Zap: An Unpublished Gilbert Shelton Interview

Zap: The Interviews, Volume 9 of The Comics Journal Library, hits stores this month, collecting all the Zap-related Comics Journal interviews, plus several previously unpublished conversations with the Zap cartoonists. In celebration of this release, we’re going to do something a little different. Instead of sampling the book with excerpts from the interviews, we will be supplementing the book with interviews that didn’t quite fit into the 264-page anthology. Please enjoy an unpublished Zap-related conversation with Gilbert Shelton conducted by Patrick Rosenkranz June 6, 2012 in Paris, France. (All art by Shelton unless otherwise noted.)

ZAP #16

PATRICK ROSENKRANZ: What kind of award are they giving you in San Diego?
GILBERT SHELTON: The Will Eisner Lifetime Achievement Award. [Will Eisner Hall of Fame]
ROSENKRANZ: Wow. That’s great.
SHELTON: They’re paying my way over there.
ROSENKRANZ: The only thing wrong with a Lifetime Achievement Award is they think it’s almost over.
SHELTON: Yeah, well, maybe it is. No, I’ve done some new stuff for Zap #16, if that ever comes out.
ROSENKRANZ: I talked to Paul Mavrides recently and he said there was a possibility that you and he were doing another Furry Freak Brothers story.
SHELTON: That’s right. I’ve got an eight-page Freak Brothers story. Phineas becomes a suicide bomber.


From the 16th issue of Zap: “Phineas Becomes a Suicide Bomber”

ROSENKRANZ: That will be the longest story you’ve done for Zap in a long time.
SHELTON: There will also be a nine-page Wonder Wart-Hog story in Zap #16.
ROSENKRANZ: Wow. You’re going to dominate the issue.
SHELTON: Well, [S. Clay] Wilson’s not going to be contributing much. I hear Spain [Rodriguez] is under the weather too. Moscoso, as you know, is busy on the anthology. That’s what you’re working on, right?
ROSENKRANZ: Right. Fantagraphics has asked me to write the Zap story in 20,000 words and also help you guys put your biographies together.
SHELTON: OK. Fine. You’re as knowledgeable as anybody on the subject.
ROSENKRANZ: I’m still an outsider, but I kept my eyes open. Last time you and I talked was 20 years ago almost exactly. I came to your studio on the rue François de Neufchâteau. Do you still have that little studio?
ROSENKRANZ: Afterwards, you told me to go take a look at Père Lachaise and I did.
SHELTON: Did you visit Jim Morrison’s grave?
ROSENKRANZ: I found my way there by following the graffiti and the young people.
SHELTON: Yeah, this way to Jim.
ROSENKRANZ: It was strangely moving. I thought, that rock star. Fuck him. But it was drizzling and there were those people standing around his grave. I just found myself very moved by the whole thing.
SHELTON: It’s a sad story.
ROSENKRANZ: I wanted to ask you some specific questions. How do you feel about the Zap anthology coming out?
SHELTON: Gosh, I don’t know. It’s going to be a $100 book, but I guess Gary Groth knows what he’s doing.
ROSENKRANZ: Let’s hope so. It will be on good paper for the first time.
SHELTON: Significant portions of it are going to be upside down. They’re going to follow book by book, exactly as they were printed, right?
ROSENKRANZ: I assume so.
SHELTON: So that’s sort of weird. I never did like that idea, what Moscoso called 69 issues.
ROSENKRANZ: I think there were two of them that had upside-down sections.
SHELTON: Yeah, #15 and #3. Maybe some more. I don’t remember.
ROSENKRANZ: It’s going to be a little harder to turn a big hardbound book around than a comic book.
SHELTON: Yeah, exactly. But whatever.
ROSENKRANZ: Do you think there are going to be any Zap comic books afterwards? Or is that the end of the line?
SHELTON: I don’t know if #16 is going to be in the anthology or if it’s going to get finished but we’re working on #16. Of course Zap doesn’t sell as well as it used to at its peak when it sold a lot. Our British distributor says he sells about one copy a month now.
ROSENKRANZ: Oh boy. That’s down from the peak all right.
SHELTON: That was really selling like hotcakes there for a while and the Print Mint actually paid royalties, so we all made a lot of money at the golden age of underground comix.
ROSENKRANZ: Moscoso said #16 will appear in the anthology but will not be a separate comic book.
SHELTON: That’s probably a better idea. That will be some slight incentive to buy the anthology, if it has some new pages that are not available elsewhere.
ROSENKRANZ: You know they’re calling comic books pamphlets these days? They don’t call them comic books any more.
SHELTON: No. Pamphlets?
ROSENKRANZ: Pamphlets. That’s what the distributors refer to them as, like Diamond Distributors.
SHELTON: That’s strange. The vocabulary of comics is lacking in English. I was reading a bit of the comic book that was our eighth-grade history book and it’s a big comic book. They didn’t want to call it a comic book or a funnybook so they called it Texas History Movies, which is pretty weird.
ROSENKRANZ: I’ve got a couple of those editions.
SHELTON: Yeah, that was a really well-done book. It was a daily strip in the Dallas newspaper. Texas history was a mandatory course in every eighth grade and everyone had that book for a textbook.
ROSENKRANZ: I know Jaxon always wanted to do one of those.
SHELTON: Yeah, he did something like that or he worked on a re-edition of Texas History Movies. They had to go back and censor it a little bit. It was politically incorrect. Like the Belgian comic Tintin, they had to change the dialogue in the later editions.
ROSENKRANZ: And some of those depiction of Africans.
SHELTON: In Texas History Movies, they had to take out the word greaser and put in Mexicans.
ROSENKRANZ: You’re happy about the Zap anthology right?
SHELTON: Yeah, I guess so. It’ll make it seem like a prestige item.
ROSENKRANZ: Do you think that will increase the chances of the Zap artists being recognized in art history — the fact that it’s being put out in a deluxe hardcover edition?
SHELTON: It can’t hurt. It’s a thing of the past, but it was very important in comic-book history.
ROSENKRANZ: You’re probably better known for your Freak Brothers than you are from your connection to Zap.
SHELTON: I was happy to be invited to join Zap. I think we sold a lot more Freak Brothers than Print Mint did of Zap Comix, but they sold a lot of copies.
ROSENKRANZ: I notice there’s only one Furry Freak Brothers story in Zap. It’s on the inside front cover of #5.

