A History of Underground Comics

A new edition of Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975 is out now from Fantagraphics Books.

One of my pet peeves is comic book readers of a certain age who dislike the term “comix.” If you can’t parse the important difference between comics and comix, then you really ought not even be trying to talk about either in public, because you’re simply not qualified.

Patrick Rosenkranz, on the other hand, is supremely qualified to write about underground comix, their genesis and significance to the artform, and he does so in the gorgeously illustrated new edition of Rebel Visions. His qualifications come from having lived through the era close to the heart of the action, and in fact many of the revealing photos of key underground creators are credited to Rosenkranz.

The narrative isn’t limited by the author’s memories and perceptions, though. Much of the prose consists of quotes from creators like R. Crumb, Trina Robbins, and many others who founded and perpetuated the underground comix movement. The narrative occasionally jumps back and forth in time, as it moves from creator to creator in retelling their firsthand experience, oral-history-style.

It’s frankly a thrilling story that Rosenkranz recounts; the coming-together of the various houses and factions of underground comix creation was almost an accident of destiny, and the resulting explosion of comix spans the spectrum from the most hackneyed of crap to some of the most sublimely brilliant and mind-expanding stories ever told.

Rosenkranz allows the cartoonists plenty of room to relive their memories and share their theories, and the oversized dimensions of the book allow the reader to be immersed in the amazingly diverse examples of art from the era.

The underground comix are a far clearer antecedent to the artcomix movement of today than most modern-day readers probably realize. Fans of Geoff Johns or Brian Michael Bendis would be hard-pressed to find stories from any underground title that would interest them in the slightest, but readers who follow creators like Joe Matt, Chester Brown, Phoebe Gloeckner, James Kochalka or Roberta Gregory would certainly find lots to love about the undergrounds, and will absolutely find much of interest in Rebel Visions, one of the greatest historical recountings ever dedicated to the artform of comics. I mean, comix.

by alandaviddoane  


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