I originally set up this blog to showcase the old Dope Rider comic strips I occasionally did for High Times from the mid-1970s through the mid-1980s. With High Times' 40th anniversary issue in 2014, I restarted the strip and have been doing my best to get one done for each issue. A few months after they appear in the magazine, I will archive them here. Note: all images are copyrighted by Paul Kirchner.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dope Rider in "Harpoon" and "Apple Pie"

In 1974, Dennis Lopez launched a new humor magazine called Harpoon. Dennis liked my Western story and asked me to do a strip for him with a trippy theme, using that Death character. Thus was born Dope Rider. His first appearance was a two-page story in the November 1974 issue of Harpoon:

A major inspiration for Dope Rider was my friend Tom Conroy, whom I had met shortly after I moved to New York in 1970. Tom Conroy is an artist who runs a photo archive. He gave me piles of stills from western movies that served me as reference and inspiration. For example, the positioning of the figures in the second frame of the above story was inspired by a still from an Italian western, A Bullet for the General.

Tom lived on my block, East Sixth Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues. Entering his apartment, you had to snake your way between file cabinets of movie stills, stacked milk crates full of comic books, and fascinating odds and ends he picked out of trash cans and dumpsters on his nighttime rambles around the city. He gave me many of his finds, including an artificial leg and a  human skull that had been made into a candle holder. He also provided me with many of Dope Rider's best lines.

A speed freak, Tom lived nocturnally. He had no electricity and lit his apartment with a large flame burning from a hose connected to the gas line; he covered his windows so neighbors wouldn't call the fire department. I used to visit him late at night and commune with the various bikers, hippies, and street people who filed in and out, sitting around the flickering campfire and listening to Tom dispense his insights on flying saucers, the hollow earth theory, the wisdom of Gurdjieff, and the general absurdity of the human condition. Tom constantly hawked and spat on the floor, and was convinced that the armies of cockroaches that scuttled everywhere were evolving a higher intelligence as they imbibed his amphetamine-laden spittle. He wouldn't let anyone swat them--not out of some notion of the sanctity of life, but because, as he explained, "Kill a cockroach and 17 come to its funeral."

Tom Conroy takes a short rest while hitchhiking cross-country.

Back then, I didn't expect Tom to live long, but he is now collecting Social Security and we remain in close touch.

After the first appearance of Dope Rider, I was eager to do a second, but Dennis wasn't sure there was interest in it. "If only we'd get some reader mail," he mused. Reader mail, eh? I called my sister, then living in Pittsburgh, and had her send in an effusive fan letter under a nom de plume. Dennis was persuaded and Dope Rider rode again, making his second appearance in the March 1975 issue of Apple Pie, as Harpoon was renamed after lawyers for National Lampoon started clearing their throats.

It was pretty nervy of me to use Lee Van Cleef as a character, but I was a huge fan. I'm glad he didn't sue me. Or shoot me.

Lee van Cleef in a movie still from "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." I swiped it shamelessly.

At my desk in my New York apartment, circa 1975.

It was in the third episode, published in May 1975, that I feel Dope Rider hit his stride. I was working as an assistant to Wally Wood at this point and the inking shows more confidence. I began to incorporate elements from famous works of surrealist and visionary art, such as the homage to Piranesi's prison series on page two. Note the nude: I was also selling cover art to Screw magazine.

I recall Neal Adams looking over a Dope Rider story and saying, "How can someone who looks so straight draw so weird?" Neal had me pegged as a closet nut case, due partly to my habit of breaking the silence in the studio by laughing out loud at amusing thoughts that passed through my mind as we sat and worked. He found this jarring and got his revenge by using me as the model for the rooftop sniper in "Thrill Kill," published in Creepy #75, November 1975.

 Neal Adams made me a psycho killer. I posed for the pictures, wearing my favorite shirt.

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