If you don’t recognize the name in the title, it’s okay. I’m not gonna browbeat you this time. This guy takes a lot more effort to be aware of, so don’t feel bad if you’re unfamiliar. In fact, let me introduce you to one of the funniest underground cartoonists of the 20th century.
If you’ve read Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, you’ll recognize Murphy’s distinctive style. Willy was as much a natural talent as Gilbert Shelton or Robert Crumb.
I mentioned Willy Murphy in my strip The Day Pekar Died. He illustrated what could possibly be Pekar’s most uproarious pages; “A Good Shit Is Best”.
There is precious little of Willy Murphy’s work, because like many underground cartoonists, he lived the life. Such was the Faustian deal of the era. A talent like Murphy’s does not form in a vacuum. He was as incisive and brilliant as his contemporaries because like them, he was paying full attention.
Just about any cartoonist worth their ink has taken a wide swing at the “funny papers”. It’s irresistible. So many ancient styles, so many antiquated jokes. Art Spiegelman did it, Ivan Brunetti did it, and I’ve been trying to top them- and R. Sikoryak- since I was in high school.
Willy Murphy knocked it out of the park. Over forty years ago.
That’s the two-page center spread of Short Order Comix #2, from 1974. Murphy nails every comics-page cliché, even the well-intentioned social messages of the early 1970s. This is how funny the dude was on his own.
In the back pages of San Francisco Comic Book #7 from 1983, Willy Murphy is eulogized by Baba Ron Turner, the legendary publisher of Last Gasp. It prefaces a typewritten letter from Murphy, and for your further edification, I will retype it here in toto, rather than scanning the pages. I will preserve typos and idiosyncrasies wherever possible.
Willy Murphy died too soon. Creator of Flammed-Out Funnies Harry Kirschner, and the Mets theme song, he had to have been one of the funniest people on the planet. Gone from us five years now, the postman drops a letter at SF Comic Book Co. Gary Arlington takes it to its correct address and meets Marsha. Marsha knew Willy, but not his comix buddies. She shows Gary letters and art that Willy sent and gave her over the years. Neat old stuff from Willy’s 1st trips out to San Francisco, Houdini told people he would make contact with them after he died, in the form of a rain. Willy has made contact with all of us as result of a wrongly de-livered letter. Willy’s letter to Marsha continues on the next several pages, just as he typed and drew it. Enjoy. In future issues we will include more past private and personal items from cartoonists and begin a letters of comment page.
-Baba Ron, publisher, APRIL 1, 83
Tuesday, October 26
Okay, I got your note. Okay, I’m a creep and an asshole and bastard and so on. I been running around like a chicken with his head cut off. First I was in N.Y. for about a week, but I wanted to see people I hadn’t seen for a while, and that took up most of the time . . . plus which I went on a shopping binge. I got a leather jacket which you gotta see to believe. $160 but worth it. It has six p[ckets, a built in back-pack and a snap-on hood. And beautifully made and designed. Plus an enormous amount of xxxxx other shit. Then I went to P-town, then I went to Maine to visit my mother, then I went to P-town, then I went to New York for two days, horny, weirded-out, looking for a place to stay . . . not digging the idea of a winter in P-town so much, thenx I went to Lainesville which is up near Woodstock . . . you prob’ly know where it is . . . for 10 days then I went to New York for about 12 hours, then I went to P-town. Then I went to Cleveland, then I went to Santa Fe, then I went to L.A., then I went to Carmel Valley, then I went to San Francisco.
Let me tell you about the trip . . . what a bitch. It started out Speedy and John and I were gonna drive non-stop 2½ days, 3 at the outside. Then Fast Eddie decided he was gonna go . . . and it turns out Primo in xhis junkiedom has hocked his car . . . the red Corvette . . . to Zookie, so Fast Eddie and John are gonna drive it to L.A. for the Zook. Then a lost-long XXXX Chick from XXXXX Amsterdam shows up in Speedy’s life and they’re in love and she’s going. XXXX Then after much lolly-gagging around and slow driving we’re in Cleveland at midnight, with cops following us for a dozen blocks through four or five right-angle turns right up to the door of Gary Petko’s hovel, whereupon they drive slowly past us and continue on into the night. So that’s Cleveland, and we’re there two fucking days and Gary joins the caravan in third car, namely a disintegrating Ford van with an engine too small for it and a clutch that is gone, with no powerx at all on hills, and worst of all I’m riding with now by some indecipherable sequence of events having mostly to do with Speedy and the Chick wanting the car to themselves. Anyway, we XXXXXXXXXX xxxxxxxx make it all the way to Columbus, Ohio (about 130 miles) the first day. This gives you an idea of the speed of the trip. Then Gary and I drive all day and all night and all day to Santa Fe, and xx Eddie & John are there and Speedy & Co. later, and we have and great dinner and go to the indxan cliff dwexlings next day, get drenchxd in a downpour, eat at the best natural foods restaurant I’ve ever seen or heard of and kidda dig Santa Fe, and leave the following morning . . . and Santa Fe is groovy, but it’s cold already doming down out of these mountains. Then xap across the Arizona mountains, down into that deserts, a night in Needles, Cal. Which is a teen-age drag strip town consisting of Rosie’s Enchilada stand, Sambo’s RestXurant (breakfast 24 hours), 27,352 motels, and 11,869 gas stations
