Anti-Art in the Seventies: Underground Comix

Editor’s Note: Rated M For Mature Audiences the following column deals with adult subject matter including drugs, subversion, graphic violence and strong sexual content.

by Tippy Van Helsing

When Henry asked me to pen this column he only had one edict: write about whatever you want as long as it pertains to dadaism. We agreed that since I’d experimented with existentialist, nilhism, astral projection and mind expansive chemicals in the late 1960s and 70s I could incorporate it all with my love of that great art form, dada. The anti artist in my was thrilled. In the 1970s, when Henry and I met, we made an agreement that since both of us aspired to become writers whomever succeeded first would help the other. I went away and became more interested in screenwriting than my novel, Summer is Melting. Henry, too, went a different direction from short stories to novelizations of them, but without success.

Thanks to his partner, Natalia, for inspiring him to bring Rosenbush Cafe to the worldwide audience it may one day reach. Henry’s idea is pure dada. Breaking rules as to what you do with an art form, and clearly blogs and websites have become the 21st Century equivalent, is how original dadists succeeded. In my next entry, I’ll explored to dada movement, but for now some deconstructive ideas.

DadaDadaZ, my username when I played spades and hearts online in the late 90s, has become my pseudonym. I chose it to illicit conversation and many players wanted an explanation. It gave me a brief opportunity to share the movement with strangers throughout the planet. Maybe they became interested but I at least introduced them to something different.

Dada is subconsciously manifested throughout the internet. I’m certain some webmasters or owners know there is a surreal touch to their sites. There are the intentional ones but also the idea that today anyone can site at a computer at home and operate a virtual business without renting office space. The space rented is invisible, yet tenable. You create your own deadlines with your own online printing press.

The mixture of Henry’s categories will become more focused as more entries and photos are added. For now, his cats are a major draw and deservedly so. Riotous stuff and he really does have all the cats he described! If any dadaist wanted more anti artistic felines, Henry has them on staff!

My interest in dada dates back to 1969-71, when I was a student at the University of Alabama and lived in The Henry Apartments. At that time, the apartments had a mix of tenants from a few radicals to a Viet Nam bound ROTC. It didn’t take me long to find that several other tenants smoked pot and indulged in mushrooms. After an evening with James and David, two serious students but serious dopers, too, convinced me to have some tea in Apartment B, my dada days began to root.

For anyone who has ever tripped, ‘shrooms are a serious mind altering substance. Well, James had picked a good bunch in Pickens County – west of Tuscaloosa County – and boiled up the tea. We had all smoked few joints earlier and were philosophically high. Although much of the evening is fuzzy, as expected with the excellant quality of the west Alabama ‘shrooms, one thing always shines through; our conversations about Salvador Dali, the great surreal artist, who was also one of few true dadaists to make the transition from dada to surrealism.
Persistence of Memory

Dali’s dreamlike artistry was unadvoidable with the largest poster in David’s livingroom, The Persistence of Memory, which is intricate enough without the drugs. We all mellowed nicely and began commenting of the probability that Dali had an view of alternate reality that was as collective conscious as Yung’s and tapped into our fears and joys simultaneously. The sexuality and darkness mixed with the absurdly proportioned props; dripping watch, ants, transformed humans and simplicity really got my attention.

My taste in dadaist took off with my introduction to the underground comix. For those of you unfamiliar, in the early 1970s in answer to the DC and Marvel comics and they’re code of ethics darker comics appeared. They were only found in head shops and adult book stores. They had no rules and any subject imaginable was fodder for characters named Wonder Warthog, The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Mr. Natural. The anti-art movement was in evidence. Many artists, like Robert Crumb populated their worlds with an anti-establishment mentality. It was as subversive as anything I’d ever seen. Politicians and police were always the enemy and portrayed as sleazy racists, rapists and corrupt. Hippies were always victims although sometimes the tables were turned on the Narcs.

Slow Death, Last Gasp and others from Rip-Off Press, specialized in drugs, gruesome violence, misogny, rape, mutilation, murder often in a science fiction or film noir styled tableaux. Snuff style killings and bizarre drug-related transmutations reigned. Amazon women were as likely to rape and castrate men as their male opposites.

The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers was a trio of stoned lazy bastards who had a talking cat, named appropriately after his owner, Fat Fredy’s Cat. Cockroaches also talked and were named by their number, like 1,686,091! The adventures generally Free Wheelin’ Franklin, Fat Freddy and Phineas T. Freakears getting high, looking for something to get high or lamenting on how to get something to get high on when they were dry. The great artist Gilbert Shelton, who also created Dealer McDope, had a wonderful style and the black humor abundant. The signature poster of the drug counterculture was Franklin’ holding a fat dubie with the text:

“Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope!”

The impetus of Dada was to break the established leitmotifs and conventions and underground artists did it brillantly.

Robert Crumb’s Big Ass Comix and Mr. Natural, who when asked “What’s it all about Mr. Natural?” replied as the bearded robed character stolled away along a wooden fence, “Don’t mean shit.”

Young Clark Bent was Superman spoofed as Soupy Goy, a high school nerd who used his super powers to induldge in sexual fantasies. Always sperming on unsuspecting females, his powers caused mayhem for anyone foolish enough to confront him. Trashman helped destroy a white slavery-snuff ring even after being gang raped by hundreds of Amazon women!

The most outrageous was Thumb and Nail Tails that involved everything from gruesome surgery and amuptated, you guessed it, thumbs and nails, to castrated mobsters. There was a creature called the Checkered Demon that ate them and female lesbian pirates that raped the herorine and killed everyone with Y chromosones in inventive, albeit, grisly fashion.


Ripoff Press
Underground Comics

By now everyone should know Tippy is a cat, but he did help me write this piece!

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