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cover
 
solid writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 5
total score 9
Zap Comix #2
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Back Cover
Back Cover
(click for larger image)

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2nd Printing / late 1968 / 52 pages / Apex Novelties
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First Printing August 1968
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After finally getting Zap Comix #1 published, Robert Crumb invited three new artists to contribute to the second issue. S. Clay Wilson, who Crumb met when Zap #1 was still on the press, Rick Griffin, who inspired Crumb with his psychedelic rock posters, and Victor Moscoso, who'd been collaborating with Griffin on some comic-book ideas already. It took the foursome about a month to complete Zap Comix #2, which came out less than four months after the debut.

If Zap #1 was about Robert Crumb remaking the comic-book narrative to poke fun at our secret fears and fixations, #2 was about pushing those buttons even harder while recasting the comic-book aesthetic. The latter objective is tackled by Griffin and Moscoso, who provide several comics with minimal, nonsensical or nonexistent dialogue. Their stories typically present rotund, often Disney-like cartoon characters experiencing surreal transformations while shapeshifting through—or even becoming a part of—abstract, continually mutating landscapes.

Some of their other comics, particularly Griffin's, are more energetic, featuring sword-wielding winged eyeballs and gun-toting Mickey Mouse cowboys in strips with some dialogue, though word balloons are just as often implemented as three-dimensional, spherical landscape elements. Many of these comics are constructed with nonlinear narratives that omit key scenes as panels segue from one vista into the next, retaining or morphing their original characters while introducing new performers to the dynamic. Griffin and Moscoso deconstruct the traditional comic-book building blocks and repurpose them in a way that introduces a brand new world of indirect representation, non-linear storytelling and metaphysical existence.

Though Griffin's and Moscoso's illustration styles are usually quite distinct, here they meld almost indistinguishably together. This is due to the comic art project they had been collaborating on before Zap #1 ever came out. Originally, they had intended to mix both of their stories into one, shuffling all of the separate panels together like a deck of cards and laying them out in virtually random order. Talk about non-linear sequencing! But when they joined the Zap Collective, they decided to present their stories individually, as Crumb and Wilson were doing. In a way, when Griffin and Moscoso were a pair, they could collaborate as a single voice, but when the pair was added to two additional distinct voices, they also needed to return to their individual muses.

Indeed, while Moscoso would continue to explore the concepts and styles they produced for Zap #2, Griffin would not work in that manner again. Instead, he went back to his own sharply-cut, radiant design style, like the two single-panel manifestos he offers on pages 34 and 44. These two works of art are reminiscent of Griffin's archetypal rock posters yet transformed into pure graphic declarations without the clutter of advertising for commercial events. They're beautifully executed and just a helluva lotta fun to gaze into, like Hawaiian vacations for the eyes.

The other new contibutor, S. Clay Wilson, may not have been determined to remake the comic-book aesthetic like Griffin and Moscoso, but he did more than his share to help that cause with his amazing single-panel panoramas, such as the ones featured in S. Clay Wilson Portfolio Comix. But, there's nothing like those in Zap #2. Instead, Wilson focuses on advancing the scope of content in comic books, which he does with a pair of one-page strips, one of which lives in some degree of infamy.

Before we get to those, however, Wilson provides the longest story in this issue, "The Hog Riding Fools." This 14-page adventure is essentially built around the Checkered Demon brawling with motorcycle gang members, beating up ball-busting dykes, and raping one of the gang's chicks. This is entertaining stuff, but it's one of Wilson's earliest long-form strips and doesn't instill quite the same magical energy that his later efforts with the Checkered Demon would.

But on page 36, in an untitled, three-panel scene, Wilson depicts a naked man taking a dump, scooping his turds out of the toilet, and flinging them into the faces of three friends standing nearby. In 1968, this type of grotesque portrayal was just not seen in comics, not even in the underground newspapers.

