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solid writing
skilled art
historical bonus 4
total score 8
The Life and Loves of Cleopatra
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2nd Printing / November, 1969 / 36 pages / Apex Novelties
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First Printing 1967
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Before Zap Comix launched the underground revolution in February of 1968, there were many precursors that hinted of what was to come. A number of fanzines and college humor magazines paved the historical road, and underground newspapers like the East Village Other provided a birthplace for many underground artists. One of the precursors that showed up in San Francisco was The Life and Loves of Cleopatra, a scandalous comic book from Harry Driggs that parodied the life and times of Cleopatra VII, the last pharaoh of Egypt from 34 to 30 BC, mistress to Julius Caesar, and wife of Marc Antony.

Originally an oversize (about 14 x 8.5 inches) 28-page book, The Life and Loves of Cleopatra depicts bawdy sex scenes from two millenia ago, including those involving children, which may have been relatively common during that long-ago era but certainly considered obscene by the 20th century. The book, published in the midst of the Summer of Love in 1967, was a free giveaway at Digger's Free Store in San Francisco. After Zap launched the underground comix era, Don Donahue printed a second, much smaller edition (about 6.5 x 4.75 inches) in November, 1969. The second edition was reprinted in 1976 and Rip Off Press published a fourth printing in 1992, though much of the more risqué content was censored in that final edition.

Driggs, who was well into his thirties when he published The Life and Loves of Cleopatra, went on to create much tamer underground comics through the '70s, including the contemporary parody series Great Diggs. Driggs worked as a graphic designer and art director for several non-profit publications in San Francisco and fashioned a second career as a fine art painter and sculptor, specializing in portraits, nudes and figurative ceramics.

The Life and Loves of Cleopatra was a significantly groundbreaking work, as nothing that came before it (outside of the Tijuana Bibles) depicted such explicit scenes of sex in comic book form. It is unlikely that Robert Crumb saw the book before setting out to draw Zap, given Cleopatra's limited distribution and the fact that he was already drawing Zap #0 and Zap #1 in the summer and autumn of 1967. Those two issues of Zap have nothing in them that is remotely as sexually charged as Cleopatra. In fact, if Cleopatra came out today, it would almost certainly be busted for obscenity and child porn.
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keyline
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HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES:
There are four printings of this comic book. The 1st printing is 13.875 x 8.5 inches and 28 pages, self-published by Harry Driggs (as the "Communications Company") in 1967. It was a comic book given away for free at Digger's Free Store, one of a small chain of stores set up by the San Francisco Diggers, a non-profit group that provided free food, medical care, transportation and temporary housing to local San Franciscans. The Diggers, co-founded by actor Peter Coyote, also organized free music concerts and street theater events, such as the Death of Money Parade and the Invisible Circus. They once drove a truck of semi-naked belly dancers through the financial district in San Francisco, inviting brokers to climb on board and forget their work (several did).

An image of the 1st printing of the comic book is provided below. I don't have a copy of the first printing myself, so there is no other link associated with that image.

Three printings of The Life and Loves of Cleopatra followed the first. The 2nd printing was published by Apex Novelties and is 6.625 x 4.75 inches and 36 pages. The interior pages are all newsprint. The 3rd printing was published by Dave Gibson and Harry Driggs, who utilized left over newsprint pages from the 2nd printing and combined them with newly printed pages on off-white paper stock to produce a new edition. None of the first three printings included a cover price. I'm not sure what the typical retail price of the 2nd and 3rd printings were.

The 4th printing was produced by Rip Off Press in 1992. Rip Off was the publisher who printed most of Harry Driggs underground comics in the '70s. The 4th printing censored much of the most scandalous aspects of the book. I don't have a copy, so I'm not sure exactly what they censored, or what is the size or the number of pages in the book, but the cover price was $2.50.


COMIC CREATOR:
Harry Driggs - 1-28


cleopatra
 
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AVERAGE SCORE 10