Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gary Arlington


Gary Arlington died this week in San Francisco at the age of 75.

Photo from newspaper clipping circa late 1960's

Gary founded what was arguably the first comic book store in the country.

The San Francisco Comic Book Company existed before most anyone had ever heard of –or conceived of--a comic book shop.

Beyond that his shop was the focal point, ground zero, for the underground comic book movement of the late 1960’s.

In those early days one could wander in to Gary’s shop in the mission district and find Robert Crumb, S. Clay Wilson, Rick Griffin, Greg Irons, George Metzger, Spain or Jaxon hanging out in the tiny, narrow store.  Rory Hayes worked behind the counter.  Many of the artists lived within blocks of the shop.

There was always someone standing around with original artwork in hand.

By the late 1970’s the underground scene diminished or at least transmutated into the broader alternative comics movement and, eventually, graphic novels.

The scene left, but Gary’s shop remained. He moved down the street a couple of storefronts and continued to sell comics—whether they were Archie, the Incredible Hulk or Maus.  Over the years his place got more dilapidated and cluttered.

I was a little taken aback when I met a younger generation San Francisco cartoonist who regarded Gary just as some old weird guy who ran a comic shop. 

I had assumed Gary’s legacy was intact even if his physical shop wasn’t so much.

But Gary has never really got his due.

Beyond his proprietorship Gary was always a creative mind who dreamed up quirky plots, great comic book titles and entire comic book series. He made connections and provided support for cartoonists, which could include a job, cash or a place to stay.

Gary also created, published or edited many titles including Man from Utopia, The New Gravity, All Stars, San Francisco Comic Book, Boogieman, Skull, Nickel Library and the first mini-comics.

I, like many other would-be cartoonists, found my way to Gary’s shop in the late 1960’s.  I also later became his employee working the mail order business (and even later at the shop).

In the beginning of the 70’s, my girlfriend of the time and I became roommates with Gary.  At one point or another Kim Deitch, Sally Cruikshank and Simon Deitch were there as well.  The nearby storefront where Gary’s mail order business was also served as the home for Rory Hayes.  Don Donahue, another resident, had his printing press there. Other cartoonists often crashed there as well. There were some pretty exotic times but I think that those stories may be for another occasion.

Gary was a one of a kind. He could make the most unanticipated comments. He always had an unusal take on things. He was open to taking on crazy projects. He had a deep and abiding affection for EC comics and for the work of artists like Wally Wood, Rick Griffin and Carl Barks. And he really did have a sign in the window that warned against “psychic vampires”

He was a very important and influential part of my life. 

From Gary's messiah phase. Photo from All Stars

I offer here a sort of random scrapbook of clippings, drawings and photos.

I’m always surprised how few photos are available from that era (no cell phones in the back pocket).

Almost no one seemed to carry a camera around (exception: Clay Geerdes) —it was certainly rare to have access to a super 8, or 16 mm movie camera…hence, precious few photos or film.

Gary 1972
This is me in the late 1960's after one of my first purchases at Gary's shop.

From Clay Geerdes' Comix World newsletter
I drew these ads for Gary's shop and mail order business. They appeared in the Douglas Comix Catalog (1972)
One of Gary's mini comics (1972)




This Clay Geerdes article "Underground Comix Become an Industry"
appeared in Eric Fromm's Comics & Stories, January 1973




                                                                                   (click on this to enlarge)

My comic strip from this same issue.
Gary outside his shop circa early 1980's
(The man in the background is Ray. He dropped in almost everyday)

A latter day take on Gary:

A panel from "The Haunted Comic Shop" by Mats from the New Mission News, Feb. 2003
(Artwork copyright Mats)

Later in life Gary started drawing on a daily basis.




He exhibited at the Mina Dresden Gallery and the Muddy Waters Cafe.

Last Gasp published a collection appropriately titled I An Not of This Planet: The Art of Gary Edson Arlington (2011)




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