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excellent writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 5
total score 10
Zap Comix #3
Zap Comix 3 Back Cover
Back Cover
(click for larger image)

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1st Printing / Fall 1968 / 52 pages / Apex Novelties
Zap Comix #3 welcomes a fifth member to the Zap Collective: Gilbert Shelton, who had recently moved from Austin, Texas to San Francisco. The original fab four could hardly have picked a more deserving candidate, as Shelton had already been producing unconventional comics for many years and had self-published the instant classic Feds 'n' Heads just months after Zap #1.

But just for shits and giggles, let's ask "who else would've been a viable candidate to invite into the Zap Collective in the summer of '68?" I might suggest Vaughn Bodé, Frank Stack, Jack Jackson, Joel Beck or Jay Lynch. All of them would've been great contributors and added to the diversity of the content. Perhaps Bodé would've been too much of a diva (and who knows, he might've declined the invite). And Stack and Lynch had their own gigs way outside of San Francisco, so maybe they wouldn't have been enticed. But imagine how an invitation might have changed (or even saved) Joel Beck's life. Ah well, water under the bridge. Shelton was eminently qualified to join the crew for Zap #3.

The third issue of Zap is a flip book with two front covers; one cover drawn by Rick Griffin and one by S. Clay Wilson, with 24 pages of interior content following each cover. Each half of the book ends in the middle, requiring you to flip the book over to read the other side (unless you enjoy reading upside down). The first side of Zap Comix #3 is generally considered to be the one with the Griffin cover, though both covers include the title of the book and the 50-cent cover price, and neither side includes any indicia (three elements that usually determine which side of a flip book is really intended to be the front cover). But only Griffin's cover includes the lovely appellation "Special 69 Issue," indicating that the book is meant to be relished in two festive directions.

Both front covers are pretty great, but Griffin's cover was especially dazzling, featuring a gleaming winged beetle standing at the base of stairwell in a subterranean tunnel littered with skulls and barbarous eyeball creatures. The beetle appears to be either following or berating a flaming solar disc scampering up the stairs. The lone word balloon above the beetle contains Hebrew lettering that spells out Yahshuah (Jesus), but the archaic spelling Griffin employs seems to honor Kabbalistic mysticism and centuries-old Christian occultists. The subtext of Griffin's grand cover surely flew over the heads of his fellow Zap creators as well as the vast majority of the book's readers (yeah, that would include me).

Griffin's incandescent cover art makes it more ironic that Wilson's "side two" cover covers the better half of Zap #3. Not that both halves of the book don't deliver solid content, and there are more hits than misses, but this issue is surprisingly fickle. The hits are rather mind-blowing while the misses leave us wanting for the hits. Not that the "misses" suck, but it's apparent that some contributors aren't quite hitting their peak.

Surprisingly, Robert Crumb is one of the creators still looking for that pinnacle of performance in Zap #3. His daring has clearly been inspired by S. Clay Wilson's pioneering in Zap #2, but he was still reaching for the peak of his creative genius in this issue. Of his four solo stories, "Street Corner Daze" may be the best, even though it's the underground comics equivalent of a Public Service Announcement warning about the dangers of shooting speed. Still, it's tremendously stylish and funny. His other three stories also show his maturing style, but don't pack the wallop of "Street Corner Daze" or his later work.

The bulk of Shelton's work is in his "Wonder Blows an Easy One," a nine-page Wonder Wart-Hog adventure, in which Philbert Desanex changes into his superhero persona to catch a bank robber. It's basically a slastick comedy, which Shelton excels at, but despite all the action it drags a little for most of the story.

Victor Moscoso provides 10 pages of content within two stories (perhaps "multipanel compositions" is more apt than "stories"); a four-pager that serves as the centerfold flip for the book and a six-page wordless story that features his trademark surrealism integrated with M.C. Escher-style construction. The six-pager, "Camel," is as non-linear as his work in Zap #2 and perhaps even more abstract. Like much of his early comic work, "Camel" seems to have no beginning, middle or end, but only a series of interactions between (or within) anthropomorphic creatures, celestial objects and body parts.

The four-pager set in the middle of the book represents a bifurcation, as it defines the split between one half of the book and the other upside-down half. To innovatively convey this movement from head to tail and tail to head, in the absolute center of the book Moscoso portrays a male duck and a female duck engaged in "69," the ultimate yin-yang sexual position. With this cartoon, Moscoso fulfills the "Special 69 issue" tagline on Griffin's front cover art, and gives every reason for the reader to flip over the book and study it from both sides.

