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excellent writing
exceptional art
historical 2
total score 9
austin stone _ austin stone 2
Austin Stone #1
Austin Stone #2
Austin Stone
1975-1976 / Limestone Publications
In many ways, the two issues of Austin Stone provide a continuation of the back stories embedded in the history of Armadillo Comics and Gas Comics; comics that were developed by some of the psychedelic poster and handbill artists from the local alternative music scene in Austin, Texas. Although only one of those poster artists (Gilbert Shelton) was a key contributor to the national underground comix revolution, many more became important figures in the history of Austin's creative community.

In the late 1960s and early '70s, the city of Austin spawned a fervent counterculture, creating a unique atmosphere that supported the emergence of several creative types, including musicians, artists and "hip scene creators." Mind you, in the mid-to-late '60s, it was a bitch to be a hippie in Austin, as the rednecks and fraternity college boys joined forces with the cops and the government to ostracize (or outlaw) the gathering of hippies for social events, including music concerts.

But that began to change with the establishment of The Vulcan Gas Company nightclub in 1967, which promoted alternative music of all types. Though it only lasted a couple years, Vulcan Gas was the most successful psychedelic music venue in the city and made a significant impact on the local culture. The psychedelic poster art movement that had flourished on the West coast found a very friendly home at Vulcan Gas, where several talented artists began producing some of the best concert promotion posters anywhere. The Vulcan Gas Company went out of business at the end of '69, but from its ashes rose the Armadillo World Headquarters, which quickly established itself as the hippest place to be in Austin, and not just for hippies.

By the mid '70s, the concert venue at the Armadillo was the number one music stage in the city, hosting shows by groups as diverse as ZZ Top, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen (who played five shows in '74), Stevie Ray Vaughan and Frank Zappa (who recorded a live album there in '75). The Armadillo gained a national reputation as a venue for rock 'n roll and country music acts, both mainstream and anti-establishment.

Time magazine wrote that the Armadillo was to the '70s Austin music scene what The Fillmore had been to the emergence of rock music in the '60s. The Armadillo's success was fueled by low ticket prices and general tolerance of illicit drug use and public intoxication. In fact, in the mid '70s the beer garden at the Armadillo sold more Lone Star beer than any venue in the world except the Houston Astrodome. Pot smoking and other drug use never brought about a police raid, as the cops feared they'd be busting their fellow officers as well as local and state politicians.

This environment fostered a small but explosive emergence of new artists and cartoonists in Austin, many inspired by the underground comics that filled the local head shops. Even after Shelton headed off to the Freak-Brother mecca in San Francisco, the Austin scene continued to prosper, which led to the comic book creators who put together Austin Stone. More than 20 artists contributed to the two issues of the book, including one of the forefathers of the scene, Jim Franklin.

The quality of most of the artwork in Austin Stone is top notch, even for the local ads that helped fund the printing. The pages are infused with the type of psychedelic illustrations that Shelton and Franklin popularized through their posters and handbills for Vulcan Gas and Armadillo, often with amusing twists. Austin Stone proved that a new group of talented artists could sustain the Austin tradition of undergrounds just fine, but the marketplace and the city of Austin itself helped cause the publication's demise.

By 1976, when the last issue of Austin Stone came out, the peak of the original scene had already passed and ominous signs were on the horizon. The Armadillo laid off staff members late in the year and filed for bankruptcy in 1977. They kept having concerts for a while, but the site leased by the Armadillo was prime commercial real estate in the booming city of Austin and by 1980 the lease was not renewed (which may have been a mutual decision). The Armadillo World Headquarters hosted their final concert at the end of the year, all their equipment and furniture was auctioned off the following month, and the concert hall was soon razed for a high rise office building.

In some sense, Austin Stone was the local psychedelic art scene's last hurrah. But it capped off nearly a decade of some of the most innovative and enchanting artwork ever produced in the state of Texas. As artifacts of that scene, Austin Stone remains a delightful reminder of what was so much fun about it.