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I was going to make a “hey kids, Slaughterman!” joke but then I remembered how often I have children asking for Carnage comics.

§ April 5th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 19 Comments

Hi pals! Still looking for your single, ONE, UNO favorite title from the 1980s! Drop in your choice…and even if your pick’s been mentioned, drop it in anyway…I’ll be tallying “votes” and seeing which book came out on top!

I’ll probably start covering those next week, but let me continue going through some of your older comments and questions:

Cassandra Miller mentioned

“God, those years in the 1980s sure were a time…I recently (last year) uncovered some old obscure parody comics from then, ‘ElfTrek’ and ‘Secret Doors,’ and just had a blast reading ’em. Some of the jokes are seriously dated/would be impossible for anyone under 48 or so to get, the art is a bit crude, but they were just plain fun. The absolute freedom in so many of those b&w boom comics was so incredible.”

One thing I sort of miss from the old job is having access to the remnants of ’80s black and whites like, say, Elftrek:

…where these things just sat in the back issue bins, unsold and unsought-after, and we just rolled our eyes at being burdened with these books and did not appreciate the bounty that existed at our fingertips. I touched a bit on this in the post about Az, in which I noted that I missed that period of time where just about anything could get published and put on a rack right there next to X-Men and Batman. Granted, a lot of it was…not of interest to me, to be nice, but there was so much imaginative fun getting out there.

Elftrek is a comic I came across occasionally at the old job, but never actually looked inside far as I can remember. You’d think, in those early blogging days, I’d at least have pulled a panel or three from a copy to throw on this site for the amusement of all. Only two issues (collect ’em all!) so I may have to keep an eye out for those.

One thing about being a comics dealer is that the excited frisson of discovered some new weird book on the shelf is muted by more commercial and economic concerns. But remembering weirdo comics that I missed the first time around, or even getting my hands on them in my own store…a nostalgic twinge reminiscent of that feeling does occur, putting me just slightly in mind of scouring the shelves looking for that oddball book to round out my handful of regular buys.

• • •

Donald G speaks clearly into the microphone, saying

“William Messner-Loebs, who wrote Comico’s JONNY QUEST adaptation back in the eighties, pronounces the company name ‘koh-MEE-koh.’

“While a lot of YouTube video essayists have some idiosyncratic pronunciation quirks when it comes to common, everyday English words and proper names, ‘koh-MEE-koh’ is not a YouTube invention.”

I have literally said it no other way in my entire time sellin’ funnybooks for a living. I don’t know if I ever heard anyone say it “kah-mek-OH” back in those pre-World Wide Web days. I’m not sure how the “koh-MEE-koh” pronunciation was passed down to me, either via something in one of the comics or maybe the news/reviews mags or fan press, or if that’s just how my old boss pronounced it. But that’s the way I’ve always said it, that’s the say I say it now, and that’s how I correct people on the rare occasion I hear someone say it the wrong way now. Yes, I correct people on how to say “Comico,” THAT’S THE HILL I’M DYING ON.

• • •

For anyone interested in some contemporary reporting on a seminal comics publisher, Customer Sean dropped this 1982 article into the comments regarding Pacific Comics.

• • •

On to the next post, where pal Nat sez

“One thing it’s hard to realize now is that Pacific was using a wider color palette then the other comic publishers at the time, and this made their issues just scream at you from the rack showing colors that you never really seen in a comic book before.”

I mean, not much to add to that. The covers on Pacific books were quite nice and distinctive, important in catching that customer eye from amongst all the other books on the rack.

I’m reminded someone of how early Marvel books had covers colored in relatively muted, dark tones, versus the brightly-colored images of their cross-town rivals.

• • •

Moving on the aforementioned Az post, a few folks noted another early Comico release Slaughterman:

…And honestly, aside from the pretty name, I don’t remember really anything about the comic or the character. Customer Sean does bring up this good point about that period in Comico’s history:

“I would say that the very early Comico comics have a quasi-underground comix art aesthetic going on, which makes its first wave of characters–Az, Skrog, and Slaughterman, very bizarre and outlaw looking for early ’80s comics.”

…and I’d say that’s pretty spot-on. Even if the contents of the books could be amateurish and a little crude, the cover designs (and slightly larger dimensions) were on-target and definitely stood out as something different. “These Aren’t Your Daddy’s 1980s Comics!” they almost seem to shout.

I did own the three original Grendel issues which just had the most beautiful covers, and boy howdy these books were red hot at one point. They still command a pretty penny now, but back then the demand was constant and just slightly desperate, almost. I wish I’d kept them…I gave them up for sale some time ago, and was satisfied with owning the Dark Horse hardcover that reprinted all that early material along with the covers. It’s a nice book, but not the same as having those three issues which were attractive bits of artistic objects in and of themselves.

• • •

Okay, back Friday for more ’80s talk! Thanks for reading, gang!

