Shortly after I moved to New York in 1970, I became friends with Tom Conroy, an artist who ran a photo archive. He 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, stacks of milk crates full of comic books, and fascinating odds and ends he picked out of trash cans. (He gave me many of his trash finds, including a human skull that had been made into a candle holder.)
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 for sentimental reasons, but because, as he explained, "Kill a cockroach and 17 come to its funeral."
Dope Rider's second appearance was 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.
That was probably good marketing advice, but I never liked to present myself as something I'm not. I never had much trouble tapping into the part of my brain that comes up with weird ideas and images, and for that reason had always been nervous about dickering with the clockwork.
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.