I've talked a few times before about the late 1970s as a pivotal era for American comics. It was then that the wall separating the mainstream from the underground grew thinnest before beefing itself back up again in the '80s -- a couple of years during which both "sides" of the medium didn't quite knew what to do with themselves, and so ended up doing pretty similar things. Probably the most visible nexus for this (often slightly uneasy) unification was Heavy Metal, which hosted work from undergrounders like Vaughn Bode between the same covers as it presented comics by future Swamp Thing artists Rick Veitch and Steve Bissette to the world, and not only that, but it was pretty similar stuff too. Of course, given the rather questionable mainstream-gutter publication Heavy Metal's become since then, it's tough to go back through the mirror darkly and really appreciate just how cutting edge the book was in its heyday.
Maybe this will help?
That's a comic strip by Ben Katchor that appeared in the December 1978 issue of HM. Though Katchor was just starting out as a cartoonist, his slightly blurred, cracked-realist point of view was already very much in evidence, as was the single-page-devastator approach of his best known work, the monthly Julius Knipl strip which appears in Metropolis magazine to this day. Julius Knipl is significant as a lit-comic that can actually stand next to literature without embarrassing itself, to be sure -- but it also represents about the furthest into the American arts 'n' humanities mainstream as comics have gotten, a regular feature in a prestigious magazine like it ain't no thang.
But what's so interesting about this Katchor Heavy Metal strip is the way it points to his respectable future (which in a few years would include publication in alt-comics' point of departure, Raw) while still engaging with the garish, space-frozen Heavy Metal ethos. This isn't the black-and-white meandering of Julius Knipl: Katchor's watercolors blaze off the page with as much brightness and conviction as anything by Philippe Druillet. You can lose the hoary scifi aspect of the comic in the strangeness of New York and Katchor's Joycean wordplay, but it's there, in a first panel that gives the term "dimension-hopping" the best visualization I've ever seen in comics. It's a testament to the strength of Katchor's style, of course, that it comes through so immediately even in this weirdo mashup of Little Nemo, Edward Gorey, and the X-Men issue of Marvels. But it's also a testament to what Heavy Metal was that it could pull off slapping a strip by one of comics-for-grownups' future leading lights on the same exact sheet of paper as this: