Jay Lynch is best known as a pioneer of the 1960s underground comix movement. As co-editor of the influential magazine Bijou Funnies (1968-1973) he provided a platform for various iconic artists in the field, as well as his own best-known work, 'Nard 'n' Pat' (1967-1973). He also worked as a writer for more mainstream comics, such as 'Phoebe and the Pigeon People' (1979-1996) and 'Bazooka Joe' (1967-1990). Lynch was closely involved with the 'Wacky Packages' and 'Garbage Pails' trading cards franchise and, in the dawn of his career, reinvented himself a final time as a children's book author.
Jay Lynch was born in 1945 in Orange, New Jersey. His early influences were George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat', Bud Fisher's 'Mutt and Jeff' and Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's early issues of Mad. He had a lifelong interest in comics, but also satirical media, which he collected his entire life. When he discovered Paul Krassner's satirical magazine The Realist in 1958 Lynch finally knew what he wanted to do with his life: "I knew my cause, I knew my role in the scheme of things." Lynch published his first cartoons for his high school paper, but looked for more professional magazines too. In an issue of Cracked he discovered that its editor had just published a fanzine, Smudge, which offered information about all kinds of satirical magazines in the country. Lynch sent for a copy and was eventually hired as a cartoonist. Other future cartoon legends like Skip Williamson and Art Spiegelman also discovered Smudge through that same Cracked issue and became close friends of Lynch. Through the fanzine network Lynch got in touch with the still unknown Gilbert Shelton, Robert Crumb, Joel Beck and Jaxon. It didn't take long before his work was published in magazines like Wild!, Thor, Sick, Prep, Squire, Cracked and Harvey Kurtzman's short-lived satirical magazine Help!
In 1963, the 17-year old Lynch moved to Chicago where he found a job as the member of the improvisational comedy team 'The Second City'. He worked as a stock boy in Wieboldts department store, while still writing gags and stories for various humor magazines in his spare time. After trying out performing stand-up comedy he got in touch with Jeff Begun and Howie Cohen, two college students who had just been thrown off Roosevelt University for publishing an offensive college magazine named Aardvark. Begun and Cohen decided to continue their publication under a different name, Charlatan, where Lynch found a new audience for his work. Unfortunately it didn't last long either. In 1967 Lynch found a job at an advertising agency, which provided him not only with a steady income but enough time at work to draw. His bosses felt that their customers ought to have the impression that their employees were continuously hard at work and thus Lynch and his friends were allowed to draw comics in between assignments.
In the mid 1960s mainstream media didn't really appeal to young people. To provide a counterweight several hippies founded their own magazines. Because of their subversive content these publications couldn't be sold in regular stores and thus had to go "underground" by being distributed through stores specializing in hippie fashions, gadgets and drugs: the so-called "head shops". Lynch's earliest comics were published in underground magazines like the Chicago Seed and the Chicago Kaleidoscope, but he felt that they still were too frightened to offend their readers. He found more pleasing venues in The Berkeley Barb, Fifth Estate, Nexus, Gothic Blimp Works, Purple Cat, Radical America and The East Village Other. Eventually he and Skip Williamson decided to create their own underground newspaper, The Chicago Mirror. It featured a lot of satirical articles, which unfortunately weren't always recognized as such. One day Lynch invented a story how smoking dog excrement could be used as a substitute for marihuana. To his concern some hippies actually came forward to congratulate him for giving them this tip. Even when Lynch explained it was satire the men still didn't believe it was all meant as a joke. This made them decide to change the format into a comics magazine, because then at least their satire would be a lot clearer. Inspired by Robert Crumb's groundbreaking Zap Comix, Bijou Funnies hit the market in the summer of 1968.
Bijou Funnies featured satirical comics aiming at a mature audience. Lynch functioned as its main editor and personally corresponded with various underground artists and fans all across America and Europe. The magazine offered a spot for his own work, but also comics by Williamson, Gilbert Shelton, Jay Kinney, Kim Deitch, Art Spiegelman, Dave Herring, Jim Osborne, John Thompson, Rory Hayes, Paul David Simon, Roger Brand, Dan Clyne, William Stout, Denis Kitchen, Pat Daley, Willy Murphy, Ralph Reese, Evert Geradts and Justin Green. To tighten his network he even made a map which located all other underground comics publications in the country. It was printed on the back cover of each issue. Lynch furthermore increased Bijou Funnies' national notability by advertising it whenever he was interviewed in the press and on television. It was distributed through Print Mint until 1970 and then taken over by Denis Kitchen's Kitchen Sink Press for the next three years. At the time Bijou Funnies' had considerable influence on other underground comics magazines. Denis Kitchen actually founded his own Mom's Homemade Comics (1969), after reading just one issue of Bijou Funnies.
