The Print Mint, Inc. was a major publisher and distributor of underground comix based in the San Francisco Bay Area during the genre's late 1960s-early 1970s heyday. Starting as a retailer of psychedelic posters, the Print Mint soon evolved into a publisher, printer, and distributor. It was "ground zero" for the psychedelic poster. The Print Mint was originally owned by poet Don Schenker and his wife Alice, later partnered in the business with Bob and Peggy Rita.
|Status||Defunct in 1978 as publisher; continued as a poster shop|
|Founder||Don Schenker and Alice Schenker|
|Headquarters location||830 Folger Avenue, Berkeley, California, and San Francisco, California|
|Key people||Bob Rita and Peggy Rita|
|Publication types||Comic books, posters|
|Nonfiction topics||Social commentary, politics, environmentalism|
|Fiction genres||Underground comix|
Don and Alice Schenker started The Print Mint as a picture-framing shop and retailer of posters and fine art reproductions on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, California, in December 1965, originally sharing a store with Moe's Books, but later on moving into a separate location down the block. (The Schenkers and Moe's Books owner Moe Moskowitz had been friends back in New York City during the 1950s Beat era, so this association was a continuation of that connection.) Schencker's first comics job was a reprint of Joel Beck's Lenny of Laredo, published by the Print Mint in April 1966.
The Print Mint soon opened a wholesale division, publishing and distributing posters. The dance venues at The Avalon Ballroom and The Fillmore were advertised by posters designed by artists Stanley Mouse, Rick Griffin, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso, and others. These posters were soon in much demand, and The Print Mint distributed many of them along with work by Peter Keymack, Hambly silkscreens, Solo Period posters, M. C. Escher prints, Neon Rose, Bob Frieds Food line, and many others.
Expansion to the HaightEdit
In December 1966, the Print Mint opened a second store on Haight Street, in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco, in a building that Moe's Books owner Moskowitz had purchased to install a book store. (Unfortunately, the city had refused to give Moskowitz a permit to sell used books, so his plan was never realized.) 1967 was an eventful time, and the store became a center of neighborhood activities, a main source of countercultural information and creative energy to the huge influx of young people coming into San Francisco that summer. The store grew from being a simple retailer into a complex cross-country distribution and then publishing operation. In December 1967, however, Moskowitz forfeited the building and his plans for a second location for Moe's Books, bringing a demise to Print Mint in San Francisco.
Beginning in 1968, but really getting going in 1969, publishing and distribution of underground comics became The Print Mint's major endeavor. With their partners the Ritas, (employees that the Schenkers had offered a partnership to in 1967), Don did the organizing, editing and layout of the books, working with the artists. Bob and Peggy Rita and Alice handled the distribution and the day-to-day operations of the business. (Bob Rita had previously run Third World Distribution out of a Haight Street location.) Alice also oversaw the Berkeley store. The company's main office was located at 830 Folger Avenue in Berkeley.
The first comix Print Mint published was the (initially) weekly tabloid Yellow Dog, edited by Don Schencker. (They also re-issued Gilbert Shelton's Feds 'n' Heads, which he had initially self-published.) Eventually, the Print Mint published such underground comix notables as Robert Crumb, Trina Robbins, Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Victor Moscoso, Gilbert Shelton, Spain Rodriguez, and Robert Williams. Titles they published included Zap Comix, Junkwaffel, Bijou Funnies, and Moondog. In addition they published one of the first ecologically themed comics, The Dying Dolphin, a solo effort by rock poster artist Jim Evans with contributions by Ron Cobb and Rick Griffin.
As the first publisher to invest heavily in the underground comix movement (and its distribution), the Print Mint was instrumental in the form's popularity and widespread reach in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As they were growing the market and putting money in the hands of the cartoonists, however, their business practices were called into question by a number of the more popular artists. A few of those, including Gilbert Shelton and Frank Stack, broke off in early 1969 to form their own publisher, Rip Off Press, taking some of the more established cartoonists (like Crumb) with them. (The 1973–1974 venture Cartoonists Co-Op Press was formed out of a similar motivation.) From that point on, the Print Mint focused more on bringing new talent into the burgeoning underground industry.
The Print Mint's bold experiment with Arcade: The Comix Revue, started in 1975 and edited by Art Spiegelman and Bill Griffith, with most issue's sporting a cover by R. Crumb, paved the way for RAW! just a few years later.
The Print Mint weathered a lawsuit filed over the publication of Zap Comix, particularly issue #4 (published in 1969). The Schenkers were arrested and charged with publishing pornography by the Berkeley Police Department. Previous to that, Simon Lowinsky, owner of the Phoenix Gallery on College Avenue in Berkeley, had organized an exhibition of the Zap collective's original drawings, and had been arrested on the same charge. His case came to trial first. He was acquitted after supportive testimony from Peter Selz, a prominent figure in the art world. At that point the city dropped the charges against the Print Mint.
By 1975 the partnership with the Ritas was not going smoothly. Alice Schenker says that an agreement was made to split the business between retail and wholesale, the Schenkers taking the retail store and the Ritas the wholesale and publishing. The Print Mint ceased publishing comics in 1978, but the poster shop continued. In 1985 the Schenkers sold the store. It continues to this day, looking much the same.
- Groth, Gary "An Interview with Victor Moscoso," The Comics Journal #246 (Sept. 2002).
- Estren, Mark James. A History of Underground Comics (Berkeley: Ronin Publ., 1993), p. 50, 250.
- Fox, M. Steven. "Lenny of Laredo," ComixJoint. Accessed Nov. 24, 2016.
- Elliott, Lisa Ruth. Ten Years That Shook the City: San Francisco 1968-1978 (City Lights Books, 2011), p. 287.
- Rosenkranz, Patrick. Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975 (Fantagraphics, 2002), p. 75.
- Estren, p. 54.
- Estren, p. 250.
- Fox, M. Steven. "Snatch Comics," ComixJoint. Accessed Dec. 9, 2016.