Zap #1 was published in San Francisco in late 1968. It featured the work of satirical cartoonist Robert Crumb. Some 3,500 copies were printed by Beat writer Charles Plymell. Zap #1 was the first title put out by publisher Don Donahue under the Apex Novelties imprint. Philadelphia publisher Brian Zahn (who had published earlier works of R. Crumb in his tabloid called Yarrowstalks) had intended to publish an earlier version of the comix, but reportedly he left the country with the artwork. Shortly before Zap #3 was to be published, Crumb found photocopies of that earlier issue, drew new covers, and published it as Zap #0. Thus Zap #0 became the third in the series (even though it was drawn before #1 in 1967), and Zap #3 the fourth. The first issue was sold on the streets of Haight-Ashbury out of a baby stroller pushed by Crumb's wife, Dana on the first day. In years to come, the comic's sales would be most closely linked with alternative venues such as head shops.
The heading of Zap No. 1, "Zap Comics are Squinky Comics!!" has an interesting origin. Art Spiegelman called his girlfriend of the time, Isabella Fiske, "Squink." Crumb liked the word and decided to use it on the cover.
After the success of the first issue, Crumb opened the pages of Zap to several other artists, including S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, "Spain" Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, and two artists with reputations as psychedelic poster designers, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin.
This stable of artists, along with Crumb, remained mostly constant throughout the history of Zap, which published sporadically. It was typical for several years to pass between new issues; the most recent Zap (#15) appeared in 2005. Griffin died in 1991; a two-page story by artist Paul Mavrides appeared in issue #14. Mavrides was invited to contribute when Crumb announced that he no longer wanted to work on Zap.
While the origin of the spelling "comix" is a subject of some dispute, it was popularized by its appearance in the title of the first issues of Zap. Design critic Steven Heller claims that the term "comix" refers to the traditional comic book style of Zap, and its mixture of dirty jokes and storylines.