When I was a youngster, I remember looking at the comics rack in our local liquor store, “George’s Liquor”. Old man George was a curmudgeonly old man who smoked a big cigar, this was before there was laws to ban indoor smoking. George’s store had two pieces, the back, separated by a huge black curtain had all the booze, and porno mags, the front of the store had all the soda, 5 cents to 25 cent candy, regular magazines and the comics. George would get annoyed at us and grunt “You kids just gonna stand there and read those picture books are you gonna buy summin’?” Was his common refrain, what George didn’t know was he threw all the comics in one section, the DC, the Marvel and the underground ones. As a kid I would gravitate towards the weirder comics, I still read the super hero ones but I was more interested in the “Conan the Barbarian” comics than the Superman and Spider-man comics, the “Conan” comics were pretty racy and as a young boy I felt funny looking at Conan laying on top of the scantly clad women in the issue. I promptly bought two issues before my mom caught me reading them and threw them away. One day, browsing the comics I came across a cover that was completely different from all the comics populating the rack, it said “Weirdo” and the cover was creepy, I picked it up, after thumbing through it I knew it was something my mom would throw away if I bought it and then recommend I see a psychiatrist. There was weird people having sex, indiscriminate violence and creepiness that sprang up and hit me between my nine year old eyes. I felt like it was something I shouldn’t be reading and through the years it sat in the back of my subconscious growing like a poisonous mushroom in the dark basement of my mind until it came full grown.
So after buying the “Zap Comix” box set, and reading the supplemental material the poisonous mushroom reared its ugly head in the basement. Robert Crumb, of “Fritz the Cat”, “Keep on Truckin'” fame founded “Zap” and invited his artist friends to make “Zap Comix”, the first underground comic to spurn on the movement, not the first underground comic but the one to spread independent comics to more widespread notoriety. Robert wanted to bring in more blood to “Zap” newer artists besides Spain, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson, Rick Griffin, Gilbert Shelton and Victor Moscoso. They put it to a vote and Robert got outvoted, undeterred, Robert decided he was gonna start another magazine featuring new up and comers, as well as the old masters of the underground comics called “Weirdo”. In fact most of the “Zap” crew would contribute to “Weirdo”.
“The whole idea for “Weirdo” magazine came to me in a flash in the fall of 1980. I was performing my daily meditation exercise one day when the vision of this kooky, screwball magazine erupted in all its tacky, low-life, dumb-ass essence, a style-mix of the old 1940’s and 1950’s girlie-and-cartoon ‘joke books,’ Harvey Kurtzman’s early MAD and Humbug, their sleazy imitator, and the self published ‘punk zines’ of the period. I got very excited. I became obsessed,” Crumb wrote.
Crumb took his idea to Ron “Baba” Turner of “Last Gasp Eco Funny Comix” who’d published both Crumb and his wife before. Ron said Crumb had a deal if Crumb did the covers and had artwork in each issue which Crumb agreed to. Crumb’s covers mimicked the old “Humbug” and “MAD” magazine covers with small illustrations populating the borders. Crumb also had a lively letter section, most of the letters coming from artists who would go on to do more things in the future, people like Craig Yoe, etc., future filmmaker Terry Zwigoff, who would go on to do the “Crumb” documentary, “Ghost World”, “Bad Santa” etc. who was friends with the Crumbs took photos for the infamous fumettis for “Weirdo” hosted a love and relationship advice column that was humorous in the letters section.
Crumb was inspired by the “photo funnies” from the men’s magazines of the 1940’s and 1950’s, magazines like “Titter” and “Wink” not to mention the ones Kurtzman made for “Humbug”.
