Dropping Acid in the Negative Zone

In this excerpt from Amazing Dope Tales & Haight Street Flashbacks (Summertown, TN: The Book Publishing Company, 1980, pp 16–17), Stephen Gaskin reminisces about his experiences with Marvel Comics in the San Francisco counterculture of the late 1960s.

Pop Culture

When I was in college, I hardly read anyone who was alive—that’s what you do in college, because everyone in the English Department is so competitive that none of them can agree on anyone who is alive, because they think they’re better than all the living ones.

I started tripping with Charlie and Linda and Paul and John and Bob and Kemo and them guys. We went over to this house, and it was far out. Charlie and Linda lived there together, just lived together. It blew my mind. They were one of the first young couples I’d met who just lived together. I was from square country.

They had lots of rock ‘n’ roll records, and they had lots of comic books. They had Doc Strange, a whole box, all in order. And they had a whole box of Fantastic Four, all in order. And they had a whole box of Thor, all in order. They had a lot of comic books.

There was a lot of pop philosophy coming out in the comic books at that time. They pointed out to me that comic books had changed: it used to be that they were very stick-figured like Superman and Lois Lane; but in the Fantastic Four, the characters had personalities, and interacted. They hassled with each other, and had problems and phobias and stuff; they had to conquer themselves to do things. Doc Strange had to do a lot of self-conquering. The battles he fought were not always something outside that could be done with a savate kick: he had to come in and get to himself inside. It was said that some of that continuity was being written by acid-takers. I don’t know if that was true, but that’s what was being said. And we believed it, because it looked like it.

So they were running all this pop culture, and they would use metaphors from comic books in their trips. On acid trips, they’d talk about how this was just like when Thor happened across the bridge in Valhalla when Loki and Thor were having it out.

I hung out and got stoned with these kids, and listened to the Who play Boris the Spider, and had it about scare me up my tree. Boris the Spider was scary, I realized. And the Who was even scary, some.

They taught me the Tolkien trilogy. They told me about Gandalf the Grey.

These were people who were students where I was teaching. We talked about magic and telepathy of every form. We went through and combed all of our experiences, and talked about it together. They were my first tripping partners, and some of my first teachers.