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Underground Comix

The term "underground comix" describes the art form which originated in the US in the 1960s. Usually sold in what were known as "head shops," underground comix generally reflected the rebellious mood of the 1960s counterculture movement: down with the establishment; make love - not war; drugs; rock n’ roll; women’s liberation, and eventually save the whales and most of the other social issues of the day.

Although there were a few earlier books (the term underground comix hadn’t even been invented yet), Robert Crumb’s Zap Comix # 1 is generally considered the one which started the whole underground comix movement. It was first published in February, 1968. Soon after, many different titles appeared with most selling as fast as they could be produced. Underground comix reached their pinnacle just a few short years later in the early 70s.

Although still being produced, 1973 saw the beginning of the end for underground comix. The counterculture which gave rise to this new medium was changing: the revolutionary and rebellious years were over, the war in Vietnam was winding down, the market had become flooded with new (and many would say often inferior) titles, a newspaper shortage forced production costs up, and probably the biggest factor - the Supreme Court ruling which allowed local communities to set their own standards as to what was obscene or pornographic. This caused what had been the largest means of distribution for underground comix - the heads shops - to stop carrying them. They could not afford to be shut down or the possible court fights which would ensue for carrying such items.

Underground comix continued to be produced throughout the 70s and later but the lofty sales figures they had reached in the early 70s was clearly over. They did, however, give rise to a new form of comix - the so-called "newave" or "alternative" comics.