What does your pal Mike do when he’s short on posting time?

§ April 3rd, 2023 § Filed under indies, reader participation § 115 Comments

Why, he asks you a question, of course!

PICTURED: a 1980s comic

Given what we’ve been chatting about here lately, I’d like to know…what’s your favorite 1980s independent comic?

Some ground rules/definitions here:

  1. Has to have at least started in the 1980s and have released at least a portion of its run in that decade. Say, like, a year’s worth of books…I’m not asking about books that started in December 1989. You know what we’re talkin’ about here.
  2. …Which also means I’m not looking for one-shots. I mean actual series, at least three issues long.
  3. JUST ONE BOOK! I don’t want a list of, like, five books as a five-way tie or “here’s my second choice” or anything. Put your nickel down on a single title. Yes, I’m cruel and heartless, you should know that by now.
  4. For the sake of discussion, “independent” means anything not published by Marvel or DC. HOWEVER, I will allow comics from Marvel’s Epic Comics division since those are so quintessentially ’80s (and being creator-owned, often moved on to other publishers).
  5. Black and white boom titles can be included, so if your favorite 1980s series is Samurai Penguin, go right ahead and throw it in the ring. …What? I like Samurai Penguin.
  6. You don’t have to explain your choice…you can just post a title and go, that’s fine. But if you want to write a few lines talking about it, that’s okay, too. A few lines, Sean.
  7. Comic magazines are also okay. Anything that was a periodical is fine, so I’m going to leave graphic novel series out of this particular discussion.
  8. Did I say just pick ONE BOOK? ONE TITLE ONLY, don’t give me a list, or “here are my runners up” or “here’s the pool of titles from which I had to decide” or anything. C’mon, gimme a break.

Okay, that’s enough of my draconian laws. I look forward to your ONE TITLE ONLY and OPTIONAL BRIEF EXPLANATION being left in my comments!

Don’t be a dupe, get Jupe…iter.

§ March 31st, 2023 § Filed under indies, pal plugging § 23 Comments

Gird whatever needs girding, as Jason Sandberg is bringing new Jupiter print comics to you via Indiegogo! The campaign is already fully funded, but you still have nearly a month to get in there and order some great funnybookin’ for your own home or office. Lots of swell add-ons to be had as well! I’ve been a longtime fan of Jupiter and pal of Jason, and this work gets my highest recommendation!

I’ve written about the original late-1990s print version of Jupiter here, though I don’t think the Pelasgus feature is continuing. Maybe if we all demand a Pelasgus graphic novel….

You can hear Jason talk about his comic and the Indiegogo campaign on the Longbox Heroes podcast with Todd and Joe. I know the interview isn’t noted in the description but it’s there, I promise! I’m listening to the interview in episode #651 again right now. And at one point the three of them start talking about my favorite topic — me! — so definitely worth a listen.

• • •

Okay, to continue the 1980s indies talk…yes, I’ll get back to some of your older comments, but let me react to a couple newer ones that aren’t…parody songs? Is there something in the water? What’s going on with you nuts.

Customer Sean asked about maybe including Marvel’s Epic imprint or Dark Horse into my indie comic rankings. Well, Epic might be okay, even though it’s not really an “indie” in the sense we mean it here, and Dark Horse is still an ongoing concern and I was trying to stick to companies that are defunct, or at least no longer the same operations they were back in the ’80s. I think both the Comico and the First Comics brands returned within the last few years, but I’m not sure of their current statuses.

It’s funny…this puts me in mind of a long-ago article in The Comics Journal #98 (May 1985) by Jan Strnad, “The Alternative Comics Cadaver Derby.”

Following the demise of publishers Capital Comics and Pacific Comics, Strnad wondered who would be the next company/cpmpanies to fall, and thus lists several then-extant publishers and lays the odds on who would “win” by dying off first.

The general premise of the commentary is that the closer to being like Marvel Comics they were, the more likely they would “lose” the derby by surviving. And conversely, the higher quality of the material they publish, the more likely they were to “win.” A bit cynical, a bit smartass-y, a bit…well, right, kind of.

About three quarters of the companies listed are still around…including the Journal’s publisher Fantagraphics, which has managed to stick around despite publishing good comics.

Anyway, was reminded of that article, and wondered a bit what a modern version of that would be like — NOTE: NOT INVITING GUESSES AS TO WHAT CURRENT PUBLISHERS WILL GO OUT OF BUSINESS. I’m just curious what new factors would go into deciding who might live/who might die. Obviously the companies with the most variant covers and the highest ratio of CGC-slabbed investibility would be the big “losers” of that derby now.

Fine sarcasm is a lost art.

