WORDS BY Haydn Kramer
He combines: The Calvary Church of Costa Mesa California, The Grateful Dead’s first album cover, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Jimi Hendrix, and Murphy “The Surfer”. A man who could attract wolf whistles from women as he dismounted his Harley outside Surfer Magazine in the early 60’s. A drug addict , an artist, a surfer, a Christian---and, with Rick Griffin---that’s only the half of it.
By the time he lost his edge, on a Harley in August 1991 and became one with that highway; he had changed graphic art design, invented (virtually) the enigmatic ‘rock concert poster’, gave Robert Crumb of Zap comics, a run for his perverted money, and forever put Surfer magazine at the pinnacle of avant guarde psychedelic (surfing) cartoon design.
The chronicles of Griffin’s life are myriad and mythological---- from Steve Barilotti:
“Various descriptions include, but aren’t limited to gas huffing Lakewood pachuco, guileless pretty boy Grimmie, Haight Ashbury charismatic, goofball Christian Dad, beatnik art student, underground comic pioneer, clue-less womanizer, middle-aged punk rocker, psychedelic poster art legend, ill-tempered prima donna, luckless good guy, hog-riding-crack-smoking-rock-star-wannabe.”
Or, from Doug Harvey’s curator comments during a Griffin show at the Laguna Art Museum, “A capital “A” artist.” [is what he deserves…]
The debate over high or low brow “art” can be left to others, but the community of cartoonist, poster artists, and comic book illustrators---state plainly in reverent tones; “one of the greatest of all time, a legend…. he changed the game, for everyone…”
It is then such serendipity, that post early trials and tribulations, psychedelic meandering, and a sincere Christian conversion---- that in 1972 (besides surfing Hollister Ranch in Pacific Vibrations), we find Rick Griffin and John Severson both back in Dana Point (a publisher’s home office, an artist studio), preparing to produce the greatest surfing comic ever produced: “Tales from The Tube” No. 1.
If you were a surf stoked human being living in California in 1972, and your pristine February issue of Surfer had arrived on your doorstep or, perhaps, salvaged from a sand strewn back seat of a salty Volkswagen camper van---you leafed through the words for pictures (as you always did) and oddly, inserted in the middle staple fold, you found a comic book. And… not just any comic book.
No, this was a missile of psychedelic surf fantasy depicting waves in a color saturated super realistic graphic epistles of pornographic surf imagery---never (ever) rivaled again. Gorgeous, slick, chocked full of subversive hidden meaning, in plain view. Rated a “9” out of 10 by “Underground Comix Collection”.com (without an author citation), goes on to say, “…the overall vibe of the book, which feels like a cartoon love letter to surfing and the surf culture….”
Indeed. And then this:
“The closing story is Griffin’s “Surfing Movies,” a four-pager that shows enthusiastic people packing an auditorium for the latest surfing film (which had its heyday in the ‘70’s), which features the best 15 minutes from a variety of surf documentaries, The super-surfer star of the film rides some gnarly waves, but when he gets washed up on shore, he finds himself outside the very auditorium where his film is being shown.”
The perfect world within a world, an extension surfing’s elasticity, on a screen, in a comic book, from inside Griffin’s mind. Rick had nailed it. How surfing felt. What surfers saw. Why the Tube is the pinnacle of surfer’s fantasies. Most importantly, surfers knew it was legit, authentic, that the dude who drew this: surfs. No question.
Accolades from the comic book community are reverent about his creativity and artistic skill; Rick is God. As with so many elements of Griffin’s life, nothing is as the surface appears. His association with Robert Crumb (Zap) Comics, Bill Graham of the Fillmore San Francisco, and Ken Kesey of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and the late 60’s “Acid Tests”, were all fluid, and appears transitory, but affecting.