Ah yes, I remember that. 1976 or 1977. My family had just moved from Munich, Germany to Montpellier, France, and my Mother, my brother, and I were cooling our heels in our usual summer vacation spot of Copenhagen, Denmark while my Father was setting up our new Montpellier digs. (That would be the same Montpellier that currently serves as home base for Lewis Trondheim and Jason.) WIth ample time on his hands, my Father, who was (and is) an avid photographer, had just discovered the age-old trick of photographing someone multiple times in front of a black backdrop to create the illusion of multiple iterations of the same person (no, kids, there was no Photoshop then), and had sent us some hilarious fumetti of himself in various goofy disguises interacting with himself.
Around the same time, future Marvel Editor-in-Chief Mark Gruenwald (whom I knew well through correspondence) — at the time still a fan, of course — had self-published his TREATISE ON REALITY, one of the central tenets of which was that the Marvel and DC universes contained an infinite amount of "realities" each of which was created by an individual human decision (a kind of sci-fi version of chaos theory in which the butterfly does AND doesn't flap its wings). So in one reality Peter Parker decided not to go to that science exhibit and didn't get bitten by that spider, or Bruce Wayne's parents didn't duck down that dark alleyway, etc. Those reality-creating "decision points" he dubbed "nexuses" (or "nexi"?). Somehow in my geeky mind this combined with the technique my father had been playing around with and the whole family got together (note my Mother's credit for "flying cucumber" effect) and created this illustration of what would happen if, as I was reading Mark's treatise, I found myself having to decide among continuing to read it, going for a snack, or going to bed (the trifecta of choices pretty much anyone faces when reading late at night).
Everyone got a kick out of it (including Dean Mullaney, who was very much the "nexus" of that group) and I've been lugging around that set of Xeroxes for three and a half decades — until some wisenheimer in the Fantagraphics offices found it in a box and slapped it up on Flog.
Tom Spurgeon's recollection on his comicsreporter.com blog that this ties into a group of round-robin fan correspondents that included Rob Rodi and Jo Duffy (also Ralph Macchio — the future Marvel editor, not the Karate Kid star) is on the nose.
I don't even want to think about how many of this blog's readers weren't even born when I did this.
Rest in peace Mark Gruenwald, a good guy who died far too young. Hopefully there are thousands of other alternate realities where he's still happily editing Marvel comics.
Every time I visit Fantagraphics office I damn near trip over Julie Doucet's cat carrier, which has been at the foot of the back stairs since she resided in the apartment upstairs in 1993. I worked as Fantagraphics beer tech back then - the "Summer of Hate" in Seattle. A blur of rock shows, cartoonist signings, art events, and parties. This was before the grunge movement had been corrupted by corporations and devastated by drugs. Great fun! I wish I could remember it. Occupational hazard, I suppose. I wonder what happened to Julie's cat. (Has anybody looked inside the carrier?)
It's safe to say that Fantagraphics, and indeed the entire comics landscape, would not exist as we know it today without the efforts of comics scholar and archivist Bill Blackbeard. I never had the honor of interacting with the man, but his importance and influence reverberates throughout everything we do here, and not just the projects we had the good fortune to work on directly with him, such as the Krazy & Ignatz series he spearheaded. We are saddened by the loss and will strive to be worthy of his legacy.
Seattle's Experience Music Project is hosting festivities all weekend to launch their ambitious Nirvana exhibition and companion book Taking Punk to the Masses, published by Fantagraphics in association with EMP. The celebration begins with a private reception, followed by a members preview, this Friday evening with celebrity DJs including Fantagraphics friends Steve Fisk, Mark Pickerel, and Charles Peterson. Activities continue all weekend, including a panel on the origins of grunge at 2:30 on Saturday, with panelists including Peterson and former Fantagraphics frontman Tom Price, moderated by curator and the book's author Jacob McMurray.
The EMP exhibition focuses on Nirvana, while the book takes a broader view of Seattle's grunge counterculture, primarily through artifacts and oral histories provided by many of the principals of the movement. It reads like a chronicle of my misspent youth. (I'm quoted on Page 1 along with Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Wayne Kramer of the MC5, and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam.) Every page reveals another fascinating step in an evolving punk subculture that would eventually alter the course of popular music worldwide. Who would've guessed at the time? Not me.
It's appropriate that Fantagraphics published this document. Comix played an important role in shaping the attitude and aesthetics of Seattle's grunge movement. I often compare Seattle in the late 80s and early 90s to San Francisco in the mid-60s. Like the hippie movement in the Bay Area, the Northwest had distinctive rock music, poster graphics, and fashion (or anti-fashion) sensibilities. We also had an army of talented and perceptive alternative cartoonists to disseminate the emerging scene, none more influential than Peter Bagge. The book establishes that many Fantagraphics artists, friends and future employees were central to the development of Seattle's domination of the counterculture of the era.
I commissioned this poster by Weirdo and Real Stuff contributor Ashleigh Talbot (formerly Ashleigh Raffloer, AKA Triangle-Slash) for a 1988 show I promoted with the U-Men, a legendary proto-grunge outfit. This bill included famed illustrator Ed Fotheringham's Thrown Ups featuring Mark Arm on drums. Mark and Ed are pictured prominently in Peterson's cover photo for the book. Both Mark and Tom Price of the U-Men would later work for Fantagraphics. Tom is playing guitar with the U-Men on the announcement for Peterson's May 14 show at Fantagraphics Bookstore below.