The Italian magazines called them “fumetti” and they were really popular in Mexico but called “Fotonovelas”. Crumb put his own fetish like spin on it, his fumettis normally featured women with muscular legs and big asses, sometimes Crumb took the photos himself and sometimes he employed outside photographers but didn’t like how they turned out. Zwigoff was one who did some of the photography. These were widely unpopular with the “Weirdo” readership who wanted more comics, in fact, they were widely panned through out the letter’s section. Crumb didn’t care, until almost the end of his editorship he kept on featuring them, personally I think they added something different to an otherwise straight comic magazine, also some of the chicks Crumb picked are pretty hot.
Crumb also featured comics from people who weren’t practicing artists, people like prisoners, the insane and amateurs if he found the content interesting. One prisoner sent Crumb comics from his experiences in prison and Crumb put them in the magazine. Macedonio was a cartoonist who went to prison for assault. His work featured in issue 5.
Not to mention he put on the back cover of an issue a rambling, paranoid schizo screed from Francis E Dec, Dec was a disbarred lawyer who warned about the “Communist Computer God” he thought the CIA was always after him. Dec would send his ranting to random people whose addresses he found in the phone book and he would send them to heads of companies and the government. Crumb published this stuff along with the address to Dec’s house to get even more rants.
He would also re publish found pieces, 1950’s era post cards from a backwoods artist named Norman Pettingill whose cartoons featured insanity in numerous backwoods settings, forests, rough and tumble bars etc. He also reprinted cartoons from 1940’s-50’s era specialty magazines.
And comics from such obscure places as self published underground black newspapers. “A xerox of a xerox” from an elderly black man by the name of Eugene Teal that featured frogs in various, strange situations. Nobody else outside of Crumb would republish stuff so raw and illiterate. Stuff like this is what made Crumb’s editorship one of the best.
B.N. Duncan headed “Teletimes” where he published poems, writings and drawings from the down and out and homeless of the Berkley area. Through him Crumb found some of the material that would be featured in “Weirdo”.
He featured work from the nutso, underground satire religion “Church of the Sub Genius” (Anybody want SLACK?! PRAISE BOB) whose messiah is con artist, insane, pipe smoking, salesman named J.R. “Bob Dobbs”. Some call them a cult and I agree because I know first hand. I am part of it, and so should you. WE ACCEPT HIM WE ACCEPT ONE OF US ONE OF US. FROP FOR ALL.
“Weirdo” also lampooned and made fun of the then current pop culture of the time. Various artists attacked sacred cows like traditional Sunday comic strips, famous ads of the time and so called “good causes” that sent some people in a tizzy over in the letters section. Not only that, gender, sex, age, race etc. would be lampooned, again people in the letters section would get in a tizzy and if a lot of this stuff was published these days, the artist and the publisher would get “cancelled” and have their personal lives destroyed. But “Weirdo” was published when people could take a joke and realize what satire was.
Causing more controversy Crumb put insane/genius Stanislav Szukalski master sculptor and painter who also had a theory called “Zermatism”, he believed all communists, fascists, bullies, criminals and thugs are descended from yetis who raped humans after the Great Global Flood. He wrote thousands of pages on his theory and sculpted and painted based on it, of course, the problem was some of Szukalski’s theories lead to obvious racist ends. Crumb didn’t care about that, if a person was crazy and different enough their work got published in “Weirdo”. As well as pieces by Oisif Egaux “explaining” sexuality and control in a scattershot way.
During Crumb’s tenure the underground “Mini Comix” movement was alive and well and were appearing everywhere, Crumb promoted these in his magazine.
As well as promoting work from his street dwelling, slightly crazy younger brother Max.
The magazine featured a lot of artists that would go on to do bigger things, like John K. of “Ren and Stimpy” fame, Drew Friedman, Kaz (who went on to work for “Sponge Bob Square Pants), Daniel Clowes etc.
