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excellent writing
masterpiece art
historical bonus 5
total score 10
Zap Comix #6
Zap Comix 6 Back CoverBack Cover
(click for larger image)

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2nd Printing / mid 1970s / 52 pages / Apex Novelties
First Printing January 1973
After two and a half years of not producing a follow-up to Zap #5, the Zap Collective finally got together to produce Zap #6. In the world of mainstream comics, any notion of skipping 30 months between issues would be absurd and doom the publication. But not for Zap. During its lengthy hiatus, the existing issues had sold out one reprint after another in a marketplace that now included over 200 underground titles.

Since the last issue of Zap came out, underground comics had grown incredibly popular and some believed that undergrounds would soon dominate the conventional comic-book market and change the entire nature of the industry. Alas, that vision was never realized; in fact, the genre was just months away from the end of its golden era. Even so, by the end of 1972 every member of the Zap Collective had experienced moderate-to-immense artistic (and financial) success in the comic-art counterculture.

Zap Comix #6 features all seven contributors prominently, with five getting major stories and the other two (Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb) splitting the front and back cover art. After a comic jam on the inside front cover that's terrific, but so small and dense it should've been printed as a poster, the book officially leads off with the eight-page "Masterpiece on the Shithouse Wall" by Robert Williams.

"Masterpiece" begins with a Cro-Magnon caveman who portrays another caveman having sex with an elk by finger-painting on a cave wall with his own shit. 15,000 years later, long after his feces has petrified and the cave wall has been wholly relocated into a natural history museum, art historians misidentify the bestial cave art as a depiction of a mythical hunting ritual.

Enter Williams' signature character, Coochy Cooty, who stumbles into the natural history museum after getting hit by a bus. The dazed Coochy staggers to rest at the base of the cave art, which magically bequeaths him with the power to destroy all "pictorial decadence." Coochy gleefully lays siege to all manner of lewd aesthetics with content-sucking force, but just when he thinks he's eradicated vulgarity from the planet, he encounters the all-powerful force of bathroom graffiti! Rebuked by the immutability of bathroom-wall smut, Coochy scurries back to the cave art, but discovers his cave-wall champion secretly indulges in the same sleaze that Coochy was trying to vanquish.

"Masterpiece on the Shithouse Wall" succinctly skewers the pomposity of art history and suggests the most indomitable aspect of art lies in the propensity of ordinary people to express their most ignoble thoughts. In society's lowest-common-denominator population, there exists an incessant and unassailable power to communicate. Williams artwork is as cluttered with texture, detail and movement as ever, and like one of S. Clay Wilson's or Fred Schrier's abundantly illustrated tales it requires the reader to really study the panels to reap the full reward of the content.

Crumb follows "Masterpiece" with a couple of one-pagers that depict a protagonist whose head is too filled with angst to survive and Mr. Natural trying to convince a dubious Flakey Floont to turn to prayer in times of trouble. Though not without their charms, these appear to be "filler" pages for Crumb, which he was prone to produce when filling up his Zap quota.

S. Clay Wilson gives us the eight-page "Angels & Devils," which portrays two immortal entities as all too-real, flesh-and-blood people. Though ostensibly polar opposites on the morality spectrum, Wilson characterizes angels and devils as kindred spirits whose thoughts have more similarities than one might expect. Through their choice of actions, however, the angels turn out to be masqueraders whereas the devils are simply being true to themselves. In Wilson's world, neither angels or devils are beings that mere mortals should aspire to become.

A few pages later, Mr. Natural takes Flakey Floont to meet his dad, who lives in a delapidated apartment in a destitute neighborhood. It's not entirely surprising that Mr. Natural's father is a mean-spirited, intolerant old fart who treats Flakey with even more condescension than Mr. Natural always has. If the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree, we shouldn't expect Mr. Natural to soften up in his old age!

Wilson returns for "Wanda and Tillie, featuring Jesus Christ," a two-pager most notorious for one panel that shows Jesus giving a blow job to Satan. Though potentially a play on words, Wilson's audacious sacrilege was really a friendly jab at Rick Griffin, who had begun his conversion to Christianity during Zap's hiatus and contributed comic art with some spiritual connotations to Zap #6. Wilson's "Angels & Devils" from this issue could also be viewed as a jab at Griffin's deepening Christianity.