But Wilson takes it two steps further on page 40 with the one-page "Head First" comic strip. It features a couple of pirates on the high seas who meet below deck over a tankard of rum. One inquires of the other, "Can I fondle your tool?" The other warns, "it's ungodly big," reaches down into his trousers and flops his fat beast onto the table in front of them. His cock is as big and thick as a muffler pipe. The other pirate declares "It looks great mate! Let me sample it..." and proceeds to chop off the tip of the mate's cock with a massive knife and stuff it into his mouth. "Mmmm," he moans, blood dribbling from his gob, "The head tastes best."

No cartoonist in comics history, not even the Tijuana Bible artists or Robert Crumb in one of his sickest dreams, had ever conceived such a twisted and perverted comic strip, much less drawn it and published it. "Head First" broke new ground as surely as Zap Comix #1 did, but Wilson had suddenly exploded the content barriers far beyond what Crumb had envisioned. The other Zapsters were duly impressed and their future comics would reflect the complete disregard for limitations that Wilson had pioneered. As Moscoso noted, "Frankly, we didn't really understand what we were doing until Wilson started publishing in Zap."

Indeed, Crumb would be more influenced by Wilson than the other way around. But not in Zap #2. His opening five-pager, "Hamburger Hi-jinx," is typical early Crumb, with well-crafted panels of whimsical characters and a touch of surrealism. A few pages later, "Angelfood McSpade" depicts the central character as a sexually insatiable African junglewoman. It's one of Crumb's earliest masturbatory fantasy cartoons, which he would never grow tired of, and it once again pushes a racist stereotype right up under the noses of his audience, but outside of the racist context his story could be construed as "cute."

Towards the end of the book, Crumb provides another "Mr. Natural" tale, this one lampooning the ever-rising invasion of pseudo-gurus in downtown San Francisco. It's funny and perhaps the best of his three stories here, but unlike his three compatriates, Crumb wasn't breaking new ground. Well, I'll take that back...he was always breaking new ground, even when he was still digging in the ground he broke just earlier that year. But make no mistake, the influence of Wilson, and to a lesser degree Griffin and Moscoso, would soon elevate Crumb's place in history to the iconic status he now enjoys.