The Nirvana exhibition at EMP continues through 2014. To supplement the EMP show, Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery will mount an exhibition of seminal work by accomplished Seattle photographer Charles Peterson opening May 14. He will be joined by Peter Bagge signing copies of Hate Annual #9 (featuring Buddy's return to Seattle) and the Yeah! collection. The show will be followed by a concert by Bagge's band Can You Imagine? featuring Steve Fisk on keyboards. You should just move to Seattle. OK?
Gary Groth provided this description of the issue:
"This was our special sex & violence issue, published at the height of a minor but persistent media brouhaha over the sexual and violence quotient in 'grown-up' comics from Marvel and DC. DC had implemented a ratings system — or announced it — and a number of creators — Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Howard Chaykin — were up in arms over it. This was a remarkably solid issue analyzing the question from every which way. I approached Jim Woodring for a cover and he did a doozy, encapsulating the theme in a single image. It would've been the issue's art director who literally pasted it all up, using wax and photostats and typesetting-on-film. Those were the days."
Wanna see a whole bunch of vintage spot illos scanned from old issues of The Comics Journal and Amazing Heroes by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez (above) and other artists (Mitch O'Connell, Kevin Nowlan, Bruce Timm) before they were stars? Ed Piskor has you covered at his Wizzywig Comics blog.
Are you looking for a place to live in Seattle? Have you always wanted to have Gary Groth as your landlord? Rent the apartment above our offices and literally walk all over us every day. Feel the publishing magic radiating up through the floorboards! It's 2BR, newly remodeled and, honestly, looks a heck of a lot nicer than our office, which hasn't been remodeled since the 1970s. (Seriously, you've never seen so much faux brick, wood and stone paneling in your life, and the less said about the kitchen the better.) See our Seattle Weekly classified ad for more info and send inquiries directly to penthousesuite [at] fantagraphics-dawt-com. (Please include your phone number.)
When I created Critters back in the 1980s, it was largely so that I'd have a publication in which I could publish the work of cartoonists within the funny-animal genre that I liked (Stan Sakai, Freddy Milton, J. Quagmire, and Steven Gallacci), as well as on occasion chiseling some work out of other cartoonists in the same ballpark (Jim Engel, Mike Kazaleh, Ty Templeton, and Mark Armstrong). A side benefit was that as the comic became better known, I started to receive submissions from other cartoonists, several of whom became regulars in the magazine.
One of my very favorites was "Fission Chicken," a hilariously deadpan super-hero parody written and drawn in a sort of Scott-Shaw!-meets-Paul-Coker-Jr. doodly style by John P. Morgan. "Fission Chicken" ran in a number of Critters (including as a solo feature in one of the late, one-feature-per-issue issues), and when I pulled the plug on Critters I was especially sad to leave ol' Fish homeless.
John continued to produce the occasional "Fission Chicken" story, released a book collection of some of the Critters material, and eventually started serializing new Fission Chicken stories on his website, while also "reprinting" classic older material. I'd lost track of him for years until Edd Vick passed along the unfortunate news that John had died last December 30th.
Another good guy, gone far too soon. Although none of his work is in print, several "Fission Chicken" stories can be downloaded and read from his still-extant website, fissionchicken.com -- have a look. Enjoying John's work one more time (or for the first time) would be the best way of honoring him.
It is with great sadness that we have learned, and feel we should pass along, that one of the members of the Fantagraphics family died last year. CRAIG MAYNARD, who worked on staff here in Seattle in the early 1990s, passed away last September and we just learned about it from his family (through a reply to a rerouted Christmas card).
Craig had been suffering from a number of debilitating illnesses for years and the news was not exactly a shock, but all of us from that era who worked with Craig (Gary G. and me, of course, and also Dale Yarger, Pat Moriarity, Roberta Gregory, Michelle Byrd, Jim Blanchard, Frank Young, among others) were still saddened.
Craig, who worked in the production department doing design and paste-up (as well as lettering — a number of our earlier, pre-digital-font foreign-translated EROS books feature spectacular Maynard lettering) was a delightfully upbeat, energetic presence in the office, with a guffaw that would rattle the windows. A fine cartoonist in his own right, he channeled his experiences and concerns as a proudly out gay man into a handful of EROS comics, including the off-the-hook outrageous LEATHERBOY and the furious, despairing one-shot UP FROM BONDAGE ("a powerful example of politically conscious homoerotica," a critic rightly called it at the time).
But like many others who knew and loved Craig, I prefer to remember him for "Minor Memories and the Art of Adolescence," a series of beautifully-realized, touching autobiographical short stories that graced the pages of PRIME CUTS and GRAPHIC STORY MONTHLY. (We have posted a sample story here.) Sadly his illnesses put an end to his cartooning career as such (he eventually became literally unable to hold a brush or pen), leaving an ambitious project he had been working on unfinished.
Craig deserved far, far better from life than he got, and those of us who knew and loved him were and are humbled by his fortitude and perseverance in the face of adversity. We are grateful for the time we had with him — fortunately much of it in better times, as the accompanying photo shows (thanks to Jim Blanchard) — and he will be missed.