Then across the Mojave and on to Zooky’s sumptuous digx in L.A. A couple of nights on the floor in Sleeping bags, and days tripping around L.A. and Zookie surprisinglx affable and hospitable. L.A. is ugly, as usual. Drek. A coastal plain, a basin surrounded by mountains containing pea soup. Like Long Island forever. The people are all crazy in that uniquely L.A. way. A Fast Eddie story. Do you know Fast Eddie? He’s that tall blond guy who worked for Speedy last year, was around all this year. Went with a little chick named Kathy who had a doberman. Look a little likea rat, but attractive somehow, nonetheless. Anyway, Fast Eddie, some freak Zookie improted from the scene (a Barry type) and I stagger out of the Whiskey Au Go Go at 2:15 a.m. I’m sober, Other Cat kinda Reeling, Fast Eddie almost falling down drunk, determined to get laid nonetherless, standing in front of the Whiskey. Other Cat splits, I’m trying to get Eddie to make it to the car as this Other Cat has the keys, but Eddie can’t believe he is about to be shut ou. He’s been hitting on thxee chicks inside and none of “em will take him home, and he’s standing there (reeling there) saying “this is impossible. I don’t think this is possible etc.”, I’m say9mg, “Eddie, it’s a lost cause man, let’s make it to the car, you ain’t gonna donothing here man, etc.” all of which is true, except that Fast Eddie says hes gotta give it a try, Which he does,turns to this blond chick passing by—that wasn’t even in the club for Chris’sakes—and says (slurs) XXXXXXX “Young lady . . . where are we going?” “My place.” she says, and off she goes with Fast Eddie in towx . I’m standing there not believing this. Then I go to the car which aint there of course and I dont have a cent in cash on me and walk 4 miXes through uncharted L.A. back to Zookie at 4-5 in the morning. So we leave L.A. , but the air is Jell-o and XXXXX black floating particles which don’t leave us for 100 miXes up the coast. And we finally make it to Carmel Valley (not to be confused with Carmel) and sleep on some more floors and go to bars and play pool and drink and take a pXll called “quackers” . . . which are realXy some other kinda number . . . until I can’t stand it anymore . . . Fast Eddie either . . . and we hitchhike to San Francisco. A typical Californixx hitch. A fat Mexican in a van gets us stoned beyond recognition, a pimply teenager takes us about 50 miXex in a listing 63 Dodge that he can just barely control and suddenly were in the middle of El Camino Real, with six lanes of remorseless traffic out to kill x anything in sight on the one side going in the direction we’re not going and a single lane turnoff to the road we do want on the other side, and it’s a blind turnoff and the cars are going off that thing 50-60 mph, and in the midst of all this, Fast Eddie gets some kind of religious revelation or some fucking thing, and instead of standing up before the turnoff where people can see you, and have room to stop and such, he sits down in a Yogi position Xn the little cement island between the freeway and the exit where it is obviously impossible to get a ride—along with all the baggage—and goes into some rap having todo with sending out vibes, and the people who will pick him up will stop anywhere. Now this is all fine and good I tell him but it’s getting dark soon, and we’ve got to both piss and other consideration and so on. So Eddie decided we can piss off the freeway in some bushes near the turnoff, leaving all our shit sitting unattended right in the middle of the Freeway. Being paranoid about that I finish pissing first and rush up. This horn tooXs and we have a ride, just sitting there waiting for us. I couldn’t believeit. A guy and a chick. They took us to Kentucky Fried Chicken, then took us home, and gave us more food, booze, dope, and drove us to San Francisco, leaving Eddie at the approach to Bay Bridge, then driving me directly to the door, saying they were gonna go back to the Bridge approach and if Eddie was still there take him to where he was going in Berkeley. Last I saw of Fast Eddie he was heading for the bridge, having absolutely no money, not even a penny . . . having lost all his ID in P-town, and having just left his only pair of sandals of shoes of any sort at the XXX people’s howse, heading barefoot into the darkness grinning his ass off. He says he’s going to Hawaii for the winter and I believe him.
XXX So the stroy is that this fucking trip took 14 days instead of 2½.I must say after it all, I don’t think I really dig Speedy. I can’t be a tight friend with him in any case. He’s really a closed-off, funny guy . . . guarded, not very up front . . . aaah, I dunno.
So here I am bopping around Sunny Xan Francisco again. I dig this city, but it’s just not my time here. I guess I’ll be three weeks or so then move back East . . . probably to Lainesville for a while. The people I was staying with there are into underground TV . . . the “VIDEOFREEX” they are called and contain a number of old friends. They produce ½” videotapes of various shit for various purposes. It’s something to get into for a while. I’m not sure it’s gonna come off though, but probably I think. Otherwise Idunno. Let ya know though when I get back.
Kepp the faith an’ don’t call me no more nasty names, fuck-face.