The (Annotated) 2002 John Arcudi Interview – Part Twenty-One

Stout’s annotations are in italics.

UNDERGROUND COMIX

WARNING! If bad language and descriptions of arcane sexual practices upset you, then please skip this section of the interview. We get into some pretty raw stuff here.

ARCUDI: Before you started doing movie poster work, if I’m not mistaken, you got back into doing some underground comix, right – like Bicentennial Gross-Outs?

STOUT: Since the Those Lovable Peace Nuts, there wasn’t anything that I knew of that was called underground comix at the time. That was kind of a one-off thing. I just forgot about it after that. Then I met Jim Evans, who was art directing a rock festival I wanted to work on (and ended up working on). I didn’t get hired to do any of the work for the rock festival but Jim and I stayed in touch.

Jim was the guy who introduced me to underground comics. I had never heard of them. Jim knew I was a big Rick Griffin fan. I loved Rick’s stuff. He was an enormous influence on almost everyone in Southern California drawing cartoons in the ‘60s because of the Murphy the Surfer strips he was doing for Surfer magazine. Everybody had Murphy the Surfer on their notebooks. Everybody.

ARCUDI: What year was this?

STOUT: Murphy the Surfer stuff? That was the early ‘60s.

ARCUDI: When you met Jim Evans?

STOUT: That would have been early ‘70s. I think I’d mentioned Rick’s work to Jim because Jim was a surfer. I said, “Rick Griffin. I wonder what ever happened to that guy. I’d love to see his stuff.” And Jim said, “Oh, man – you haven’t seen his recent work?” Actually, I was aware that Rick was doing some rock posters, and I thought that stuff was great. But Jim said, “He’s doing comics, too. He didn’t stop doing Murphy the Surfer. His comics have really taken a different direction from the Surfer magazine days.” I said, “Oh, really. I’d love to see what he’s doing.”

I should also mention that Jim also gave me some very valuable lettering tips that helped to make me a much better letterer.

So, Jim brought over some of the early Zap! Comix with Rick’s work. That was the first time I ever saw Robert Crumb’s stuff. I remember reading the Crumb story “Joe Blow.”

I read that story and I was forever changed. It was astounding; it was this moment of revelation – a real Eureka. It was, “Oh, my god! Comics are capable of anything!”

That was an amazing revelation. They didn’t have to be superheroes. They didn’t have to be for kids. They could be anything that we wanted to make them. I got so excited by that; I just went nuts.

Of course, I had to pick up as many of these “comix” as I could find. At the time, you couldn’t just buy underground comics at a store. There was no way you could do that. I think a few of the porno shops sold them. The way I got them back then was this:

My band and I found out there was a guy who had underground comix at his little news rack — but none of the undergrounds were displayed on the rack. You had to walk up to the guy when there wasn’t anybody around and mention that you wanted to buy some underground comix. If you mentioned it when someone was there he’d yell at you and berate you. “Shut up!” If you were alone, he would look around furtively to make sure that no one was approaching, open up a little cabinet, and pull out the comix. You couldn’t even look at them. You just had to buy them sight unseen. I’d pass the money to him and he’d say, “Now get ‘em out of here. Get ‘em out of here. Don’t let anybody see where you got ‘em.”

So they really were underground. It was like he was selling dope or something. At the time, what was available was almost all Crumb’s stuff, the early Zap Comix and some of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comix. Really primo stuff.

I knew I had to do that kind of work. So Jim Evans said, “I’m publishing an underground comic called The Dying Dolphin.”

It was an environmentally aware political comic about dolphins and saving the oceans. I jumped at the chance to contribute pages to Jim’s book. It seemed like a good opportunity to get into the underground scene. Coincidentally, just a couple of days after Jim had introduced me to my first underground comics, he came over and said, “Hey. Let’s go over to Cherokee Books and see what’s up.” Cherokee Books was a local bookstore in Hollywood. Upstairs was a legendary old comics department run by an odd fellow by the name of Burt Blum. We used to pore through the boxes of comics up there and try to find EC’s or other good comics to buy. I picked up a lot of Frazetta funny animal comics from Burt.

As we’re walking up to the door of Cherokee Books, walking out of the shop is Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez… the entire Zap gang!

