TWISTED IMAGE #6 “Comix Art” issue

I figured it was just a matter of time before my artistic impulses sabotaged whatever commercial potential I might have. And the “Gore and Violence” issue certainly succeeded at that. I mean, it was hard to come up with a good sales pitch for my advertisers after that one. (“Yes, you too can have your products prominently displayed alongside hideous photos of mutilated and disemboweled corpses. And reasonably priced at the low, low price of merely $25 for a quarter-page ad spread!”)

So I figured I had no choice but to abandon the free newspaper format, and try to sell TWISTED IMAGE as a magazine on the newstand. The problem with that was, I had no knowledge — or the means — about how to get TWISTED IMAGE distributed at hundreds of newsstands across the Bay Area. I mean, this was a completely different ballgame than just taking a stack of 100 newspapers and dumping them at a record store alongside all the other free newspapers. . . On top of that, for reasons that now escape me, I somehow came up with the cover price of (yes!) 75 cents (“marketing” was never my forté). . . Nonetheless I soldiered onwards.

Having gone in the extreme direction of obscene, disgusting, shocking, pornographic underground art with the “Gore and Violence” issue, it was hard to figure which direction I could go now. So I figured the only logical thing to do was to backtrack, and go in the complete OPPOSITE direction. So I decided for the next issue I would prominently feature the wholesome, squeaky clean, all-American, mainstream, middle America, Charles M. Schulz. . . From Black Flag to Peanuts in one fell swoop. And it made perfect sense to me. Though it should be noted that I had been doing a lot of LSD at the time. It probably made considerably less sense to those of you with perfectly normally functioning brains. . . Thus began the “Comix Art” issue.

And I have to say, in spite of the abject failure of the business model, the actual issue itself was kind of a strange, one-of-a-kind classic in a way. Featuring interviews with both Charles Schulz and R. Crumb — arguably the greatest mainstream cartoonist and the greatest underground cartoonist of our times. All in one issue (and for 75 cents!). Considering I was just some schlub working away at a barely-above minimum wage job as a bike messenger, I have to give myself points for being able to pull that one out of my hat.

Meeting Schulz was a surreal experience. For one thing, 5 minutes after meeting this total stranger, it was like I had known him all of my life. And in a way, I had. I had been reading his words and his thoughts on a daily basis ever since I was 7-years-old. And in a lot of ways, I knew Schulz better than most of the actual people in my life. The other thing was, in person he was EXACTLY like you’d expect Charles M. Schulz to be. And more. Humble, thoughtful, self-effacing, soft-spoken, kind, generous, intelligent, incisive, witty (in an under-rated way). I’ve met my share of famous people over the years, and that’s not always the case. They’re often smaller in real life — literally and figuratively — than you’d expect from their media images (the ole’ “Pay no attention to the little man behind the media screen” syndrome).

I did the interview in Schultz’s studio. The walls were lined from floor-to-ceiling with shelves that were stocked full of hard-bound comic books featuring all the greats in the history of comics. It almost felt like being in a comics museum. Periodically, Schulz would pull one of the books from the shelf — Gasoline Alley or Milton Caniff — and lovingly leaf through the pages, and point out specific panels to me to illustrate a point he was trying to make about the artistry of comics. His drawing board was nearby, and a half-finished Peanuts comic strip was sitting on it. Which was a surreal experience in itself. As my mind thought back to all those Peanuts comic strips I had read as a child. And I contemplated the long and winding trail from my childhood home in New Jersey, that eventually led to this desk in far-off Santa Rosa, California. It was sort of like when you learn for the first time where babies come from.

Schulz talked with me for nearly 3 hours. I was surprised he gave me so much time (I was prepared to make my exit at any moment). But he seemed to be enjoying the experience as much as I. . . Or maybe he was just looking for any excuse to avoid having to get back to work on the half-finished comic strip. For me, it was feelings of awe and reverence to be in this man’s presence. For Charles M. Schulz had been an artistic father-figure to me. And beneath the layers of pornography and underground comics that was my stock in trade, you would always find Peanuts in there, too, permanently buried within my DNA. At times, sitting there with Schulz, I even felt like I was in church. Or that I was in a confessional booth with a priest. And at times I even wondered if there was a chance that I could pull myself out of this underground-countercultural-hippie-punk-street weirdo scene that I had degenerated into, and find myself a place as a normal, mainstream American person

One terrible mistake that I made — that I still regret to this day whenever I think of it. I was so nervous, I recorded Side One of one cassette, flipped the tape over and recorded on Side Two, then I forgot that I had recorded both sides and flipped it over AGAIN (!!) and taped over and erased an entire side of the tape (“Good grief, Charlie Brown!!”). And it was some juicy stuff, too. I had always been curious about how most of the male characters in Peanuts were mild-mannered, soft-spoken, deferential, nice. While the female characters tended to be loud, shrewish, domineering. And I gently prodded Schulz a bit about this underlying psychological/sexual dynamic in his comic strip, and how it might have sprang from his own life experiences. And he seemed to warm to the subject. But, alas, like I always say in these situations: “It got edited by God.”

When it was finally time to go, I gave Schulz a present. Some underground comic books I had brought for him. Zap, Weirdo, Furry Freak Brothers, etc. I tried to present a general overview of the subject. I knew he was a true student of the history of the comics, and yet I thought this might be part of the medium that he was unfamiliar with. And maybe even curious about. And I also felt this was kind of like a summit meeting: Overground Comics meets Underground Comix. . . Schulz picked up one of the comic books — Dirty Laundry, the autobiographical comics of R. Crumb and his wife Aline Kominsky — and leafed through the pages. When he came to a full-page panel of Aline and Crumb having sex, with Aline screaming, “KILL ME!! KILL ME!! BI BI BI!!!” as she’s cumming, Schulz quietly closed the comic book, and placed all the comic books on a shelf, without saying a word. I instantly regretted the move at that moment. Wondering if it was the equivalent of me suddenly pulling out a copy of HUSTLER and exclaiming: “Hey, CHUCK!! Check out the centerspread in this issue!!” . . . But who knows. Maybe after I left, he looked through the pages with interest.

Schulz gave me a quick tour of his office building — which from the outside looked like a nondescript dentist office or something. On one entire wall he had this large collection of just about every Peanuts product that had ever been manufactured (proudly called The Peanuts Gallery). And then he showed me the ice skating rink he had built on the grounds — obviously his pride and joy. And then, before I knew it, it was over. And I was back in the car with my friend at the wheel, barreling down the freeway on our way back to Berkeley. Somewhat dazed by the whole experience.

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