One of Bijou Funnies' regular features was Jay Lynch's comic strip 'Nard 'n' Pat', which had made its debut in the Chicago Mirror in 1967. The underground comic dealt with a bald-headed moustached man with ultra-conservative values, Nard, and Pat, his left-wing anarchistic cat. In terms of design they looked like a typical early 1900s newspaper comic, but the content was far more subversive. Nard and Pat always bickered about politics and social issues, ranging from Maoism to the Vietnam War. Lynch based their names and personalities on two friends he knew. Just like their comic book counterparts they had opposing political viewpoints and always argued, but never listened to one another. While Lynch was a staunch left-wing progressive idealist himself, he didn't hesistate to satirize his own ideology with the same waspishness. During 'Nard 'n' Pat' 's final years the comic strip also took a lot of inspiration from discussions he had with his own wife. Lynch also drew more personal and dramatic comics around this time, such as 'Child Martyr' (Bijou Funnies, issue 7), which told the tale of a boy at his Catholic school who was bullied by older kids for believing in God. Crumb and Lynch also visited 'Dick Tracy' creator Chester Gould in 1968, which inspired Lynch to draw a two-page comic book story about this memorable event, published in Funny Animals.
In the spring of 1969 Lynch and Spiegelman resurrected the mascot of their previous publication Wild!, Projunior, who was originally created by Don Dohler. They brought in all their underground comix friends to create stories about the character, which were then published as 'Don Dohler's Projunior' (1969) by Kitchen Sink. Lynch also designed the cover. The same year he edited Conspiracy Capers, a benefit comic book to raise funds for the legal defense of the upcoming trial agains the Chicago Seven. These were seven anti-Vietnam war activists who were charged with conspiracy and public disturbance, among them Abbie Hoffman – famous for the subversive work 'Steal This Book' (1971). The case was controversial and Lynch had to go through great lengths to actually find anybody in Chicago willing to cash the check with the benefit money. e was forced to sign it over and send it off to Washington D.C. to more kindred spirits. By the time he received everything back in the mail two months had passed by. Even worse: his letter had been opened and inspected. It turned out that the printing shop he had in mind for the job had been visited by two men in suits who'd threatened to put the owner out of business if he dared to published Conspiracy Capers. Such threats were not uncommon in the day for Lynch. People sometimes threw in his windows because of his political views. As a result he started signing his work with the pseudonyms "Jayzee", "Jayzey" and "Ray Finch". Nevertheless, 'Conspiracy Capers' did get published and featured graphic contributions by Skip Williamson (who designed the cover), Jay Lynch, Jim Osborne, Baron, Daniel Clyne, Paul David Simon, Jay Kinney, Ralph Reese, Gary Arlington, Rory Hayes, Charles Winans and Art Spiegelman. The trial itself originally resulted in only five "guilty" verdicts, but these too would later be overturned in a federal court of appeals.
Censorship got worse when the court case Miller vs. California in 1973 resulted in an official decision of the U.S. Supreme Court to broaden prosecution of "obscene material". It made it nearly impossible to publish underground magazines with the same amount of freedom, left alone distribute them. Lynch reacted to the court decision in an editorial, 'Um Tut Smut', published in the eight and final issue of Bijou Funnies. As a farewell occasion the entire issue spoofed Mad Magazine, particularly the early issues by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder, which had influenced him and his fellow underground buddies so much. He and his friends each drew parodies of their own comics. Lynch took it upon him to spoof Gilbert Shelton's 'Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers', while his own 'Nard 'n' Pat' received the honour of being parodied by none other than Robert Crumb.
Outside of Bijou Funnies, Lynch designed various advertisements and posters for the record label Curtom. Together with Skip Williamson he designed the album cover of 'The Genuine Imitation Life Gazette' (1969) by The Four Seasons. The cover was made to look like a newspaper, even featuring an eight-page newspaper-like booklet inside with an underground comic named 'High Frequency Funnies', drawn by Lynch and Williamson. While an obvious attempt to appear more hip to young listeners, the record cover did prove to be quite influential. Jethro Tull's 'Thick as a Brick' (1972), John Lennon's 'Some Time In New York City' (1973), Tom Waits' 'Heartattack and Vine' (1980) and Radiohead's 'The King of Limbs' (2011) also designed their album covers to look like a newspaper. Lynch was also active for Hugh Hefner's Playboy, who came up with a comics section called 'Playboy Funnies'. Skip Williamson was given the task of bringing hip, young artists together, among them also Art Spiegelman, Jay Kinney, Randall Enos, Lou Brooks, Mark Alan Stamaty and Howard Cruse. Furthermore Lynch made a more grotesque version of the then-popular smiley buttons.
In 1977 the Chicago Seed issued a juvenile supplement called Sidetracks. Lynch was asked to provide a suitable comic strip and came up with 'Phoebe and the Pigeon People'. It featured an old woman who fed pigeons in the park. The birds, however, all have human heads. One of them, Bix, is a beatnik who enjoys ranting. It took a year before Lynch heared from his editor again, because the preliminary sketches had been put inside a drawer and were forgotten afterwards. While cleaning up one day the editor rediscovered them, but just send them back to Lynch. Fed up with the poor way his work was treated, Lynch mailed the pages to a rival newspaper, The Chicago Reader, who immediately published the series on a weekly basis. At first he drew everything personally, but he quickly got tired of it. Gary Whitney then took over the illustration work, while Lynch wrote the scripts. 'Phoebe and the Pigeon People' (1979-1996) ran for 17 years and even inspired a stage show, 'When Cultures Collide'. It was performed by the improvisational theater troupe The Practical Theater in collaboration with rock and new wave bands. The best gags of the comic strip were collected by Kitchen Sink in three comic books.
