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solid writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 4
total score 9
Zap Comix #5
Zap Comix 5 Back CoverBack Cover
(click for larger image)

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1st Printing / May 1970 / 52 pages / Apex Novelties
After Zap Comix #4 got busted for obscenity and caused all manner of trouble for people who published or sold the book, it's no surprise that the follow-up issue pulls back the reins a little, at least when it comes to portraying incest or underage sex. But despite tapping the brakes, the creators still keep driving their agenda about unlimited freedom of expression on all fronts, from sex and violence to politics and religion. Well, at least most of the contributors do.

The most jarring change of course by any member of the Zap Collective in this issue is taken by Robert Crumb, who was chiefly responsible for the obscenity bust with Zap #4. Evidently shaking in his boots after that debacle, Crumb contributes the two most benign and innocuous stories in Zap Comix #5. Indeed, "Mr. Natural" and "The Adventures of Fuzzy the Bunny" are virtually inoffensive, featuring no nudity, eroticism or explicit violence, with barely so much as a curse word in their 18 collective pages.

The Mr. Natural story is centered on his relationship with Flakey Floont, a regular client who's hasn't made an appointment for several weeks. Mr. Natural goes out of his way to resurrect the relationship and discovers that Flakey has "gone off the deep end" yet he refuses any counseling from Mr. Natural. Well, we all know that won't last, but it's interesting that Crumb recognizes the evolution of the hippie zeitgeist, which had grown more cynical in San Francisco and no longer offered unlimited opportunity for sham gurus like Mr. Natural.

"The Adventures of Fuzzy the Bunny" is even more benign than the Mr. Natural story. It's a 12-page adaptation of an adventure story that Crumb had developed with his older brother Charles, who by 1970 was continuing his regression into deep isolation and mental illness. The story follows a pair of anthropomorphic characters; Fuzzy (a bunny) and Ronny (a pug-nose dog), as they discover a genie in a bottle and go on a wild escapade to the planet Saturn before landing in India.

Although it's a rather interesting (if childlike) romp, it's hardly what we've come to expect from Robert Crumb in Zap Comix, especially after Zap #4. It seems like Crumb is trying to be careful not to draw attention to himself in this particular comic book, even as he grew ever more outrageous in other undergrounds (e.g., Motor City Comics #2, Uneeda Comix). I believe that while Crumb was trying to protect himself from legal scrutiny, he was also trying to protect the Zap Comix series, The Print Mint (the actual publisher of this book, despite the credit to Apex Novelties), and the retailers who had taken it on the chin with Zap #4.

The rest of the Zap Collective doesn't appear to change course nearly as much, but in the midst of the legal consequences of Zap #4, they do seem a bit more careful not to push the envelope when it comes to sex. Of course, the safest way to remain hip and controversial without risking arrest is to emphasize violence instead of sex! It's a proven and time-honored axiom that you can portray virtually any aspect of excessive violence and torture as long as you don't show kids or teenagers exploring their sexuality!

Naturally, S. Clay Wilson is always up for this challenge. He contributes two excessively violent and tortuous stories; "Lester Gass, The Midnight Misogynist" and "Ruby the Dyke Meets Weedman." Both feature murder, torture, demons and fiends in Wilson's trademark, blood-and-cum-spurting style. While I don't presume that you've read my underground comics reviews in alphabetical order, even a cursory review of this site establishes my opinion that Wilson shattered the taboos of comic-book content every bit as much as Robert Crumb. There's a reason my nom de plume is M. Steven Fox, and I'll slice your dick off if you try to diss my icon's honor!

But Zap Comix #5 is really the 27-year-old Robert Williams' coming out party. Williams had experienced minor success with Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and joined the Zap Collective with the previous issue, but Zap #5 provided a spotlight on his art for many thousands of his future fans (and avid art collectors). Not only does Williams contribute both the front and back cover art, and the inside back cover, he provides the opening story and the debut of his signature cartoon character Coochy Cooty.