Sean also mentions looking back at the black and white boom, and I’ve said before I was only on the retail side of things for the tail end of that era. Mostly I was a wanderer through the wreckage, observing the boxes of unsold comics, the countless Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dark Knight Returns parodies that came and went unsold, the b&w publishers slowly petering out or pivoting to color, the poor bastard at that one convention who had a longbox full of nothing but Shadow of the Groundhog.

Thankfully, my former boss, who did ride out that era, avoided overordering and getting stuck with the terrible comics cranked out to take advantage of the boom. But I read a lot about it as it was happening, saw it on the shelves (not to as great extent at my soon-to-be place of employment, but certainly saw it elsewhere), so I imagine I could say something about it. I mean, I suppose I just did. I also wrote about Solson Comics last year, so I’ve at least served part of my sentence.

But that’s enough for now. See you all next week. And ease up on the song parodies in the comments, geez louise.

Wait, Comico published those Art Adams Gumby comics, that makes them #1.

§ March 29th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 22 Comments

So a discussion attempting to rank some of the recently-discussed-here comic book publishers broke out in the last post’s comments, so I thought I’d chime in with my own experiences and opinions and such. Since, you know, it’s my blog an’ all.

I’m just sticking to these four: Comico, First, Eclipse, and Pacific, since they’re all defunct (or at least the “classic” original 1970s-1990s versions of them are. I’m aware there have been newer revivals of sorts of a couple of these companies, but those aren’t being included here.

Anyway, #4 on the list is…

…Pacific Comics. I suppose now is as good time as any to say “I liked the output from all these companies,” so being #4 on the list isn’t a bad thing. It’s only here because, personally, my interaction with the publisher while it was extant was minimal. I told you recently that the first book I bought from them new off the stands was the first issue of Berni Wrightson: Master of the Macabre #1, and I bought one or two other comics new from them as well.

Aside from that, my interaction with their publications mostly happened after the fact, fishing various titles out of back issue bins. Rog 2000 (pictured above), a reprinting of some of John Byrne’s work, was an early get. I bought a single issue each of Alien Worlds and Twisted Tales new, and picked up the rest as back issues later. And as I said before, my first Groo was the Eclipse one-shot and I went back and picked up the Pacific Groos later.

I will give Pacific this…I still have distinct memories of the newsstand I attended having, like, Captain Victory and other Pacific books on their spinner racks. Why this newsstand was getting direct-sales stuff, I don’t know (I also bought my Don Rosa’s Comics & Stories there, as well as the last few issue of Comic Reader), but that was one of the ways I began to realize “oh wait, there’s more than Marvel and DC out there.”

Onto #3, which is…

…Comico, where I bough stuff like Grendel, Mage, Jonny Quest and other old favorites new off the rack. I certainly enjoyed what I got from them, and they put out quality product, but the #3 ranking is mostly a numbers game, in that I bought more from the next two companies than I did from Comico.

Speaking of which, #2 is…

…Eclipse, where I picked up a lot of books, mostly new off the shelf, with the occasional after-the-fact-er (like that Stewart the Rat grapic novel I mail ordered from Eclipse honcho cat yronwode post the company’s fall.

This is where Zot! lived. And Mr. Monster. And the early issues of Ms. Tree. And of course Miracleman, the initial U.S. release of Alan Moore’s Marvelman, came from here, too. They also continued some of the Pacific Comics titles that were interrupted mid-stream, like the aforementioned Berni Wrightson: Master of the Macabre. This company gave me so many wonderful, innovative, influential and memorable comics that I still love even today.

Which is why the #1 company of these four only made the top spot by the slimmest of margins…

…First Comics. Which is probably at he top for the same reason Pacific is at the “bottom” — just the sheer quantity of it all. Not necessarily saying “more is better,” but I felt like I was in there near the ground floor of the company’s start, and I picked up so much from them over the years that I enjoyed. First was such a consistent presence in my new comics purchases for so long, a dependable provider of entertainment, that (as I think someone said in my comments) may not have been the most groundbreaking work, but it was certainly fun work.

Nexus, Badger, Grimjack, Jon Sable Freelance, American Flagg!, Dreadstar, a bunch of their wonderful CLassics Illustrateds…they didn’t have quite the number of titles Eclipse did, but it was nice to have such long runs on these books to watch the characters and situations grow and develop.

Though I have to be honest…ask me on a different day and I may say Eclipse is #1 for the sheer variety of content they provided. I’m just more in a First Comics mood as I write this, I guess.

Besides, First Comics had Teddy Q as their mascot:

…and that’s hard to beat, you have to admit.

Az me a question, I”ll tell you no lies.

§ March 27th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 10 Comments

So as our 1980s comics symposium continues, I wanted to cast an eye over at the early Comico Comics release. I was inspired by a recent tweet I made in which I stated, truthfully, that the Comico release Az (by the late Phil Lasorda) would just occasionally come to mind. I’ve never read it, never owned a copy (aside from having them in the back issue bins at the shops), but its…weirdness just stuck in my head.

