From: Eternal Comics (June 1973).

John Thompson has been active as an American erotic illustrator and underground comix artist. He was notable for his erotic and psychedelic posters, illustrations and artwork, all distributed in San Francisco from the late 1960s until the early 1970s. His art has cosmic and mystic themes, combining elements from religion, astronomy, occultism and pseudo science. He drew the comic books 'Kukawy Comics' (1969) and 'Tales From the Sphinx' (1972-1973), and was also co-founder of the underground comix magazine Yellow Dog. As an illustrator, he is best known for livening up the pages of Robert Anton Wilson's 'Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati' (And/Or Press, 1977).

Early life
John Thompson was born in 1945 in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. As a student at Monterey Peninsula College, future folk musician Joan Baez was one of his school mates. From a young age, Thompson was interested in mythology and religious philosophy, particularly gnosticism, Buddhism, Greek mythology and Jewish mysticism. He often copied their imagery in his school books. As a teenager he read esoteric books, the philosophy of Emanuel Swedenborg and poetry of Walt Whitman. Though since he was dyslexic, Thompson often claimed that "my retina can only read parts of books for a few minutes at a time." His main graphic influences were William Blake and Basil Wolverton. In 1965, the 19-year old Thompson organized his first one-man art show. Between 1965 and 1967, he studied ancient sacred art and art history at the University of California, where he drew political cartoons for the campus magazine Pelican. Some of these drawings were also printed in various literary magazines, as well as the underground magazines The Berkeley Barb, San Francisco Oracle, San Francisco Express Times and Haight Ashbury Express. In addition, Thompson drew a couple of covers for the countercultural magazine The East Village Other. After graduating with a BA, Thompson lived in Berkeley and Haight-Ashbury, California, where the hippie subculture blossomed. At the time, many young people were drafted for military service in the Vietnam War, but Thompson refused on the grounds of being a conscientious objector. He therefore fulfilled social work in the black ghetto of Oakland. In 1971, he graduated with a BA in Art Technology from California State Universitity. John Thompson additionally studied Nyingma Painting and Literature at Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, graduating in 1975.

Poster art from 1967 and 1968.

Early comics career
Between 1967 and 1973, Thompson was an artist/writer with the Underground Press Syndicate, a network of countercultural magazines and newspapers. He also specialized in poster art. Like many artists at the time, he was thrilled by Robert Crumb's comics and personally made sure some of them were reprinted in The Berkeley Barb. When he learned that Crumb had recently moved to San Francisco, Thompson got the idea of creating his own underground magazine (which eventually became Yellow Dog) and asked him to provide some artwork. Crumb was familiar with Thompson's poster work and they met a couple of times. He later told Thompson that the cyclops-eyed rock guitarist (James Gurley) he drew on the cover of Janis Joplin's album 'Cheap Thrills' (1968) was inspired by similar cyclopses in Thompson's artwork. Thompson himself also designed promotional artwork for rock bands, such as a poster for a 24-25-26 May 1968 festival in Avalon, California. Many of his psychedelic posters were distributed by The Print Mint or Astro Posters.

Yellow Dog
In May 1968, John Thompson, cartoonist Joel Beck and publisher Don Schencker (Print Mint Press) brought out a new underground magazine called Yellow Dog. Because they wanted to mimick an old Sunday comics newspaper supplement, Thompson and Beck originally wanted to name it 'Puck The Yellow Kid', after Richard F. Outcault's classic newspaper comic 'The Yellow Kid'. Eventually, Schencker named the magazine Yellow Dog, after W.C. Handy's jazz standard 'Yellow Dog Blues'. As a mascot, the magazine had a yellow dog, who appeared on almost every cover. Several famous names from the underground comix scene published in its pages. Thompson himself made contributions too, for instance the comic feature 'Spiritual Stag Film'. During its first two years, Yellow Dog had a regular publication schedule of six to seven annual issues. From the 13th-14th issues on, it changed format from a tabloid to a full-length comics magazine. By the time the 1970s rolled on, Yellow Dog fell back to merely two or three issues a year. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local communities were allowed to decided for themselves whether they would allow distribution of "pornographic" material. Many states banned underground comix or threatened certain stores with legal harrassment. As such, it became more difficult to bring out new material. Yellow Dog, like many other underground comix, was discontinued that same year. Nevertheless, with 26 issues, it had still brought out more issues than most other publications in the genre.

'Spiritual Stag Film' (Yellow Dog #4, July 1968).

