UNDERGROUND USA, IN PHOTOS

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Left to right: cartoonist Monte Wolverton, comics historian Patrick Rosenkranz, cartoonist/graphic novelist David Chelsea, historian Maurice Isserman, cartoonist/filmmaker Bill Plympton, cartoonist/television showman Matt Groening, critic Richard Gehr, political journalist Norman Solomon. In front, Portland street poet laureate Walt Curtis.

“There never was, and there never will be, another day like this.” Walt Curtis

There had been storm warnings. Ben Saunders and three UO Comics Studies students got on the 5:00 AM bus to Portland anyway. By 4:00 PM,  when they dispersed back onto the windy wet streets to head back to Eugene, city workers were cleaning up  fallen trees and downed electrical lines. The storm had come and gone. Inside the White Stag Auditorium, we had been oblivious.

Thanks to Gus Frederick, we have photo testimony of the speakers who held us spellbound.

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Keynote speaker Patrick Rosenkranz spoke about pre-underground cartoonists Carl Barks  (1901-2000) and Basil Wolverton (1909-1978). Using hundreds of slides, Patrick walked us through their Southern Oregon origin stories, and then their careers, in such detail that Sheldon Renan, himself a cartoonist, came back to me midway through the talk to exclaim “This is wonderful!”

I was shocked to hear Basil Wolverton was in print as a comics writer/artist as early as 1929. The dawn of the medium!

During Q & A, Bill Plympton asked Monte Wolverton if his father ever supplemented his extraordinary imagination with stimulants. Monte’s answer was in the negative: “He liked the occasional martini.  That’s about it.”

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Historian Maurice Isserman and political journalist Norman Solomon spoke about the urgency which drove underground journalism. Casualty rates were increasing, and the Viet Nam War seemed to have no end. In Portland,  a group of draft eligible (i.e. male) activists, including Maurice and Norman, and non draft eligible (i.e. female) activists, including Brooke Jacobson, came together and taught themselves to be journalists. The Scribe’s emphasis on community building, food coops, bike paths and yoga classes took place within an environment where young people were scared for their lives.

The look of the underground press – combining photos, illustration, cartoons and clip art – was cheerfully opportunistic. The last minute all nighters during which the pages were laid out meant everyone had to compromise, and collaborate, in order to meet the deadlines. Despite all that, or perhaps because of it, the Scribe was heavily visual.

Next Anne Richardson (that is, me) began a talk about the way Scribe’s physical location fit into Portland’s history of independent media. When my laptop crashed, I switched to a topic which didn’t require maps. I spoke about two possible “undergrounds” which may have influenced the thinking behind Sheldon Renan’s An Introduction To The American Underground Film.

Lunch: Sheldon and I went to Floyd’s. Lots of people went to the Golden Horse.

After lunch, David Chelsea walked us through his years as a Scribe illustrator and cartoonist. David is one of the figures who inspired the founding of Oregon Cartoon Institute, so it was gratifying to see him behind the mike.

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David’s first paid gig as an artist was at the Scribe. Twelve years old!  He continued for six formative years. The following panels are from a comic David drew for the Scribe during his high school years at Metropolitan Learning Center.

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After David moved to New York, his work appeared regularly in the New York Times and in the New York Observer. Not the first Oregon cartoonist to become part of our national media landscape, but perhaps the first whose career began so young.

Midway through David’s discussion, which included examples of work by fellow Scribe cartoonists Bill Plympton and Bob Rini, a surprise guest stepped through the door.

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Q: If Maurice Isserman edited the Scribe, Norman Solomon wrote for it, Bill Plympton drew covers for it, and David Chelsea illustrated it, who sold it?

A: Future Village Voice columnist Richard Gehr and future media supernova Matt Groening.

Both Richard and Matt have worked as music critics (in alt weeklies, not at the Scribe) , so I asked them to talk about the role music played in their Portland adolescence. They went beyond this to talk about their overall immersion in pop, and Portland as a pop machine.

They remembered not just what they heard, but where they heard it (or bought it). Used bookstores, record stores, television stations’ kiddie shows, boy scout meetings, bad neighborhoods, good neighborhoods, they went everywhere. Portland’s downtown was dying, and underpopulated, so there was this sense of liberation. Freedom to move. I remember this! They watched movies, and they made movies.

