The Profit concerns the tale of a conservative sophisticate who helps people in need through a series of “miracles” of his own design. The Profit always makes out on his supposed “offerings” while the little people are worse off by having dealt with him. The Profit best represents the political basis of Joel Beck’s passion for comics and stories . . . where the progressive are down-trodden by the corporate and moralistic belief.
With three notorious comic books and a never-ending series of strips being published, Joel Beck’s name began to become synonymous with the prankster image and cultural scene of the underground. He began to do posters for rock venues such as the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco ...
... as well as creating the infamous Daisy Duck inspired classic Odalisque, which was printed by the Print Mint in 1968. Beck claims that thousands were sold before Walt Disney threatened legal action . . . and the poster was discontinued.
Also during this time, Beck privately worked on intricately detailed paintings of a fantasy world that existed within his imagination. Working throughout the night, he produced these artworks that have, only recently, been exposed to the light of day.
As the comic revolution drove itself forward in the 70’s, Beck kept his hand in many projects. He was a regular contributor to the Kitchen Sink Press anthologies Snarf, Bizarre Sex, and Dope Comix. Later that decade, Kitchen Sink reprinted Lenny of Laredo, The Profit, and Marching Marvin in a Joel Beck Anthology comic called Joel Beck’s Comics & Stories. Soon other works followed, such as appearances in the Kitchen/Marvel collaboration Comix Book and the 1978 one-shot Banzai! , which he co-created with fellow cartoonists Roger Brand and Kim Deitch. Also, he completed a rare novelty item for subversive minds everywhere, called The Soft-Core Pornographic Coloring Book.
As the underground movement slowly declined in the early 80’s, Joel Beck’s output became more and more sporadic. His lust for alcohol began to grow deeper and deeper, and soon he was selling original artwork and strips for money to spend at the bar. Many believe his appetite for alcohol and drugs sprang forth from his early childhood operations, and all of the painkillers that were used for his spinal meningitis. Friends and loved ones looked after this forgotten artist as he dealt with his addictions, and it took a toll on all around him. Phil Howe remembers:
“Once we had an intervention for him and his parents, siblings, attorney friend and I were all there and we urged him to dry up and get help. We had a program ready to accept him and he agreed to go through with it. Well, that lasted about 15 hours and he escaped from the place, took a bus back to Pt. Richmond and headed for the nearest bar.”
Independent until the end, Joel Beck lived a quiet solitude for the rest of his existence in Point Richmond, California. Living off of welfare aid, the occasional advertising commission, and the love and support of friends, Joel Beck’s years of hard living finally caught up with him . . . he died on September 21, 1999, from Tuberculosis and injuries resulting from a recent mugging. He was 56 years old.
Though certain aspects of his life may seem sad, it is important that the artist be remembered for what he did as opposed to who he was. Joel Beck created some of the first American underground comix this country has ever seen, as well as helping fuel the young political movement with his biting editorial cartoons. Instead of selling out a
nd becoming a part of the machine, Beck made a name for himself in the hearts and minds of the young; creating brilliant art for little or no pay, while still achieving the essence of the independent soul. Joel Beck was an artist of the street, speaking to the people of the street, and for all of us aspiring underground cartoonists . . . we will forever be in his debt.