The Zap Collective had an unwritten-yet-steadfast rule that there would be no censorship of any contribution to the publication. Everyone was empowered with complete editorial freedom, a freedom both Wilson and Griffin leveraged in the '70s. As Griffin began utilizing the freedom to insert spiritual comics into Zap, Wilson increasingly used it to make fun of religion, especially Christianity. To my knowledge, this dichotomy did not create measurable dissension or acrimony between the two artists.

Griffin's lone story in Zap #6 is "Omo Bob Rides South," a six-page tale that depicts Omo Bob abandoning the approaching armageddon in America and setting out on horseback for Mexico. In Mexico, Bob discovers a beautiful but desolate wasteland that allows him to focus on divinity, but his solitude is aborted when he's captured and interrogated by "marauding Commancheros," who prove to be heathens when they don't understand his riddle about Jesus Christ's resurrection. The Commancheros steal Bob's stuff and leave him for dead in the desert, but either divine mercy or Lady Luck rescue Bob from certain death and allow him to ride the dusty trails again.

"Omo Bob" is one of Griffin's sporadic diversions into sequential storytelling in comic books and among his best. The artwork is exceptionally detailed and, as always, meticulously designed and composed with serpentine line work and symmetry.

There is a terrific article about Rick Griffin by Erik Davis (on his blog), where Davis articulates that "Griffin became a Christian during the heyday of the Jesus People, a distinctly countercultural expression of American Christianity that would come to mainstream prominence in 1972, when a host of major magazine articles and books brought a great deal of attention to the hirsute holy ones who so peculiarly combined — in a variety of ways — hippie values with rock solid biblical faith. For many of the Jesus People, the Lord became a kind of guerrilla guru, an intimate and revolutionary spiritual pal who offered, in the face of countercultural chaos, 'One Way' to go."

Rick Griffin aficionados recognize that while Griffin became a Christian, his conversion was spread over the course of a decade and was distinctly unconventional and personal. As Davis put it, even in the throes of his spiritual communion with God, Griffin "never turned his back on his own artistic, cultural, and social heritage as a full-bore freak."

Zap #6 wraps with a violent biker story from Spain Rodriguez ("Evening at the Country Club") and a beautiful, surreal tale from Victor Moscoso ("Loop de Loop") that simultaneously pays homage to Disney characters, Warner Brothers' Bugs Bunny, and "Little Nemo in Slumberland" by Winsor McCay. Moscoso slips in a nice lampoon of Catholicism along the way in one of his most alluring, clever and well-paced stories.

Zap Comix #6 is a great underground and it signified, after a lengthy intermission, that the Zap Comix anthology would not end up being just a popular fad of the late '60s, but an enduring comic series that would have a lot more to say about our society and about the artists who forged a new brand of comic art. There were hiccups along the way, but Zap Comix would be around as long as members of the Zap Collective still breathed.
There are seven 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 five Print Mint printings for a total of 165,000 copies, and that was only through 1982 (and only two identified printing variations at the time). The following describes the identified print variations:
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 - $2.50 cover price
6th printing - $2.95 cover price
7th printing - $4.95 cover price
Based on Kennedy's assertion that 165,000 copies were printed by 1982 and the cover price changed to 75 cents in the mid '70s (when sales volumes were lower), it seems logical to assume that about 100,000 copies of Zap #6 were printed with a 50-cent cover price (and therefore identified as a 1st printing). This would make the 1st printing of Zap #6 the second-most commonly available 1st printing in the Zap Comix series (though well below the quantity of "1st printings" of Zap #5).
It's important that collectors understand the enormous difference in the availability of 1st printings of Zap's early issues. Whereas #1, #2 and #0 had very small print runs on the 1st printings (as few as 500 and up to 3,500 or so), by issue #3 the popularity of the title demanded higher print runs. The 1st printings of #3 and #4 may have been 20,000 or more (and are hard to identify) and by the fifth and sixth issues, quantities hit 100,000 or more because multiple press runs with the same cover price are all considered "1st printings."

Gilbert Shelton 1, 2 (collaboration), 22-23
Robert Williams - 2 (collaboration), 3-10, 26-27
Robert Crumb - 2 (collaboration), 11-12, 21, 24-25, 30, 51-52
S. Clay Wilson - 2 (collaboration), 13-20, 28-29
Rick Griffin - 2 (collaboration), 31-36
Spain Rodriguez - 2 (collaboration), 37-44
Victor Moscoso - 2 (collaboration), 45-50
Zap Comix #6 1st
1st Printing
50-cent cover.