They discussed hawking papers, sneaking into theaters, thrilling to celebrity sightings (Ken Kesey), and experimenting with mass media (16mm film) while still in their teens — all of which matches, point by point, with the Portland childhood described by Mel Blanc, who sold papers, snuck into theaters, was thrilled by celebrity sightings (Jack Benny), and performed on radio at age 15.

The symposium ended with a seven member panel discussion, moderated by Richard Gehr. At this point, the panelists had questions for each other. A free for all! They had come to the symposium from all over – three from New York, two from California, two from Portland. They didn’t necessarily know each other. They hadn’t all worked together. Portland’s underground press was active long enough – 1968 to 1978 – so their paths didn’t necessarily cross. In many ways, UNDERGROUND USA was a reunion of colleagues who had never met. At the end of the discussion, poet Walt Curtis came forward to talk about his friendship with Norman Solomon, and their joint founding of Out Of The Ashes Press.

There was poetic justice to Walt’s benediction. Besides being a poet and painter in his own right, Walt represents a through line to the first Oregon literary historian, Alfred Powers, his professor at PSU. Walt has served as guide to region-centric explorations of Oregon cultural, artistic and literary identity ever since. Of course he had to come give his blessing! Every single UNDERGROUND USA panelist was a writer.

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Matt & Walt: What becomes two legends most?

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If you missed UNDERGROUND USA, the companion exhibit hangs in the Light Court Commons (ground floor) of the White Stag Building, 70 NW Couch, Portland. It will be up throughout November.

Many thanks to Ross Lienhart for underwriting the exhibit, Eric Hillerns for designing it, Kohel Haver and Dennis Nyback for supplying timely help. Many thanks to Fred Nemo for access to his private Scribe archive.

As for the symposium, many thanks to Gretchen Harmon for heading up the hospitality division, to Charlotte Rubin for her bookkeeping, to Gus Frederick and Sheldon Renan for their photography, and to Khris Soden for his web design expertise. Many thanks to University of Oregon’s Ben Saunders, Karen Munro, Tess Peterson, Cris Moss, Kate Wagle, Alexander Milshtein, Lauren Amaro, and Caitlyn.

Many thanks to PSU’s Susan Kirtley, who was away attending the four day Cartoon Crossroads Columbus festival in Ohio, but was present with us in spirit.

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UNDERGROUND USA is a public history/arts education event made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, with support from Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins.

Comic City USA, the first exhibit to look at Oregon print cartooning history, is at Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Avenue, through Jan. 31, 2017.

“People who read them when they first came out remember the initial impact — like getting whacked in the head with a two by four.” Patrick Rosenkranz, on underground comics

Advertisements

“No sneak or snarl in society can escape the cartoon.”

The first American born political cartooning superstar, Homer Davenport, was born in Waldo Hills, Oregon in 1867. Anything but an underground cartoonist, his work appeared in the New York Journal and was beloved by hundreds of thousands of readers worldwide.

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The Dollar Or The Man? The Issue Of To Day, Davenport’s second book of political cartoons, was published in 1900. The introduction by Horace Traubel contains this wonderful description.

The cartoon dares any venture of speech. No sneak or snarl in society can escape the cartoon.

The cartoon is everywhere before anything else – even anticipates its subject creatures. It goes and comes by free will. Grim with quick pardon, weeping with laughter, profound with frivolity, brutal with finesse, magnificent with modesty, the cartoon is everything it does not pretend to be, the horizontal to your perpendicular and the circle to your square.

The cartoon is the master of paradox. Its good humor gives it a pass to the heart of its victim. The cartoon is fierce in encounter and quick to forgive. It is not malicious. It deals with man not as a malevolence but as a foible. It is more powerful than marching armies and more subtle than scholastic verbiage.

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traubel

      Horace Traubel (1858-1919)

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UNDERGROUND USA is a public history/art education event made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, with support from Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins.

Comic City USA, the first exhibit to look at Oregon print cartooning history, is at Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Avenue, through Jan. 31, 2017.

“People who read them when they first came out remember the initial impact — like getting whacked in the head with a two by four.” Patrick Rosenkranz, on underground comics

Thank you, Eric!

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Eric Hillerns volunteered his time and talents to design the UNDERGROUND USA companion exhibit in White Stag’s Light Court Commons. Anne Richardson curated it, Eric Hillerns designed it, and Dennis Nyback installed it, with guidance from Cris Moss, the director of UO’s  White Box Gallery and the Light Court Commons.

