WaP!

The Forgotten Activist Prozine: Prologue

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“Censorship” cartoon ©1986, 2010 Frank Miller; posted for archival purposes only, all rights reserved to Frank Miller.

I’ve been promising this upcoming serialized essay for a long time, so here goes.

A little setup and prep this morning, with (for those who care enough to pursue it) some homework…

* I’ve made a few rather oblique references over the past few years on various serialized Myrant historical posts about an activist prozine I was part of named WaP! Running a mere eight issues (nine, counting the #0 “preview” edition), WaP! may have only last two years (1988-89), but it was both a culmination and a catalyst in its day.

I want to talk about WaP! for a bit, but that requires some laying of groundwork and historical context.

See, I told you there was homework.

* Two of my past serialized essays lay the foundation for your understanding part of where WaP! came from: the temper (and I do mean temper) of the times, a few of the issues, and such.

Mind you, some of the story I simply can’t provide, as (a) I don’t know it (I was, after all, a long-distance participant, based on Vermont) and (b) some of the key participants are either no longer with us, have moved into other political belief systems, or (c) will (hopefully) weigh in themselves, via either comments or emails to me (msbissette@yahoo.com) I can then weave into the narrative.

So what you’ll be getting are my memories, my perspective—per usual—and, thankfully, scans from my collection of the entire run of WaP!

These scans will be limited. I can’t and won’t post complete issue contents online. I don’t have permission to run complete articles/essays, other than my own; but I’m comfortable running the covers, and select opening paragraphs, along with completed lists of contents. So, it’ll provide some access to this rarity in comics creator collective action—a concept rarer still today, unfortunately.

* For me, WaP! was the culmination of a steep learning curve initiated by John Totleben‘s and my relationship with—specifically, John turning me on to—the Mid-Ohio Con in the 1980s.

Out of that annual November convention emerged my/our friendships with Dave Sim, Frank Miller, Bill Sienkiewicz, and others; out of that also came what eventually coalesced into Taboo.

And Taboo‘s backstory is part and parcel of the path to WaP!, for me.

* I’ve written at length about how and where Taboo came from, but for the purposes of understanding WaP! and my role therein,

I’ve provided links to the fuller Taboo historical posts at the end of this prologue, below.

* Central to that part of the story was Puma Blues, the collaborative fruit of writer Steve Murphy and artist Michael Zulli, initially published by Dave Sim in what proved to be the last of Dave’s many experiments in ethical publishing of creator-owned comics. To cut to the chase (excerpted from the above linked “Taboo Origins” chapter):

“…The fires were stoked with the ongoing friction between Dave and Diamond, which had gained its own peculiar, personalized momentum. In short order, it became personal for all parties involved. Dave was outraged with Diamond’s behavior; Puma Blues cocreators Steve Murphy and Michael Zulli were outraged at the situation they found themselves blameless in, reduced to poker chips in a card game they weren’t even invited to — which only further outraged Dave (though not with Steve or Michael, mind you; not for a nanosecond).

Mind you, too: Steve and Michael weren’t living high on the hog. Aside from any other jobs or freelance they juggled, what they earned from Puma Blues was what Puma Blues earned from its sales; they weren’t paid page rates or advances on issues. This wasn’t a traditional publishing model, and Puma Blues wasn’t a big seller by any stretch of the imagination.

highsocietycvrOn the Diamond end of this equation — which you’ll recall began with Diamond Distributor National Account Representative Bill Schanes becoming incensed at Dave’s refusing to take Bill’s calls and culminated in Schanes having threatened to refuse listing Puma Blues due to Diamond’s frustration with Dave Sim’s self-distribution of the Cerebus collections High Society, Church & State and Cerebus — it went from Bill Schanes being outraged to Diamond mogul Steve Geppi taking everything personally, too, as the following demonstrates.

And you don’t want to piss off Steve Geppi, ever, do you?

In the spring of 1988 — as Taboo 1 was approaching completion, with Taboo 2 already in the works and coming together — the logjam seemed to break at last.

