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Two shows celebrate the raw world of underground comics, past and present

Wednesday, Jul 24 2002
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The revolutionary Underground Comix artists of the 1960s and '70s forged a free-expression zone where radical politics, drugs, violence, and especially sex -- the more salacious the better -- were fair game. Inspired by the irreverence of Mad magazine, the original nasty boys (women were part of the scene but not as prominent) emerged from the hippie counterculture, psychedelic reveries, and anti-war protests. "Zap, Crash and Burn: Underground Comix and the Bay Area," a new show at the Cartoon Art Museum, celebrates the work of more than 40 of these artists.

Terminally politically incorrect, they produced work that was defiantly outside the mainstream and adult in nature. (The "x" in "Comix" was for X-rated.) The Big Daddy of them all was the much-emulated Robert Crumb, whose Zap Comics is credited with launching the underground. The Zap anthologies assembled a loose confederation of fellow provocateurs, including Gilbert Shelton, S. Clay Wilson, and Spain Rodriguez, among others.

Trina Robbins, dubbed the "Queen of the Underground," founded the all-female anthology Wimmen's Comix, a platform for addressing sexual politics of the underground. Robbins' work is also part of "Fantastic! The Art of Comics and Illusion," a series of exhibitions at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Many artists have supplied six- to eight-page pieces that tell complete stories. Books, animation, and multimedia installations are also on display. Among the high-profile talents: Lynda Barry, Mary Fleener, Art Spiegelman, and Dan Clowes. To top it off, Chris Ware has designed a new work for YBCA that has been enlarged into a 30-foot mural.

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Sura Wood

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