In the summer of 1968, something didn’t feel right for Robert Crumb (a legendary satire cartoonist). He was drawn to the counterculture hippie movement of that decade and had recently moved to San Francisco. He was also trying to sell comics. At the top of that year, he released Zap Comix #1, a publication he started to capture this change of thought gripping the youth of the late sixties. The phrase “FAIR WARNING: FOR ADULT INTELLECTUALS ONLY!” streaks across the top of the inaugural issue. A talented artist in his own right, Crumb felt he needed fresh hands to help him capture the psychedelic nature of the hippie movement and truly make a revolutionary magazine. The themes were there but, in his words, “it looked like an ordinary comic book.” Fate and community helped him land the work and aid of pioneers in the psychedelic poster industry of that time, including S. Clay Wilson, Rick Griffin and Spanish abstract impressionist Victor Moscoso. This last name would prove to be one of his best decisions for the comic series.
Victor Moscoso Biography
Victor Moscoso was a classically trained, yet unorthodox, an artist who had studied at Cooper Union and Yale before moving to San Francisco just before the 1960s. As the decade went on, he made a name for himself in the world of live show posters for musicians like Grateful Dead and Herbie Hancock. The artwork he produced was part of what brought Crumb to San Francisco when he decided to create Zap Comix. Moscoso would further his legacy with Zap, lending his playful vision and nonlinear structure to the comic’s pages. While it’s impossible to cover all of Moscoso’s work and impact, we’ve compiled our top five favorite Moscoso works, chosen from his comic strips, covers and live show posters.
The Chamber Brothers (Neon Rose #12)
Sometimes you have to stare at something until it makes sense. You might look at Moscoso’s lithograph for The Chamber Brother’s 1967 spring concert in San Francisco. The Chamber Brothers (Neon Rose #12) isn’t your typical concert poster, mainly because you barely get the information you need from it. The text is blue and melting away before it reaches the pink and orange of the model’s sunglasses and face. By the time you discern the info, you’re more concerned with how stunning and emblematic it is, an image frozen and recolored on a poster that would symbolize counterculture and inspire a Cameron Crowe movie (Almost Famous) decades later.
Sopwith Camel (Neon Rose #5)
Sopwith Camel is largely forgotten outside of their hit novelty tune “Hello, Hello” in February of 1967. The art for their show at San Francisco’s Matrix venue that same month is much more famous. A happy-go-lucky tune and the first bonafide hippie record to sell, Moscoso’s poster carries an inviting vibe. The band’s name is magenta and streaks out, contrasting with the orange background to give you the feeling whatever you’re going to see is sensational. Of course, Moscoso included the image of a camel to play off their name but he had to add a psychedelic twist by making it fly suspended between the letters. Way cooler than any Joe Camel ads.
As you can tell from The Chamber Brothers poster, Victor Moscoso didn’t really care if you could read the writing. That was secondary to his art and the emotion he wanted to give you. This carried over into his comic strips as well. His speech bubbles could be warped to the point of illegible but that didn’t make his stories less captivating. They weren’t held down by a plot. This image, which we’ve called Impudent Rodent, is a strip taken from an early issue. It shows a figure, simply shaded to show his movement, hurling a brick at the head of a walking mouse, with the typical “Pow” and kaleidoscopic effects circled around it. Moscoso had wanted to work for Disney in his younger days so perhaps this was a shot at establishment art, since by this time they had quite a famous mouse as their main character.
Zap Comix No. 4
Moscoso’s most famous piece might be his cover for Zap Comix No. 4 and it shows him at his most irreverent. As we saw in the last image, he has no problem making a mockery of pop culture cartoons and here he uses his wit to reimagine Mr. Peanut of the Planters company. Instead of being his usual gentleman self, Moscoso’s peanut man is dancing around in the desert with his top hat and cane while pyramids sit quietly in the background. Behind his head is a rising sun with a bright red to contrast the peanut man’s light blue. What sticks with you the most though is the expression on the wild peanut’s face. He’s sticking his tongue out, almost mocking you. It’s the kind of picture that might have you arguing with it after one too many bong rips.
By the early seventies, Zap Comix was off a regular publishing schedule. This was largely due to lawsuits and attempts to censor the explicit stories and sexual innuendos contained in their pages. Moscoso still worked prolifically in between publications and here we have his 1971 psychedelic opus Color. This one made history being the first underground comic to be, as the name suggests, published in full color. The cover, shown here, features a rainbow swirling through space around the comic’s title. In the middle of the page, you see a spaceship in the middle of transforming into something else but it’s unclear what. The pages of the comic reveal that the spaceship transforms into a fish (and many other things) to blend in on an alien planet. Like most of his work, the plot is secondary and it’s difficult to piece together the story. That doesn’t really matter though, because, like always, Moscoso makes the visual journey more important than a story you can retell. We’ll let him do his thing.