Grass Green was an American underground comix artist and part of the pioneer generation of the 1960s. His best known for creating superhero parodies like 'Xal-Kor the Human Cat' (1964) and 'Wildman and Rubberroy' (1969), as well as erotic stories for underground comic books and the Eros Comix line by Fantagraphics. Green holds historical significance for being the first black underground comix artist and as such paved the way for later African-American underground artists such as Larry Fuller.
Richard Eugene Green was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in 1939. His pseudonym "Grass" was based on the nickname "Grasshopper", thought up by his childhood friend and later collaborator Ronn Foss. Green loved superhero comics and wrote a letter to Jack Kirby in 1961, receiving a reply with technical advice and support. This encouraged him to get his work published. Originally his comics could be read in low-budget fanzines like Alter Ego, The Buyer's Guide to Comics Fandom, Fantasy Illustrated, Komix Illustrated, Masquerader, Rocket's Blast Comicollector, Super-Hero and Star-Studded Comics. He sometimes spelled his name as "Greene" in those days because he felt it looked better.
In 1964 his best known character, Xal-Kor the Human Cat, made its debut. Xal-Kor is an extraterrestrial cat from the planet Felis. His king, The Great White Cat, orders him to go to planet Earth and fight the Rat People. Xal-Kor owns a dimension belt which enables him to take on three different guises: a cat, a human and/or a hybrid man-cat. He leads an anonymous life on Earth as the newspaper photographer Colin Chambers. 'Xal-Kor' is an entertaining superhero comic with a sometimes odd atmosphere and some genuine funny moments. For instance, when the Rat people plan an invasion of the planet Felis the narrator comments: "Naturally, the Felinians don't dig the idea worth a shit, and the result is WAR!" Xal-Kor managed to gain a cult following and even received an Alley Award for "Best Fan Comic Strip" in 1966.
After fulfilling his draft service in the U.S. Air Force, Grass moved to California with Foss. In the seventh issue of the fanzine The Comicollector (September 1962) they introduced 'The Frantic Four', a funny parody of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's 'The Fantastic Four', a Marvel Comics franchise only one year old at that time. Originally their spoof consisted of just a parody magazine cover, but they built further on the idea in the next issue (October 1962) when Foss and Green made an entire story. Clearly inspired by the kind of spoofs featured in Mad Magazine during the Kurtzman-Elder years, 'The Frantic Four' received enormous favorable response. Green brought the characters back one more time in the sixth issue of Alter Ego (March 1964), under the title 'The Bestest League of America Meets Da Frantic Four'. This time Green and Foss both did the drawings, while a young Roy Thomas provided the script.
The Frantic Four
Green drew many similar humorous comics during this era, including the one-shot 'The Shape' (1967), published in the first issue of Charlton Premiere. Based on an outline by Roy Thomas, Green eventually wrote the entire story, which came in handy since Thomas wasn't allowed to put his own name underneath it anyway, because he was under contract with Marvel. In the fifth issue of another Charlton magazine, Go-Go, Green drew a more professional version of his 'Bestest League' story, scripted by Roy Thomas. In the next issue another story appeared, 'The Bestest League of America vs. the Marvelous Super-Heroes'. Da Frantic Four were now named the Fantabulous Four. In the 15th issue of Star-Studded two other recurring characters by Grass Green made their debut: Wildman and Rubberroy, an obvious spoof of Bob Kane's Batman and Robin.
While Grass Green enjoyed drawing superhero comics as much as humorous comics, he eventually became part of the underground comix scene. These comics artists not only worked independent from major publishing companies, but could also draw and publish whatever they wanted. It inspired Green to also take a more provocative route and publish his worked independently. His work could be read in Super-Soul Comix issue #1 (1972), a hard-edged exposé of racism and bigotry in the United States, distributed by Kitchen Sink Press. The star of these comic books was Soul Brother American, an African American who just returned from the Vietnam War. As if his misery wasn't enough already he is also beaten up by police officers. Yet Soul Brother American discovers a serum that transforms him into a superhero. Now he is able to fight against the racist corporation Bigots, Inc., who terrorize his city. Green's work was also present in 'Good Jive Comix' (Pooo Bear Productions, 1972-1973), 'Bizarre Sex' #2 and 'Teen-Age Horizons of Shangrila' #2 (Kitchen Sink Press, 1972).
Green tried to set up a business in the 1960s named REGCo, which offered comic artists and cartoonist pages where the lay-out, borders and panels were already put on paper beforehand. This would save them a lot of time. As new as the idea was, it was never a colossal success, but did provide him with a source of steady income over the decades. Later in life he and writer Michael Vance often collaborated together, including on a comic named 'Holiday Out' (1980). During the 1980s, Green's characters Plastic Man and Rok were published in 'Holiday Out' by Renegade Press, while Megaton Comics released a twelve-issue 'Wildman' comic book series in 1987. Grass Greene remained active until the early 1990s, when he produced mostly adult-oriented comic books through Rip Off Press (four issues of 'Horny Stories and Comix') and for Fantagraphics' Eros Comix line (the one-shots 'Marooned!', 'Sinnin'' and 'The Decorator').
Grass Green was also active as a singer, guitar player, pianist and comedian. He enjoyed some local fame in his home town Fort Wayne, particularly after he appeared in the TV talent show 'The Original Amateur Hour'. He passed away from lung cancer at the age of 63 in his birth town Fort Wayne in 2002. He lived to see a comic book being published around his character 'Xal-Kor' (TwoMorrows Publishing, 2002), which was a lifelong dream of his.