Exhibit / August 14, 2019
Object Name: The Occult Coloring Book
Maker and Year: Troubador Press, Richard Garvin (author) and Saijo Gompers (illustrator), 1971
Object Type: Coloring book
Description: (K.E. Roberts)
San Francisco’s Troubador Press, under the direction of founder and owner Malcolm Whyte, published a long line of innovative (and beloved, to many) coloring books from 1967 through the early ’80s. Often contracting illustrators with ties to the counterculture and underground comix, Whyte chose subjects that were sometimes anodyne—horses, ballet, wildlife, the Bible, dinosaurs—but often daring for the time: monsters, UFOs, aliens, mythology, Dungeons & Dragons, the supernatural, and science fiction and fantasy. Whatever the theme, however, the books were beautifully constructed and bigger (often 12″ by 12″) than standard coloring books, because, as Whyte said, “The large size allowed for detailed artwork without crowding the page.” In essence, Troubador titles were themselves works of art.
The Occult Coloring Book followed 1969’s popular Zodiac Coloring Book and included headings on the Zodiac, Voodoo, Palmistry, Dreams, ESP, Voodoo, and the Devil’s Pentagram, among others. Each topic, as was the case with most Troubador books, featured a description on one page and a complimentary illustration on the opposite page. The Occult Coloring Book was written by Richard Garvin, who co-wrote a couple of sci-fi novels in the late ’60s but is most famous for 1973’s The Crystal Skull, which popularized the alleged “occult aura” of what is now known as the Mitchell-Hedges skull—reportedly “discovered in a lost Mayan city during a search for Atlantis.” At the time, Garvin was working as an advertising supervisor at Hewlett-Packard’s San Francisco office, and he arranged to have the skull tested at the company’s nearby crystal lab in Santa Clara. The lead technician concluded only that it was “a very beautiful work of art regardless of its age or authenticity.”
Gompers Saijo illustrated a number of memorable Troubador books, starting with this one. Saijo, named after labor leader Samuel Gompers by his father, a Japanese immigrant who listened to Jack London speak about class struggle and worker’s rights at the Port of Oakland, was by this time an accomplished sculptor and painter. After he and his family were interned in Pomona, California and Wyoming during World War Two, Saijo lived in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Mexico before settling with his wife and two children in San Francisco in 1963. Shortly after completing The Occult Coloring Book, he painted the sunrise supergraphics design, a brilliant example of the ’70s design aesthetic, on the exterior of Troubador’s first office at 126 Folsom Street.
Malcolm Whyte went on to found San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum in 1984, one of the first museums in the world dedicated to cartoon and comic book art.