The exhibit includes artwork, covers, and sample pages from the Portland Scribe, 1972-1978. It includes a timeline of works by writers and artists who came out of Portland’s underground press.

Eric Hillerns is the co-founder of Design Week, a week-long, city-wide series of programs exploring the process, craft, and practice of design across all disciplines. Thank you, Eric, for your help!

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UNDERGROUND USA is a public history/art education event made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, with support from Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins.

Comic City USA, the first exhibit to look at Oregon print cartooning history, is at Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Avenue, through Jan. 31, 2017.

“People who read them when they first came out remember the initial impact — like getting whacked in the head with a two by four.” Patrick Rosenkranz, on underground comics

UNDERGROUND USA EXHIBIT TIMELINE

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UNDERGROUND USA attendees contemplate the companion exhibit on display in the Light Court Commons, right outside the White Stag Auditorium.

Not too late to see the UNDERGROUND USA companion exhibit, up through November! Find it on the ground floor of the White Stag Building, 70 NW Couch, in Portland.

If you can’t make it down to the exhibit, here is one of its features – a timeline of books, films and television produced by the writers and artists who came out of Portland’s underground press, 1968-1978.

THE PREAMBLE:

Two Portlanders who pre-dated the underground press:

1967 Sheldon Renan, An Introduction to the American Underground Film

“The real importance of the underground is in its works. Alive, unpredictable, complex, and, above all, personal, they are what is happening….now.” Sheldon Renan

1968 Douglas Engelbart, THE MOTHER OF ALL DEMOS

“In order to create Dynamic Knowledge Repositories, groups of people record their communications, work processes, and research, and continually reflect on not only WHAT they were working on but HOW they were working.” Douglas Engelbart

Engelbart was describing pre-internet computer scientists. However, using this description, both the Portland Scribe and the Willamette Bridge, Portland’s two underground newspapers, would have qualified as Dynamic Knowledge Repositories.

Douglas Engelbart graduated from Franklin High School in 1942. Sheldon Renan graduated from Cleveland High School in 1959.

THE TIMELINE

1968 Willamette Bridge begins
1969 Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand Of Darkness

1970s

1971 Willamette Bridge folds
1972 Portland Scribe begins
1972 Tim Smith & Matt Groening, DRUGS: KILLERS OR DILLERS
1974 Will Vinton & Bob Gardiner, CLOSED MONDAYS
1974 Ursula LeGuin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia
1976 Bill Plympton, Tube Strips
1976 Tim Smith, THE CASE OF THE KITCHEN KILLER
1977 Penny Allen, PROPERTY
1977 Matt Groening begins Life In Hell
1977 Walt Curtis, Mala Noche
1978 Bill Plympton, Medium Rare
1978 Portland Scribe ends

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1980s

1981 Sheldon Renan, THE KILLING OF AMERICA
1982 Norman Solomon, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experience With Atomic Radiation
1984 Walt Curtis, Rhymes for Alice Blue Light
1985 Gus Van Sant, MALA NOCHE
1985 Jim Blashfield, AND SHE WAS
1985 Will Vinton, THE ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN
1986 Mike Richardson, Boris The Bear
1987 Bill Plympton, YOUR FACE
1987 Matt Groening begins THE SIMPSONS
1987 Jim Blashfield, LEAVE ME ALONE
1987 Maurice Isserman, Which Side Were You On? The American Communist Party During the Second World War
1987 Maurice Isserman, If I Had a Hammer: The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left
1988 Will Vinton, California Raisins campaign
1989 Gus Van Sant, DRUGSTORE COWBOY

