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Comics in Special Collections

Underground Comix

Underground Comix were a genre of comics that were usually self-published or supported by small press, and they were renowned for exploring controversial topics. The Comic Code Authority was established in 1954 and began regulating commercial comics. Comedy and satire comics such as Help! and Mad Magazine often tested the limits of these codes but never crossed them. A counterculture movement dedicated to crossing that line emerged and succeeded throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Starting with the publishing of Godnose in 1963, the scene took off and became a source of artistic experimentation and anti-censorship. These works often depicted socially relevant issues and exaggerated satire in an attempt to get their point across. It should be noted that censorship did not only use its power to stop graphic or obscene content, but also extended to topics such as anti-war sentiments, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights.

The Underground Comix community was critiqued heavily both internally and externally, for its depictions of violence against women, drug usage, racism, and excessive gore. There were two schools of thought on the matter. Famous comix artist Robert Crumb suggested that the gross, violent, and racist imagery was a statement. It was a statement that no one could or should dictate and censor art, so in retaliation he created works that were extremely controversial. Crumb elaborated that “people forget that that was what it was all about. That was why we did it. We didn’t have anybody standing over us saying ‘No, you can’t draw this’ or ‘You can’t show that’. We could do whatever we wanted.”  Other comix artist, like Trina Robbins, believed that satire was a tool for the oppressed not the oppressor, and that such gratuitous depictions of sexual violence and racism were out of line with the movement counterculture ‘for the people’ core, “it's weird to me how willing people are to overlook the hideous darkness in Crumb's work ... What the hell is funny about rape and murder?" 

Overall our Underground Comix collection has much to offer in terms of exploring past countercultures and opinions of censorship in the 1960s and 1970s. Notable and interesting titles include: Godnose, considered the first underground comic; Zap 0, the infamous Robert Crumb’s first publication; and Wimmen’s Comix, a collection of women lead stories and artists.

Quotes above from: Roger Sabin, "Going underground," Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History Of Comic Art. (London, United Kingdom: Phaidon Press, 1996.)