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S.F. 'shroom story: Cartoonist busted BY J.K. DINEEN Of The Examiner Staff
When narcotics cops raided a Russian Hill apartment Tuesday night, they did more than confiscate the largest stash of magic mushrooms this city has seen in 20 years.
They answered a question some underground comics buffs have been asking for years: What on earth happened to Arn Saba?
As it turned out, Saba -- who earned his place in underground comics history with the book series Neil The Horse -- had been quite busy.
He had moved from Toronto to San Francisco. He had had a sex-change operation, becoming Katherine Collins. And she had become a businesswoman, a highly organized purveyor of psychedelic drugs who distributed business cards and whose services were available each day from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to police.
At 7:30 on Tuesday night, police broke down the door at 1525 Larkin Street, a cluttered one-bedroom apartment just off of Sacramento Street. There they found six half-filled trash bags of magic mushrooms -- a stash that weighed 6 1/2 pounds and had a street value of $20,000. Also netted in the operation was about four pounds of marijuana, worth between $12,000 and $15,000, according to police.
Although cops say huge bags of weed and shrooms lay in plain sight on the kitchen table, Collins was rather surprised to see them break down her front door.
"She said, 'What you guys want?' When we explained we had a warrant, she was immediately very cooperative and didn't freak out at all," said an undercover narcotics inspector who worked on the three-month investigation.
On Wednesday afternoon, having made bail, Collins, 55, was very friendly when a reporter knocked on the door. A former magazine journalist who wrote on cartoons and pop culture for the Toronto Star, she said she would love to tell her story but only after talking to her attorneys.
"I need to get some advice first," said Collins, who was wearing a flowing skirt and blue sweater. "This is definitely going to be something I'll want to talk about. I'm not going to keep this under wraps."
Vice and narcotics Captain Tim Hettrick said magic mushrooms have been on the increase in the gay party scene.
"We've been making some mushroom cases with gay drug dealers where it's getting to the raves and dance clubs," he said. "(Collins) may have been the connection."
While Collins lives in a modest apartment with framed "Neil The Horse" illustrations in the hallway, police say her business was lucrative. They confiscated $7,569 in cash, as well as records suggesting she was wiring most of her profits to Canada.
As Arn Saba, Collins started publishing comics in newspapers and magazines in 1975. Andrew Farago, gallery manager at the San Francisco Cartoon Museum, said Saba emerged in the second wave of the underground comics movement, a time when many comic artists struggled.
"Neil The Horse definitely has a reputation in the industry, but (Saba) has totally fallen off the map," said Farago. "Nobody knew he was here. He probably hasn't done anything in almost 20 years and that is an eternity in the comics business."
A 1981 United Press International feature on Saba characterizes Neil The Horse as an "unlikely super hero" who knocked around with a "crusty old cat named Soapy and a vivacious blond puppet named Mam'selle Poupee." Neil The Horse was a bimonthly comic book series for several years and a radio version was broadcast on the Canadian Broadcast Corporation.
''People say movies are getting more like real life, but I say why not make the real life more like the movies," Saba said in 1981.
Apparently, mushrooms helped make that transition.