Zap #5 IFC crop

From Zap #5

SHELTON: That’s because of the conflict of interest with two different publishers. Since I was a part owner of Rip Off Press I felt obliged to contribute more to Rip Off Press than to the Print Mint.
ROSENKRANZ: Did that Freak Brothers story later appear in one of the Freak Brothers reprints?
ROSENKRANZ:   There was a little “Micro Mini” comic along the bottom of it. I don’t know if that was filler or it was done on the same page — a little jam called “Micro Minnie”?
SHELTON: I don’t remember. How does it go?
Zap #5 IFC crop2
ROSENKRANZ: It looks like several people worked on it, even though there are no signatures. It doesn’t follow a story. There’s a guy talking to a woman and he puts on a duck bill. Then there are some Wilson characters beating up a Crumb character. There looks to be a little monster of yours.
SHELTON: I don’t remember that at all. That’s a filler on a Freak Brothers page?
ROSENKRANZ: Yeah, on the inside front cover of Zap #5 at the bottom of the Freak Brothers story about where they set a trap and Fat Freddy sets off the trap and a bowling ball falls on his head.
SHELTON: I just barely remember that. If I can find a copy of #5 I’ll have to go back and look to see what you’re talking about.


SHELTON:I don’t suppose you have a copy of Zap #1 printed by Charles Plymell, do you?
ROSENKRANZ:   No I sure don’t.
SHELTON: You know the underground comix price guide says that’s worth $10,000.
ROSENKRANZ: A friend of mine sold one recently for $12,000 to the CEO of Nike.
SHELTON: That’s amazing.
ROSENKRANZ: One time I was in [Don] Donahue’s office in 1972 and he had a whole box of Plymell Zaps and I asked him how much are you selling those for? He said 10 bucks apiece and I remember thinking at the time, “Who would pay 10 bucks for that?” I should have bought all 30 of them, if I had 300 bucks.
SHELTON: You’d be wealthy today. If you tried to sell all 30 at once, it would probably bring the price down.
ROSENKRANZ: There are some that were damaged in the fire at the Opera House that have also become highly prized collector’s items now.
SHELTON: Because they’re damaged?
ROSENKRANZ: Yeah, because they’re charred.
SHELTON: That was a busy day at Mowry’s Opera House.
ROSENKRANZ: Can you describe to me where and when you saw your first copy of Zap Comix?
SHELTON: I was in Austin and someone brought back a copy from California and I thought it was a great idea. #1 and #2 inspired me to do Feds ‘n’ Heads Comics in Austin. Before that I had thought in terms of newspaper pages for comics and didn’t think about doing a comic book, a pamphlet as they say. For Feds ‘n’ Heads I got a guy with a multilith press, an 11-by-17 press, legal-size paper, and printed 3,000 copies, one page at a time, which I folded and stapled by hand. That was the first edition of Feds ‘n’ Heads.
ROSENKRANZ: So you saw Zap #1 and Zap #2 at that time?
ROSENKRANZ: Do you remember who it was who brought them back?
SHELTON: It was Houston White. He was one of the owners of the Vulcan Gas Company, the rock venue in Austin that I was the art director for and did posters for.
ROSENKRANZ: So you saw the one that was all Crumb and the one that had the three new people.
ROSENKRANZ: How did you come to be invited to join them?
SHELTON: I can’t remember. I really can’t. I was in San Francisco and I don’t know. I remember it was me who wrote the letter to Robert Williams inviting him to join later, but I don’t know who invited me.
ROSENKRANZ: That’s what Williams told me. He said he wrote a letter through Print Mint to get to you and Crumb and that you wrote back saying, “I’ve got nine pages or eight pages if you want them.” Spain said he was staying with Crumb in ’69 on a visit to San Francisco and Crumb said, “Why don’t you do a story for Zap?” And then a year later he was living there.
SHELTON: I first met Crumb in New York in 69. I was working for The East Village Other and the Gothic Blimp Works. Spain lived in New York and Crumb was there. Spain brought Crumb over to my apartment. I knew who Crumb was. I’d been following his career for years from Cavalier magazine and Head Comics but I never actually met him until December of ’69.
ROSENKRANZ: Maybe ’68?
SHELTON: No, I think it was ’69. I’m pretty sure it was ’69. I’d driven out to New York from California.
ROSENKRANZ: Your old girlfriend Pat Brown showed me some notes that you’d taken where you wrote down the words from some of Crumb’s strips like “Stoned” and “Goof On It,” like you were studying his text.
SHELTON: I was very impressed by Head Comics, less so by Fritz the Cat. I liked Fritz the Cat but I was really blown away by Head Comics and then later Zap Comix. Pat Brown just died, by the way.
SHELTON: Back in Austin, I had been publishing a little magazine called The Austin Iconoclastic Magazine and, in New York in 1965, another guy who was working on the magazine with me had met Crumb. He said, “I just met this strange, fantastic cartoonist. He’s very good, but he does cartoons about animals,” and this was considered very unsophisticated at the time.
ROSENKRANZ: Funny animals. Can you remember how the Zap Collective was formed, when you all decided you would own it jointly? I’m trying to understand how that happened exactly.
