Continuing the FantaCo Enterprises Inc. and Gore Shriek checklist and memories…
1989-90 was the year Tom Skulan and FantaCo geared up to merchandize and promote Gore Shriek to its fan base, however vast or sparse that multitude may have been. The original Gore Shriek #1 cover art by Bruce Spaulding Fuller graced a t-shirt and the black 12 ounce Gore Shriek Coffee Mug (with Bruce’s face-ripping art on one side, and the Gore Shriek warning label on the other, printed in red).There was also a Shriek t-shirt, a portrait of Shriek (black-and-white line art by Gurchain Singh aka ‘Gurch’, which also appears on the title page of Shriek #1, 1989) on a white ‘t’, but I’m getting ahead of the chronology here a bit.
Cover to Gore Shriek 6 1/2, art © Gurchain Singh, Gore Shriek was/is a trademark of FantaCo Enterprises, Inc.
* Gore Shriek 6 ½ (1989): Cover by Gurch (Gurchain Singh), edited by Tom Skulan; I didn’t have a hand in this special issue, so no behind-the-scenes insights to share on this one.
It was a half-size giveaway item, marked “Not Approved for Store Sale” under the cover logo, and hence mighty hard to come by. Hmmm, this seems to be missing from my collection, or perhaps I packed it with the minicomics… in any case, it’s not in reach, but here’s what I have listed for contents: “The Possee” by Eric Stanway, “Smoke” by Rolf Stark, “Addicted to Death” by David MacDowell. This comic never moved through national distribution or retail shops.
“Do not forget Gore Shriek 6 1/2 which I gave out for free at the San Diego Comicon in 1989,” which suggests that #6 1/2 was primarily a convention freebie for fans visiting the FantaCo table at various 1989 conventions; I know for a fact it was then sold exclusively via FantaCo mail order (as repeatedly stated in various FantaCo publications and ads).
[Note: The following paragraphs have been revised on 6/15, rewriting the original Saturday, June 14 post due to one major error in that version. Thanks to John Szpunar and Anthony Layton for catching my mistake!]
And that, my friends, was the end of Gore Shriek Volume 1, in its original comic book format.
There was one final spasm — Gore Shriek Delectus, which I haven’t found copies of just yet (being a trade paperback, it’s not stored with my issues of the comic series; it must be with the graphic novels) — which arguably concluded Volume 1. I agree, but will wait to discuss the Delectus once it’s in hand. In any case, it definitely is the only book-format Gore Shriek collection, so if you’re seeking a one-stop volume to sample what Gore Shriek was all about, the Delectus is the one to look for.
Before Gore Shriek Volume 2 coalesced, there was also Shriek, the magazine-format ‘big brother’ of Gore Shriek. There were three issues; I have ‘em here on my computer desk. I’ll get into Shriek with the next post, too – that’s another story, another series, and my final chapter of direct involvement in Gore Shriek and all things related. Suffice for now to note that the acrimonious circumstances of my departure from FantaCo (see “Fantaco vs Bissette” in The Comics Journal #138, October 1990 pg. 18) ensured my days with Gore Shriek were over. Exit, stage left.
Confusion sets in at this point for many collectors, though, due to the existence of the Gore Shriek Annual#1 — some consider it part of Volume 1, but it is in fact the concluding issue of Volume 2.
Due to that ongoing confusion, I’ll jump my chronology a bit and cover it here and now, if only to clear up the record on that point:
* Gore Shriek Annual #1 (1990):
According to some sources, this was originally announced as The Gore Shriek Primer No. 1 (see full-page ad and order form in Gore Shriek #5).
The Gore Shriek Primer was announced as a trade paperback collection featuring a cover by Bruce Spaulding Fuller. The ad in Gore Shriek #6 reports that it was to reprint my story “Sleeper,” along with Rolf Stark’s “War” and “Rain,” “Mall Rats” by Bill Townsend and Greg Capullo, “Circular File” by Tom Skulan and Greg Capullo, “Need for Speed” by Bill Townsend and Greg Capullo, “(Untitled)” by Bill Townsend and Greg Capullo, and two by Bruce Spaudling Fuller, “Zombie Toolshed” and “Idle Hands,” along with new illos by Fuller; the package was (pardon the poor grammar) “Edited and introduction by Tom Skulan.”
But the Primer never saw print under that title. That advertised content list for The Gore Shriek Primer indicates that title became Gore Shriek Delectus, rather than Gore Shriek Annual #1.
Again, more on Delectus next post.
