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excellent writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 5
total score 10
bijou funnies 1 1st _ bijou funnies 2 2nd _ bijou funnies 3 1st _ bijou funnies 4 1st
Bijou Funnies #1
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Bijou Funnies #5
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Bijou Funnies #8
Bijou Funnies

1968-1973 / Bijou Publishing Empire / The Print Mint /
Kitchen Sink

Bijou Funnies was born in Chicago in the summer of 1968, just six months after Zap Comix #1, and evolved into one of the most important underground comic book series in history. The first issue featured Jay Lynch (also the editor) Skip Williamson, Jay Kinney, Gilbert Shelton and Robert Crumb, launching a comic anthology that by today's entertainment standards (or even the standards of 1968) appears relatively mild and hardly revolutionary. Yet it was.

Despite coming afterwards, Bijou's publishing heritage actually ran deeper than Zap, as its direct predecessor was Lynch's Chicago Mirror, an underground magazine aimed at hippies. The Mirror launched in the fall of '67 and published three issues, but when Lynch discovered Crumb's groundbreaking Zap Comix, he scuttled the magazine and re-launched it as the comic book Bijou Funnies.

Lynch was a relative newcomer to Chicago, having moved there from Florida in 1962 at the age of 17. By that time he had already contributed to the fanzine Wild. In Chicago he began drawing cartoons for Aardvark and Charlatan, which both began as college humor magazines but were kicked off campus after publishing their first issues. He also contributed to humor magazines Cracked, Sick, and Harvey Kurtzman's Help! in the early to mid '60s. By 1966, Art Spiegelman recruited Lynch to help launch Topps' Wacky Packages trading card product, which turned out to be Lynch's mainstream-culture best seller.

But Lynch's anti-establishment nature inspired him to birth the Chicago Mirror and then reincarnate it as Bijou Funnies. The comic book did not enjoy the same commercial success as Zap or Freak Brothers, but it gained a loyal following in Chicago thanks to plenty of marketing by Lynch, who periodically appeared on a local UHF television show talking comic books and specifically pitched the newest issue of Bijou Funnies prior to every release date.

In many ways, despite the fact that it did not originate from the womb of the underground movement in San Francisco, Bijou Funnies parallels the history of underground comics like no other publication. For instance, Bijou grew out of a grass roots publication (the Mirror) that wasn't a comic book itself, much like underground comics grew out of college humor mags, fanzines and alternative newspapers. The inaugural issue of Bijou was a flawed, amateurish comic book production, like so many undergrounds that served as learning projects for publishing pioneers (Don Donahue, Rip Off Press, etc.). In the late '60s Bijou introduced new artists and exposed them to a wider audience, just as many underground publishers threw open their doors to print anyone with a counterculture pedigree, no matter how horrible the comics were.

But by the early '70s, Bijou began to rely on its core stable of creators to provide content for their book, as did the broader underground comics movement, which was financially burned by inferior content and slow-moving titles. Like the best of the underground comics, Bijou hit its peak in the early '70s with outstanding contributions from a handful of legendary comic creators.

And most importantly, Bijou hit the same wall of doom in 1973, when a confluence of events formed the perfect storm and essentially ended the golden age of underground comics. The most critical event in that storm was the landmark Supreme Court decision on obscenity, which confirmed that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment and established subjective guidelines for determining what constituted obscene material. The consequences of that ruling essentially destroyed the head shop distribution system that underground comics relied on to reach their audience. In an editorial on the inside front cover of Bijou Funnies #8, Lynch wrote a scathing critique of the ruling, predicting that freedom of speech had been destroyed forevermore. And Bijou Funnies never published another issue.

In my opinion, the final issue of Bijou Funnies marked the end of the golden age of underground comics. The timeline of the series virtually defines the golden age and its content summarizes all of the important attributes of the revolution. It also was the only underground comic that directly addressed the Supreme Court ruling and recognized the crippling effect it would have on underground comics.

Bijou went out with a bang in its eighth issue, with a parody of its own satire; artists appropriating the signature characters from other artists and lampooning them. The final issue demonstrated that it didn't take itself too seriously while proving that it took our constitutional rights deadly seriously. Bijou Funnies holds a special place in that hallowed graveyard of great underground comics that fought for the freedoms that today's media takes for granted.
bijou tombstone