Jim knew these guys, so he introduced me. That was the very first time I met all of those guys. I happened to have with me my Dying Dolphin comic pages. They asked to see them. They looked at them and I got a whole variety of reactions. The nicest person, and the guy who is still one of the nicest people in the world of comics, was Spain Rodriguez. He went, “Cool. Just like Wally Wood. Wow, this is great.” Later, I became good friends with Robert Williams, who lived locally (and with Spain, who didn’t). The rest of the guys were pretty much San Francisco/Bay area boys.

I did my two pages for Jim Evans, and he couldn’t use them. Because they were… In my mind, “underground” meant that you could do anything you want. My story included sex, naked women, dope and all kinds of stuff. That was not the direction of Jim’s book, though, so he had the unpleasant task of telling me I couldn’t be in it. I was disappointed but philosophical about it all and set the story aside. Either Robert Williams or George DiCaprio remembered my story; one of those guys got it into a magazine called Flash.

ARCUDI: This is Leonardo DiCaprio’s father?

STOUT: Yes. Leonardo DiCaprio’s father used to distribute all of the underground comix in Los Angeles. He and I were really good friends.

I started to draw more underground stuff on my own. I took that two-pager that Jim rejected and used that to begin my own comic. I drew an entire comic book called Juicy Comix. I even did hand color separations for the covers and everything. I flew up to San Francisco. Like an idiot, I didn’t call anybody first and make appointments. I thought, “Well, this is the underground! I’ll just show up! They’ll love to see this stuff and they’ll all want to publish it!”

No.

First of all, no one wanted to see me. They didn’t know who I was. They were busy. I tracked the guy, Big Bob I think he was called, who owned Print Mint down at a party and showed him the pages. He just flipped. “How dare you bring business into my personal life?” He practically kicked my ass out on the sidewalk. He was furious.

But Last Gasp’s Ron Turner was incredibly kind about the whole thing. I think, like a lot of people in my life, like Harvey Kurtzman and Russ Manning, Ron saw past my socially inept enthusiasm to the person inside with a passion, who really loved what he was doing. Ron said, “I don’t have the budget or the space or the time to produce this right now. But I think it’s really great work.” We kept in touch. He kept me in mind for future projects and called me up when the next issue of Slow Death was being planned. I ended up doing a couple of covers and a two-page story for Slow Death.

Ron especially knew about my passion for environmental politics, so the cover of Slow Death #8, a special Greenpeace issue, was earmarked for me. I contributed a two-page story as well.

I later learned that my two-pager “Animals Your Children Will Never See!” is what ignited Leonardo DeCaprio’s passion for saving and protecting the environment. I was gobsmacked when I learned that. Leo has donated literally millions of dollars to environmental causes. I am so proud to have played a small part in that.

Then around 1976, the bicentennial year for the United States, Ron and George DiCaprio both approached me and said, “Remember that story you did on Disneyland?” I did a satire, an 11 or 13-page satire on Disneyland called “Reality Land” partly based upon my experiences working there. They said, “That would make a perfect story to go into a bicentennial book.”

ARCUDI: This is the one you did for your own comic that ended up not getting published?

STOUT: Right. I had planned it as the centerpiece for Juicy Comix. George DiCaprio, I think, had come up with the name Bicentennial Gross-Outs. George and I agreed to co-edit the book. I edited half of the book and he edited half of the book. Half of the book was my art plus I got Dennis Ellefson and Bill Wray each to do a piece. George got different people to do stories for his half of the book (at their request, I donated a copy of Bicentennial Gross-Outs to the Bicentennial Collection of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County).

The book included a documentary story I had done about the Filipino massacre, something that’s been censored from all of our history books. It’s the story of when the United States went into the Philippines and committed mass genocide, slaughtering approximately two million men, women and children.

ARCUDI: The aboriginal Moro?

STOUT: Yes – we referred to that conflict as the Moro Wars.