As for the Gore Shriek Annual #1, here’s the actual contents:
It’s fat 96-page (plus covers) saddle-stitched black-and-white comics format publication, not a trade paperback, and the contents page lists the annual as having been “Directed and Produced by Tom Skulan and Hank Jansen.” It sports a cover by Allen Koszowski (aka ‘Allen K,’ popular horror movie fanzine illustrator and cover artist of the 1970s and ’80s), who also did the centerspread, with an inside back cover and back cover by Wendy Snow-Lang (author/artist of the story “Want” in Taboo Especial, which spawned Wendy’s ambitious Night’s Children comics series for FantaCo, which these two pieces promote; more on that in a future post).
There’s illustrations by Rolf Stark, Eric Talbot (then deep into the ultimately-aborted collaboration with Kevin Eastman on Melting Pot), and here’s the story lineup: “Sleeper” by Landon McDonald (no relation to my previous Gore Shriek story), “Gag! Time” by Gurchain Singh aka ‘Gurch’, “The Cannibal Kids Club” by Dave MacDowell, Eric Stanway’s adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s “Oil of Dog” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop Frog”, “Cast Likeness” by Michael Dubisch, Alex Diaz’s adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, “The Funny Farm” by Chris Pelletiere “inspired by the story by Robert Bloch,”, Mark Martin’s “Xposure”, “Home Security” by Dave Henney, Gary Crutchley and Ben Dilworth, “Growing Up” by Rick McCollum and Bill Anderson, and “Pub Lunch” by Gary Crutchley, Chris Przygrodzki and Ben Dilworth, plus an original text short story, “Crying Wolf” by my good friend Rick Hautala (hey, Rick!).
Cover to Gore Shriek Annual #1, art © 1990 Allen Koszowski, Gore Shriek was/is a trademark of FantaCo Enterprises, Inc.
The Annual is also jam-packed (but not to the detriment of story and art content) with FantaCo mail order items, including a comprehensive “Official” Gore Shriek checklist, embracing the totality of Volume 2 of the title and Delectus, so this Annual was likely the end of Gore Shriek the anthology series. Hereafter, the Gore Shriek one-shot specials continued the legacy, each under their own title.
By this point, FantaCo had not one but six Gore Shriek t-shirts for sale and one Gore Shriek sweatshirt. 1990 was a big year for FantaCo, in lots of ways.
1990 was also the year Tom announced the eclectic, catch-all Strobe — the ballyhoo in the Fantaco 1990 Horror Yearbook read, “This series is so bizarre we don’t even know what to expect. Strobe #0 is the FantaCon Magazine 1989. Strobe #1 is due out early this summer and has an article on Aurora model kits with an excellent collection of stills, an interview with Gahan Wilson, and interview with Chester Brown and more. Keep your eyes open for future Strobe releases in all kinds of wild and bizarre formats…” (pg. 51). This series was so bizarre, FantaCo didn’t even know how to promote it!
It’ll take some leg work and luck to sort this out – at the time of this writing, I’m honestly not sure what Strobe #1 was, or if it was even published under that title. The FantaCo mail order list/catalog that dominates the last few pages of the Gore Shriek Annual lists Strobe #1 simply as “SOON” — which again prompts me to wonder, was it ever published? In this list, circa 1990, Strobe #2 says “See Graphic #1 listing” and #3 as “1990 FantaCon Newspaper”, which I don’t believe I ever saw — it’s not in the collection now, at any rate. Note that the indicia on the contents page of Shriek #3, aka Graphic #1 (wait for it), reads, “Graphic 1 is Shriek 3 and counts as issue 2 in the Strobe series.”
Since there is no title logo on Shriek #3, anything goes – the contents page reads “Shriek/Graphic Issue Number One.” So, there it is — it’s official.
Cover to FantaCon Magazine/Strobe #0, art © 1989 Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, FantaCon Magazine and Strobe was/is a trademark of FantaCo Enterprises, Inc.;
This is the kind of creative numbering and conflation of titles that drives even the most attentive fans and collectors up the wall – especially after almost two decades have passed! If you weren’t keeping a scorecard when it all went down, it’s a crapshoot years later. But I gotta tell you — this is the kind of fanboy mindfuck Tom Skulan loved to brainstorm and orchestrate, though I’m sure it created problems for the folks manning the retail store front counter and mail order phones at FantaCo.
If anyone out there knows more — or better yet, has a copy of either Strobe #1 or #3 (aka 1990 FantaCon Newspaper) and can send jpgs of the covers and maybe a list of the contents, that would be most welcome.
Thus far in this chronology, I’ve paused amid these posts to write about the Gore Shriek artists. As you can see by the checklist I’ve presented of all the first volume Gore Shriek issues, writer Bill Townsend was pretty central to the series, too.
Alas, no one has ever assessed Bill’s contribution to Gore Shriek, or his value as a comics writer. This is unfortunate, as Bill brought a lot to the table. More, I daresay, than his published work in Gore Shriek can possibly demonstrate.
I suspect Bill had occasional behind-the-scenes importance to Gore Shriek and other FantaCo publishing ventures, but only Tom and Bill can say for sure if that’s true – and if it is, how much impact Bill might have had.
