Ron Cobb — underground comix artist extraordinaire
Ron Cobb is a contemporary of Robert Crumb, but much less well-known, and also much less prolific.1 However, quantity isn't everything. When, in July 2016, I received my Special Delivery parcel containing a 49-year-old, slightly yellowing, inscribed first edition of "RCD-25" — a book (more of a fanzine, in some ways) that I'd known about for 37 years but had never expected to own...
... it capped a period of collecting that began for me in November 1979 in a left-wing book and underground comix shop in Reading. Long vanished, I expect, by now. These 25 drawings — or 26, when you include the front cover — made up Cobb's first book in 1967, and were mostly appearing for the first time since their original ephemeral publication in the Los Angeles Free Press newspaper.
As an engineering student...
... I'd steered pretty clear of much, though not all, of this (excuse the pun) heady stuff. "Filipino Food" by Ed Badajos was one obvious exception. Nowadays only available from auctions, it seems, and horribly expensive. I bought my copy in Hatfield in 1972. Cost me £1-20 — about 33% of the cost of one of my textbooks, but much more interesting.
The Cobb Book (1975)
This was the first Cobb book I saw, and promptly bought. As soon as I'd started leafing through "The Cobb Book" I realised I already knew some of the drawings, and I fear I was instantly hooked on his amazing work. It was just about the best £2 I've ever spent on any book! Cobb did a lot to strengthen my interest in this "underground" world of pretty radical ideas.
After I'd eventually managed to enlarge my collection of his work rather further I got busy with my scanner, my printer, and my RISC OS DTP system. Just as I have with Shary Flenniken's work, I painstakingly assembled and printed out a DTP collection of Cobb's drawings for my own entertainment, trying to find an appropriate quotation or textual snippet to accompany each image. (Not that they generally need further comment.) For the drawing used as the front cover above, which originally appeared in the Los Angeles Free Press on 17th June 1966, I chose a text snippet from Robert Heinlein's novel "Farnham's Freehold":
As the screen went blank, the radio cut in: '— not a drill. This is not a drill. Take shelter. Emergency personnel report to their stations. Do not go out on the street. If you have no shelter, stay in the best protected room of your home. This is not a drill...'
Of course, I could just have gone with the simpler: "Do not adjust your mind — there is a fault in reality."
Cobb Again (1976)
This was actually my third book of Cobb drawings...
... once again found in the shop in Reading, but for £3 and three years after the first title. Take a closer look at that uniformed guard:
A couple of decades before "The Simpsons" were to make the same sort of visual joke. And my textual snippet for this drawing? A no-brainer:
It is becoming harder and harder to isolate nuclear facilities. In Britain, where the government has a policy of trying to site nuclear reactors away from population centres, a remote location is defined as one with fewer than 600,000 people living within ten miles.
I was delighted to find my second book of Cobb drawings in the independent bookshop (was it named "Websters"? It's now long since closed, of course) in Winchester just a few months after I'd started working at the IBM Hursley laboratory. £7 still struck me as an absolute bargain despite the poverty of an IBM salary...
It is of larger (and square) format — rather larger than my flatbed scanner, as you can see from the tell-tale stripe. "Colorvision" includes a significant amount of colour work. Duh! In it, the emphasis moves from Cobb's superb (and deceptively simple) "cartoon" work to a much wider consideration of his other material, including some interesting film design projects.
From November 1982 until June 1995...
... my Cobb-collecting was completely stalled. Then, miraculously, my friend Kate returned from a trip to the States having found, in a junk pile in the middle of nowhere, two books I was still missing. I knew of their existence but had never seen any sign of either title here in the Benighted Kingdom. Kate paid something ridiculous, like 50 cents each, for these two gold nuggets! And then simply gave them to me.
My Fellow Americans (1968)
The earlier of this unexpected, but extremely welcome, pair:
Raw Sewage (1970)
And the uncompromisingly-titled final book: