American comics were almost entirely childish and pretty insipid after the Senate hearings in the mid-’50s. Unsurprisingly there was a reaction to this, and some cartoonists started putting out alternatives, full of drugs and sex and anti-establishment politics. It got very tied in to the burgeoning hippy movement.

Robert Crumb

One all-time comics great came out of this movement. Crumb is a pretty twisted person with various misogynist attitudes – the saving grace is that the comics don’t read as if it’s someone telling you how women are, but as confessions of the creator’s wrongheadedness. This was new. He’s produced tons of great comics himself, and he married another extremely talented cartoonist, Aline Kominsky. He got his start working for Harvey Kurtzman on Help! (his successor to Mad), where Fritz the Cat debuted, and then started putting out his own comics. His drawing is superb, harking back to illustration styles before comics, as well as earlier comics like Popeye, and his writing is scabrous and impossible to ignore. As well as being a great creator, he was also the inspiration for the movement, and an influence on pretty much all of it. Crumb’s work has been extensively collected, and most libraries will have something.

Gilbert Shelton

Shelton was, for me, underground comix’s finest entertainer. Fat Freddy’s Cat and The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers are always funny, as is the less well known superhero parody, Wonder Wart-Hog. The Furry Freak Brothers were a trio of hapless stoners, always in search of a score and a way to pay for it. I can’t find any figures online, but these have been gigantic sellers for decades, and deservedly so, so shouldn’t be at all hard to find.

Harvey Pekar

It’s questionable whether he should belong here, but Pekar’s autobiographical comics are so clearly post-Crumb (and Crumb draws some of them) that this is as good a place to put him as any. They aren’t often pleasant reading, though he has a very good ear for small anecdotes, because of Pekar’s self-loathing, but they are compelling and potent. The movie of American Splendor made him famous, so you should be able to find his work easily.

Undergrounds produced lots of terrific talents. I can’t cover many here, but it’s also worth trying Justin Green, Kim Deitch, Ted Richards, Bill Griffith, Roberta Gregory, Foolbert Sturgeon, Jaxon, Spain, S. Clay Wilson, Rory Hayes and Vaughan and Mark Bode (father and son) among others. Art Spiegelman (see the Raw entry in this series) started in undergrounds, and many of the artists appeared in Raw in later years. Some subgenres split off and produced interesting work too – anthologies Gay Comix and especially Wimmen’s Comix had some terrific cartoonists, for example.