1990s

1990 John Callahan, He Won’t Get Far On Foot
1990 Maurice Isserman, California Red: The Life of Dorothy Healey
1990 Norman Solomon, Unreliable Sources: A Guide to Detecting Bias in News Media
1991 Gus Van Sant, MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO
1992 Norman Solomon, The Power of Babble: The Politician’s Dictionary of Buzzwords and Doubletalk for Every Occasion
1992 Joan Gratz, MONA LISA DESCENDING A STAIRCASE
1992 Bill Plympton, THE TUNE
1993 David Chelsea, David Chelsea In Love
1993 Norman Solomon, Adventures in Medialand: Behind the News, Beyond the Pundits
1994 Mikal Gilmore, Shot in the Heart
1994 Mike Richardson, THE MASK
1994 Norman Solomon, False Hope: The Politics of Illusion in the Clinton Era
1995 Richard Gehr, Alt Culture: An A-to-Z Guide to the ’90s
1995 Douglas Engelbart, Towards Augmenting the Human Intellect and Boosting Our Collective IQ
1995 David Chelsea, Welcome To The Zone
1995 Norman Solomon, Through the Media Looking Glass: Decoding Bias and Blather in the News
1995 Bill Plympton, GUNS ALONG THE CLACKAMAS
1995 Gus Van Sant, TO DIE FOR
1996 Joe Sacco, Palestine
1997 Bill Plympton, WALT CURTIS: PECKERNECK POET
1997 Gus Van Sant, GOOD WILL HUNTING
1997 Norman Solomon, Wizards of Media Oz: Behind the Curtain of Mainstream News
1997 Matt Groening, The Huge Book Of Hell
1997 Norman Solomon, The Trouble With Dilbert: How Corporate Culture Gets the Last Laugh
1999 Will Vinton, THE PJ’S
1999 Norman Solomon, The Habits of Highly Deceptive Media
1999 Mikal Gilmore, Night Beat: A Shadow History of Rock and Roll
1999 Time names THE SIMPSONS the best TV show of the century
1999 Matt Groening begins FUTURAMA

2000s

2000 Maurice Isserman, America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s
2000 Maurice Isserman, The Other American: The Life of Michael Harrington
2000 John Callahan, PELSWICK
2001 John Callahan, QUADS!
2002 Norman Solomon, The Media Marches to War
2002 Patrick Rosenkranz, Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975
2003 Norman Solomon, Target Iraq
2003 Gus Van Sant, ELEPHANT
2004 Mike Richardson, HELLBOY
2004 Bill Plympton, HAIR HIGH
2004 Bill Plympton, GUARD DOG
2005 Norman Solomon, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death
2007 Norman Solomon, Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State
2008 Gus Van Sant, MILK
2008 Bill Plympton, IDIOTS AND ANGELS
2009 Joe Sacco, Footnotes In Gaza
2009 Brooke Jacobson receives Lifetime Achievement Award during the Oregon Sesquicentennial Film Festival

2010s

2010 Patrick Rosenkranz, The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective 
2010 San Diego Comic Con names FUTURAMA “Current Most Critically Acclaimed Animated Series”
2012 Matt Groening ends Life In Hell
2013 Matt Groening ends FUTURAMA
2013 David Chelsea, Snow Angel
2014 Patrick Rosenkranz, The Complete Zap Comix
2014 Richard Gehr, I Only Read It For The Cartoons: The New Yorker’s Most Brilliantly Twisted Artists
2014 Ursula LeGuin at the National Book Awards “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”
2016 David Chelsea begins Are You Being Watched?
2016 Variety reports a possible new Matt Groening project
2016 Bill Plympton, REVENGEANCE
2016 Mike Richardson, THE LEGEND OF TARZAN
2017 Gus Van Sant, WHEN WE RISE

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UNDERGROUND USA is a public history/art education event made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, with support from Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins.

Comic City USA, the first exhibit to look at Oregon print cartooning history, is at Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Avenue, through Jan. 31, 2017.

“People who read them when they first came out remember the initial impact — like getting whacked in the head with a two by four.” Patrick Rosenkranz, on underground comics

War Stories

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cover by David Chelsea

Going into the planning of this project, I knew only one thing about underground cartoonists  – that they were published in the underground press. That’s about it.

My assumption was that they were willingly published by the underground press. Former underground cartoonist and about-to-be UNDERGROUND USA speaker, David Chelsea dispatched that notion.

My own experience was typical. I was a staff illustrator, patiently accepting every editorial assignment drawing heroic freedom fighters and evil CIA agents, while lobbying for a continuing strip of my own. Finally, the editors gave in…..

Who knew?! To a reader, the Scribe seemed all of one motley piece. To the contributors, a different story. Each issue was a battlefield. Once printed, it was a scorecard. Who made it in? Who was left on the sidelines?  This ritualized battle of wills did a great job of preparing David for his career as a commercial illustrator in New York – I passed his work on the newsstands everyday, his celebrity caricatures beaming from the front page of the New York Observer.