As much as Crumb or Wilson, Moscoso presents comic art that has never been seen before, opening unforeseen doors for artists who may have never considered a career in comic books before. But when it comes to opening new doors, no one is yet ready to match the rebellious S. Clay Wilson. As in Zap #2, Wilson is the one who delivers the most inspired work in this issue. His first one-pager on "side one" is "Come Fix," in which Bernice cooks up some fresh cum so Lulu can inject it like heroin or speed, which causes her to sprout a whopping crank.
Wilson gives us another one-pager just before the centerfold split, in which Bernice is now coupled with a cold fish named Arnie. In 21 small panels, Bernice and Arnie not only interact with each other, but with a giant demon with a prodigious erection who is ejaculating into his own clawed hand. The demon is depicted only once, reclining at the bottom of the page, but his presence and his cum are featured in 17 of the 21 panels. Bernice and Arnie react only to the parts of the monster that appear in each of the panels. I can't say if Wilson originated the concept behind this cartoon, but it's brilliantly executed here.
_ Zap Comix #0 Spine Scratch Comparison
(click for larger image)
But Wilson's most memorable contribution to Zap #3 is his lead story for side two (the side with his cover art). "Captain Pissgums and His Pervert Pirates" is a 10-page high-seas adventure featuring the indelibly named Captain Pissgums, who delights in having his crew members pee into his mouth ("Over the gums and into the tum...yummy yum yum"). The crew is a motley collection of sadists, masochists and opium smokers who spend more time diddling each other than navigating to any destination.

But trouble is afoot when Captain Fatima and her dyke pirates attack Pissgums' ship with cannonballs and attempt to sieze control. A mighty battle ensues on deck, which tuckers everyone out, so they decide to quit fighting and start fucking. Alas, the ship is no longer seaworthy, so almost everyone goes aboard Fatima's ship to continue the orgy...except for Pissgums and Fatima, who were getting busy below deck! Wilson's tale is brazen and gritty and introduces some saucy character types that will populate so much of his future work.

Besides doing one of the front covers, Rick Griffin only provides artwork for both inside front covers and one other impressive one-pager. But he does participate in the three-page collaboration between all the artists near the end of side two, entitled "Atomic Comics." The story opens with Philbert Desanex but a large cast of characters soon follows, including Wilson bikers, Oat Willie, Mr. Natural, Shelton chickens and Angelfood McSpade. It's an entertaining romp and Zap's readers will come to treasure these jam sessions between the artists in subsequent issues, though future installments are often only one page.

Despite the occasional sluggish writing, Zap Comix #3 establishes a new standard for the series, which would only inspire the Zapsters to take it to the next level in the next issue.
There are nine known printing variations of this comic book, though there are several more that cannot be distinguished from one another. Kennedy's Price Guide states there were 20 Print Mint printings for a total of 340,000 copies, and that was only through 1982 (and four identified printing variations). The following describes the identified print variations:
1st printing - 50-cent cover price, heavier paper stock for cover than other printings
2nd printing - 50-cent cover price, normal paper stock for cover
3rd printing - 75-cent cover price
4th printing - $1.00 cover price
5th printing - $2.00 cover price
6th printing - $2.50 cover price

7th printing - $2.95 cover price
8th printing - $3.95 cover price
9th printing - $4.95 cover price
There were price changes on all the printings except the first two, which presents a major issue for collectors who want the 1st printing. The only known way to differentiate the 1st printing from the 2nd printing is the weight of the paper used for the covers of the book, which means there is no visual differentiating factor.
Which means it's back to the precision calipers and micrometers to authenticate the 1st printing. Further complicating matters is that there were as many as 220,000 or more copies of the "2nd printing" produced in as many as 12 press runs over the course of five or six years. As far as I can tell, that makes this 2nd printing the most common edition of any of the printings of Zap Comix.

From the measurements I have taken of multiple 1st and 2nd printings, the 1st prints measured from .0060 to .0072 inches. The 2nd prints run from .0032 to .0047 inches. The wide range of 2nd printing measurements is due to the diversity of paper stocks used in different press runs. I don't have as many Zap #3s as Zap 1s or 2s, so there may be even more differentiation in cover weight for 2nd printings than I have stated. For that matter, there may be more differentiation in cover weight for 1st printings, as early underground comic printers were known for using different paper stocks when dashing off a print run. But if the cover measures under .0050 inches, forget about getting it authenticated as a 1st printing.

The chances of finding a verifiable 1st printing from a random pile of Zap #3s with 50-cent covers is probably well under 1 in 10. Keep those micrometers handy.

Side One (Griffin cover):
Rick Griffin - 1-2
Robert Crumb - 3-5, 22-23
Victor Moscoso - 6-11, 25-26
S. Clay Wilson - 12, 24
Gilbert Shelton - 13-21
Side Two (Wilson cover):

S. Clay Wilson - 1, 3-12, 14, 18, 21-23 (collaboration)
Rick Griffin - 2, 13, 21-23 (collaboration)
Robert Crumb - 15-17, 19-20, 21-23 (collaboration), 24
Victor Moscoso - 21-23 (collaboration), 25-26
Gilbert Shelton - 21-23 (collaboration)
_ Zap Comix #2 2nd
2nd Printing
50-cent cover, regular- weight cover stock
_ Zap Comix 3 3rd
3rd Printing
75-cent cover price.