Here’s a better look at the comic:

And yes, at pal Cathy’s request for more information, I took it home and I read it for the very first time, 40 years after its release.

When I was a kid, I loved the idea of non-professionals putting together their own creative projects in whatever field they decided upon. In my case, I was most interested in seeing what other people my age were doing in fiction writing or comic book drawing, as those were the fields I had interest in as well. There was…some book at my local library (the library I ended up working at for a while) that collected together a bunch of short stories written by schoolkids that I enjoying reading over and over again, and there was a book published in the mid-1970s called Make Your Own CXomics for Fun and Profit that…well, don’t hold out high hopes for profits, friends. But there are lots of examples contained therein of kids doin’ it for themselves and I found it wonderfully inspiring, checking it out from the library over and over. I’ve since picked up a copy of my own, and they’re relatively inexpensive.

So basically I’ve had an interest in amateur work like what you see here in Az, a sort of unfettered approach to putting your imagination on paper and getting it out there for people to read, without the constraints that could be put upon the project by larger publishers. It’s rough around the edges, I’m not sure about the setting for the story (more on that in a sec), there’s a full page drawing with a waitress in the foreground whose nipples are very carefully delineated beneath her shirt which is — a choice…like I said, unfettered.

Aside from that last bit about the nipples, which, honestly, that was out of nowhere, this isn’t a terrible comic. It sets up the premise, introduces our hero, tells its story…not polished in the slightest, but retains a measure of charm anyway.

In brief, the comic takes place on another planet, which might as well be Earth, what with all the humans, newspapers and phone booths and a Main St.:

…and there are some bad guys (Skyriders, from the planet…well, Sky) who are after the Lifechip, a device that can impart life upon anything. Including this office chair Az’s scientist buddy shows him:

And speaking of Az, he’s the last(?) of his race, hanging out on this planet that is definitely not Earth and helping out the lab and occasionally knocking a bad guy’s head around, oh, and also is horny and trying to find another of his race so they can repopulate his home planet. Which presumably is why he tools around wearing a bikini bottom because once he gets his chance with a similarly-specied lady, we doesn’t want a whole lot of undressing to get in the way.

Now, to be fair, the planet’s setting may have been intended to been explained as “Earth humans colonizing another planet” which I think is a fair read of the situation. Unless it’s explaining in the second, and as it turned out, final issue of the series.

One of the main reasons that Az stuck in my mind was the whole aesthetics of it all. These very early Comico comics, much like I said about early Cerebus, I enjoy as just pure physical objects. The covers, the fact that they were at a slightly larger trim size than most comics (like early Tick comics)…they certainly stood out on a rack. Nothing else looked quite like them.

Never read Skrog, did read the three issues of Grendel from this time…a less technically proficient Matt Wagner was putting these out, but even then he had the chops to make an entertain and visually distinctive product. Both beautiful and weird, this particular format gave a unique look to these comics among the others on the rack, and something was lost when Comico shifted to more traditional-looking publications.

And it’s an additional shame Mr. Lasorda never got to complete his vision. Maybe the comic was a little rough and clunky, with the occasional (well, one, really) inappropriate moment, but seeing someone not get to finish his creative endeavor. Which, of course, is a common problem even today, in a marketplace that isn’t always necessarily friendly to anything awkward and strange.


§ March 24th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 13 Comments

Okay, first thing’s first…in my last post I referred to a comment left on the Dilbert post by a real dummy who turns up on occasion to impress us all with…well, with nothing, because he always just looks foolish. However, I made the mistake of not specifying which comment, as I figured it was likely self-evident. But I did hear from a few of my regulars, who feared perhaps I meant them, and I’m here to say…no, you’re all good. If you’re a semi-regular commentator, or even a new one, who participates in good faith, you’re fine. Just don’t be like this guy, who is the, ahem, scumdog in question.

My apologies to anyone for whom I may have caused undue anxiety!

• • •

Okay, I left off last time halfway through one of Customer Sean’s comments, so here’s the part I’m responding to today

“And what about the great–if short-lived–Pacific Comics? Cool and fun content by Jack Kirby, Neal Adams (except for the goofy Skateman), Mike Grell, Dave Stevens, Steve Ditko,Bruce Jones, Richard Corban, Michael T. Gilbert, Sergio Aragonés, and others. And the coloring on Pacific Comics–by Steve Oliff–always made those comics pop! I would say Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics–who took over publishing some of the Pacific Comics titles after Pacific Comics folded–were my two favorite Independent publishers of the ’80s.”

Yeah, they’re okay.

Oh, okay, fine.

Pacific Comics was a mail order outfit, a series of retail stores, a distributor and a publisher that began operations in 1971, founded by the brothers Bill and Steve Schanes. According to the Wikipedia article, they were 13 and 17 years old respectively in ’71 when they started all this, which is pretty amazing.