[High Society, Cerebus and Church & State cover art ©1987, 1988, 2009 Dave Sim and Gerhard, Cerebus TM Dave Sim. Note: The following is ©1988, 2009 Bill Moulage; Bill, if you're out there, drop me a line, please. From Puma Blues #20, “Aardvark-Diamond Chronology,” “The Main Events,” pg. 19-20.]

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Alas, this settlement was short-lived — and its eventual outcome impacted us all, as it turned out.

Though those of us in the direct orbit of events were told what happened the day after the phone call between Dave and Steve Geppi, the battle lines had been drawn. It was an uneasy truce, at best…”

Got that?

Good.

Moving on:

* Another prozine collective publication that played a role in all this was Scott McCloud‘s “invention” (his word) of The Frying Pan.

Without opening too many cans of worms, let me further excerpt the above “Taboo Origins” chapter, and lay that groundwork and The Frying Pan‘s chronological relationship with WaP! (which was only chronological; I believe I was the only real point of intersection between The Frying Pan and WaP!, as a contributor to both):

srbpumawaptoon“…Among creator circles, we were all talking among ourselves in a variety of forums. This was long before email, the internet and the like; Scott McCloud launched The Frying Pan, an APA (Amateur Press Association) publication exclusively by and for creators. Frank Miller, Steven Grant and their associates launched WaP! (Words and Pictures), a lively newsletter of radical creator agitprop that I’ll write about in the future — once I find and scan my stash of issues and can offer a cohesive overview of that publication. I was a frequent contributor to both of these.

The Frying Pan set sail in 1986, and ran throughout this entire period; WaP! was launched in April 1988, and became central to the Cerebus/Diamond/Puma Blues affair, as you shall see.

Adding gasoline to the bonfire, it seemed like every distributor and retailer in comics was now pissed — personally ripshit — at Dave, too…”

* To follow through that particular Puma Blues and Taboo-centric orientation to the WaP! years,

Specifically:

“…by now, everyone was taking all this very personally — even folks who weren’t involved were taking all this very personally. So you can imagine, perhaps, how those directly involved were feeling.

So, now, see, because of the time lag between actual event and press coverage of said event, and dubious reporting of one of those events (particularly the phone call between Steve Geppi and Michael Zulli), we now arrive at critical-mass-clusterfuck in the whole Cerebus/Diamond/Puma Blues debacle.

[Note: The following is ©1988, 2009 Bill Moulage; Bill, if you're out there, drop me a line, please. From Puma Blues #20, “Aardvark-Diamond Chronology,” “The Main Events,” pg. 19-20.]


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Which included Taboo. Like I said, I was finding myself increasingly in the crossfire here, with Taboo the next planned Aardvark One International project.

Enter Cheryl Prindle, who along with her husband Jim Prindle were key to operations of the Northampton MA nerve center of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird‘s Mirage Studios (until Cheryl’s tragic early death in the 1990s). Cheryl was at the Diamond Seminar:

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Whew — at last.

But the damage had been done.

pumablues201These were the events that led to the spring/summer 1988 decision to dissolve Aardark One International.

Within a week of Dave’s phone call alerting my first wife Nancy (now Marlene) O’Connor and I ofhis decision to dismantle his publishing plans, Nancy and I formed SpiderBaby Grafix & Publications as business entity in our home state of Vermont.

With ongoing funding and informational support from Dave and Karen McKiel, we finally completed Taboo 1 and entered the marketplace in the fall of 1988. The book shipped in the fall; the solicitation was sent to distributors in the spring of 1988, as a SpiderBaby publication — my first publishing effort since entering the field in 1976 with the collaboratively-published solo issue of Abyss at Johnson State College, Johnson, VT.

Now, about that Puma Blues benefit issue — Puma Blues #20, the “Eat or Be Eaten” issue, from which [the excerpted text columns above and] account of the Cerebus/Diamond/Puma Blues debacle is excerpted:

Puma Blues #20 stands — along with the relevant issues of WaP! and Dave’s text pages from the relevant issues of Cerebus — as the best documentation of what this whole weird dance meant to many of us….”