At UNDERGROUND USA, perhaps David’s recollection can be matched against that of Maurice Isserman, who edited, as well as wrote for, the Scribe. How does Maurice remember it? Maurice’s credentials are dual: he is both newspaperman (he proofread for the Oregonian at the same time as he was writing and editing the Scribe), and historian, the James L. Ferguson Professor of History at Hamilton College.

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UNDERGROUND USA is a public history/art education event made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, with support from Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins.

Comic City USA, the first exhibit to look at Oregon print cartooning history, is at Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Avenue, through Jan. 31, 2017.

“People who read them when they first came out remember the initial impact — like getting whacked in the head with a two by four.” Patrick Rosenkranz, on underground comics

Meet The Panelist: Maurice Isserman

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When I began the UNDERGROUND USA project, everyone told me I had to talk to Maurice Isserman. Maurice worked for the Willamette Bridge, 1968-1971, and the Portland Scribe,  1972-1974. He combined his underground newspaper career with a night gig proofreading at the Oregonian, and managed to fit in a BA in history from Reed.

Another Reedie who copyedited at the Oregonian? Gary Snyder.

Another parallel with Snyder? Maurice has fallen in love with mountains. Maurice will be reading from his latest book, Continental Divide: A History of American Mountaineering, at Powells on Friday Oct. 14, 7:30 PM.

I settled at Cold Mountain long ago
Already it seems like years and years.
Freely drifting, I prowl the woods and streams
And linger watching things themselves.
Men don’t get this far into the mountains,
White clouds gather and billow.
Thin grass does for a mattress,
The blue sky makes a good quilt.
Happy with a stone underhead
Let heaven and earth go about their changes.

Gary Snyder’s translation of Tang dynasty poet Han-Shan

As an historian, Maurice writes about American political life. He did this in America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s and If I Had a Hammer… The Death of the Old Left and the Birth of the New Left, and in his biographies of socialist Michael Harrington and Communist Party activist Dorothy Healey, two impassioned individuals committed to social change.

For UNDERGROUND USA, Maurice and fellow Scribe contributor Norman Solomon will reunite on the White Stag Auditorium stage for an onstage conversation. I asked them to tell us about the culture and politics which led to the underground press in Portland, 1968-1978. First time they have seen each other in 40 years!

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UNDERGROUND USA is a public history/art education event made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, with support from Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins.

Comic City USA, the first exhibit to look at Oregon print cartooning history, is at Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Avenue, through Jan. 31, 2017.

“People who read them when they first came out remember the initial impact — like getting whacked in the head with a two by four.” Patrick Rosenkranz, on underground comics

Meet The Speaker: Anne Richardson

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In 2014, at the suggestion of fellow pop scholar Phil Oppenheim, I took a paper to the Western Lands, Western Voices 50th Anniversary American West Center celebration in Salt Lake City. The ideas in the paper were a continuation of those published in Its The Ignonimy, Stupid: Portland, Portlandia, and the cultural legacy of Robert Johnston’s radical middle class. The 2014 paper was called Who Makes Pop? How Robert Johnston’s theory of Portland’s radical middle class both explains and predicts Portlandia. 

Here’s the first paragraph of the summary of the paper.

Robert Johnston’s The Radical Middle Class: Populist Democracy and the Question of Capitalism in Progressive Era Portland, Oregon, describes a West filled with streetcars, printing shops, bicycles, Wobblies, and cheap electricity. The anti-elite values of the confident, self defining, self accepting middle class Johnston examines are the same ones Carrie Brownstein, herself an East Portland resident, both embodies and lampoons in the IFC comedy television show, Portlandia…..

I will be giving a much abbreviated version of this talk at UNDERGROUND USA, on Oct. 15, 2016.

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UNDERGROUND USA is a public history/art education event made possible in part by a grant from the Kinsman Foundation and by a grant from the James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation. It is presented by Oregon Cartoon Institute in partnership with UO Comics & Cartooning Studies and PSU Comic Studies, with support from Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins.

Comic City USA, the first exhibit to look at Oregon print cartooning history, is at Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Avenue, through Jan. 31, 2017.

“People who read them when they first came out remember the initial impact — like getting whacked in the head with a two by four.” Patrick Rosenkranz, on underground comics