The following essay will be included in THE BOOK OF WEIRDO (a ridiculously number of years in the making) to be published in 2017 by Last Gasp. It includes the testimonials and recollections of a majority of the contributors to Robert Crumb‘s 1980’s/early ’90’s comics anthology, WEIRDO, as well as reprinting a number of stories. The three editors — R. Crumb, Peter Bagge, and Aline Kominsky-Crumb — are interviewed, also included are features on many different aspects of that important magazine, as well as a thorough and comprehensive history. – Jon B Cooke, author
What Makes Luna Tick? or How I got to Weirdo. By Elizabeth Fiend (the artist formerly known as Luna Ticks)
My first comic was three frames. A cop says “nice ass” to a punk. She kicks him in the groin; he says “I won’t be able to get it up for a week.” She reaches into her leather; pulls a gun; shoots him, remarking “You’ll never get it up again.” A few months later Mumia Abu-Jamal was arrested and charged with killing police officer William Faulkner. Philly 1981, was a time and place where a cop could be threatening to arrest you and checking out your legs — at the same time.
Employment for punks was scarce and I spent a lot of time drawing. I took a pen name, Luna Ticks, and named my comic strip The Young and The Frustrated: A Continuing Strip Tease. I distributing Xerox’s at punk shows. I gauged success by how many sheets littered the ground at the end of the show – many.
My housemates were a dwarf, a black woman, a gay Mexican American, and the son of a police chief, along with my husband. The cop’s son stole our rent money and we were evicted. At times like this there’s only one thing to do. We started a band.
In the punk sea of non-conformity we were the weirdos. Five color hair; a silver space suit; pink floral over-top polka dots. We had a big presence. We walked everywhere because we had no money, paying for a bus would have been an extravagance that would never have occurred to us. Our style was so new and so alienating, once a man jumped out of his car in the middle of an intersection and start beating on us. A reporter described my appearance as having “both a sense of atmosphere, the bizarre and an inexplicable range of covertness.”
I continued drawing, a lot. I got heavily into the fanzine scene which was bursting to an unprecedented size not seen since the ‘60’s. My characters were punks, set in a future-now world. They were raw and gritty, evoked strong emotion – mostly anger. I thought I was Anais Nin drawing feminist-erotica. The public thought I was a pornographer.
I got a job in a TV Script Archive. Twenty hours a week I read prime time TV scripts and analyzed them for content. That’s a job? Yes, it’s called academia. It afforded me plenty of free time, I spent a lot of that writing letters, my mailbox was jam-packed. I was printed in hundreds and hundreds of issues of mostly mail order fanzines. I was getting good reviews “Luna Ticks eroticus maximus make GREAT bedtime reading, informal, nasty artwork including barbecued men’s testicles, don’t miss out” [Hardcore Fanzine, SF Punkland]. And “Not merely crude, but always thought provoking.”
I was a woman in a man’s world. I was popular with prisoners – guys who maybe pulled armed robbery to get money for heroin – they wanted to be pen pals and asked for free copies of my self-printed mini-comic books. I always obliged. A lot of crazy people wrote to me. They sent multi-page letters in crayon detailing how they knew I was speaking directly to them via the comics, and ‘thanks.’ It was getting a little scary. A ‘fan’ sent me bits of dead animals. I received a baggie of assorted moss.
I started getting censored at an alarming rate. More than once, an employee at a print shop refused to work on a magazine or newspaper if it contained my comics – and the bosses took their side. Advertisers said to publishers “It’s me or her.” An editor asked me to white-out the penis on a doll smaller than this ‘i.’
Zines dropped me yet continued to print cheese-cake photos of local punk women in underwear. A letter to the editor penned by a concerned citizen appeared in a San Diego weekly to complain that one of my cartoons, which someone had handed him, was obviously satanic and might explain the missing children problem advertised on the back of milk cartons. Another cartoonist who penned Bubba Smith the World’s Greatest Monster Wrestler for Washington DC based W.D.C Period drew a cartoon where his characters wanted to KILLED mine!?!
Mike Gunderloy, founder of Fact Sheet Five, an invaluable periodical listing thousands of reviews per issue allowing people to connect in the pre-internet world, wrote “The Young and the Frustrated is a very feminist strip (though, sadly some feminists disagree) featuring free-love, direct action against sexists and a wide-open world view that sets small minds into a tizzy. Set in sort of a punk milieu, it exemplifies for me the freedom of the small press.” He details some examples of the censorship and ends by saying “What’s perhaps most ironic about these problems is that no one, not even other publishers and artist’s, seem to care. Censorship and attempted censorship only matters in certain cases involving celebrities.”
It was very confusing for me. I was in my twenties, drawing in my living room. I literally had never been in the same room as another cartoonist. I was completely isolated. I was black-listed by some feminist magazines. I was too sexy for the punk fanzines, and too punk for the sexy. Even people who had previously supported me said they no longer could publish my comic, it was just too controversial. I was told ‘self-censorship’ was the way to go.
Also contributing to some of the same zines as me were Dennis Worden and Mary Fleener. They were a few years older than I was and kind of adopted me like a kid sister. We had a lot of fun and traded letters. They got me up to speed with gossip of the comic world which I was completely naive of. I sent them cassette tapes of my band More Fiends. They and others gave me courage to continue.