And if you really want to make sense of the whole Puma Blues debacle, which is central to part of WaP! #1′s contents (which I’ll share in some detail next post), really, go back and read the entire “Taboo Origins” serialized essay. It’s—complicated, to say the least.

* Toward the end of 2009, I posted a bit more about WaP! on Myrant, but just a teaser, really. That’s because I wanted to gauge whether anyone was really interested, and also because I had yet to find the complete set in the SpiderBaby Archives.

and here’s the meat of it, with the illustration materials I shared at that time:

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“…In working my way through the SpiderBaby Archives, I’ve stumbled upon a couple of copies of WAP!, the short-lived 1988 prozine (as in a pro community zine for pros) launched by fellow comics pros Frank Miller, Steve Gerber, Steven Grant and Brad Munson.

It’s been a heady blast-from-the-past to scour these issues two decades later — and also to recall, rekindle and feel anew the irrevocable loss the quiet folding of WAP! meant at the time. For me personally, WAP! and The Frying Pan (it’s companion in time: Scott McCloud‘s APA-zine for pros in which we discussed and dissected one another’s work) embodied the height of feeling, really feeling, part of a comics community and that there was hope for taking on the larger issues that concerned my generation of comics creators — and, with its termination, the first inkling of how badly that community was going to fail itself, and thus fail the next generation of cartoonists, too.

WAP! is a lost chapter in 1980s comics history. As I found earlier this year when I wrote about Rawhead Rex, Michael Zulli, Rick Hautala and my attempts to adapt Rick‘s Little Brothers to comics, and Michael‘s back history with Dave SimPuma Blues, Diamond Comics Distribution and that slightly-better-remembered and documented slice of 1980s comics history, there’s absolutely nothing online about WAP!

It’s as if it never existed.

In the coming weeks, I’ll …write a few posts about WAP! – what it was, what it represented, and what I had to do with it. Among my files I’ve also found my rough drafts, revised drafts and letters back-and-forth with Frank (who tended to favor phone calls over writing), Steve and Steven (both of whom favored writing letters over phone calls) about my own contributions to WAP!

Something to look forward to for some of you, I hope…”

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Well, it took me over three years, but here we go!

* But wait, there’s more!

Another critical historical series of events that culminated in WaP!—events closer to the urgency that prompted its initiation and publication—were ongoing fraying of relations between certain freelancers and DC Comics.

Again, I’ve written at considerable length about those events. The complete serialized essay ran on Myrant throughout March 2010; I’m currently revising that essay for eventual print and ebook publication later this year or early in 2014.

For the purposes of your grasping the ire and mire WaP! emerged directly from,

* The next volley of fire that lent enough urgency to the collective freelancer alarm to conceive, initiate, and actually publish WaP! were the ongoing 1980s community-centric legal attacks on the comics retailer community throughout the US and Canada, and the controversies over how to deal with those arrests, prosecutions, and lawsuits.

Like I said: homework. But mighty meaty reading, too, to say the least.

Excerpting the WaP!-relevant portion of that concluding chapter:

“…The 1986-87 DC standards and practices and labeling controversy was soon forgotten amid the subsequent busts, the subsequent controversies. Frank, Howard and Marv indeed continued to work with DC (and Marvel), there were more comics shops busted (primarily of labeled comics and comix),

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund — originally funded, founded and helmed by underground comix publisher Denis Kitchen — became the primary industry advocate and venue for all of us who cared to continue the fight.

Many of us did what we could to get behind the CBLDF — donations, fundraisers, signings, convention appearances (I rolled out my horror comics history slide show, ‘Journeys Into Fear,’ for a full year at cons and gatherings to fundraise for CBLDF, as well as making personal monetary donations when I could afford to) — though it must be said that over the years Dave Sim and Neil Gaiman arguably stood and stand tallest among the many freelancers, creators and self-publishers to made sure the CBLDF coffers didn’t run dry. That is in no way intended to minimize the efforts of all others who pitched and still pitch in, but Dave and Neil [Gaiman] raised and donated mighty, mighty sums to the ongoing legal battles that continue to this day.