Along with Albany comics retailer Mitch Cohn, Bill (who owned and managed Electric City Comics in nearby Schenectady, NY) was both a competitor to FantaCo and a key member of the regional retailer braintrust. I’ve no idea what that dynamic was like, really, as an ‘outsider’ at that time to the retailer world, but it was clear to me then that there was some critical chemistry between FantaCo’s Tom Skulan, Electric City’s Bill Townsend and fellow Albany retailer Mitch Cohn (sorry, I’ve forgotten the name of Mitch’s comic shop at the moment). I was more than once invited to dine with members of this regional coalition of competitors and fellow travelers, and until I really steeped myself in the business of the comics business in the 1990s, much of what was said at those Albany gatherings fell on ears deaf to the meat of their conversations. My loss.
Though I’ve been friends since 1983 with Alan Goldstein, founder/proprietor of the Vermont-based comics retail and mail order firm of Moondance Comics, and my old Johnson State College amigo Steve Perry worked for years at Moondance, I wasn’t particularly privy in the 1980s to the inner workings of Moondance, nor whatever retailer circle Alan and Steve pooled information with. It was the 1980s, and I was busy with my family and with penciling Swamp Thing and, later, my multiple duties on Taboo. I simply didn’t grock the importance of a creator understanding how the business worked beyond freelancer/publisher concerns.
Dave Sim changed all that – another personal debt I owe Dave! — and my curiosity and interest only grew by the early 1990s. By the mid-1990s, as I was self-publishing Tyrant, Larry Marder – at that time, the creator of the marvelous Beanworld, marketing manager at the Chicago-based Moondog’s Comics, and soon to join the ranks of the Image/Todd McFarlane bullpen – would actively introduce me to some of the inner workings of the retailer and distributor end of things. Larry’s work at Moondog’s was critical to this education. Larry really opened my eyes to how comics retailing worked, including an invite to one of the the chain’s ordering meetings (very educational!).
So, back to Bill Townsend and Tom Skulan, and the Albany/Schenectady comics retailer braintrust: though much may have been said to me and/or in my presence, I didn’t recognize what was going on among the retail community during the Gore Shriek years. Building on the seeds Dave Sim had planted, Tom Skulan would occasionally lecture me on the nature of retail and distribution, and by then I was an attentive listener, eager to learn, but I still wasn’t sensitive enough to savvy what Tom, Bill, Mitch and others in that upper NY State pocket of retailers discussed amongst themselves in my company.
Again, that’s my loss.
I’ve a better idea now of how that Albany/Schenectady retailer braintrust might have functioned, having since racked up my own real-world experience as co-manager of Alan Goldstein’s First Run Video in Brattleboro, VT (1999-2005), during which I was a very active member of the New England Buying Group, a volatile coalition of New England video retailers who really fought some good fights during the Millennial shift in a video business that at times scarily resembled (in magnified form) what had gone down with the distributor wars in the comics direct sale market in the mid-1990s. That experience makes sense of some of the dinner conversations I was privileged to hear now and again while working with Tom on Gore Shriek and Shriek – and the fact that Bill was also writing original scripts for Gore Shriek adds another fascinating layer to that chemistry.
Bill’s Gore Shriek scripts are models of their kind, and issue to issue clearly delineate his growing confidence with the genre and the comics form. No surprise that he excelled when working collaboratively with an artist who ‘clicked’ (e.g., Greg Capullo), but Bill always gave his all (could it be that it was Bill who brought Greg to Tom’s attention, and into the Gore Shriek stable? Maybe — ?).
I hasten to add, too, that Bill’s writing extended into articulating his retail experience, as well; perhaps it was Bill’s retailer writings that led to Tom Skulan inviting Bill to script horror stories for Gore Shriek? I’ve no idea, really – I was just one of the Gore Shriek freelancers, too, when Bill and Tom had those conversations, culminating in “Need for Speed” (script by Bill, art by Greg Capullo) in Gore Shriek #2.
Ack — this is getting too speculative in nature, so let me return to the material record, based on items in my collection.
I only have one treasured issue of Electric Currents (#107, the March 1997 ‘Giant Size Annual’), Bill’s self-published periodical detailing the ins-and-outs of the comics business and Electric City Comics’s fortunes in particular, but that single issue offers ample evidence of how skilled an essayist Bill could be. I wish I had more issues of Electric Currents – it’s a terrific read, informed and opinionated, and a great time capsule snapshot of what was going on from the retailer’s point of view. Judging from the acknowledgements in Electric Currents #107, Bill’s braintrust extended far beyond his geographic region – along with locals Mitch Cohn, Tom Vincent, J.C. Glindmyer and Electric City circle members Alan Ekblaw, Jevon Kasitch and Chris Parker, Bill thanks Brian Hibbs, Dave Sim, Julie Miller, Kevin Conrad and John Jackson Miller.
