Utopian Lettering

A masterpiece of comics calligraphy and fictional language, Rick Griffin’s Man From Utopia (1970) exemplifies the exquisitely exotic essence of underground comics and psychedelic lettering. It inspired be me to draw comics and letters – a talent, alas, I did not possess. Griffin (1944-1991), along with Victor Moscoso, Stanley Mouse & Alton Kelley and Wes Wilson, were the Michelangelo of rock posters.

Rick became known as one of the “Big Five” of psychedelia. In 1967 they founded the Berkeley-Bonaparte distribution agency to produce and sell psychedelic poster art. He oversaw the lithography, ensuring a flow of quality artwork by himself and other leading lights, destined to grace the walls of the enlightened to this day. The famous ‘Flying Eyeball’ poster ranks as one of the most important of the time and is sought after by fans and modern art museums alike. (from Rick Griffin bio here.)

Griffin, who designed the first Rolling Stone magazine logo and was a founding contributor to ZAP comics, was also a frequent record album artist. He died in 1991:

On his way back to his house on Stadler Lane in Petaluma, Rick’s Harley Heritage Softail was forced off the road by a van he was attempting to pass. Rick died three days later from his injuries.

Images here are from Man From Utopia, a loosely connected collection of Griffin’s most beautiful graphic streams of consciousness. The lettering is the precursor of LA gang graffiti and Wild Style type.

Rick Griffin Man from Utopia

Rick Griffin Man from Utopia

Rick Griffin Man from Utopia

Rick Griffin Man from Utopia

Rick Griffin Man from Utopia

Rick Griffin Man from Utopia

Rick Griffin Man from Utopia

7 thoughts on “Utopian Lettering

  1. Pingback: San Diego Comic-Con: My “13 Highlights” List — Imprint-The Online Community for Graphic Designers

  2. Ned Sonntag

    My research over the decades led to the conclusion that the traditional script used in the Tibetan Book Of The Dead was a BIG influence, especially on Stanley Mouse… also there’s a fascinating ‘sequel’ to MAN FROM UTOPIA after Rick had a ‘conversion’ and created a magazine-format illustrated-with-color-paintings, trippilly-calligraphed Gospel Of John for a sect in San Diego!!  A copy came into my hands under VERY strange circumstances…

  3. Ron Rifkin

    I’m curious about the statement “The lettering is the precursor of LA gang graffiti…”
    What was called “Cholo writing” was present in LA way before the genius of Mr. Griffin ever surfaced. Is it possible he was influenced by it instead of the other way around?

  4. John Langdon

    I don’t think Rick was ahead of his time. Work like his work is not about to flourish sometime in the near or distant future. He was in his own time… and space… His work is not like anyone else’s that came before or will come after. He was a huge inspiration to be, but I could not even begin to approach his mind, his eye, his hand. “We shall not see his like again.”

  5. Joseph

    Rick Griffin was way, WAY ahead of his time. Still is in many respects. The ‘meta’ nature of his art, infused with historical and cultural references really only started becoming mainstream fairly recently. And the care put into those invented calligraphy pages? I don’t see that in most finished professional design. Would love to see what he could have done in the multimedia or motion design.