SHELTON: I don’t remember. Probably just like it still is. Victor Moscoso was the chief organizer. It was probably his idea.
ROSENKRANZ: Spain described it as very generous of Crumb to share ownership of that comic with the rest of you.
SHELTON: Yes, I suppose so. He could have called it his own and no one could have complained.
ROSENKRANZ: There were no formal papers or anything like that?
SHELTON: No I think it was just a gentlemen’s agreement.
ROSENKRANZ: It did seem to cause some conflict afterwards about new people getting in. You’ve gone on the record as saying you wanted to open it to more people.
SHELTON: Victor was against it. I can’t remember the position of everyone else.
ROSENKRANZ: Wilson didn’t want to open it up either. Something about too many slices of pie. At that time when you were doing work for Zap, before you’d started your Furry Freak Brothers comic books, what did you see as the best possible future for Zap and the other underground comix?
SHELTON: I probably didn’t think too much about the future: that it would be a national success and bring about a revolution in everything.
ROSENKRANZ: You didn’t worry about getting arrested or sued or busted?
SHELTON: Not too much. I remember Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the owner of the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, got busted for selling Zap Comix and he paid a $400 fine and he kept on selling them and they never said anything else. That’s about the only example I can think of Zap Comix getting busted. Over in Berkeley, there was Cy Lewinski who had an art gallery and he had an exhibition and was selling copies of Snatch Comics and he got busted for that. It went to court. It went to trial. The definition of pornography in California is that it has to be of prurient interest and no one on the jury would admit to being aroused by Snatch Comics. It got a Not Guilty verdict.
ROSENKRANZ: I remember that display. It was at the Phoenix Gallery, I think.
SHELTON: I don’t remember the name of the gallery.
ROSENKRANZ: I was there, looking at all the art on the walls and I remember everything was for sale for $25 a page.
SHELTON: You should have bought some R. Crumb back then.
ROSENKRANZ: If I’d had $25. Your stuff has gone up pretty high too. On eBay a Shelton original page is at least $3-4,000 now.
SHELTON: There are not many available. I don’t have many of those pages left.
ROSENKRANZ: I think you said somewhere that someone in Great Britain bought a bunch of them up.
SHELTON: Not that I recall. I sold some here in France and in Belgium. I don’t remember selling a bunch of them anywhere.
ROSENKRANZ: One came up recently on eBay that was a flyer for a party … I think at your house. It was a nice little piece.
SHELTON: I think someone sent me an e-mail of that.
ROSENKRANZ: It must have been pretty exciting during the first few years of Zap when it was selling well and you were getting notoriety and there was a show at the Corcoran Gallery. Can you describe how that was — that whole exciting period?
SHELTON: It was interesting that there was interest in the world of fine arts for comic books. It died down, but it’s coming back again. Robert Crumb has a big show at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris.
ROSENKRANZ: Have you gone to see it?
SHELTON: Yes. It’s a big show, including hundreds of pages that I’ve never seen before. It’s a collection of some New York collector who apparently bought a lot of Crumb’s stuff a long time ago. I can’t remember his name.
ROSENKRANZ: It wouldn’t be Eric Sack, would it?
SHELTON: That’s who it is. It’s hard to be more prestigious than the Museum of Modern Art in Paris. My wife, Lora, is Crumb’s agent and she said getting that show lined up was a job from hell.
ROSENKRANZ: I bet there was some opposition from the board of directors. What was the tough part of the job?
SHELTON: Keeping Crumb in line and Crumb doesn’t want to do interviews, but occasionally he gets off his leash. In one interview, when he was off his leash, he said, “The director of the museum doesn’t even know who I am.”
ROSENKRANZ: Which might have been true.
SHELTON: It probably was true, but not a very diplomatic thing to say.
ROSENKRANZ: You were getting royalty checks from Print Mint on a monthly basis for a while, weren’t you?
SHELTON: Yeah. That was the good times.
ROSENKRANZ: When did you notice things slowing down?
SHELTON: In the late 1970s, I would say.
ROSENKRANZ: There was that three-year gap between issues in 1978. That might have had something to do with it.
SHELTON: I don’t know. In the underground comix business, comics used to be sold in head shops along with pipes and hookahs and everything. Then several states decided that these head shops could say they were selling tobacco supplies, but the fact that they were selling Freak Brothers comics, it seemed like an instruction book for smoking marijuana. The head shops quit selling comics, but fortunately at about that same time, comic-book stores started appearing and that took up the slack, but there were years there where it was difficult for our distributor to sell stuff.