Now, the Wikipedia article says Pacific “dipped its feet into publishing” with a 1979 John Buscema art portfolio, which seems to ignore this:

One, which was a comics magazine published by Pacific in 1977. Steve was one of the credited character models for the lead story. I have to admit, I’ve never read One myself, but I’ve seen tons of copies of this over the years, even having had a few come through my own shop in its 8 1/2 year history. I might even have one in the back issue bins right now, I’d have to check.

My earliest encounter with Pacific Comics releases was spotting them on the spinner racks at the newsstand I used to regularly visit in the early ’80s before switching over to an actual comic book store for my new books. I remember seeing Jack Kirby’s Captain Victory and Sergio Aragaones’ Groo the Wanderer there

…and the only reason I can come up with for not buying them at the time was that my comic dollars were limited, and with this indie titles being a buck (or a buck fifty) a throw, versus the…I forget, 50 cents, 60 cents each thaqt DC and Marvel books were, I just didn’t seem to have the budget for them. It really baffles me that I didn’t at least buy Groo given my childhood of being a big Sergio fan. Ah well, What Can You Do?

I think the first (and possibly one) Pacific Comics series I bought new off the rack was 1983’s Berni Wrightson Master of the Macabre

…purchased of course because this was the fella what drew Swamp Thing. Somehow this was the book that got me to splurge a whole $1.50 for a non-Marvel/DC, non-Extra Special-Sized Spectacular comic book. I seem to recall feeling as if some paradigm had shifted, now that I’ve moved into the slightly pricier realm of indie comics.

And a year later, after Pacific had gone under and Eclipse Comics picked up their titles, I’d apparently thrown comic budgets to the wind as I bought my first Groo, the previously-announced-by-Pacific-but-now-it’s-from-Eclipse Groo Special, new off the rack for the princely sum of $2. Which would lead me to paying back issue prices of all the previous Groo issues, which, thankfully at the time, were still pretty low. Not as low as buyin’ them new, but that’s what I get for being a cheapskate at the time. It did however instill the comic-buying lesson of “buy it new if you want it.”

I would also later go on to pick up as back issues the great EC Comics-informed anthology series Alien Worlds and Twisted Tales, mostly written by Bruce Jones. And of course I became familiar with their other releases simply by virtue of handling the books over my decades of comics retail. Familiar enough to understand that Pacific Comics was a high quality publisher of excellent comics that alas died out too soon, but helped establish a precedent for other indie publishers to follow.

And by “Deadbeats” I don’t mean the Claypool comic.

§ March 22nd, 2023 § Filed under indies § 15 Comments

Smicha1 cashes in with

“Mike, how do you handle it as a retailer when you feel that a product just isn’t worth the money? Are you pretty candid with your customers? You seem like a pretty ethical guy so I imagine you must be occasionally kinda torn between maintaining the trust of your customers and making that scratch. Have you ever felt compelled to actively dissuade someone from buying something because you know they will be disappointed?”

It’s…not always easy. Yes, of course I want to make a buck, even quite a few bucks, at all times in order to maintain my lavish* lifestyle. But here and there I cut costs on things to 1) encourage sales, and 2) lessen the burden on customers, such as probably charging less on comic supplies like bags, boards and boxes than I should be. And a lot of my back issues are very cheap, he humblebragged, but that’s mostly a case of pricing accurately due to condition. I probably kept my Funko Pops at a lower price than I should have for too long, and now that I’ve raised the price a buck or so I actually seem to sell even more of them. And there are other things around the store, mostly more merchandise, where I price ’em out at a buck or two below retail.

I have been known to angle some customers away from some comics and towards other comics that may be more to their liking, based on either what they say they’re looking for, or based on my knowledge of their tastes if I happen to have that in the ol’ mental database. That’s just a function of salesmanship. I don’t just come right out and announce “boy that sucks, don’t buy that” to everyone in the shop, because my taste ain’t your taste, some person might like it.

This was a point of discussion in the old comicsweblogosphere a decade or so back, about some folks who just broadcast to their entire clientele via newsletter reviews telling them to either “buy” or “not buy” comics that, um, they were carrying, which seems self-defeating. One on one suggestions with individual customers is one thing, just telling everyone “don’t buy this comic, it’s the worst” is another. The distinction, sadly, was lost, as the internet is where nuance goes to die.

My favorite example of this is the fella what slagged some Big Two event book to all his customers, then wondered a few months later “huh, wonder why [said event] isn’t selling for me?” Boy, get Hercule Poroit on that case.

What I’m trying to say, in between dragging out old grudges, is that I do try to find ways to keep my customers happy, and to help them spend their dollars wisely. I try to focus more on the “you might want to check this out” versus the “I don’t know if that’s for you” tack, but in the latter case I try to offer something else they would like as an alternative.

