Heavily influenced by MAD magazine creator and father of underground “comix” Harvey Kurtzman, Crumb began drawing comic books as a boy and eventually published Fritz the Cat in Kurtzman’s Help!. After a European honeymoon (partially financed by Kurtzman) Crumb had planned to join Help! as an assistant editor, but upon his arrival in New York he discovered the magazine had folded. The aspiring cartoonist left for Cleveland, found a job at American Greetings, and in January 1967 moved to San Francisco. After publishing several comics in Yarrowstalks, the magazine requested a full-length work and Crumb began drawing Zap Comix in October. Upon submitting the original manuscript for the first proposed issue, the publisher disappeared with Crumb’s artwork. Well on his way to completing the subsequent issue, Crumb published the second manuscript as Zap #1. After he recovered Xerox copies of the material intended for the first issue of Zap, Crumb published the material as Zap #0, now a highly sought-after publication. Although only 13 issues of Zap Comix were issued, they were extremely popular and have been widely reprinted. His Zap Comix #4, published in 1969, included a strip entitled “Joe Blow” and prompted several government raids on the publication’s sellers for violating obscenity laws. This was not the only time Crumb came up against official opposition for his adult-theme drawings, which had prompted the placement of the letter “x” in “comix.”
In 1991, Crumb and his family moved from California to rural France, documented in the 1995 documentary Crumb. The cartoonist later cited the prevalence of HIV as a factor that prompted his move. Ever the iconoclast, Crumb does not use computers or email, as evidenced by our draft email, presumably sent to the recipient from the email account of Crumb’s brother-in-law, Alex Goldsmith, a member of his household who is known to have emailed Skaggs previously on Crumb’s behalf. In our letter, Crumb alludes to the conspiracy theory that the antiretroviral drug AZT causes AIDS by depleting the patient’s immune system. Crumb drew the artwork for a pamphlet entitled “The AIDS Trap,” published by an organization called Rethinking AIDS. Crumb has also faced criticism for his misogynistic and violent portrayals of women and racist caricatures of African Americans.
Beginning in the 1960s, Skaggs used pranks to protest everything from the Vietnam War and sexual harassment to consumerism and the influence of the media. He is a lecturer on “divergent approaches to addressing social issues through art,” and taught a course at New York’s School of Visual Arts entitled “Culture Jamming and Media Activism,” (Joey Skaggs’ website, https://joeyskaggs.com/about/). Our letter pertains to his film The Art of the Prank, released in 2017.
Penned in Crumb’s unmistakable block pencil lettering on an unfolded sheet of paper. Some minor creasing but otherwise near fine.