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."
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.
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.