• • •

An additional note on that post about the most recent Nexus graphic novel: I was looking at the Nexus Wikipedia entry, where it states that Mike Baron and Steve Rude have “parted ways,” and that Rude is doing his own graphic novel. I talked about the recent Baron Nexus story, and with a new story by Rude apparently coming…does that mean the ongoing Nexus saga is split into separate continuities, with each creator deciding independently on what to do with the character? That’s going to seem a little strange. But then again, Nexus has always been a little strange, that’s part of the appeal. We’ll see what happens, I suppose.

• • •

Okay, I’m going to skip over responses to the Dilbert post in order to keep with the current locally-centered zeitgeist of ’80/’90 indies. Anyway, y’all had good comments there, with the exception of a recurring dipshit who popped up to say something stupid, but I left his shame intact for future generations to gawk at.

So, onto the next post, where none of you deadbeats have bought my Zot!s yet…but you left lots of good comments, so I guess that’ll do.

Cassandra Miller asks

“Do you, by any chance, have the Matt Feazel issues? Because I’m missing those…”

Those Feazel issues seem to be the popular ones…the mini-comic #10 1/2 and the full-sized issue #14 1/2. I did have a 14 1/2 but that sold right away. Sorry about that.

As a consolation prize, please enjoy this early post on my site (from within the first month of its existence!) about my even earlier encounter via the mails with Mr. Feazell. WARNING: link rot ahoy!

• • •

Daniel T tees me up with

“Mike, did you like Badger: Shattered Mirror? That was the only post-First thing I read and I thought it was pretty good.”

What Daniel T is talking about here is one of the two mini-series published by Dark Horse Comics after the demise of First Comics, the previous publisher of the Badger.

Released in 1994, these two series presented essentially mutually-exclusive origins for the character, Shattered Mirror being the serious one, and Zen Pop etc. being the wacky one.

Now it’s been nearly 30 years since these came out, and thus probably nearly 30 years since I’ve read the darn things. I am sure I liked them well enough, though I can’t honestly remember a thing about them. Badger is on my upsettingly long list of things to reread while my mortal coil remains unshuffled-off, so maybe I’ll get around to them again someday. However, my current sense of the Badgers funnybook history as a whole is, as I may have mentioned before, that some subtle lifeforce that powered the appealing balance of serious/wackiness of the Badger’s tales had begun to peter out near the end of the First run, and was never quite acquired again. Maybe a solid reread of the series may alter that opinion, but that’s my overall memory of everything.

“…Do you have anything to say about the language changes made in the B&W collection?”

Daniel’s referring to the Zot! book reprinting that series black and white run of issues from 11-36. And I have to say…I didn’t know there were language changes! I presume “word choices,” and not that they’re all suddenly speaking Swahili or something. Scott himself says he “fine-tuned the source material” on his site, and I suppose that means more than just touching up the art for republication.

So I tried looking for examples online and didn’t have any luck, so if there are any out there I missed, or, Daniel, if you want to tell me specific citations, I’d love to see them. But to answer your question in general…if Scott thought the changes were necessary, then it’s his book, I’m perfectly fine with whatever he did. Unless he, like, hid new drawings of Sluggo or Swamp Thing throughout, in which case I’d be ecstatic.

• • •

And before I pack it in for the night, let’s see what Customer Sean has to say

“Mike, as long as you are talking about Capital Comics characters who went on to First Comics, what about Whisper?”

I gotta say, I didn’t pick up on Whisper at the time. Looked a little too ninja-y to me, and my eyes just kinda glazed over whenever “ninjas” were brought up in whatever comics I was reading (aside from the Teenage Mutant Turtles who were also you-know-whats, of course).

With the comics ninja craze long behind us, I’m probably a little more open to checking them out. If only I’d thought about it before my previous place of employment went the way of HBO Max programs, as I’m sure they had a full run of every iteration of the series. Plus, with my backlog already thoroughly logged, I’m not sure when I’d get to it anyway. As it stands now, I think the opening issue of First’s Crossroads series may be the one thing I’ve read featuring the character. Ah well, can’t read everything.

And Sean’s second question is about the late, lamented Pacific Comics, but I’ll get to that next time. Thanks for checking back in, pals.

* Sometimes I’ll splurge on buttered toast, rather than dry.

Mars attracts.

§ March 17th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 26 Comments

Chris crossed over with

“Here’s the thing I’ve found with Nexus, I’m a longtime fan, but if Steve Rude isn’t drawing it, it’s pretty much unreadable for me – same with American Flagg with Chaykin. Zot! Is probably one of my all time favourite series, love the colour and bw series.”

