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historical bonus 3
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Radical America Komiks
Radical America Volume III #1
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1st Printing / January, 1969 / 44 pages / Radical America
The front cover of Radical America Komics states that it is "Volume III, Number 1, of Radical America," which may have been a bit confusing for people outside of Madison, Wisconsin, where the comic was published. "Volume three? Why didn't I see volume one or two? Are they serious?" Well, Radical America Komics was indeed the first issue of the third volume (tenth issue overall) of a publication, but none of the previous issues had been comic books at all. And none of the future issues of Radical America would be comic books either. Only this particular issue was a comic book, and that fact can be credited (or blamed) on Paul Buhle, the founder and publisher of Radical America.

Radical America was a left-wing journal launched in Connecticut in the summer of 1967 by Paul Buhle, assisted by his wife Mary Jo, who were both members of Students for a Democratic Society (the "SDS" referenced on the front cover). After the first issue came out, the Buhles became graduate students at the University of Wisconsin (UW) and recruited members from the Madison chapter of SDS to continue publishing Radical America on a bimonthly basis. In the late '60s, Paul Buhle began to invite radically minded activists in other cities to contribute to the journal, which led Radical America to become the unofficial theoretical journal of the nationwide SDS organization.
In the summer of 1968, as Buhle published an issue devoted to articles on black liberation, he received a copy of Gilbert Shelton's Feds 'n' Heads comic book, which had just been self-published by Shelton in Austin, Texas. Buhle was so impressed by Shelton's underground, he sold 20 copies of it at the SDS table on the UW campus. He also gave Shelton free reign to develop an underground comic book that would be published as a special issue of Radical America. Thus, Radical America Komiks was born in January, 1969.
Radical America
Pre-Komiks Issues of
Radical America (1967-68)
Radical America Komiks featured soon-to-be legendary underground comic creators like Shelton, Rick Griffin, Jack Jackson, S. Clay Wilson, Frank Stack, Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson. It was the first underground comic that originated out of Wisconsin and predated everything but Bijou Funnies #1 as an underground in the midwest. Radical America Komiks was one of the first dozen commercial underground comic books (four of them being Zap Comix) in history.

Radical America Komiks came as quite a surprise to regular readers and subscribers of Radical America. Buhle wrote that UW professors were shocked by the comic book and George Mosse, a historian on the UW faculty and a Radical America subscriber, thought he had been sent the wrong magazine when he received it. But that didn't stop Radical America Komiks from being the best-selling issue in the history of the journal, selling out all 30,000 copies of its first printing, many at local head shops. The book also had a second printing in San Francisco, where The Print Mint put out another 15,000 copies.

The comic features several stories of varying length, but is dominated by the first and last stories in the book, both by Gilbert Shelton. The 11-page opening story, "Smiling Sergeant Death and his Merciless Mayhem Patrol," is about a trigger-happy army sergeant and his special military team, who are sent by the U.S. government to China to eradicate the threat of a new intercontinental ballistic missile. The mission turns into a deadly disaster and morphs into an adventure for Wonder Wart-Hog, who manages to save the mission if not the fate of Sergeant Death.

Gilbert's closed the book with an eight-page Freak Brothers tale, "The Freaks Pull a Heist!" The story features Fat Freddy going berserk for lack of food and the Freaks end up robbing a small grocery store under the guise of filming a Candid Camera TV episode. It also delivers another iteration of Franklin's famous line from Feds 'n' Heads, this time stating "Dope will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no dope!"

In between the Shelton stories are several single and multipage stories, including a God Nose story by Jack Jackson and a Jesus story by Frank Stack. There's also two early (1967) comic illustrations by S. Clay Wilson that were sure to alarm even the most progressive-minded readers of Radical America. Like many underground anthologies, the better work is a little undermined by some of the weaker contributions, but overall Radical America Komiks has enough strong content to make it stand out.

Radical America Komiks is the first example of the early and rapid impact of the underground comix movement in the midwest, primarily in Chicago, Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. It may or may not have had a direct influence on Denis Kitchen, Jay Lynch and Skip Williamson, but it certainly helped pave the road for expanded readership of underground comics in the midwest in the 1970s.

Within months after the comic book's publication, the SDS experienced a fatal split of its membership at its national convention in Chicago. Rather than go down in flames with the society, Paul and Mary Jo Buhle moved to the Boston area and brought the journal with them. The journal became a better publication after the comic book experience, featuring better design and graphics and publishing some of its finest issues in the early '70s. Though Paul Buhle stopped editing Radical America in 1973 and went on to a distinguished academic career at Brown University, the journal continued on for another quarter century, eventually dwindling in frequency of publication until it ceased publication in 1999.

Electronic copies of Radical America can be found at the Brown university website. Reading a few of them proves to be a terrific primer on leftist thoughts and policies in the late '60s and '70s.
There are two printings of this comic book, both with a 50-cent cover price. The 1st printing (30,000 copies) was published by the magazine Radical America, which was founded and published by Paul Buhle. The 1st printing can easily be distinguished from the 2nd printing by the shoes worn by Lester Maddox, the lone human figure on the front cover. The shoes are two-tone in yellow and black. The 2nd printing (15,000 copies) was published by The Print Mint and Maddox's shoes are colored solid black. The 2nd printing also has an advertisement for Bijou Funnies #2 on the inside back cover that did not exist in the 1st printing.

The idea of pairing Georgia Governor Lester Maddox with an alien chicken on the front cover was conceived by artist Gilbert Shelton, but the joke is lost on many people in the 21st century. Before Maddox became governor, he was notorious for refusing to serve black customers in his whites-only restaurant near the Georgia Tech campus in Atlanta. Maddox had operated the Pickrick Restaurant since 1947 with his wife and children and the menu featured simple Southern cuisine, including a special family recipe for skillet-fried chicken.

The restaurant became very popular through the '50s and '60s and expanded to serve up to 400 patrons, all of whom were white. It was also well known for its newspaper ads that featured cartoon chickens. After the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 (which declared segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional), Maddox began to have the chickens in his newspaper ads make politically conservative commentary on social and political issues. When the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed virtually all forms of racial discrimination and segregation, Maddox refused to follow the law and continued to ban black customers from his restaurant.

In April 1964, when black demonstrators attempted to enter the restaurant, Maddox confronted the group with a handgun. The situation escalated when restaurant employees and customers took pick ax handles in hand (the hardwood handles were decorative elements in the restaurant's dining room) and went outside to prevent the black demonstrators from coming in. The event became a major story in local and national news and Maddox became an icon of segregationists around the country. Maddox said he would rather close his restaurant than serve African Americans, which he soon did.

In 1967, Maddox was elected (with less than a majority of votes) Georgia's governor for one term, during which he refused to attend the 1968 funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta. Maddox called King "an enemy of our country." Little wonder that Gilbert Shelton found him to be ripe fodder for a 1969 underground called Radical America Komiks. Maddox steadfastly supported segregationist policies until his death in 2005.
Gilbert Shelton - 1, 4-14, 32, 35-42, 43 (ad)
Skip Williamson - 2
Rick Griffin - 3
Tony Bell - 15-16
Jack Jackson - 17-21
S. Clay Wilson - 22-23, 33
Rory Hayes - 24-26
Frank Stack - 27-30
Victor Moscoso - 31
Jay Lynch - 34, 44
Radical America Komiks 2nd

2nd Printing
50-cent cover, solid black shoes, Bijou Funnies #2 ad on inside back cover.