Rip Off Press was founded in San Francisco in 1969 (more than 45 years ago!) by four hippies from Texas: underground cartoonists Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson, former computer tech Fred Todd and resident maniac Dave Moriaty. San Francisco's Underground Comix scene had begun a couple of years earlier, with R. Crumb's self-publication of the first issue of Zap. The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers had already made an appearance in Feds 'n' Heads, published by Print Mint. Convinced that by owning a printing press they could "rule the world," the four bought a museum-quality, medium format Davidson offset press, and set up shop in a corner of a huge room in the decaying Mowry's Opera House, in the next space over from underground comix publishing pioneer Don Donahue. Nobody actually knew how to operate a printing press, but they soon learned (more or less); and the fledgling company's earliest publications included Shelton's Hydrogen Bomb Funnies and reprints of R. Crumb's Comix & Stories April 1964 and Jaxon's God Nose (originally published on the University of Texas Austin campus in the mid-60s).
In 1971 the first collection of Gilbert Shelton's Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers was published, and a worldwide phenomenon was born. By then the company had been burned out of at least two locations and had finally come to rest at 1250 17th Street south of Market, at the foot of Potrero Hill. Through the turbulent, hedonistic decade of the 1970's the company grew and flourished like, er, a weed... Their commercial printing business expanded until in 1972, when over-committed with an old web press and a 9,000 square foot building , it came crashing down. The printing staff was laid off, the press was repossessed by the creditors, and ROP became a corporation with Fred Todd as president and publishing as its main source of income. Things immediately began to improve, and a peak was reached in 1979 when Universal Studios paid $250,000 for the rights on a live-action Freak Brothers movie — which was unfortunately never made. The rights have been the subject of negotiations with several parties since then, and several have owned them for awhile. But so far no movies have been made.
Jaxon (who passed away in 2006) and Moriaty returned to Texas early on, and in 1979 Gilbert Shelton (overtaxed, perhaps, by the period of intense negotiations preceding the movie deal) began what would be the first of several sabbaticals in Europe. Fred Todd and his wife, Kathe, saw the company through the repressive years of the Reagan era by a combination of hard work, dogged persistence and creative invention. Gilbert took up permanent residence in France in 1985, a few months before the company had to be moved out of the building on 17th Street it had occupied for 15 years. The Todds moved the company to smaller quarters, with operations in one building and the comix, stock and surplus equipment in a cheap space in a big warehouse in the Bayview District. In April of '86 that warehouse burned to the ground, following explosions from a clandestine fireworks factory. That freed Rip Off Press of a 17-year accumulation of material goods, and the following year the Todds (with their two young children) made good their escape from the urban landscape to the pleasant rural environs of Auburn, California.
Marvel Comics' attempts to bolster its bottom line at the expense of the comics industry as a whole resulted, during the mid to late 1990's, in the complete collapse of the existing comics distribution system. Again. This was the second time in 30 years that all the distributors had gone out of business owing ROP money, and forced the Todds to get day jobs and reconfigure their comix business. The company has been operated out of the Todds' former carport since 1999. Regularly scheduled mail order catalogs continued to mail out until the end of 2001, when rising costs and falling sales forced their cancellation. Since then, People without a computer can still get a printed version of the catalog (descriptions and prices but no pictures), updated monthly. Cost to receive one, printed and mailed inside the U.S., remains at a dollar.
ROP launched its first web site in 1996 and went online with its first secure commerce site in mid-1997. The online catalog has undergone numerous changes over the years, improving constantly. In 2009 the corporation was dissolved, with publication rights to the Freak Brothers reverting to Gilbert Shelton and the Rip Off Press name, website, and stock being turned over to the Todds. We've since spent many hours cataloging the thousands of underground comix, books, and collectibles in our collection and making these items available to fans worldwide. To get in touch you can e-mail us, use our contact form, give us a call at (530) 885-8183 (toll free inside U.S. only, 888-978-3049) or send us snail mail at P.O. Box 4686 - Auburn, CA 95604.