Underground Comics Movement

Photo courtesy of Trevor Blake on Flickr

Photo courtesy of Trevor Blake on Flickr

Preston Tucker, Arts & Entertainment Editor

Every medium has its adversities. For comics this was the comics code authority. The comics code authority was founded in 1954 and, was a reactionary measure due to “Seduction of the Innocent” by Fredric Wertham. Fredrick Wertham believed that kids reading comics would become overly violent and a delinquent. His claims lead to a severe court case in which the CCA was established.

The CCA banded many including: monsters, drug use, any sexual content, and anything they deemed ‘uncivil’. This lead to publishers having to stray away from certain ideas so they could sell comics. However, some creators took matters into their own hands.

The underground comics movement did not start out with the noble intentions of telling stories to analyze and criticize modern day problems. They were originally Tijuana Bibles. A Tijuana Bible is a small graphic novels featuring a pornographic parody of popular comic characters.

Even with it’s misguided begins, eventually the underground movement grew to its full potential. Featuring creators such as Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Lynda Barry, Melinda Gebbie, and Harvey Kurtzman, the industry began to thrive.

Robert Crumb is one individual who has had a bit of controversy. His work is often times taken out of context. He often times criticized the racism and sexism he viewed in America at the time and due to this, his work takes some very dark turns.

Photo courtesy of Flickr
Photo courtesy of Flickr

Another noteworthy creator is Harvey Kurtzman. Kurtzman was strongly influenced by the early EC Comics and, was very vital to his work creating for Mad. After his creation of Mad, Kurtzman went on to develop Help! Help! was a big factor for many creators due to it bypassing the CCA.

The height of the underground movement was in the late 60s to early 70s when many works were created to oppose the culture at the time. This caused it to be very popular among many young drug users at the time. One of the main ways these comics were distributed was through “Head Shops” (places that sold drug paraphernalia).  

As the movement went on, more shining stars came out. Lynda Barry and Melinda Gebbie are two great examples. The Underground comic movement was considered mainly a male dominated game so, their inclusion was an important change. Both creators published many great feminist comics throughout their career.

The underground comic movement started to hit a low spot as they entered the late 70s. This was in part due to the CCA beginning to lessen their restraint on publishers. Marvel and DC both started publishing stories in this decade concerning more controversial topics once considered too taboo for the mainstream. This caused the underground comics movement to slip into a rut of pure drug based stories. Art Spiegelman, acclaimed author of Maus, once stated “What had seemed like a revolution simply deflated into a lifestyle. Underground comics were stereotyped as dealing only with Sex, Dope and Cheap Thrills. They got stuffed back into the closet, along with bong pipes and love beads, as Things Started To Get Uglier.”

Ever since the abolishment of the CCA we have not needed much use for an underground movement in comics. However, publishers like Image and Darkhorse seem to still hold similar ideals to those creators in the heyday of the Underground movement. They continually criticize and oppose ideals that flow in today’s modern culture.