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brilliant writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 5
total score 10
The Profit
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joel becks comics
Joel Beck's Comics...
Only Printing / 1966 / 96 pages / Gobroke Press
Joel Beck's ingenious cartoons were first published in the University of California campus newspaper The Pelican in the 1960s, which led to him being named the Top College Cartoonist by a national panel of humor magazine editors in 1965. The irony of that award is that Beck never graduated from high school. Given Beck's body of work in the '60s, I believe his lack of indoctrination into America's education system probably enabled him to depict our society with his unaffected and streetwise sensibility.

In the same year that Beck was named the top college cartoonist, he published Lenny of Laredo, a hilarious satire of comedian Lenny Bruce. The following year, Beck produced The Profit, which remains one of Beck's best known and most influential comic books.

The title of The Profit parodies Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, a book of poetic essays published in 1923 that has sold over 100 million copies and was very popular in '60s counterculture. Beck's spoof sold only a few thousand, but its insights on greed and class warfare are still relevant to today's society. The Profit offers some of Beck's most insightful and funny work, made all the more remarkable when you realize he produced it before he was 24 years old.

Beck begins the book with a pair of three-page strips that demonstrate that avarice, petulance and self-righteousness—instilled in the human psyche shortly after the dawn of man—had become increasingly overt by the 20th century. The opening stories set the stage for the epic tale of "The Profit," which introduces us to a society rampant with "insecure neurotic egos that went around tormenting each other, destroying dreams, creating fears, capitalizing on madness and driving innocent people insane." Welcome to America!

The nameless, middle-aged lead character in "The Profit" is one of those "insecure neurotic egos" who is so deluded by his sense of superiority (and his adult son's waffling sense of normalcy) that he establishes the "truly true church" called "Messiah & Son, Inc." The church rockets to success and quickly branches out with "God's New Deluxe Shopping Center," which leads to enormous financial profits and enables its egomaniacal founder to assume his role in society as the messiah.

The messiah soon performs several "miracles" on behalf of society, like eradicating forests to build parking lots, criminalizing masturbation, and lobotomizing Santa Clause and Jesus Christ for being "dirty rotten commie perverts." After the messiah acquires complete control of the world by incarcerating all the "evil creeps, bad guys, funny looking people and trouble makers," he sells the planet Earth to a "martian saucer service station" for a million dollars. These acts of tyranny cause the real God to vomit profusely all over the Earth, flooding the world and launching a Noah's Ark scenario that strips the messiah of all power and leaves him to drown in a sea of immortal barf.

The Profit might've ended right there, with Earth submerged in God's vomit and all of humanity obliterated, but Beck allows God to give humanity a second chance. This time, however, the secularists take over the world and society runs rampant with "Free dope! Interracial marriages! Socialism! And complete sexual freedom!" In this upside-down world, police don't arrest criminals; they read them poems and send the crooks to Nirvana. In this world, the counterculture is conservative, square and bigoted... which leaves an opening for our old messiah friend to come back from the dead as a true rebel.

Joel Beck's The Profit is a fast-paced book filled with rich details and sharp observations about the ruthless oppression inflicted by corporate interests and the moral majority in American society. It skewers the invariable desire of a ruling class to censure anything that threatens their homogenous society. Like all of Beck's comics in the mid '60s, his ink and brush work is fluid and assured, and his writing vibrant and informal.

After producing Marching Marvin at the end of 1966, Beck wasn't heavily involved in the post-Zap Comix frenzy of the late '60s, but he contributed to a number of underground anthologies throughout the '70s, including San Francisco Comic Book, Yellow Dog, and Snarf. He was spotlighted in Ban Zai!, a terrific 1973 Kitchen Sink comic book that also featured Kim Deitch and Roger Brand.

After 15 years of producing some of the best comics ever, Beck's productivity dropped significantly in the '80s and '90s as he suffered bouts with alcoholism and homelessness. Though his comic work slowed to a crawl, he was also an accomplished fine artist and produced many drawings and paintings in the last two decades of his life, including commissioned works for friends and collectors. Beck passed away in 1999 at the age of 56 due to complications from alcoholism and tuberculosis. Joel Beck is one of the often-overloooked forefathers of the underground revolution, but his comics are still incisive and relevant to a broad range of today's social issues.
It is currently unknown how many copies of this comic book were printed. It has not been reprinted.
Joel Beck - 1-96