Steve Rude is, of course and will always be, Optimal Nexus. But I’m a little more forgiving of he guest-artists, I think…the character and setting designs laid down by Rude were so strong, that so long as you followed his lead to some extent, the visuals were passable. Like, that recent graphic novel release I was talkin’ about, Richard Bonk’s artwork was just fine. No, it wasn’t Rude, but it mostly did the job (the one confusing storytelling point I hit may have been just as much a scrip problem as anything else).

A couple of names I mentioned that had been guest-artists on the title include Paul Smith, whose tight, smooth lines were well-suited for the project, and Rick Veitch, whose penchant for strangeness accentuated the weirder side of the series. I know the artist who ultimately wrapped up the First Comics ongoing was…not a favorite, but even still I thought he did a passable job.

But the real lesson learned from this series is that, even if the guest-artists were talented, it was Steve Rude’s work that made the book sing. Most (but not all) of the post-First Nexii have been Baron/Rude collabs, which is why this most recent book with Bonk’s art came as bit of a surprise.

I will say Les Dorscheid, who colored many issues of Nexus, did a good job illustrating those painted covers on the regular series near the end there.

As to American Flagg! with or without Chaykin…I stated in a later post that I liked Staton’s work on the title, even if maybe it seemed a little too…”innocent,” I guess, in the face of all the shenanigans and goings-on in this book? Mike Vosburg worked perfectly well for me on the title as well, since, I mean, if you can’t get Chaykin, get Vosburg. The only artist on the book that put me off was Mark Badger, which, no offense, I liked him on other stuff, just didn’t care for him here.

“While we’re throwing out great 80s Indy series, let’s add Mars from First to the mix….”

Ah, yes, Mars, by Mark Wheatley and Marc Hempel, released for 12 issue sin the mid-1980s. This was a favorite series of mine, marred only by occasional back-up features I didn’t much care about beyond wondering why they were eating up 8 perfectly good pages that could have been devoted more to Morgana, Dawn, and the mystery of Mars. That cover pictured here grabbed my attention (“why is that lady’s face also on the robot?”) and only set the stage for the more serious weirdness to come.

Back issues should be cheap if you can find them. There was a trade (and signed hardcover) goin’ on nearly 20 years ago from IDW, but that’s long out of print. It could stand a new reprinting…it was a beautifully-illustrated and plenty-odd story that would be nice to hand over to some of my customers.

It’s mindboggling to think how many series just like Mars are out there. Short-run comics with great talents and unique stories that came and went, forgotten save for the occasional flip-by in the bargain bins. I’m sure many a person zipped right past it in the dollar box or quarter box or whatever without ever realizing what was contained inside would be right up their alley. At least Mars did get a trade, even if it was a while ago. So many worthwhile books never even got that chance.

Grimjack and Dreadstar and Nexus, oh my.

§ March 10th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 15 Comments

MixMat swirls things around with

“Dont forget Jon Sable Freelance and American Flagg! though i’d stop when Grell and Chaykin stop drawing, their stories arent the draw-its when their creative juices are flowing and inspiring them to draw that both series are at their best. Sadly, Flagg only had 12 Chaykin drawn issues. Jon Sable Freelance had 30 or so beautifully drawn issues by Grell, with compelling superior stories too. Imnsho.”

Howard Chaykin was on American Flagg! much longer than that, though in general I think people hold those initial twelve issues as the peak of the series. Chaykin wrote and drew through issue #26, with guest-artists on #13 (James Sherman/Rick Burchett) and #14 (Pat Broderick/Burchett).

Issue #27 was the full-length conclusion to the Alan Moore/Don Lomax back-up stories that had run through the previous few issues. (And talk about your forgotten Moore work — not highly regarded at the time, if I recall, but I thought it was amusing.)

Then after that it’s Chaykin on scripts only (though still doing the covers), with Joe Staton and Hilary Barta on art chores for #28-30 (Burchett and Barta on inks for the last issue). Honestly, I liked Staton’s work on the book, but I typically like anything Staton draws anyway.

The next storyline is when Chaykin drops off the book entirely. Mark Badger and Randy Emberlin are on art, Chaykin scripts issue #31, with the script for #32 credited to both Chaykin and Steven Grant. #33 is by Grant and Badger, which remains the creative team through #37. Chaykin’s last cover was #30, with Badger doing cover illos for that run.

Chaykin comes back to covers with #38, with a story by J.M. DeMatteis, and Badger and Emberlin still doing the art. And than that remains the creative team (though Badger starts inking himself with #41) through #45.

Issue #46 is the return of Chaykin to the interiors, as he starts to wrest the book back into shape, along with DeMatteis, Mindy Newell, Mike Vosburg, and Paul Smith. #47-8 features a Chaykin plot, with Newell scripting and Paul Smith drawing. #49 replaces Smith with Vosburg. Then the last issue of this series, #50, is Chaykin on script, Vosburg on art.

