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A New Times Art Critic Reconnects with Underground Comic Icon Joyce Farmer, the Person Who First Inspired Her to Be One

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One of Cecil Hicks' minions during this time was deputy D.A. Oretta Sears, who was still smarting from losing a case in the U.S. Supreme Court that would change obscenity standards from "utterly without redeeming social value" to a rigorous three-pronged test involving community standards. In November 1973, Sears would try to prosecute Joyce and her partner on obscenity charges stemming from the first issue of Tits & Clits.

It all started when one of Joyce's friends, married to an Orange County fireman, made the mistake of showing the comic to her husband, who passed it around to his firefighter and police buddies. Laguna cops raided Fahrenheit 451 and arrested its fairly new owners, Gordon Wilson, an English professor teaching at a college in Riverside, and his wife, Evie, who was not only an ex-Carmelite nun, but pregnant to boot at the time she was arrested for selling allegedly obscene underground comics.

Joyce recalls that the law-abiding Wilsons were "the absolutely perfect defendants for an obscenity case."

After a lot of saber-rattling and feather-fluffing, the D.A.'s office backed down from the prosecution, mainly because the representative from the D.A.'s office who bought the offending mag happened to purchase the last copy in stock and the ACLU had become involved. That left only San Francisco-based publishers, like Don Donahue (the printer/publisher of Zap Comix #1 and other Crumb comics), retailers like Gary Arlington, founder of San Francisco Comic Book Company, and cartoonists like Crumb and his cohorts to pursue, and the D.A.'s office knew that was a tough row to hoe.

In keeping with the spirit of the times, Joyce and Lyn kept on truckin', sporadically publishing nine issues of T&C between 1972 and 1987. After dealing with the threat of prosecution for obscenity, they put out two T&C comics with different titles, Pandora's Box and Abortion Eve, mainly to assuage consumers — and cops. Joyce would get to meet and mix with a number of important underground cartoonists who contributed to Zap Comix at the first comics convention, mounted by Clay Geerdes (later to become famous for his photos of The Cockettes and star of John Waters films Divine) in Berkeley in April 1973.

They included Robert Crumb (Mr. Natural, Devil Girl, Fritz the Cat), with whom Joyce has corresponded for a number of years; S. Clay Wilson (The Checkered Demon); Gilbert Shelton (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers); Rick Griffin (born-again Christian surfer artist responsible for The Man from Utopia); and New York's Art Spiegelman of Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus fame, and the man who gave the world Garbage Can-dy.

Farmer and Wilson became good friends. Joyce also met pioneering female cartoonists outside of the no-chicks-allowed comics club, like Trina Robbins (It Ain't Me Babe and Wimmin's Comix) and Lee Marrs (Pudge, Girl Blimp). She even remembers meeting Leonardo DiCaprio — he was about 2 — when she visited with George DiCaprio, comics publisher and creator of Cocaine Comix, in L.A. during the '70s.

Though the early '70s were a party-hearty time of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, Joyce and Lyn "were not the kind of people who they offered drugs to — I had my bail bonds license to worry about and we had to drive home."

By 1986, Joyce stopped working for Ronald Kaufman and started her very own bail bonds agency, which, she recalls, took off with a vengeance. Within that 15-year time frame, I had practiced law as a personal injury defense attorney, hated the grind, left truth for beauty, and bought into a contemporary art gallery in Tustin, eventually leaving that behind as well.

Joyce and Leonard Kaplan were no longer a couple after an outwardly acrimonious split on April Fools Day 1982, though in truth they loved one another dearly. She couldn't take the lack of privacy that came with living with Leonard, who continually held court in the living room/studio in back of his shop, hosting a mélange of celebrities, artists, actors, pickers, collectors, and sundry ne'er-do-wells. (I remember being introduced to a Russian Orthodox archbishop one time and that, at one point, Lenny let a toothless, homeless guy live in a tent in his backyard for weeks.)

For his part, Lenny wasn't happy with the fact that Joyce would retreat to her beloved Greece for two months at a time, her way of escaping Leonard's artistic three-ring circus. Unbeknowst to me, since Lenny never mentioned it to me even in passing, Joyce and Lenny remained good friends until Lenny's death, with Joyce taking him to doctors' appointments as he battled lung cancer.

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Kathleen Vanesian