underground comix at comixjointarchiveswebcomixfeaturesmarketplaceforumsearchmickeybacktosection go to sample pagesgo to next comicblank sidebarblankbrickblankbrickblankbrickgo to head comix samplesgo to hear the sound of my feet walking  blankbrick review-ugheaderheaderblankrightheader spacerlink to abclink to d-efghijalpha kllink to mlink to n-o-plink to q-rstlink to u-v-wlink to x-y-zalpha blank right
excellent writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 5
total score 10
Lenny of Laredo
If you like this comic,
you might also enjoy
the profit
The Profit
3rd Printing / April, 1966 / 16 pages / The Print Mint
First Printing 1965
Joel Beck grew up in a small town north of Oakland, California, his childhood marred by a battle with tuberculosis and spinal meningitis. As a young boy, he was essentially bedridden for three years, during which he was constantly drawing and cartooning. As a teenager in the early '60s, Beck's cartoons were published in the University of California campus newspaper, The Pelican. In 1965, he produced Lenny of Laredo, which went through three small printings within a year (the last by the Print Mint; Don Schenker's first comic book job).

Lenny of Laredo is both a thinly veiled satire of the infamous comedian Lenny Bruce and a lampoon of the 1964 Free Speech Movement on the Berkeley campus (where Beck lived at the time as a non-student with his girlfriend). Most of us are familiar with Lenny Bruce; a notorious stand-up comedian in the early '60s who laced his performances with profanity and rants about everything from the Ku Klux Klan to abortion. Bruce was arrested many times for various crimes, including obscenity. The Berkeley Free Speech Movement was America's first large-scale student protest in the '60s; demanding that the university administration lift all restrictions on student political activities and establish their absolute right to free speech.

And free speech is what Lenny of Laredo is all about. The Lenny in Lenny of Laredo is a grade-school boy who gets in trouble for saying "fart" and "dog poop" in school, leading to a career on stage as a foul-mouthed comedian. None of Lenny's profanity is actually profane (poo poo head, nose booger, and boobies are typical), but he still gets arrested and convicted of "naughty talk."

Lenny's conviction translates into greater fame and soon he is the hottest thing going, which inspires everyone to hop on the "naughty words" bandwagon. Before long, the popularity of naughtiness is so readily accepted it's no longer vulgar or immoral, which puts Lenny out of the comedy business. Beck ends the story with a warning to "Keep Censorship Alive!" in order to maintain a strong marketplace for true purveyors of smut and obscenity.

Lenny of Laredo was prophetic about the consequences of obscenity becoming fashionable and prevalent in everyday society. Indeed, if people are continually exposed to prurience and debauchery, it becomes tolerated and eventually weaves its way into the fabric of society. The proliferation of pornography in so many people's everyday lives has certainly reduced the shock and "sin factor" once associated with it.

Of course there is a faction of society that claims to be fighting this degradation of decency, but when we peek behind their bedroom doors we discover many of these "fighters" are actually ardent fans of the smut they publicly condemn. It seems the bandwagon grows more crowded every day. Perhaps when everyone finally acknowledges the futility of trying to deny free speech and anyone's non-violent pursuit of happiness, we will reduce the level of animosity that needlessly divides our society. Despite being nearly 50 years old and devoid of any smut, Lenny of Laredo illustrates this dynamic with timeless precision.
There are three printings of this comic book. The 1st and 2nd printings were produced by Sunbury Productions in Richmond, California, while the 3rd printing was produced by the Print Mint. None of the printings included a cover price. The 1st printing (1965) was 100 copies according to Phil Howe, who printed the book at Sunbury, but Joel Beck indicated the 1st printing was 500 copies (these numbers per Kennedy). The 1st printing has a green cover and is approximately letter size (8.5 x 10.875").

The 2nd printing (1965, unknown copies, but rare) has an orange cover and is 6.5 x 8.5 inches. The 3rd printing (April, 1966, unknown copies and less rare, but still hard to find) has a white cover and is 7 x 10.125".

Coming out in 1965, Lenny of Laredo was one of the first underground comics, and perhaps the second commercially produced underground. It was preceded in 1963 by Vaughn Bodé's self-published Das Kampf, which was 100 sets of 100 unbound pages, which Bodé attempted to sell but mostly gave away to friends. In the Spring of 1964, Gilbert Shelton produced 40-something Xerox-copied sets of Frank Stack's The Adventures of Jesus, but that was also only handed out to friends.

In June 1964, Joe Brainard produced C Comics #1, an oversize book with both soft and hard cover versions, but it featured comics with blank speech balloons, so many people don't even consider it a true underground. The first commercially printed underground was probably Jack Jackson's God Nose, which came out with 1,000 copies in the Fall of 1964 and was sold around the University of Texas campus in Austin.

Which leaves Lenny of Laredo as the second underground comic published for financial gain, but perhaps the first published as a commercially distributed book (at least by the time the Print Mint got a hold of it). It was followed in 1966 by Beck's The Profit and Marching Marvin. All of these comics were groundbreaking and anti-establishment in nature, but none of them featured extensive use of illicit drugs or scenes with sex. The first comics to do that were Amazing Dope Tales (early 1967) and The Life and Loves of Cleopatra (Summer, 1967), which truly established the taboo-breaking revolution that underground comics would bring to America in 1968.

Joel Beck - 1-16