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Zap Comix #9 2nd
excellent writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 4
total score 9
Zap Comix #15
Zap Comix 15 Alternate CoverAlternate Cover
(click for larger image)

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Only Printing / 2004 / 52 pages / Last Gasp
All good things must come to an end, the saying goes. And after 36 years, so does Zap, though Zap #15 does try to have no end, as it's a flip book and has two front covers and only a middle! And yes, the garish cover pictured above, by Paul Mavrides, is the official front cover, as it includes the publishing indicia on the inside, whereas the more traditional cover by Gilbert Shelton (linked on the right) does not.

So the "new kid" Mavrides not only gets his first Zap cover, he also gets the inside front cover (a series of iconic skull graphics) and the opening story, the two-page "Jesus Fucking Christ!" Okay, sure, it's his only story in the book and it's just a bunch of bellowed profanity by some creepy anthropomorphic creatures, but it's still the lead story! So bravo for Mavrides, but I would've hoped for something more profound from him in the farewell issue of Zap.

Wow, damn, the farewell issue. After the debacle of trying to keep the Zap Collective alive for Zap #14, perhaps Spain Rodriguez, S. Clay Wilson and Victor Moscoso assured Robert Crumb that #15 was definitely the last Zap ever to convince him to produce anything for the book. More likely, they all just let bygones be bygones. The fact is, four years after #15 came out, Wilson was talking about the next issue of Zap. Alas, it will never happen. Griffin is long gone, Rodriguez has passed away, and Wilson is still in recovery from a severe brain injury. I don't think Crumb and the gang will ever want to publish another issue of Zap. Instead, Fantagraphics has been planning to publish a full-series, hardcover compilation since 2011. (It's been almost three years, Gary. Wassup?)

But regardless of past or future events (and there were many), Crumb came through for Zap #15. His 10-page "Walkin' the Streets" follows Mavrides' opening story. It's about Crumb's life as a very young man, living with his family and older brother Charles. This isn't the first or last time Robert reminisces about the past, but it's especially affecting here because of Charles' suicide in 1992 at the age of 50 (Robert was 61 when he finished this story). Charles was a huge influence on Robert and Crumb recalls him fondly, though with his usual unvarnished perspective.

In the last panel of "Walkin' the Streets," Crumb returns to the present and says he was finally able to overcome his lifelong battle with self-pity because he got everything he thought he wanted, concluding "Now I'm finally forced to get really serious!" When Zap #15 was published in 2004, Crumb had already begun researching the Old Testament and was about to begin a four-year quest to illustrate The Book of Genesis.

But back to the issue at hand. Following "Walkin' the Streets," the Zap Collective gets together for their final jam session, entitled "Circle O' Jerks." The story seems to veer from self-deprecating humor to jingoistic government oppression and inciting insatiable public lust, all somehow circling back to Susie Bright, the sex-positive feminist "rug munchsky" who has infiltrated the last three issues of Zap. If you don't ask me to explain how it all makes sense I won't ask you to explain why I enjoyed it. I'll only admit that Susie Bright is one of my feminist heroes (along with you Trina!).

Moscoso returns with a couple more pages of Blobman comics before he yields to Wilson for two of the most intricate single-panel compositions he's ever produced, which sets up his dung-infested "Shithead Meets the Stinky Girls." In this malodorous tale, Shithead saunters into town to "get a drink, a piece of ass, and a steak dinner," but the booze gets the best of him and he oversteps decorum by chasing pussy into the ladies room, a mistake that will surely sink him.

In the two-page "Dante's Inferno," Moscoso deepens his exploration of collage with 19th-century engravings, first initiated with his Blobman comics. Michael Roden (Oracle Comix) was the master of this type of collage in his minicomics, but Moscoso provides a subversive twist that plays well. A couple pages later, Moscoso incorporates a Gustave Doré etching to produce the six-page strip in the center of the book that serves as the "flip" to the other side. Moscoso steals from his own past render this transition, having used the same upside-down/right-side-up rotating concept many years ago in Zap Comix #3.

After encountering Moscoso's transition, one is virtually compelled to flip back to the "end" of the book for a new "right-side-up" beginning, which leads us to Gilbert Shelton's exquisite alternative front cover featuring Wonder Wart-Hog descending into the slums of New York City. This is only Shelton's second appearance on a Zap cover, the first being over 30 years ago for Zap Comix #6.

Shelton's Wonder Wart-Hog also leads us into the (shorter) second half of the book with "The Wart-Hog that Came In from the Cold," an eight-page story that tracks Philbert Desanex's alter ego across a 43-year history, from silly cartoon superhero to vicious underground anti-hero. The wicked evolution of the Wart-Hog persona was so arduous that Philbert actually lost touch with his alter ego and could no longer invoke him at will. But when Philbert gets stuck in a jam, a fortuitous circumstance allows him to reunite with Wonder Wart-Hog, and it's "just like the good ol' days!"

Rodriguez contributes yet another memory of his Road Vulture days with "Mickey's Meatwagon," this one being relatively light on the brawling and more about the covenant of the gang, but we've seen versions of this before. Moscoso's "flip" strip follows "Meatwagon" and the endless circle of the flip book begins anew.

Despite all the flipping, Zap Comix came to rest in 2004 after 36 years. The final issue wasn't the strongest one in the series, but it had had its highlights and held its own. Rick Griffin's death more than a decade prior had robbed the title of an emblamatic figure and the rest of the Collective was growing old and tired. There was still plenty of juice in the tank for some of the creators, but others were growing weary. As Mavrides stated in the prior issue, "it's a little like being invited to the party 20 years after the beer's gone."

Zap Comix had blazed a defiant trail that no other comic book had ever even considered and ignited a revolution that changed the comic-book world forevermore. It also followed a distinct group of groundreaking creators over the course of their entire adult lives, as they evolved from young rebels into seasoned voices, which had also never been done before.

Whatever you might say about the content or nobility of the series, you can't deny that Zap Comix challenged the definition of the art form and improved the capacity and diversity of expression within that realm.

It is currently unknown how many copies of this comic book were printed (the presumption is 5,000, but it might've been 10,000). It has not been reprinted.
Side One
Paul Mavrides - 1-4, 16-17 (collaboration)
Robert Crumb - 5-14, 16-17 (collaboration)
S. Clay Wilson - 15, 16-17 (collaboration), 20-23, 26-27
Spain Rodriguez - 16-17 (collaboration)
Victor Moscoso - 16-17 (collaboration), 18-19, 24-25, 28-30
Gilbert Shelton - 16-17 (collaboration)
Robert Williams - 16-17 (collaboration)


Side Two
Gilbert Shelton - 1, 3-10
Spain Rodriguez - 2, 11-19
Victor Moscoso - 20-22