Gary Arlington did not dream big. He was just a guy with no money, no food, not even his own coach to sleep on. Nevertheless, he had thousands of comics, stuffed up in his parents’ basement since his childhood and he was going to earn his living selling them. Little did he know back in 1968, when he opened his San Francisco Comic Book Company, of how great the part of his store will be in the history of the underground comix subculture.
Just Another Ordinary Man
Before opening the comic book store, Arlington’s life hardly seemed special. Gary Arlington was born in 1938, his parents owned a lumber company. He finished high school, got a two-year degree at the College of San Mateo, switched several jobs, joined Army and finally moved to San Francisco. Right before Arlington moved to the new city, his parents died. His sisters decided to sell their house in Hayward, so all the comic books that were lying in the basement, had to go somewhere. They could be either sold or thrown away, and Arlington chose the number one option. And that decision defined the direction for his further existence.
Comix With “X” on the End
The letter “X” was a secret, special symbol of belonging. Thanks to it underground comic books fans recognized the desired volumes. Now it is hard to talk of underground comics without mentioning Zap Comix, the “Mouse” graphic novel and other comic books alike. And San Francisco Comic Book Company was a kitchen, where most of the masterpieces of the underground comix subculture were created.
A Place to Meet, Buy, and Create
At first they came out of curiosity, all of them: Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Ron Turner, Don Donahue. They just walked in and searched through endless piles of comic books, particularly impressed by Arlington’s immense collection of science fiction and horror comics of the 40’s and 50’s, “Tales From the Crypt”, for example. But then searching got accompanied by talking, and talking brought new ideas and alliances, and all of that led to the collaboratinon right on the spot. According to Mr. Spiegelman: “San Francisco in the 70’s was the Paris of the 20’s for the underground comix scene. I guess Gary’s shop was a very sleazy, hole-in-the-wall version of Gertrude Stein’s Paris salon by default. Gary was hardly an obvious magnetic personality, but he was an obsessive and he really genuinely cared about this subculture.”
Gary Arlington died at the age of 75 in January 2014. He himself wasn’t much of an artist, nevertheless, he did leave a collection of drawings and diaries, called “I Am Not of This Planet: The Art of Gary Edson Arlington”. Perhaps, it is also fair to admit, that he left a part of him in every underground comic book, the idea of which was born in his store.