From “Winter of ’59,” which appeared in Playboy in 1974 and was collected in Thoroughly Ripped with the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in 1978

ROSENKRANZ: I was running a head shop in Portland in 1969 and I was selling a lot of comics and the FBI would come in periodically, but they never bothered me on that particular issue. They would confiscate all of my American flag rolling papers and draft card rolling papers and just generally lean on me.
SHELTON: How could they do that? I guess they could do whatever they wanted to do.
ROSENKRANZ: They were always these really big guys — 6 foot 4 or more. They were intimidating.
SHELTON: There was a funny story at Rip Off Press that someone over in Berkeley had been printing counterfeit $100 bills and the Treasury agents came over to Rip Off Press and wanted to have a look around. Dave Moriarty — they had one of those Rip Off Press currency notes — it was some sort of advertising thing, I think. The Treasury agent said, “Actually we knew it wasn’t you, because your bills are much better printed than the counterfeit hundreds.”
ROSENKRANZ: And they had Dealer McDope in the middle of them.
SHELTON: That’s right. That was the one.
ROSENKRANZ: We had $100-bill rolling papers too, and they also confiscated them.
SHELTON: At the time it was against the law to publish any kind of facsimile of US currency. It’s not any more, but at the time, Dick Gregory dollar bills and everything were considered illegal.
ROSENKRANZ: I remember those. You could actually use those in vending machines.
SHELTON: Maybe that was why.
ROSENKRANZ: Did you sell them in your store in Austin, the Underground City Hall?
SHELTON: When I had the head shop in Austin, it was before the age of underground comix. That store still exists as Oat Willie’s.
ROSENKRANZ: I think they’re probably all online now, aren’t they?
SHELTON: I don’t know. Oat Willie’s still sells underground comix and pipes and everything. They’ve never been harassed to my knowledge.
ROSENKRANZ: Was it difficult for you to produce work for Zap when there was such a demand for new Furry Freak Brothers material?
SHELTON: Yeah, a lot of times I would do just one page.
ROSENKRANZ: I have a list here of the work you did in Zap. In some issues you only had one or two pages.
SHELTON: I’m very slow. I was hoping that Robert Crumb would take up the slack, which he did.


