By Steven Heller
... Between 1967 and 1972, when the counterculture was at its height, many lives were dramatically altered and futures were shaped. Mine was one of them. During 1968, my last year in high school, I had been drawing cartoons that explored adolescent fixations with sex and death. People who saw them presumed I had a disturbed childhood and urged me to seek therapy. Instead I took my makeshift portfolio around to four Manhattan-based influential underground papers: the New York Free Press, the East Village Other, the Rat, and the Avatar.
I went to the last first, assuming that my cartoons, featuring naked Christ-like figures in various states of crucifixion, would be welcomed with open arms. The art editor at the Avatar was indeed interested because the magazine was edited by Mel Lyman, a self-proclaimed Christ-like, megalomaniac leader of a Boston-based commune with a chapter in New York. Virtually the entire contents of the Avatar were devoted to how world events affected Lyman's life.
Had I known that this was a serious cult, I doubt it would have made much difference since the Avatar wanted to publish my work--not just one, but five of my favorite drawings in one issue. Shortly afterward, however, I realized that the Avatar was a little too weird, even for me, when following the publication of a subsequent batch of drawings I was summoned to an audience with Lyman, who demanded that I shave my entire body and swear a loyalty oath to him. My bar mitzvah was ritual enough for one lifetime, so I humbly declined.
Next I took my work over to the Rat....