I was a big fan of Kurtzman’s Frontline Combat and Two-Fisted Tales books. I thought, “Here’s my chance to do my own true war story.” This was something that had nested in the back of my skull after reading a Gore Vidal state-of-the-union essay for Esquire in which he tangentially mentioned the Filipino massacre. It caught my attention; I thought, “My god — I’ve never heard of anything like that. Ever.” I couldn’t find anything about it in the history books. And so it just sort of stayed in my mind for a while. I believe a month or two later I mentioned it to James Demeter, my lead guitar player who said, “You should talk to my landlord. His father was there – and he took photographs.” I went, “Oh, my god.” He said, “You have to be careful with the guy; he’s a really hard-core conservative. He’s worried that the commies are going to get their hands on this material.”

So, I posed as a UCLA student writing a paper on the Philippines. I called him up and got permission to interview him. He wouldn’t let me borrow the photos, obviously, but I got to take photos of the photos. I had a really good Nikon 35mm camera, so I got really great photos of this stuff. His father had taken and kept the photos and his orders, just in case there ever were Nuremberg-like trials in regards to the Filipino genocide.

His photos were astounding. One photograph showed dozens of people in a pit they’d dug up just before they were executed. I have a “later” picture that shows the same tribes peoples’ heads lined up on a log after their executions. The U. S. soldiers used the heads for barter. It was astounding that he had all of these photographs. With these photographs, I didn’t just luck into a “smoking gun” – I was holding a smoking Howitzer! I turned it into a documentary story for Bicentennial Gross-Outs called “Filipino Massacre.”

This story was reprinted in an issue of Dark Horse Presents.

ARCUDI: You were the very first non-Zap! artist to do a comic book with the Zap! guys.

STOUT: I’m really proud of that work. I think it’s some of the best comics work I ever did. In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, the Zap! comic artists – Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, S. Clay Wilson…all of those guys were brought up on pornography charges. They had drawn these small digest-sized comix (with titles like Jizz and Cum) that were considered pornographic. Janis Joplin testified on Crumb’s behalf.

They were acquitted because the judge and jury declared that these books had socially redeeming value in that they made you laugh. The Zap! guys were delighted not to go to prison, but they were kind of pissed off because they felt it removed some of their outlaw sheen. Their work had actually been officially justified and sanctioned by the Establishment; they chafed at that legitimacy. So S. Clay Wilson said, “Let’s do a book that no one could possibly condone or defend. Let’s do an entire book on felching.”

ARCUDI: I can’t believe you’re going to talk about this. Go ahead.

STOUT: The Zap! guys said, “Felching? What does that mean?” S. Clay explained. It’s an arcane sexual practice that…I don’t think we can really describe it here without getting Fantagraphics into enormous trouble.

Here it is, folks: To “felch” is to fuck someone in the ass and then suck out the cum. In the comic, that semen is referred to by one contributor as “the Devil’s nectar”.

Let’s just say that as soon as you hear what it is, your typical reaction is either complete revulsion or you laugh your head off that anyone would do or come up with such a thing – although, since the publication of that book, I’ve had offers…

All of the Zap! guys each agreed to contribute a story; Robert Williams contacted me to do a story as well. I wrote my story in a sort of Dr. Seuss style. I met my deadline right away, but some of the guys dragged their feet. By the time the book got published, the American public was so blasé about that stuff that it caused nary a ripple.

Robert Williams Felch cover.

ARCUDI: I’m surprised to hear you refer to it as the best work you’ve ever done, because it’s…

STOUT: No. I think it’s one of the…

ARCUDI: OK. It’s one of the best things you’ve ever done. And certainly, in terms of the writing, considering the subject matter, it’s hilarious. But it’s fucking out there.

STOUT: It is indeed out there. But I felt so honored to be in the company of those guys. Robert Williams was nice enough to say that my story was his favorite in the whole book, which was really sweet.

ARCUDI: The word “sweet” used to describe someone’s reaction to a story about felching is a bit too much for me to wrap my head around.

STOUT: I was at a bar at Palmer Station in Antarctica, the only bar that station has, and one of the guys was having a conversation with the woman running the bar. Suddenly he made reference to felching. Boy did I perk up. My eyes riveted to his; he saw my reaction and he knew: “Ah-HAH! A kindred spirit!” That someone would even know that in Antarctica… Man, I think that says a lot about Antarctica and who goes there.

I am currently compiling a huge book on my comics work. My felch story will be published in a separate book compilation that will solely deal with my underground comix work.

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