Though eroticism would eventually define Williams' lifelong genre, in this issue he allows senseless violence to rule his attitude. It begins with the front cover art, which depicts an armor-clad, cigar-smoking man brandishing a gleaming broadsword and (in one swing) chopping in half anthropomorphic versions of: a tree, a rock, a slice of bread, a pointy mutant, a castle, and a robot.

Williams' opening story, "Bludgeon Funnies," portrays one ludicrous act of brutal murder on top of another, declaring "Let's face it, violence is 'in'" and "Violence is always right if you're the winner!" Despite every panel featuring ferocious depictions of chainsaw murders and brain-splattering shotgun blasts, Williams' illustration style renders each act of savagery into apathetic poetry, draining the most noxious aspects of violence due to their elegant, avant-garde interpretations.

Coochy Cooty is introduced near the end of the book in "Coochy Cooty in Docil Days." The opening panel shows a silhouette of Williams working at his drawing board as he imagines how he'll "poison the world's youth" with the story of Coochy Cooty. His protagonist is a diminutive, bee-like character with floppy ears and Mickey Mouse footgear who becomes embroiled in a dark spectacle at a bizarre ceremony for public executions (taking place in a shopping center parking lot). Coochy Cooty would become the titular character in an enormously popular underground comic book soon after this debut, helping Williams along his career path as an innovative cartoonist, fine art painter and magazine publisher.

Gilbert Shelton and Victor Moscoso also provide major stories in Zap #5, with Shelton delivering a clever political diatribe and Moscoso continuing to explore his narrative comic potential (and getting deeper into erotica). Spain Rodriguez is notably absent from this issue, save his minor collaboration with three other Zap artists on the inside front cover.

Zap Comix #5 was hardly the groundbreaking book that #4 was, but then I could say that about every other comic book ever printed. What it did do was continue to firm up the foundation laid by its predecessors while providing some provocative comic stories...well, except for the unusually reticent Robert Crumb contributions.

After this issue, members of the Zap Collective pursued many individual projects and it took two and a half years before they produced the next issue of the title that made them famous. In the meantime, The Print Mint kept running off reprint after reprint of the first six issues of the Zap Comix series, selling over a million copies during the heart of the golden age of underground comix. Today, it's hard to imagine that Zap Comix was as popular as it was back in the early '70s, but it's certainly not hard to imagine why.
There are six 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 15 Print Mint printings for a total of 340,000 copies, and that was only through 1982 (and three identified printing variations at the time). Fortunately, there is no controversy or difficulty when it comes to distinguishing the different printings, as they all have different cover prices:
1st printing - 50-cent cover price
2nd printing - 75-cent cover price
3rd printing - $1.00 cover price
4th printing - $2.00 cover price
5th printing - $2.95 cover price
6th printing - $3.95 cover price
Unlike the previous issues, for which historians are able to determine the very first print run, Zap #5 has no distinguishing characteristic for the genuine 1st printing. So, while there might've been 20-30,000 copies from the very 1st printing with a 50-cent cover price, there were probably another 160,000 copies (or more) from subsequent printings that also had a 50-cent cover price, and they are all indistinguishable from one another. Which makes the "1st printing" of Zap #5 the most common, widely available 1st printing in the entire series. The 3rd and 4th printings of Zap #5 are much more rare, but of course since they aren't from the 1st printing they don't command nearly the collectible value.

Robert Williams - 1, 3-6, 46-49, 51-52
Gilbert Shelton - 2, 23-26
Robert Crumb - 2 (collaboration), 17-22, 34-45 (art, script collaboration)
Victor Moscoso - 2 (collaboration), 7-12
S. Clay Wilson - 2 (collaboration), 13-16, 27-33, 50
Spain Rodriguez - 2 (collaboration)
Charles Crumb - 34-45 (script collaboration)