Apparently, any artist who appeared in “Weirdo” got 50 bucks a page. However, according to Crumb getting those checks was like squeezing water from a stone. Crumb claimed that he had to stand over publisher Ron Turner’s back to make sure Ron made out those checks and he claimed Ron would drag his feet, get distracted, order lunch and do other things. Robert would badger Ron until he got all those checks for the artist. However, Ron claims that it wasn’t that easy, that the names, Social Security numbers for tax purposes and other things had to be hashed out before a check was written and sent out. Whatever the case Robert got burned out in 1983 on being a editor for “Weirdo”, he was sick of dealing with artist’s and reader’s complaints and just wanted to draw. So he passed the torch to Peter Bagge of “Hate” and “Comical Funnies” fame, after submitting stuff Crumb straight up asked him if he wanted to take over “Weirdo”. At first Bagge didn’t think he was serious, but Robert insisted. Bagge was moving from New York to Seattle because his wife was co owning a deli business with her sister whose husband was a Seattle Seahawks football player. Peter Bagge was more punk rock, New York, than Crumb who was ex hippie and more into pre 1940’s music and from laid back Berkley. Bagge was considered the “smart ass” and brought along his smart ass friends from New York and Seattle to help put material in “Weirdo”. Starting with issue 10 Bagge came on ragin’. “Weirdo” was in good hands.
There was also an “Ugly Madonna” art contest and as well as a “Ugly Art” contest where people submitted their ugliest art. A lot of the contributions came from future famous cartoonists and animators as well as underground cartoonists.
As per his agreement with the publisher, Last Gasp, Crumb continued to do covers and comics, even though he wasn’t a editor. Some of his best work was during Bagge’s tenure as editor in my opinion.
Bagge’s tenure also brought about more biographical pieces, like Bagge’s experience as a kid dealing with an actual “Weirdo”. He also encouraged other cartoonists and letter writers to submit their experiences on dealing with actual rejects and they all complied. Another example is Bruce Carleton’s (Bruce did work for “Punk” and “Screw” magazine) illustrated diary of being in the Malay archipelago and his sexscapades.
Various work got featured during Bagge’s tenure from his fellow School of Visual Arts peers. SVA had as teachers Will Eisner (The Spirit), Harvey Kurtzman (as mentioned “Humbug” and “Mad” magazine), and Art Spiegelman (of “Maus”, “RAW magazine” and “Garbage Pail Kids” fame, more about him later). As well as artist Rory Hayes whom artist Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead) does a introduction for. There is something wrong with Rory’s comics, the man is deeply disturbed but he is also a genius, Rory died at 34 years old from a drug overdose when Crumb published him in “Snatch Comics”, Janis Joplin (yes that one) came over and read Crumb the riot act Crumb wrote “She said “Look, I have to talk to you this is serious, you know I think you guys are making a big mistake putting this Rory Hayes guy in your comics. The rest of you guys are doing this kind of funny stuff about sex and all that, but this guy is just sick, he’s a psycho.” Some of the “Zap” crew returns, mainly Spain and S. Clay Wilson with his “Checkered Demon” character, Wilson’s “Checkered Demon” would drive this easily offended generation into the nuthouse.
Bagge also being tight with the “Punk Magazine” crew republished some stuff from the than defunct magazine in “Weirdo”, again I love this reprinted material. It was one of the more interesting features of “Weirdo” exposing people to something they hadn’t read or seen yet.
Bagge started getting “Weirdo” burn out like Crumb (he put “Weirdo” together on his kitchen table and would drive down to Berkley!) he got burned out dealing with pissy artists and apparently Ron Turner, the publisher didn’t think too much of Bagge. Bagge was wanting to just do his own art and wanted to do his own “Hate Comix” and “Neat Comix”. The reins went over to “The Bunch”, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Robert’s wife who have previously got worked published in “Wimmen Comix”, “Power Pak”, “Twisted Sisters” etc. among other publications. She came on board on issue 18 in 1987. She was called “The Bunch” because Crumb had a a fussy, female character drawn like his future wife called “The Bunch” people called her that and it stuck. From the beginning of the magazine, the Crumb’s daughter, Sophie, had been born and living. Some of her art is in these issues, Aline’s issues lean more towards the biographical end of things, and depending on the story they can be interesting, hilarious or boring. Aline also brought to light more female artists, however, there was less found items and less galleries which were high lights for me. Aline’s run is my least favorite, it isn’t bad, I just like Crumb and Bagge’s insane editorship, Aline’s is more “professional” well, as professional as you can get editing a magazine like “Weirdo”. Bagge did a guest editorship on issue 25 while Aline had a holiday in France.
