Underground comics (or "comix") are small press or self-published comic books that first emerged in the 1960's
. They came about as an artistic response to the mainstream, Comics Code Authority approved comics, which focused on superheroes, war, romance, and juvenile humor, while ignoring many of the real-life issues affecting their readers. Underground comics took on these topics forbidden in the mainstream, including explicit drug use, sexuality and violence. They were most popular from the late 1960's to the early 1980's
Underground comics were popular with the hippie counterculture and punk scenes. Produced by people like Robert Crumb
, Gilbert Shelton, and Gary Panter, the comics tapped into the zeitgeist of the youth culture, exploring themes of distrust in government, the horrors of daily life, and the fading of the American Dream
Underground comics gained prominence and influence, as is evidenced in such works as The Movie
of Fritz the Cat
, Down and Dirty Duck
and Monty Python's Flying Circus
. Also, Zippy The Pinhead
and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mirage
originally began as underground comics before gaining mainstream success (in Zippy's case, syndication in newspapers, whereas the Turtles were basically commercialized and pimped out by major corporations). Even mainstream comic books weren't immune, and took on underground themes, as with Howard the Duck
. Their legacy is most obvious with Alternative Comics
, the genre's Spiritual Successor
This movement helped to kick off the Furry Fandom
early on due to the sheer number of attempts to subvert the belief that "all comics are Funny Animals
" that was pervading the mainstream comics industry in the 70s, by basically taking those characters and putting them in adult or sexual situations.
Still other underground comics were important not for the sex and violence, but because they could be experimental in other ways; exploring subject matter that was mundane
rather than fantastic, or experimenting with
the medium of comics itself
As the comic industry has matured (or at least become more tolerant), these pioneering works have lost some of their original power
; Slice of Life
, extreme violence
, and sex
have all found their way into mainstream comics nowadays, but that doesn't mean these comics are any less important or entertaining.
- American Splendor: Early on. Later published by Dark Horse Comics and Vertigo Comics, an imprint of DC Comics. A pioneering autobiographical comic focusing on the life of its creator and writer, Harvey Pekar, with art drawn by many underground cartoonists, including Frank Stack and Robert Crumb.
- Isaac M. Baranoff: Modern day underground cartoonist known for Funny Animal comix and violent horror stories. Creations include:
- Vaughn Bode was a very early, and, until his premature death in 1975, extremely popular underground cartoonist. His Cheech Wizard comics were a regular feature in the National Lampoon, and he was an influence on filmmaker Ralph Bakshi.
- Das Kämpf, from 1963, was one of the very first underground comics.
- Cheech Wizard: A philosophical talking yellow wizard's hat interacts with anthropomorphic lizards and attractive babes; inspired a limited special edition shoe and matching hoodie from Puma, a custom toy from Kidrobot, a lot of graffiti artists and a line in Beastie Boys' "Sure Shot".
- Cobalt 60: A lone mutant riding a two-legged beast across a post-apocalyptic wasteland.