From Zap #7

ROSENKRANZ: Wilson told me once that the reason there was so much time in between issues was, first of all, because you guys were busy doing other work, and secondly, some of you worked at different speeds.
SHELTON: Crumb is twice as fast as I am when I’m working as fast as I can. We were sitting at the same table one time and he watched me draw for a minute and he said, “Quit picking up your pen and looking at your work. Just keep drawing and it will go a lot faster.” And he’s right. I have to stop and gaze at it every few seconds.
ROSENKRANZ: So he advised you to go straight from the brain to the fingers?
ROSENKRANZ: Well, I guess that works for him.
SHELTON: He knows how to draw things and I don’t. I have to look at a picture of a hat before I can draw a hat, for example.
ROSENKRANZ: I read something where you were teaching a class and you asked your students to draw elephants and the only person who was able to draw elephants without looking up a picture of them was someone who had grown up with elephants.
SHELTON: That was Frank Stack who told that story. He was an art teacher for a long time at the University of Missouri.
ROSENKRANZ: It was in that Comics Journal interview he did with you, I think in 1996. I asked Robert Williams what he thought the common denominators were between the seven Zap artists and he said, “Well, they are completely different people, but they all shared a common psychosis and an aversion to authority.
SHELTON: Yeah, that’s good. I couldn’t give a better answer than that.
ROSENKRANZ: What did you feel you had in common with the others in the collective?
SHELTON: We never called it a collective, I don’t think.
ROSENKRANZ: That’s the word Moscoso uses.
SHELTON: OK. We all knew one another in San Francisco. I met Williams when I was living in Los Angeles. I was living in Venice and we became good friends down there but the rest of the gang lived in San Francisco and we went to the same parties and so on. That was the common denominator I guess.
ROSENKRANZ: Who did you spend the most time with?
SHELTON: Wilson lived close to me, so I could see more of him. Rip Off Press would have big parties every month and a lot of the guys would come to these parties and we’d see one another there at Rip Off Press.
ROSENKRANZ: What would you say are some of the major differences in the way you approach your work than the other Zap artists?
SHELTON: Everyone has their own way of working. Every now and then we get together and do a jam session. I really don’t like jam sessions very much. I think this was mainly Moscoso’s idea.
ROSENKRANZ: Oh really? I always assumed it was Wilson’s. He’s the one who likes to collaborate so much with everyone.
SHELTON: I like to collaborate, but I want it kept under control and to have a direction, not just everyone filling up whatever white space there is.
ROSENKRANZ: I noticed that you were only in a couple of the jams. There were a number of them you missed.
SHELTON: Were there?
ROSENKRANZ: In fact the last one you were in, it looks like they sent you the blank panel to finish rather than you being there with the group.
SHELTON: Yeah, because I was here. Victor cut up the pages and mailed the pieces around. In a way that was better for the continuity than all of us working on the page at the same time.
ROSENKRANZ: He said he would photocopy all the existing work and then send blank pieces of board to you or to Robert Williams or whoever wasn’t around.
SHELTON: Yeah, that’s what he did on the most recent one.
ROSENKRANZ: Did moving to Europe affect your participation in Zap?
SHELTON: Not so much. We’re still in touch. There hasn’t been all that much participation in the last 20 years or so.
ROSENKRANZ: You even missed a couple of issues.
SHELTON: Did I? No, I don’t think so.
ROSENKRANZ: For Zap #11 you did the back cover and that’s all. Zap #10 you did two pages. Zap #12 you did one page. Zap #13 you did that “Graveyard Ghost” story, which was a really interesting drawing style by the way. Was that something new for you?
SHELTON: It’s just a realistic style. In a lot of cases, I’m copying photographs, but I went to art school and studied drawing, so I can draw a little bit.
ROSENKRANZ: I really like that style in “Graveyard Ghosts.” All that crosshatching and detail. Man, that was really nice.
SHELTON: It’s very elaborate. Did you find all the references to the word ghost in those pages? That’s sort of the punch line.
ROSENKRANZ: No, I missed that. I have to go look again.
SHELTON: There are all these different words for ghost and spirit and phantom, et cetera.
ROSENKRANZ: The Wonder Wart-Hog stories you did in the first two issues: Were you graduating Wonder Wart-Hog to the underground at that point?
SHELTON: I was impressed by Zap Comix but Wonder Wart-Hog had always been very weird and was capable of taking off in any direction. Since I was doing those especially for Zap I tried to make them more Zap-like. They certainly weren’t like Wilson’s or Crumb’s stuff.
ROSENKRANZ:The Mutholode Smut Ring” was certainly more X-rated than any before that.
SHELTON: Maybe so, but it wasn’t very strong compared to Wilson, say.

