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Sorry Kids - Adults Only!
or Why Underground Comics Still Matter
If it wasn't for underground comics (more popularly known as underground comix), the movie industry would have lost billions of dollars in revenue and comic books would be as relevant to today's society as manual typewriters and 8-track tapes.

Sound absurd? Perhaps, but the golden age of underground comics (1968-73) did expand the scope and relevance of comic books, enabling future comic creators (including those working for DC and Marvel) to explore increasingly complex emotional and psychological conflicts. The maturation of the comic book industry led to a new level of licensing contracts that created a multi-billion-dollar niche in the movie industry. This destiny would have been unlikely without underground comics breaking new ground over four decades ago.

The Impact of Underground Comics on Content
Prior to the underground comics era, comic books primarily featured wholesome superheroes, funny talking animals, and family-friendly comedies and adventures. There was a moderate movement in the 1940s that began to infuse comic books with more mature themes, crowned by the trailblazing EC Comics era in the early 1950s, but Dr. Fredric Wertham, a congressional hearing and the Comics Code Authority helped put a quick end to that all-too-brief divergence.

Underground comic books were not so easily impeded. With the publication of Zap Comix #1 in 1968, a comic book revolution was spawned. Rampant with brazen depictions of sex, drug use, violence and political rebellion, underground comics quickly found a enthusiastic audience in the counterculture, a rapidly expanding alliance of people looking to radically change the status quo. Underground comics' popularity accelerated for several years before a combination of circumstances led to the collapse of the era. But the die had been cast (or broken, as it were).

From 1968 forward, the capacity of comic books to convey the realities of life was enormously expanded. Even the habitat of sanitized superheroes was nearly eradicated, as Batman, Superman and almost every other superhero evolved into complex characters with human (or human-like) flaws and ambiguities. The rise of the anti-hero character (Wolverine, The Punisher, et al) in the 1990s can be traced to the anti-establishment comics from the underground era.

The Impact of Underground Comics on the Industry
But underground comics did much more than merely break taboos and expand the scope of comic books into adult subject matter. The creators and publishers set new standards for the business of comic books, establishing rights for artists and writers that were rarely permitted in the mainstream comic book world. For many books, underground creators were paid royalties on subsequent printings, enabling them to reap the rewards of a best-selling comic. Even more importantly, creators retained their copyright on their characters, stories and orginal art, instead of those rights being usurped by the publisher.

Over the years, these extraordinary achievements in creator rights seeped into the mainstream comic book world, improving the rights of many thousands of comic book artists and writers. The underground era also enabled previously unknown creators to get their work published, whether through an established underground publisher or through self-publishing. This led to an explosion in small press publications, from crude photocopied pamphlets to deluxe comic fanzines and vanity-press books, all vying for exposure in a brand new market of adult readers.

The Impact of Underground Comics on Today's Creators
Today, over 40 years after the revolution, the impact of the underground comic book era on comic art and the comic book industry is almost immeasurable and typically overlooked. Comic creators who weren't even born until 20 years after the revolution (and have never heard of underground comics) would not have any place in the industry if not for the trails blazed by the men and women who pioneered this new form of comic books.

We now have three generations of comic creators who have leveraged the freedoms won by underground comics to explore social issues and human relationships previously uncharted in the comic book medium. Alternative comic books have reached an entirely new core audience beyond children, teens and nostalgic collectors, providing adults with a new world of entertainment that is relevant to their personal experiences and emotions, including suffering, fantasies, unfulfilled desires and self-doubt.

An era does not need to last long to have an indelible impact on the future. Lincoln changed the American landscape, the Beatles changed music, Muhammad Ali changed sports. And underground comics changed comic books. Click on any of the letters at the top of this page to begin exploring this amazing era of comic book history and learn why underground comics still matter.