The PopCult Comix Bookshelf

Slow Death Zero: The Comix Anthology of Ecological Horror
edited by Jon B. Cooke and Ron Turner
Last Gasp
ISBN-13 : 978-0867198836

Slow Death was one of the most notable of the underground comix published back the 1970s. The first issue was commissioned to be released on the very first Earth Day in 1970, and the title ran for ten more, roughly annual, issues, with one revival issue in 1992.

With a mission to mix ecological and political themes with cautionary horror and science fiction tales in the style of  EC Comics and the best of underground comix creators, the book left quite an impression.

My personal connection to the title goes back when an embryonic PopCulteer would bum rides to Downtown Charleston so he could pick up underground comix at Pepperland, in the Arcade building. Nobody else would sell undergrounds to a pre-teen kid, most likely due to the possibly tragic circumstance of me seeing a stray drawing of a naked lady or something.

So I grew up reading Slow Death in my formative years, and the underlying messages probably shaped a lot of my worldview on such things as pollution, climate change and how evil corporations tend to act.

It was a treat to see this new one-shot revival of Slow Death (designed to come out on the 50th anniversary of the first issue, but delayed a year by a certain pandemic, among other reasons) and I’m happy to say that this new anthology is as wildly entertaining and informative as the original series.

Edited by Jon Cooke (the editor of Comic Book Creator, and before that, Comic Book Artist) with Ron Turner, the original editor and publisher of the underground comix version of Slow Death, Slow Death Zero is a beautifully-produced, slick, thick collection of new stories created by a mix of original contributors and newcomers (with two pages by Robert Crumb being a reprint). There’s over 120 pages of new comics here, a mix of full-color and black-and-white, along with a great article by Cooke that tells the full story of Slow Death and the title’s publisher, Last Gasp.

With 28 stories by 33 creators, I’m just going to mention the highlights here.

The cover story is a beautifully rendered treatise on the importance of conservation in Antarctica, by award-winning cartoonist/illustrator, and all-around nice guy, William Stout.

What is believed to be the final work by Richard Corben before his passing last December is a heartbreaking look at a bleak future, written by Bruce Jones. This brilliantly-crafted look at a dire, pollution-filled world and how it affects one man is a series of emotional gut-punches.

Tim Boxell contributes a very satisfying political satire about a certain ex-president, rendered in full color. We get a two-pager from Peter Bagge that depicts post-apocalyptic human behavior in a cynical, if realistic light.

Cooke and Errol McCarthy contribute “Last Chance Gas” which may be a perfect distillation of what makes a Slow Death story. Rick Veitch’s “Tiny Dancer” might be the most plausibly horrific story in the book, as humanity is blinded by technology, and forced to fight corporate wars.

Slow Death Zero is a nostalgic treat for fans of the original series, but also works as collection of ecological horror stories for folks who were born too late to be long-time fans. These are scary, thought-provoking, often hilarious comix stories with a definite agenda.

Slow Death Zero is highly-recommended for fans of classic underground comix, connoisseurs of good comics and people who don’t mind (or badly need) a good dose of harsh reality mixed in with their horror comics.

Available from any bookseller, using the ISBN code, or directly from Last Gasp.