Zap #4

From “Wonder Wart-Hog Breaks Up the Mutholode Smut Ring” in Zap #4

ROSENKRANZ: That’s true as far as extreme goes, but it was that story about Wonder-Wart-Hog that got my book Rebel Visions busted at the Canadian border. They called it bestiality.
SHELTON: But Wonder Wart-Hog is actually a human being.
ROSENKRANZ: I liked that story where you brought him back with his alter identity in Zap #15, where Philbert couldn’t change into Wonder Wart-Hog until the real warthog came out.
SHELTON: The main difference between me and the other Zap cartoonists is that my primary aim was to be funny. I can’t see as how the other Zap artists had that sort of sense of humor that causes you to laugh. Some of it’s funny. Some of Crumb’s stuff is funny, but it doesn’t make you laugh. It might make you chuckle a little bit, but none of them was belly-laugh stuff. That was something I picked up when I was working at the student humor magazine at the University of Texas, The Texas Ranger. We had some very funny guys working for that magazine.
ROSENKRANZ: That’s one of your primary goals … to be funny?
SHELTON: Yes that’s right.
ROSENKRANZ: I’d say you succeeded.
SHELTON: Thank you.
ROSENKRANZ: What were some of the best things about being part of the Zap group? What did you like best about being associated with that group?
SHELTON: I felt proud to be part of such a group of distinguished cartoonists. I’d have to say in those early days it was the most prestigious of all the underground comix.
ROSENKRANZ: You certainly set the standards for the rest of them, as far as draftsmanship and experimentation and iconoclasm.
SHELTON: There was a little bit of everything in Zap Comix. It was the idea in general of breaking all the rules. I think it was Robert Crumb’s idea to go down the list of the Comics Code Authority rules and break every one of them.
ROSENKRANZ: Williams also said that after he joined Zap and watched new people come into the underground comix movement he didn’t see that same sense of what he called a recalcitrant personality. That something else motivated people at that point, but that the Zap cartoonists all shared it, that you didn’t want to cooperate with authority.
SHELTON: And we didn’t want to cooperate with each other either, on the jam sessions. I tried to push the jam sessions into a story line but no one wanted anything like that.
ROSENKRANZ: Wilson’s girlfriend Sabeth told me that when you guys got together for those jam sessions, there were constant arguments.
SHELTON: Wilson liked to argue with whomever he could argue with. He would argue with Gail Moscoso and he would argue with Rick Griffin and so on. I don’t remember any arguments.
ROSENKRANZ: He did enjoy conflict, that’s for sure. Rick Griffin can’t talk to me either, and I don’t think you knew him really well, but can you tell me some things about him?
SHELTON: He was a very good cartoonist. He did Murf the Surf for Surfer magazine down in Los Angeles. Then he started doing rock posters and somewhere along the line he took LSD, and this influenced his style very much. He was really way out there. You’re right, I didn’t know him very well. I don’t remember even talking to him very much.
ROSENKRANZ: What do you remember about his decision not to appear in a couple of Zaps? He skipped a few issues.
ROSENKRANZ: Do you remember anything about his decision to come back to Zap even though he had been born again?
SHELTON: No, I don’t. He was closest to Victor Moscoso. They worked together on rock posters.
ROSENKRANZ: The funny thing is, Victor told me that they worked together, but they weren’t really friends. They never did anything social together, which surprised me. He never went surfing with him. That was the real acid test … to go surfing with him.
SHELTON: Rick got us into a Bill Graham concert one time. That surprised me, because Bill Graham was famous for not letting anyone in for free. He wouldn’t let Janis Joplin in for free the week after she played at his club.
ROSENKRANZ: Did you guys go in through the back entrance?
SHELTON: Yeah. I think it was a Grateful Dead concert.
ROSENKRANZ: That’s funny. Did you go down to San Clemente that time some of the other guys did to try to convince him to come back to the fold?
SHELTON: No. In fact, I was unaware that he had ever left.
ROSENKRANZ: They say he was a slow drawer and a slave to his muse and if the story didn’t come, it just didn’t come.
SHELTON: He was extremely meticulous. He would draw with a Rapidograph pen, but he would go over and over on the lines until it looked like they’d been drawn with a brush.
ROSENKRANZ: The results are what count.
SHELTON: That’s what I say.
ROSENKRANZ: What do you think are some of the most important things that came out of Zap Comix?
SHELTON: The fact that it existed and was the beginning of the breaking of the monopoly of mainstream comics. That’s what I would say: The most important thing about the underground comix was it broke up this monopoly of distribution.
ROSENKRANZ: I’d have to agree with you on that. The fact that you came up with alternate distribution systems was the only thing that allowed them to be sold.
SHELTON: That and the fact that the artists own their own artwork. That was another revolutionary thing that made the mainstream comics have to do the same thing.
ROSENKRANZ: The young guys just take that for granted now.
SHELTON: There was a time when they threw all those pages in the wastebasket.
ROSENKRANZ: Is it the same way in France? Do the artists own their own work done for the comic magazines?
SHELTON: The artists own their own artwork, but, depending on the publisher, there are different arrangements.
ROSENKRANZ: I also wanted to ask you about the gallery exhibits for Zap. What do you think were some of the best ones?
SHELTON: At the Gallery La Luz de Jesus in Los Angeles. I think that was probably the best one. Did you know about that one?
ROSENKRANZ: I knew it happened. I don’t know much about it.
SHELTON: I can’t remember much myself, but that was an interesting gallery and had a big crowd and all the people were there. I can’t think of any other gallery shows that Zap has had.
ROSENKRANZ: There have been about 10 of them. There was that big one at the Psychedelic Solution in 1989.
SHELTON: That’s right and that was fun too. Allen Ginsberg showed up and there were a thousand people out in the street waiting to get in. I asked Ginsberg, “How did you get in?”
And he said, “This is my neighborhood, man.”

