Friendships and Fanzines: Inspiration from the Jay Lynch Collection
By Hannah Kramer
Bio: Hannah Kramer is a History major, finishing her junior year at Ohio State. She has been a student employee at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum since October 2018.
Special thanks to Professor Jared Gardner at The Ohio State University; his 2017 article “Before the Underground: Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, Skip Williamson and the Fanzine Culture of the Early 1960s,” published by Ohio State University Press in Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, was invaluable in writing this post.
In my first year as a student assistant at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (BICLM), one of my projects required sifting through sections of the recently acquired Jay Lynch Collection. However, I couldn’t help but be distracted by every piece I picked up. Lynch had archived everything: from Playboy, to homemade comics, to humor magazines. I became completely transfixed with trying to understand the man who owned so many fascinating (and controversial) pieces of history.
Jay Lynch was a key figure in the underground comix movement as an artist, editor, and archivist. Some of his most notable underground works include Bijou Funnies and Nard n’ Pat. Throughout his career, he contributed work to a variety of publications including more mainstream magazines like Playboy and Mad.
Now as a third-year history major, my thoughts have turned to writing an undergraduate thesis. My time at the BICLM has undeniably shifted my academic interest to the world of underground comix. My efforts to understand Jay Lynch and his collection has led to key questions that have inspired my thesis. Who are the artists of the underground comix movement? What were their motivations to create comics? How did they form a movement? And what is their place in the cultural shifts of the 20th century?
To start out my research, I wanted to find the origins of the underground comix movement. Luckily for me, the Billy Ireland holds many of the early fanzines (inspired by Mad, Cracked, and other humor magazines) where some of the biggest names in underground comix found their start, including Art Spiegelman, Skip Williamson, Jay Lynch, and many more. In looking at these fanzines, one finds the beginning of a movement.
Prior to widely available and inexpensive photocopying, many of these fanzines were duplicated using a mimeograph giving many of them a distinctive purple ink. Other fanzines, such as Art Spiegelman’s own fanzine Blasé, were printed using a hectograph, which used gelatin to transfer ink to paper. Unfortunately, the works created on these machines were not intended to last and have degraded over time, making their preservation a top priority. That being said, these machines allowed many young cartoonists to copy and share their work. BICLM is proud to have created full-text digitized versions of nearly all of these early fanzines, available by request.
You can see Art Spiegelman speak below from the BICLM archives about using a hectograph to create fanzines:
Many young artists began creating their own fanzines and circulating them amongst friends. However, a network of fanzine publications quickly grew, as young artists advertised their fan publications in the humor magazines they idolized. Most notably, Joe Pilati’s Smudge fanzine was plugged in Cracked. Young cartoonists and fans, including Jay Lynch, requested copies, sent in their own contributions, and advertised their own fanzines, including the one by the name of Wild!.
Jay Lynch, like many others, contributed to multiple early fanzines as both an artist and an editor. Prior to his contributions to Smudge, Lynch became heavily involved in Wild!, a humor fanzine edited by a young Don Dohler. Wild! also featured future underground cartoonists Skip Williamson and Art Spiegelman. In the creation of Wild!, these artists exchanged ideas, advised each other on printing, learned how to self-publish, and cultivated their unique artistic voices. Most importantly, collaborating on Wild! proved to be crucial in cementing the connections between these artists that were the foundation for the underground comix movement.
Don Dohler eventually attempted to pass control over Wild! to either Lynch or Spiegelman, but by then the artists had moved on to other projects. Williamson and Spiegelman had started creating their own respective fanzines, Squire and Blasé, to which Lynch contributed. In addition, these artists also began finding success in more professional satire publications including with Harvey Kurtzman who featured Williamson and Lynch in his adult humor magazine Help!. Spiegelman was almost featured just before the magazine went under. Nevertheless, they never lost the satirical and countercultural tone that was cultivated in their humor fanzines.
You can hear more about Lynch’s participation in Wild!, and his archival collection here:
The artists who participated in these humor fanzines created the foundational networks and friendships that jumpstarted and held together the underground comix movement. Their work from this era features a comedic and artistic voice that hints at the cartoonists they would eventually become. I was lucky to be able to view scans of many of the early fanzines mentioned above. I cannot wait to be able to visit BICLM again in person to look at many of the manuscript materials found in the Jay Lynch Collection. I can only imagine what the letters between these artists could tell us about the origins and motivations of the Underground Comix movement.
 Gardner, Jared. “Before the Underground: Jay Lynch, Art Spiegelman, Skip Williamson and the Fanzine Culture of the Early 1960s.” Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society 1, no. 1 (2017): 75-99.