Another mainstream endeavour of Lynch was his work for the bubble gum and trading cards company Topps. Between 1967 and 1990 he was the anonymous gag writer for numerous 'Bazooka Joe' comics. Originally drawn by Wesley Morse, these were small-format gag comics hidden inside bubblegum wrappers. For the same company Lynch also contributed to the 'Wacky Packages' (1968) trading cards and stickers. These were parodies of iconic brands, often in combination with a pun. The artwork often imitated the original designs so perfectly that lawsuits were a genuine threat. However, since most companies would typically send a cease-and-desist letter to remove all copies within three months Topps never had a problem, because they came up with new ideas every month and the older trading cards only remained in roulation for a short while. The concept for 'Wacky Packages' was thought up by Art Spiegelman who was in his turn inspired by similar spoofs in Mad Magazine. Both he and Lynch made graphic contributions, taking turns with Kim Deitch, George Evans, Drew Friedman, Bill Griffith, Norman Saunders, Bhob Stewart and Tom Sutton. The franchise inspired posters, T-shirts, books, erasers, binders, but also five comic book issues with artwork by Lynch, Joe Simko, Neil Camera and Brent Engstrom. It provided many underground comics artists with a steady income, while still remaining true to their public image as anti-establishment artists. In 1985 a similar trading cards series was created, 'Garbage Pail Kids', which featured eccentric children with grotesque faces. Spiegelman and Mark Newgarden came up with the intitial idea, while John Pound made the designs. Later Lynch also made some illustrations for these cards, along with Tom Bunk, Strephon Taylor, Layron DeJarnette, Brent Engstrom, Dave Gross, Mark Pingitore, Joe Simko, Colin Walton, Fred Wheaton, Jeff Zapata, John Czop, Don Perlin, Justin Green and James Warhola. Due to its reliance on gross-out humor the cards were an immediate succes with children and got distributed to various countries such as France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Brazil, Israel, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In 1987 a movie adaptation was made, 'The Garbage Pail Kids Movie', which became one of the most notorious box office flops in motion picture history.
Lynch was also a contributor to Mad Magazine for a while. He was involved with their merchandising, but also scripted three of their articles. He wrote the gag 'One Sunny Morning on Easter Island' (issue 368, April 1998) which was illustrated by Timothey Shamey. For 'One Fine Day at the Candy Store' (issue 375, November 1998) he called in graphic help from Monte Wolverton, while Leslie Sternbergh illustrated 'Products For Your Aging Hippie Parents' (issue 390, February 2000). He also contributed art work for Everett Peck's underground comic 'Duckman', which later inspired the eponymous 1994-1997 cult TV series of the same name. Other popular comics titles he worked for were 'Archie Comics' (with the characters created by Bob Montana), 'Zorro' and Matt Groening's 'The Simpsons'. He also once had the opportunity to work for Marvel Comics' adult comics magazine Comix Book, but turned the offer down when his contract stipulated that Marvel would own all his characters.
In the 2008 Lynch was closely involved with Françoise Mouly's project to create more comic books appropriate for children. The 'Toon Books' series featured various graphic novels created by well-known comics authors with appropriate educational value. Lynch wrote a book called 'Otto's Orange Day' (2008), illustrated by Frank Cammuso. It tells the tale of a young cat, Otto, who finds a magical genie who grants him one wish. Otto wishes the entire world looked orange, because it would make things more happy and bright. Slowly but surely he starts to regret his decision, but unfortunately he is out of wishes and needs to find a way to make everything return to normal. The same year Lynch also published 'Mo and Jo Fighting Together Forever' (2008), illustrated by Dean Haspiel. This story revolves around Mighty Jojo, a superhero who tries to make two aggressive twins quit fighting each other. He gives them a costume that will provide them superpowers, but they simply rip it in half. Seeing that their town is under threat of the evil villain Saw-Jaw they need to come up with a solution fast.
In the later years of his career Lynch worked as a teacher for the Chicago Institute. He also drew comics for the magazine Mineshaft. By 2016 he was in such ill health that he sold his entire personal collection of original comics, magazines, press files, correspondence and art to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum. He passed away in early 2017. He was an influence on Jay Kinney, Alan Hewetson, Alan Moore and Joost Swarte. His wife, Jane Lynch, was also active as a comics writer and journalist.
One riddle that has puzzled many of Lynch's readers was the catchphrase "Um Tut Sut!", a running gag he kept going for decades. Many have pondered its meaning, but it actually meant nothing. Lynch intended it as a pun on "Om Tat Sat", a Hindu mantra which gained popularity in the West during the 1960s. "Um Tut Sut!" was even turned into a poem by the Finnish poet Markku Into in 1985, and a song by the children's rock 'n' roll band The Boogers in 2008.