited edition. They cost $18 postpaid from Bijou Publishing Empire, Inc., 3516 Merchandise Mart Station, Chicago, Illinois 60654. Yeah. We gotta get in some plugs for stuff in this interview. Otherwise, I feel guilty about wallowing in my own thoughts on the printed page without any profit motivation to it. Such self-indulgence only invites negative vibes from people who read this. We must sell stuff to justify all of this.
YOE: Your Phoebe & The Pigeon People books are currently available.
LYNCH: Yeah. There are three issues. They’re available at fine comic book stores throughout the nation.
GREEN: In the underground comix you wrote and drew the adventures of the characters Phoebe & The Pigeon People, which appears weekly in The Chicago Reader newspaper. How does the writing of a weekly strip differ from the writing of comic book stories?
LYNCH: Well, Phoebe has to be a joke a week. It’s a different thing than Nard ‘N Pat in that Nard ‘N Pat was long stories with a lot of dialogue, and those stories didn’t necessarily have to have punchlines. Phoebe pretty much has to have a punchline every week. Even if we get involved in a continuity situation in Phoebe, there still has to be a gag a week in addition to the continuity. Gary Whitney draws Phoebe. I just write it. With Nard ‘N Pat, I drew many hundreds of panels of a man, a cat, and a chair. When I had the idea for Phoebe about nine years ago, I didn’t want the tedious task of drawing it because originally — for the first year or so — it was just a woman, a bench and some pigeons. Then I met Gary, and we combined forces. After the first year, Phoebe got up off the bench, and now the strip has evolved, and there are dozens of regular characters in it. It’s a whole little universe unto itself.
YOE: What is this “You get what you draw” philosophy of yours?
LYNCH: Well, lately I’ve been into this idea that drawing a comic strip is a form of visualization, and ... why don’t we just reprint this thing from the Chicago Reader’s letter column here. One of the readers complained that Gary and I drew ourselves into the strip wearing tuxedos and appearing too wealthy-looking, and we answered him by articulating our “you get what you draw” theory.
YOE: So have there been any positive benefits to this “You get what you draw” thing?
LYNCH: I don’t know if we can use our powers for our own personal gain, but ... well, in the ’60s we advocated that the war in Viet Nam should end — and it did.
YOE: As an accomplished artist yourself, and certainly Gary too, do you sometimes find it frustrating? Do you sometimes see a visualization of the artwork and it comes out differently when Gary draws it? Exactly how does this work relationship between you and Gary work?
LYNCH: It doesn’t come out differently. We’ve done over 400 Phoebe strips. It’s almost as if we can read each other’s minds. Gary lives in Wilmette (a suburb of Chicago) and I live in the city. Every Saturday I telephone a strip to him. I describe the panels and give him the dialogue, and he draws it and drops off the finished art at the newspaper offices on Monday. I don’t see it until Thursday when it’s printed. I’m seldom surprised. I mean, I know pretty much by this point how Gary is going to do it. It’s strange. The first year I did roughs and mailed them to Gary. But eventually, there seemed to be little point in that, so I switched to the telephone method. Gary is great. He knows how to arrange the panels — and the picture within the panels, to deliver the maximum effect.