John Thompson's first book, 'The Kingdom of Heaven Is Within You' (Print Mint, July 1969), featured work by him, but also art by William Blake, as well as stories drawn by Joel Beck, Vaughn Bodé, Robert Crumb, Kim Deitch, Trina Robbins and Spain Rodriguez. Poets like Ed Sanders and Allen Ginsberg contributed as well. By December of that same year, two new books by John Thompson came out at once. 'Kukawy Comics' (Print Mint, December 1969) took its name from the Greek word for "cyclops". 'The Book of Raziel' (Print Mint, December 1969) is based on Raziel, an angel from a Kabbalah book, who held the keys to the mysteries of the universe. Much like Victor Moscoso, Thompson's early comics are stream of consciousness illustrations without clear narratives, bringing familiar images from religion, mythology, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, occultism and art together. One can recognize religious/occult icons like Jesus, Buddha, Vishnu, Aleister Crowley and Baal and symbols like pentangles, swastikas, crucifixes, Yin and Yang, the Ourobouros, the Zodiac sign and the Eye of Horus. Thompson also includes imagery from the I-Ching, Popol Vuh, ancient world maps, the solar system, Kabbalah and iconic paintings and sculptures. The drawings are intercut with beautiful, angelic women. Some are nude, or depicted having sex. The few lines of text are aphorisms or esoteric quotes, some even in untranslated language or handwriting. This all adds to a mystic atmosphere, of which the meaning remains mysterious. Most readers therefore marvel at the gorgeous artwork and ponder at potential secret messages. Since Thompson's background was in poster design, it comes to no surprise that many panels are suitable to pin up against walls. Many people who bought John Thompson's comics have therefore used them for that very purpose. A limited edition of 28 psychedelic prints by Thompson, 'The Book of Thoth' (1970), also sold very well. A follow-up was 'The Book of Dreams' (Walter Bachner, 1977).

Although its easy to see why Thompson's work appealed to fans of 1960s psychedelica and underground art, he was somewhat of an outsider. For starters, he was very critical on how people used hallucinogenic drugs as a path to "seek wisdom" or simply stare at his work. In conversation with Scott Jeffery, published on on 14 August 2012, the artist explained: "Personally, I see problems with psychedelics being used recreationally. The alterations in the thought processes and mood patterns in many people using them can have problematic effects, such as 'poor judgement'. Users can 'believe' ideas, but just because one believes something doesn't make it true." Thompson added that whenever he read or talked with people who were frequent drug users, their spiritual "insights" in the world didn't seem as profound to him as what he had read in the Gospels, the Sutras or Taoism. He felt they often came up with subjective opinions, which constantly changed. Thompson also observed how some people he once had interesting conversations with, like the poet Allen Ginsberg, gradually suffered a mental decline because of their frequent drug abuse. In the same way, Thompson disliked the very degrading, violent and sexist ways women were depicted in most underground comix. As early as 1968, he wrote a critical review of a certain issue of Zap Comix for The San Francisco Express Times, concerning the matter. Thompson also depicted nude women and sex in his art, but in a more graceful, positive and uplifting way. To him, the eroticism suggests a tantric and cosmic connection with the world, mind and eternity. As such, his work has more in common with the Kama Sutra than a pornographic book aiming for thrills.

'Tales From The Sphinx 2' (November 1972).

In 1972, without watering his style down, Thompson made more attempts at creating an actual story. He envisioned a series named 'Sphinx Comics' or 'Tales From the Sphinx'. Unfortunately, the first issue was never published, but 'Tales From the Sphinx 2' (Print Mint, November 1972), 'Tales From The Sphinx 3' (Print Mint, 1973) and 'Eternal Comics' (Last Gasp, June 1973) were. The story revolves around a group of extraterrestrial aliens who start a war in ancient Egypt. A shaman, Toth, and his wife, priestess Rda, are asked to fight this demonic alien force, named the hGwa. The trilogy is a mix between ancient Egyptian and Tibetan mythology, with elements from the Book of Genesis. Compared with Thompson's other work, the cartoonist provided more explicit narration to his images. In the third book, the story continues in the 16th century, involving Francis Bacon, William Shakespeare as well as Sir Francis Drake and the Spanish Armada. In 1983, the front cover art of 'Tales From The Sphinx 1' ended up on the back cover of the sixth issue of the City Limits Gazette. In 2012, the entire trilogy was reprinted by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, containing a foreword/introduction by Thompson.

Written and graphic contributions
One notable celebrity fan of John Thompson's art was Robert Anton Wilson, the future author of the cult novel 'Illuminatus!' (co-written with Robert Shea, 1975). In 1978, Thompson illustrated Wilson's book 'Cosmic Trigger: Final Secret of the Illuminati' (And/Or Press, 1977). Several images were reused from comics he had made in the 1960s. In 1998, John Thompson wrote an homage to Robert Crumb in Monte Beauchamp's book 'The Life and Times of R. Crumb'. He also wrote 'The Secret History of Carmel' (Barnes & Noble, 2011), a book about the history of his birth city and its once rich native culture. It was serialized in Coast Weekly between 1989 and 1990.

Later life
In 1973, John Thompson left the art world, continued his studies and became a therapist and counsellor. He worked with people in hospitals, home care programs and special education school programs. From 28 October 1973 until 9 September 1999, Thompson also worked as instructor in film production and screenwriting at Hartnell College and Monterey Peninsula College. In the 1990s, he was associated editor and journalist for a Carmel paper. He was a member of a local gnostic group, director of AIDS Education in California and in 1993 came up as a candidate for the Green Party. Thompson was also involved with various 1960s anti-war and civil rights groups, Concerned Citizens For Environmental Health and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

His wife Judy Hurley is also active as a graphic artist.

'The Book of Raziel' (December 1969).

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