Then the cops came in and looked around and said, “We can’t do anything about noise complaints until 11 o’clock, but we just wanted to see what Robert Crumb looked like.”
ROSENKRANZ: There was a large gallery space and there was a second room where you guys could retreat?
SHELTON: There was a back porch, fortunately, a little back room. It was so crowded it was almost impossible.
ROSENKRANZ: They say the line went around the block. Moscoso said he never thought New Yorkers would be that excited. They would be more blasé, and yet they all showed up.
SHELTON: That was a good show. What else? You say 10?
ROSENKRANZ: Yeah, the first one was at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC in 1970.
SHELTON: We weren’t there, I don’t think.
ROSENKRANZ: There was the Lawrence Hult Gallery in San Francisco.
SHELTON: I don’t remember that one.
ROSENKRANZ: The people I talked to said it was a bust. The guy didn’t advertise it very well. The event at La Luz de Jesus — was that a daytime thing or a nighttime thing?
SHELTON: Nighttime, I think.
ROSENKRANZ: What did you like so much about that one? Your friends showed up?
SHELTON: Yeah, my friends showed up. Matt Groening came. I met Matt Groening and we sat around drinking wine … or stood around that is. Galleries aren’t supposed to have chairs.
ROSENKRANZ: I’d have to look at my list of other shows, but there were quite a few of them over the years. There was that Phoenix Gallery that we talked about earlier. I think that was among the first ones.
SHELTON: One time, a lot of us went down to Los Angeles where Tony Bell was the part-owner of a bar. Tony Bell is the artist who worked on Wonder Wart-Hog. The other owner of the bar was an airline pilot, so they got us free airline tickets down to the Ore House Bar in Los Angeles, where we painted on the walls — Crumb and Spain and I and Robert Williams and Wilson, and Jim Franklin, the Texas artist was there.
ROSENKRANZ: Kim Deitch said he was there too.
SHELTON: We painted all these beautiful paintings on the wall and one week later it was all ruined because this guy who got kicked out of the bar came back with a firebomb and threw it in and ruined a lot of the artwork.
ROSENKRANZ: Do you have any pictures of them?
ROSENKRANZ: Do you think Zap made any mistakes? If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently?
SHELTON: No, I don’t think so.
ROSENKRANZ: So the idea of closing it off to all but the seven … you still agree with that?
SHELTON: I didn’t care all that much and to tell the truth I don’t know who else we would have got. Maybe Kim Deitch. Maybe Bill Griffith. Maybe Frank Stack. But that didn’t happen.
ROSENKRANZ: Your buddy Jaxon wanted to be in there as well.
SHELTON: Yeah, Jaxon and a number of others. Willy Murphy was funny. He was one of the few funny underground cartoonists.
ROSENKRANZ: His stuff always made me laugh. Harry Kirshner. “The Snatch ’n’ Hammer Kids.” He’s almost forgotten now.
SHELTON: He wasn’t very prolific.
ROSENKRANZ: You never exercised your veto power then?
SHELTON: What veto power?
ROSENKRANZ: If someone wanted to submit something to Zap and one of the Zap cartoonists didn’t want him or her in they could veto it.
SHELTON: I never knew that to happen. It was generally decided that we limit ourselves to the seven existing participants.
ROSENKRANZ: Did you participate in the discussions about replacing Rick Griffin after he died?
ROSENKRANZ: So no one passed it by you if Mavrides can join?
SHELTON: No. Of course, I would have said yes. Nobody asked me.
ROSENKRANZ: Maybe because you were out of town.
SHELTON: It’s probably because Victor Moscoso is taking most of the responsibility and I think Moscoso and Mavrides are good friends.
