From the Vault: Rebel Visions
I haven't been able to do much at P&P lately. To make up for it somewhat, I thought I'd start posting up older comic and game reviews done in my pre-blogging days, starting with this review of Patrick Rosenkranz's excellent history book, "Rebel Visions."
"REBEL VISIONS: THE UNDERGROUND COMIX REVOLUTION 1963-1975"
by Patrick Rosenkranz
Fantagraphics Books, 300 pages, $39.95.
Along with lava lamps, love beads and LSD, underground comic books -- or comix, as they were known at the time -- were an integral part of the hippie landscape in the late 1960s to early '70s. Such titles as "Zap," "Bijou" and "Rip Off" were required reading for those who tuned in, turned on and dropped out of middle America, and artists including Robert Crumb, Robert Williams and Rick Griffin enjoyed celebrity status in the counterculture movement.
Until now, this side note of '60s culture has rarely been scrutinized by historians. Thankfully, Patrick Rosenkranz's excellent "Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975" does a good job toward alleviating that oversight.
Beginning in 1963, the book follows the misadventures of various would-be artists and troublemakers who were loosely linked by a love for satire and the funny books they grew up on. Through college magazines and later assorted underground newspapers, these cartoonists found a venue to explore their own odd muses rather than follow a more traditional path into comic strips or superheroes.
The floodgates opened with the arrival of Crumb's "Zap Comix" in 1967, which gave everyone else the go-ahead to explore every kind of neurosis, psychosis and dirty thought their unleashed id could allow. Unexpectedly, these books were a hit, and suddenly, comic books became hip; something to read while expanding your mind.
The book does a good job showing how cartoonists sought to break whatever social and political taboos they could and why. (As a result, the art reproduced here ensures that this is an adults-only book.)
Rosenkranz managed to get interviews with just about every significant cartoonist from this period and then some. Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Art Spiegelman and many others reminisce and offer their thoughts on the period. Unfortunately, the author spends so much time jumping from here to there and from artist to artist that the reader is in danger of developing whiplash.
In the interest of keeping a solid chronology, not enough space is spent looking at the aesthetic merits of certain artists, who fall by the wayside next to the larger, better-known names.
For better or worse, these cartoonists helped to alter not only the world of comics, but also American popular culture in general. As Rosenkranz so aptly points out, magazines such as The National Lampoon and TV shows such as "Saturday Night Live" owe a debt to these perverse little books. Thus, it's not just comic book fans who will get a kick out of "Rebel Visions." Anyone with an interest in this period of American history will likely enjoy this book.
Copyright The Patriot-News