With issue 27 the Crumb’s were ready to hang it up, Aline wanted to really move to France. Winters, CA was getting over run with Mc Mansions, and Aline didn’t like her daughter using words like “duh” and they said “the Christian right were taking over the country” so they moved to France. They had a lot of money and bought a chateau Ron Turner was going to reprint all of the “Weirdo” issues and wanted the Crumb’s to do one more to promote the reprints. They obliged with the last issue, 28. The issue was an “International Issue” and the title was in French “Verre D’eau” which means “glass of water” they called it that because “Weirdo” phonetically to the french sounds close to “Verre D’eau”. On the cover was just as a lone glass of water. In my opinion “Weirdo” goes out not with a bang but a whimper. In my opinion this was the weakest issue, its still good and features art from not only America but Europe too. However, my problems aren’t with the art, its the message, when it comes to politics or religion I don’t like to be preached at. I admire when people can get their point across in a intelligent and original manner, even if I disagree with their point of view. Convince me, don’t yell in my face and yell in my face this issue does. I am not going to tell you where I line up politically, this blog isn’t about that and it is nobody’s business, hell, I might even agree with everything politically in this issue but think the execution is bad. Too much of this in the issue.
In the last issue there was a lot of controversy, especially with Crumb’s parodies of racist and anti-Semitic views and attitudes. Again he used satire to expose this but for a lot of stupid people it flew over their heads. In fact, a white nationalist zine called “Race and Reality” republished the two comics thinking them serious which shows how far it flew over their heads, that shouldn’t surprise anybody, any person who goose steps, wears a brown uniform and lives in their mother’s basement with no job isn’t too smart of a person. Art Spiegelman pointed out to Crumb how satire can be misinterpreted and he shouldn’t have ever published the comics. Crumb dismissed this and said it wasn’t his responsibility if some idiots took satire seriously and I agree, if everybody went around worried that some idiot was gonna take their creative work out of context and get some bad influence out of it nothing would be created. In my mind, that line of reasoning can be used to censor works and is a dangerous line of thinking, Spiegelman, a life long artist himself should know better. So Trigger Warning, if you get offended scroll down the page, kids this is what we call “SATIRE” its meant to shed light on something that is very dark in a humorous or over the top way, you’ve been warned.
If you end up being convinced you need to dive into the cesspool that is “Weirdo” and come up smelling like shit, you should get the recently released “The Book of Weirdo” by Jon B. Cooke, Drew Friedman does the cover, the book goes into way more detail than I did in this post, the guy searches every nook and cranny of the “Weirdo” universe and anybody even tangentially connected to the magazine. Released by Last Gasp and highly recommended. So many artists were showcased in “Weirdo” that I left out, Savage Pencil, R.L. Crabb, Phoebe Gloeckner, Carel Moiseiwitsch etc. If you want a good picture of the underground culture of the 1980’s and early 1990’s there is no better place to look than “Weirdo”.
So where do you become a “Weirdo”? Well, try looking on ebay or amazon, cheap physical copies are still available. I am one of those old crusty guys that prefers the physical copy but if your one of these young whippersnappers that like to see things on these new fangled thingamajigs you can go here: https://getcomics.info/other-comics/weirdo-1-28/
And I highly recommend the book “The Book of Weirdo” after you peruse or read all the issues, it goes more in depth than I ever could. The book is very comprehensive and every person having anything to do with “Weirdo” is interviewed. Get it here: https://www.amazon.com/Book-Weirdo-Retrospective-Legendary-Anthology/dp/0867198753