ROSENKRANZ: Moscoso told me that during the discussions he also brought up the names Manara and Moebius.
SHELTON: Yeah. I certainly wouldn’t have vetoed either of those guys. Moebius is dead now. He died a few months ago.
ROSENKRANZ: Dark Horse Comics is publishing a nine-volume set of Manara’s comics in English.
SHELTON: He’s a great artist. There are a lot of European artists who would have been good enough for Zap but nobody asked me.
ROSENKRANZ: I remember that studio of yours very well. There was sort of a display in the front window and all that space you had back there.
SHELTON: Not a huge amount of space, but it’s enough room to draw comics in.
ROSENKRANZ: Mavrides told me you opened it up as a gallery for a while.
SHELTON: That was part of the plan. I fixed it so I could hang things on the wall, but I haven’t really had an official show. We’ve had a couple of publication parties here.
ROSENKRANZ: You also had a nice display of all the pirated spin-offs of the Freak Brothers — statuettes and cigarette lighters and I can’t remember what else. Are there any action figures that you’ve officially sanctioned?
SHELTON:  Yes, from the company Bombyx near Paris. They’ve done the Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy’s Cat.
ROSENKRANZ: Was that a while ago?
SHELTON: That must have been 10 or 15 years ago — little figurines. I don’t know what you mean by action figures.
ROSENKRANZ: That’s what I mean — figures. Robert Williams has that Coochy Cooty action figure. I call it that because you can move the hat around and you can change the right arm. Burnco I think was the name of the company that did his. There is an S. Clay Wilson action figure prototype that was made of the Checkered Demon, but he refused to let them license it.
SHELTON: I wonder why.
ROSENKRANZ: I guess he just didn’t like any of that commercial application, but Lorraine’s thinking about it now to raise some money.
SHELTON: He could probably sell some Checkered Demons. I’d buy one.
ROSENKRANZ: I’d buy one.
SHELTON: Of course, Robert Crumb has had a lot of different ones.
ROSENKRANZ: There’s a guy here in Milwaukie, Ore., who apparently designs them. Crumb comes here periodically to approve them — the Catholic School Girl, the Devil Girl, the Mr. Natural Lamp. There’s a bunch of them.
SHELTON: Jesse Crumb was doing that for a while, but I don’t know. Maybe it was too much for him to handle.
ROSENKRANZ: I notice that a number of your stories are like music. They seem to be song lyrics. “Don’t Blow That Whistle.” “The Hairmobile.”
SHELTON: Yeah, those were supposed to be songs.


ROSENKRANZ: Do you still play the piano?
SHELTON: Every once in a while. I don’t have my weekly bar gig any more. That was too much work.
ROSENKRANZ: Oh you did that for a while. The same place in Paris?
SHELTON: At a local bar in my neighborhood. The bar lost its license for making too much noise.
ROSENKRANZ: I bought that record recently that you did about the Hell’s Angels. I got a copy on eBay.
SHELTON: That’s pretty bad.
ROSENKRANZ: Well, it was fun to hear it.


3 Responses to Zap: An Unpublished Gilbert Shelton Interview

  1. Pingback: Comics A.M. | WonderCon announces first wave of 2015 guests - Robot 6 @ Comic Book ResourcesRobot 6 @ Comic Book Resources

  2. Paul says:

    I love the interview! Is there anyway I could get contact information for Gilbert ? I am a cartoonist I. Santa Barbara Ca. And would love to work / talk with Mr. Shelton. If you could forward my information ( Paul Kops kovic8@mac.com (805)895 4279) I would be eternally grateful!
    Paul DeBruyn Kops

  3. Mark pucalik says:

    Is it possible to have Gilbert address in France?

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