When then leads into the 12-issue Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg!, which I had remembered as being just all Chaykin, all the time, but issue #1 is Chaykin with Newell scripting, and Vosburg on art. #2 is Chaykin with John Moore scripting, Vosburg still on art with Richard Ory inks. That’s how it stays through issue #8. #9 is Moore as the sole script credit, same art team, and that’s how it goes through the end of the run. Chaykin and Vosburg collaborate on the covers in various combinations. I think this second run, while not being all Chaykin, was likely closer to his vision than the “in-between issues” on the previous series, hence the new title.

I have to admit, I checked out of the series myself during that first run after Chaykin left the book entirely, though I am tempted to go back and read those DeMatteis issues. I seem to recall it was specifically the direction the book took at that point that Chaykin sorta openly mocked once he was back on the title, but still, you know, I was the one guy who liked the Moore/Lomax thing, I suspect I can survive DeMatteis Flagg!

Now as to Jon Sable, Freelance…no, no, don’t run away, I’m not going to do the same cataloguing like I did above. But I will agree with Mixmaster Mat that the series was at its best when 1) Grell was writing and drawing it, and 2) Grell was interested in drawing it, as there were a few issues near the end there where even Grell’s art was a little on the…flimsy side, shall we say. I think I dropped the book before Grell left, as I believe the art began to decline around the same time the cover price jumped up, so, you know, that was that. Those earlier issues still hold up, though, but I do have a fondness for this later issue.

“There was also Crossroads that kinda, sorta was First’s major miniseries Crisis type crossover, though i thought the art was dreadful.”

I enjoyed this series quite a bit, myself, though I was less interested in the first issue (teaming Whisper with Jon Sable) and more enthralled with the Grimjack/Nexus/Dreadstar final issue (by Mike Baron, Luke McDonnell and Val Mayerik) which was just about everything I hoped it would be. I do admit a fondness for the fourth issue (Grimjack and Nexus‘ Judah Maccabee) as it was drawn by longtime favorite Shawn McManus. Joe Staton drew an issue, Cynthia Martin drew that first one…I think overall these had pretty good art teams, but it has been a while since I’ve looked at them, so maybe I’m remembering them through a nostalgic filter. But, hey, everyone likes what they like, so who am I to judge. I stand by that last issue, however…it’s, as the kids say, a banger.

By the way, I have Zot! for sale at my store.

§ March 8th, 2023 § Filed under indies § 34 Comments

Thom H. asked, way back when last week

“These early ’80s indie superheroes happened just before I came to comics. I’ve always been curious about them, but a little daunted by all the starts and stops, changes of publishers, etc. Which would be the best/easiest one to hunt down all these years later: Zot!, Nexus, or Badger?”

Well, the easiest would be Zot! if only because 1) it’s just 36 issues (not counting the Matt Feazell one-offs), 2) it’s only from one publisher, and 3) I have 98% of the run currently available for sale at my store! And aside from this big unanswered question, it’s pretty much self-contained and comes to a reasonably satisfying conclusion. (Plus you can also read this webcomic for free, that takes place after the series.) They remain relatively inexpensive (especially the ones I’m selling!) and the trick is just tracking them all down (most of which are at my store, so that part is probably easy!).

After that, The Badger might be the next-easiest to figure out, as all you really need is the original series itself (issues #1-4 published by Capital Comics, #5-70 from First Comics) and the Hexbreaker graphic novel, which is actually sorta important to the character’s development. There were several Badger things published after this series ended, but it my opinion they weren’t…quite up to the level of the initial series. But the good news is that if you do want to collect them, the very nature of the Badger character and his stories means that you can pick ’em up and read ’em pretty much in any order without worrying about things like “continuity.”

Even the original series itself is of varying quality, with the better material in the first half or so of the run. It actually sort of peaked in the initial Capital run, but there’s still some good material in later issues.

And then there’s Nexus, which, like Badger, began at Capital and continued to First Comics, but it’s a little more complicated in that Nexus started with three magazine sized black and white issues, then continued as a color series with a new #1. That color series transitioned over to First Comics starting with issue #7 and then ran ’til issue #80. Mostly good, the best issues are the ones drawn by co-creator Steve Rude but many of the other artists that fill in for him are very good as well (with only a couple of clunkers). Paul Smith draws a few issues, and c’mon, you know that guy is good.

It’s after that run ends that the onslaught of minis and one-shots start, and honestly you’re gonna need a Wiki or an FAQ or something to get those straight. Or just look it up on to figure out when which series was released and figure out the story that way. There are a lot of these tie-ins, however, so be forewarned. (God Con, a two-parter from Dark Horse, may be my favorite of the bunch — self-contained, drawn by Rude, and pretty wild.)

• • •

Anyway, there are more questions and comments from you guys over the last week or so that I still want to address, but I’ve reached the end of my blogging time for the night so it’ll all have to wait. Thanks, as always, for reading and participating, pals.

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