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Gary Edson Arlington, who in 1968 opened the San Francisco Comic Book Company, widely considered the country’s first comic book store, passed away Thursday at age 75.
His 200-quare-foot Mission District shop quickly became a magnet for early underground cartoonists, attracting the likes of Robert Crumb, Ron Turner, Bill Griffith and Spain Rodriguez (the store’s employees included Simon Deitch, Rory Hayes, and Flo Steinberg). Arlington was, in the words of Lambiek, a guru and “godfather” of underground comics, who “encouraged and directed many artists on their path to publication.”
“San Francisco was the capitol of comix culture in the ’60s and early ’70s,” Art Spiegelman told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2012, “and Gary Arlington’s hole-in-the-wall shop was, for me, the capitol of San Francisco.”
But Arlington didn’t stop at retailer and guru: Under the banner of the San Francisco Comic Book Company he also published such important early underground works as Skull Comics, Slow Death Comics and San Francisco Comic Book.
“They were underground artists because nothing was censored,” Arlington said in the 2012 Chronicle profile. “Everything was free. They could do anything. Now you don’t want your kids reading dirty comics. Now Crumb is like Mick Jagger.”
Although he claimed not to know how to draw, Arlington was himself a prolific artist; I Am Not of This Planet, a 90-page collection of his work, was published in 2011 by Last Gasp.
Arlington operated his store for 35 years, and soon entered Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in San Francisco for heart and circulatory problems that Turner told the San Francisco Bay Guardian would trouble him for the next decade. At the time of his death, Arlington lived in the Mission Creek Senior Community, a subsidized apartment complex for low-income and disabled seniors, where he had continued to draw and paint.
(Photo of Arlington by Gabriel Hasbun)