Underground comic book publisher turns 40

April 14, 2010 7:58:01 PM PDT
Forty years ago this Thursday, an underground comic book was released that launched a counter-culture empire. Now, a San Francisco company is one of the world's largest publishers of underground comics and graphic novels. Their warehouse is also a museum.

The first title in 1970 was volume one of "Slow Death" funnies. Ron Turner had printed 20,000 copies to benefit a Berkeley ecology center. He didn't expect their response.

"They said 'Well, that's great, we'll take 10 copies for our bookstore.' I said, '10? Come on there are 19,990 more out here, you know,'" says Turner.

So he learned to be a distributor and created Last Gasp which has become publisher of classic titles like "Zap," and "Yow." They became pop culture icons.

When he began, the comics reflected tumultuous times.

"There used to be hippies getting hit on the head by police, that was one. There would be a lot of dope smoking," says Turner.

Now, 40 years and more than 300 comics later, with his son Colin as part of the company, Ron has mellowed out, sort of.

"There's nothing that we won't attack or reveal," says Turner.

"You're a crusader," says ABC7's Don Sanchez.

"I would hope so, you got to do something," says Turner.

He thinks the graphic novel, "Arab In America," should be required reading in classrooms.

"It's all about Arabs and how you cannot just categorize them by a simple stroke of the bad tongue," says Turner.

And there is the hardbound epic of R. Crumb's "The Book of Genesis." Ron says he paid a lot of attention to what the Bible stories mean. There's more in the museum when you walk past the door from Alcatraz. That's where you'll find the world of Ron Turner -- the collector.

"This is the education room. It's a gallery," says Turner.

It's called low-brow art, but don't kid yourself, many of these pieces are worth thousands. A Last Gasp 40th anniversary show is in 111 Minna Gallery through the end of the month.

When asked how he wants to be remembered, Turner says "Judgment-proof."


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