Influenced by Doris Lessing’s book Memoirs of a Survivor I started drawing a five page story called Brain, a Tender Tale of Two Sisters. The story starts with heroine Vera skate boarding about town looking for packs of wild street kids who would scare-up some pigeons to be killed for the fear induced drug produced in their brains, (creatively called) BRAIN. Vera part of an interracial couple and her boyfriend Major take BRAIN together, trip, have sex. Afterwards Vera has a vision. It’s her sister Singe who’s run off and joined a religious cult which uses ritualistic pain as purification and a pathway to god. Vera and Major manage to track down Singe. They’re appalled by what they see, but come to realize this is the path Singe has chosen for herself. They say farewell to Singe whose heading off to Athens Ohio to start a new chapter of the cult. Vera turns to Major and says “I don’t think I’ll ever see my sister again.” The End. Mary wrote to me “It really is a tender tale of two sisters.”
Somewhere along the line I realized there was another layer above the punk zine. Real comic books, it seemed like a ridiculous place for me.
In 1987 I sent Brain simultaneously to RAW magazine a comic anthology out of New York edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, and to Aline Kominsky-Crumb at Weirdo in California. These publications seemed to me to be in a kind of an East Cost / West Coast type of feud, characterized later as intellectual vs low brow.
I received a form-letter from Raw comprised of a typed list alongside boxes to check. On my letter checked-off were the lines akin to “We don’t like your art” and “We don’t like your story,” followed by an additional note to the effect of “Don’t send us anything again.”
From Weirdo I received a lovely handwritten note from Aline that said “I think your work is great. Its powerful, and the drawing is interesting and the stories are intense & readable. This is all miraculous considering the incoherent crap I usually get in the mail.” She expressed curiosity in who I was and offered to give me a free ad in Weirdo for a product I developed called Comix in a Capsule, which was exactly as named, tiny comic rolled up and hand inserted into gelatin pills cases (capsules). Cartoon Doses for Your Daily Neurosis was the tag. Aline said her set were on the nick-knack shelf in her home, “good item.” I accepted the ad, but no one ever wrote to buy any.
We traded letters and phone calls discovering we were both from The Five Towns on Long Island NY, although we were each from a different one of the five [towns]. She was very kind and encouraging.
I don’t know if any other editor would have published me. In my perception she was the Yoko Ono of comics. Accused of ruining an artist greater than herself; shouldering a heap of criticism; Aline and I fit like a glove.
Aline published Brain over two issues of Weirdo [#20 and 21]. She asked me if this was OK, I really felt it would destroy the story-line but was too much in awe to say so. Last Gasp forgot to send me a check for one of the issues. Dennis or Mary told me to call the Crumbs, which I thought was an outrageous idea. I did call and Aline was so apologetic, offering to send me a personal check. I protested that it wasn’t necessary. She insisted. That’s when I found out the Crumb’s checks had a giant hog logo on them. So cool.
Dennis then helped me get in touch with Al Goldstein’s Screw Magazine. Mary jokingly chided him for getting me involved with a deviant crowd. I sold Screw a bunch of one-line jokes like “What’s the difference between a soy burger and a dildo? / They’re both meat substitutes.” I didn’t declare the $25 per issue pay on my taxes and was shortly busted, fined and abused by the IRS.
Mary secured me a place in the next issue of the comic book Tits and Clits [issue #7] specifically because I had encountered so much censorship. To her embarrassment the editor rejected (aka censored) the strip. I don’t really know why, it was disgusting or something. The editor asked me to submit another story. Which I did, and it was printed. I was told it was sooo much better, didn’t I agree? No I didn’t. I loved the replacement story, but it was fluffy. It was like saying a Disney movie is better than A Clockwork Orange. It’s not better, it’s different.
By then More Fiends, where I played slide guitar alongside my husband Allen Fiend on guitar, was taking off and we were taking off on multi-month U.S. and European tours. We weren’t just anarchists, we were wild anarchists. Our first album Yo’ Asphalt Head was described as “Coming at you like a cavalcade of semi -trucks and bulldozers drag racing in reverse in the Holland Tunnel.” One tour was almost exclusively played in European squats. In Malmo, Sweden, casual comments like “Don’t smoke in this room, it’s where we make the bombs [Molotov cocktails]” just rolled off our leather-jacketed backs. In Copenhagen, Denmark playing under the Red Army Faction’s (RAF) insignia showing a red star and a Heckler & Koch MP-5 sub-machine gun we were given the news “Sorry you can’t sleep here. We expect to be raided by the Polizei tonight.” We witnessed the Berlin Wall come down, and played communist Poland when Lech Walesa was running to be the first president elected by popular vote.
When I returned I started on a new story, Hair of the Dog, a chilling tale where men were surgically impregnated as a punishment for rape and talking dogs adopted the resulting children. I sent the first few pages to Aline who gave a big go-ahead, and said she would publish it when I finished. But while I was gone on tour censorship of the arts had reached higher levels and gained government and religious support with attacks on exhibits like photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. His exhibit, photographs of gay bathhouses, was curated by the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) right here in Philly where it hung first in 1989 –without controversy. It soon gained national infamy and a call to end federal funding of the arts. The adult-comic industry was not to be spared. It was the perfect candidate because everyone knew ‘comics were for children.’ The black and white pulp industry was beat down.
Before they could publish my new story Weirdo folded in 1993, as did my comic career.