Bill Townsend’s Electric City Comics, today! Photo © Bill Townsend/Electric City Comics
A digression: I daresay a brilliant and incisive anthology of the best writing by comics retailers in just these sorts of in-store journals would be quite worth compiling and reading. Though much of it is undoubtably dross, comprised of press releases, the best of the activist retailers write with great knowledge and insight about their industry. It’s a body of writing ignored by the comics press (except as a source for the occasional news story), and I fear the best writer/retailers themselves undervalue this body of work they’ve amassed, having lived its history themselves and likely not seeing much worth in their published (and now online) musings. These journals are, by their very nature, an ephemeral venue, but that is their importance, too – what a treasure-trove for comics researchers and scholars these in-store journals would be, if collected and studied! If there’s any similarly unknown and ignored, yet intensely well-informed, experientially-invaluable, body of writing in direct sales comics history, I’d like someone to point it out to me. Comics scholars even value published letters from readers above the retailer journals – really, there’s a goldmine of comics history here to be excavated! End of digression.
Cover art for Carnage: Mind Bomb #1, art by Kyle Hotz; © 1995 Marvel Comics/MarveL Characters, Inc.
For example, the reason I held on to Electric Currents #107 was for Bill’s full-page screed against Carnage: Mind Bomb #1 (February 1996) by Warren Ellis and Kyle Hotz
Bill’s ire toward this Christmas 1995 treat from Marvel was directed not only at the extremely graphic gore content, but the fact that “this was in a Marvel superhero comic” and that, “more unbelievably, this book was APPROVED BY THE COMICS CODE” (caps emphasis was Bill’s). “This was precisely the sort of thing the Code was set up to prevent! Now it’s Code approved? Either give the Code some teeth or throw it out!” (Electric Currents #107, page 55). Who better to cite the breakdown of the Comics Code than the very retailers expected to enforce it?
As far as I know, not one comics scholar, historian or researcher ever cited this landmark in the legacy of horror comics and the Comics Code – only Bill caught it and archived it. Having written his share of horror stories for Gore Shriek, Bill knew a transgressive horror story when he read it – and having since tracked down a copy of Carnage: Mind Bomb #1, I can only add that Bill called that one right.
(As a horror comics lover and scholar, I say: get your hands on a copy of Carnage: Mind Bomb #1, and now. It’s reviled by Spider-Man fans, but it’s a terrific and key Marvel horror comic.)
In fact, I’ll elevate Bill’s importance as a comics writer by noting, for the record, that Bill was the first writer to work closely with Greg Capullo in comics. The work they did together in Gore Shriek really holds up nicely, and is most invaluable for demonstrating their progressive maturation, story by story, as individuals and as a team. Bill and Greg clearly clicked early on, and their work together deserves proper critical scrutiny – especially in light of what Greg soon accomplished after his departure from the Schenectady/Albany creative circle of his formative years.
Taboo 8, 1995, featuring “All She Does is Eat!” by Jack Butterworth and Greg Capullo; cover art © Charles J. Lang, who was/is, Gore Shriek and Night’s Children fans take note, husband of Wendy Snow-Lang; Taboo is a trademark of SpiderBaby Grafix & Publications/Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved; you can buy a copy from the SpiderBaby store, on this very website — see ‘store’ on the menu, above right.
In the series of Gore Shriek stories Bill and Greg collaborated on, we can see both creators sharpening their skills, along with their pencils, pens and wits. Each story is better than the next, and it’s in part thanks to Bill’s work with Greg that Greg was able to mesh so seamlessly with Tom Skulan (“Circular File”) and, for Taboo, Jack Butterworth (“All She Does is Eat!”, Taboo 9, 1995, though as noted this story was actually scripted and drawn earlier, around 1992) before making the leap to work at Marvel and becoming one of Todd McFarlane’s primary collaborators on Spawn.
To my mind, this alone makes Gore Shriek worthy of closer examination and proper analysis as a vital wellspring for creative talents coming together in a genre they loved.
The turn-around time between delivery of original art and publication was always pretty quick with Gore Shriek. This was, and is, unusual in comics. This meant that, in Bill and Greg’s collaborative self-education as creators, they could see, experience, and garner feedback on their published work as or before they were hard at work on their next story.
When creators are cutting their teeth together, as Bill and Greg were, and able to see their collaborative efforts published in short order, they are then able to refine their next effort based on their reaction to seeing that published work – well, that’s powerful voodoo, folks.
I’m happy to say Electric City Comics is still up and running –
– and having been open since 1982, is the oldest extant comics shop in the Albany/Schenectady area. Last shop standing from that retailer braintrust FantaCo was once part of? I fear it may be — a sign of the times.
[To be continued…]