Taken as a whole, Zap Comix #2 actually has some of the series' weaker writing, compared to most of the other issues. Neither Crumb's hamburger tale or Wilson's hog-ridin' fools were amongst their best work, though they were still in the process of setting a very high standard (and those stories still offer plenty of entertainment). As well, Griffin and Moscoso probably delivered a few too many pages of similar work in this issue, innovative as it was. But the stronger work and the sensational breakthroughs by the new Zapsters set a new paradigm for the series, and a model that future issues would embellish to perfection.
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keyline
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HISTORICAL FOOTNOTES:
There are eight known printing variations of this comic book, though there are many more that cannot be distinguished from one another. Kennedy's Price Guide states there were 17 total printings totaling 325,000 copies, and that was only through 1982 (and four identified printing variations). There are certainly more than 20 printings now. The following describes the identified print variations:
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1st printing - 50-cent cover price, "Head First" story cut off at the bottom edge
2nd printing - 50-cent cover price, alignment of "Head First" story is corrected
3rd printing - 75-cent cover price
4th printing - $1.00 cover price
5th printing - $2.50 cover price
6th printing - $2.95 cover price
7th printing - $3.95 cover price
8th printing - $4.95 cover price
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Kennedy noted that the 1st printing used a heavier stock of paper for the cover and subsequent printings used a lighter stock. However, about twenty years later some underground comics experts conducted additional research and Don Donahue was able to confirm the true story of the 1st printing.
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At the time Zap Comix #2 went to press, Crumb, Wilson, Griffin and Moscoso were getting ready to exhibit their original artwork for the book at Light Sound Dimension Gallery in San Francisco. They wanted about 500 copies of Zap #2 to sell during the show. Moe Moscowitz, a Berkeley bookstore owner, agreed to finance the printing of 5,000 copies with The Print Mint, with 500 of those designated for the show.
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Near the deadline for the gallery show, The Print Mint f
armed out the printing to a company called Cal Litho, which printed 5,000 copies of the cover and 5,000 sets of the interior pages. The covers of the book were printed on a heavier paper stock than usual, which will become an important (but not the most important) print variation.
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During the bindery operation, it was discovered that S. Clay Wilson's "Head First" story on page 40 was badly misaligned on the printed page and the artwork was cut off at the bottom during the trimming process. This was an unacceptable flaw, especially taking place on that story, and all the interior pages with the error were destroyed, except for the 500 sets that were needed to bind into books for the show. There was not time (and perhaps no money) to reprint the interiors before opening night. The 4,500 remaining covers were preserved for use in the second printing.
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_ Back Cover
"Head First" Pages
(click for larger image)
So there were only 500 copies of the 1st printing of Zap Comix #2, many of which have not survived, which makes it the most rare edition of any Zap Comix in history. This fact is now generally acknowledged within the underground comics fraternity and recognized by Fogel's Price Guide, though it has not spread into the casual collectors' knowledgebase.
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When Cal Litho began to produce the 2nd printing (which may have been within days after the show or possibly a few weeks), they used the remaining 4,500 heavy-paper covers from the aborted 1st printing and reprinted the interiors, with the "Head First" story correctly aligned. All subsequent printings of the book were printed with a lighter-weight paper stock for the covers.
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The cover price of Zap #2 did not change from 50 cents to 75 cents until around 1972, which means tens of thousands of Zap Comix #2 were printed with a 50-cent cover price. In all likelihood, based on Kennedy's data, there were probably well over 100,000 copies of Zap #2 with a 50-cent cover price that were produced in several print runs, which makes it one of the most common editions of any Zap Comix issue. Yet most dealers, collectors and sellers will claim that those 50-cent books are 2nd printings or even 1st printings.
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As for the "true" 2nd printing, there were about 4,500 of those with the heavy-paper covers. But the chances of finding one amongst the glut of 50-cent cover books today is less than 1 in 25, given the enormous volume of copies that were printed with 50-cent covers.
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It's not enough to own a copy with a 50-cent cover and say it "feels" like it has a heavy-paper cover. You need a set of calipers or a micrometer to measure the thickness of the cover paper. The measurements of the 1st, true 2nd and other "2nd" printings are provided below.
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Zap Comix 2 1st _
1st Printing
50-cent cover price, "Head First Miscut."
3rd Printing
75-cent cover price.
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Also, don't trust professional grading companies (especially PGX) who authenticated 1st printings any time before 2008, as they will have used the "heavy cover stock" definition as their determining factor, which is in error. Not only that, but they typically used "feel" to determine the weight of the cover, not a measurement tool. This means there are a lot of slabbed "1st printings" out there that are actually 2nd printings or even later printings. The only way to identify a true 1st printing is by the "Head First Miscut" (as it has come to be known).
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I have owned about 20 copies of Zap Comix #2 with a 50-cent cover price, and only two are 1st printings with the "Head First" error. I have not run across any true 2nd printings with the heavy cover, but the covers of the two 1st printings measured from .0055 to .0062 inches thick (these measurements are in 10,000ths of an inch and made with a micrometer). The covers of the true 2nd printings should be identical to the 1st, though there may be slight differences. The covers of all the other 50-cent books I've had measured from .0034 to .0040 inches.
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When you have as many "2nd printings" as I do (and as other collectors also have), you can identify distinct differences between the covers of the 50-cent books that were printed during separate press runs. Tiny little things like a stray blue mark, a flaw in a printing plate, different staple placements or various stocks of cover paper. But since all of these are not relevant to the true 1st or true 2nd printing, it's just a mountain of details for not much gain. All of the 50-cent covers came from 1972 or earlier, and there wouldn't be very much difference in the value of the different press runs. Besides, these Historical Footnotes have gone on quite too long already.
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COMIC CREATORS:
Robert Crumb - 1, 3-7, 10-13, 45-49, 52
Rick Griffin - 2, 14-17, 34, 38-39, 43-44, 50-51
Victor Moscoso - 8-9, 18-19, 35, 37, 41-42
S. Clay Wilson - 20-33, 36, 40