|Founders||Fred Todd, Dave Moriaty, Gilbert Shelton, Jack Jackson|
|Headquarters location||San Francisco (1969–1987)|
Auburn, California (1987–present)
|Nonfiction topics||Politics, Recreational drugs|
|Fiction genres||Underground comix|
Rip Off Press, Inc. is a mail order retailer and distributor, better known as the former publisher of "adult-themed" series like The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Rip Off Comix, as well as many other seminal publications from the underground comix era. Founded in 1969 in San Francisco by four friends from Austin, Texas — cartoonists Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson, and Fred Todd and Dave Moriaty — Rip Off Press is now run out of Auburn, California, by Todd.
Rip Off Press is also notable for being the original company to publish the fourth edition of the Principia Discordia, a Discordian religious text written by Gregory Hill and Kerry Thornley. It was also an early publisher of the infamous booklet on drug manufacturing, Psychedelic Chemistry.
The company was founded January 17, 1969, in San Francisco by four "expatriate" Texans: Fred Todd, Dave Moriaty, and cartoonists Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson. The initial plan was to print rock band promotional posters on an old press and do comix on the side — in some ways the company was formed as a sort of cartoonists' cooperative, as an alternative publishing venue to burgeoning Bay Area publishers like Apex Novelties, Print Mint, and Company & Sons. The four men purchased a used Davidson 233 offset printing press and set up shop in the same space as Don Donahue's Apex Novelties, located on the third-floor ballroom of the former Mowry's Opera House, at 633 Laguna Street in Hayes Valley. The first comix Rip Off Press published, in 1969, included R. Crumb's Big Ass Comics (June '69), a reprint of Jaxon's God Nose (originally published in 1964), Jaxon's Happy Endings Comics (August '69), and the first issue of Fred Schrier and Dave Sheridan's Mother's Oats Comix (October '69).
After a fire almost destroyed the former opera house in late 1969, Rip Off moved to the decaying former headquarters of the Family Dog psychedelic rock music promotion collective (which Jaxon had been a member of starting in 1966). Rip Off Press was located at 1250 17th Street in San Francisco from 1970 until 1985. Other early works they published included comix by Frank Stack, Sheridan (all co-published with Gary Arlington's San Francisco Comic Book Company), The Rip Off Review of Western Culture omnibus, and Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.
By 1972 the poster printing business had faded away and the company had become a publishing house.
As the underground comix market petered out in the mid-to-late 1970s, Rip Off Press shifted focus to other cartoonists and other comics (including in their long-running anthology Rip Off Comix). (By this point co-founders Moriaty and Jackson had long since gone back to Texas.) Larry Gonick published his Cartoon History of the Universe with Rip Off Press from 1978 to 1992. Cartoonist Jay Kinney joined the company as an editor in 1981, but left after a few months on the job. Cartoonist Guy Colwell began freelancing for Rip Off Press in the production department beginning in 1980; he worked on-and-off for the company through c. 1990.
After bouncing back-and-forth between Europe and the Bay Area in the late 1970s/early 1980s, co-founder Shelton and his wife relocated to France in 1984. In mid-1985, the company moved from its long-time home on 17th Street to a smaller space on San Jose Avenue near the city's southern border, with warehouse space across town at the Bayview Industrial Park. This three-story, block-square building, which housed over a hundred other businesses, burned to the ground on April 6, 1986, following an explosion in an illegal fireworks factory in the basement.
Thus freed of a 17-year accumulation of comix and other paraphernalia, Fred Todd (who at this point was the only original partner still working in the business) decided to relocate Rip Off Press to Auburn, California, where he and his wife Kathe could continue to run the company while raising their two small children in more pleasant surroundings. The move was made in June 1987.
Although Rip Off Press continued to publish Shelton's The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers plus the Rip Off Comix anthology, the popularity of erotic comics in the late 1980s/early 1990s led to such titles as Strips by Chuck Austen, The Girl by Kevin J. Taylor, Doll by classic underground creator Guy Colwell, and SS Crompton's Demi the Demoness. They published two music-related indy comics titles by Matt Howarth, Savage Henry and Those Annoying Post Bros., from 1989 to 1994.
After the collapse of the direct market in the early 1990s (fueled by Marvel Comics' withdrawal of its 40% market share from the distribution system), Rip Off Press began taking steps to cut costs and gradually retreated from publishing. By 1997, they had shifted their business to selling backlist comics in its store and to mail-order customers, plus to the many fans finding them online. The Todds moved the business to much smaller quarters adjoining their home in 1999, where they continue to sell comix, mostly through the company website. The website was disabled for a time in 2011–2012, during which time it was completely redesigned and a large number of collectors' items (including historic ad pieces, rare press sheets, publisher's overlay proofs from the company's publishing history, and more) were added to its offerings.