The loose coalition of activist freelancers forged by the 1986-87 DC standards and practices and labels controversy went on to publish WaP! the following year [...]

Many in comics ridiculed and reviled WaP!, too, if they noted its existence at all — just as prominent creators then and today ridicule and revile the subsequent Creator Bill of Rights which Scott McCloud proposed and a gathering of like-minded creators ratified in Northampton, MA in November, 1988 (that gathering being Scott McCloud, Ken Mitchroney, Mark Martin, Michael Dooney, Steve Lavigne, Peter Laird, Kevin Eastman, Ryan Brown, Michael Zulli, Richard Pini, Larry Marder, Dave Sim, Rick Veitch, Eric Talbot and Gerhard — oh, and me).

That, in its way, also grew out of the events of 1986-87, and all that followed.

DC Comics didn’t care about that. Most everyone at DC forgot about it almost immediately, if they’d noticed it at all...”

And that should provide what you need to make sense of what I’ll start sharing on Friday, in some depth and detail.

To be continued!

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For those who want to read and/or know more:

An earlier, in-depth Myrant serialized essay detailing where Taboo came from — which covers in excrutiating detail the events framing and following this 1986-87 DC Comics standards and practices and ratings hubbub — is instantly at your fingertips by clicking the links below. It might answer many questions about what happened next, including the Aardvark/Diamond Comics controversy, WaP!, and what led to the historic Creator’s Summit of November 1988.

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All WaP! images, content ©1988, 1989 the respective creative contributors and proprietors. All other cover art or comics images © respective year of original publication their original creators and/or proprietors. Excerpted essays ©2009, 2010, and this text material ©2013 Stephen R. Bissette, all rights reserved. Permission to link, post pingbacks granted, but please do not quote excessively or post these essays on your own blogs, websites or venues; it’s not yours to play with. NOTE: All images are posted for archival and educational purposes only, under applicable US Fair Use laws.


Discussion (5) ¬

  1. Roger Green

    This was the point I left FantaCo. Some of it was being burned out there, but some of it was this comic book warfare which left me confused and exhausted.

  2. James Robert Smith

    It was an interesting time to be in the comic book business. I went from respecting Dave Sim in those days, to being utterly disgusted by his actions in later years. He patched up his problems with Geppi, apparently in a men’s bathroom encounter, as I recall. Geppi went from being a villain (which he was and is) to being “just a keen businessman” once he’d established himself as the only game in town and Sim’s politics and philosophy veered hard pro-corporate right. The token resistance put up by the so-called independent talent did nothing to stop Geppi from forming our current direct-sales comic monopoly.

    I don’t know much about WaP! as I was not then a professional comics creator and had no access to it. It was one of those things that borderline folk such as myself heard about but did not ever see. In my mind’s eye, I saw you guys as revolutionaries trying to take down THE MAN. I guess it was nothing like that, at all. I will look forward to your essays regarding the project.

  3. Rob Imes

    This was an exciting time to be a comics fan, as it felt like change was really coming to the comics medium and comics industry. A world where a comic book would be treated with the same seriousness and respect as a novel.

    I was a teenager growing up in the 1980s, and it felt like comics were growing up with me. I was in my senior year of high school in 1988, and in January of that year the Supreme Court ruled that high schools had the right to censor school newspapers. In response, my friends and I started up an “underground newspaper” where we used pseudonyms to avoid the retaliation of school authorities.

    The alternative comics revolution helped fuel my passion, as did the critical essays and no-holds-barred commentary in both the editorials and letter pages of The Comics Journal. It was in the Journal #122 (June 1988) that I first heard of WaP!, which opened with Gary Groth’s negative response to it, but because of my own endeavor I felt an affinity and sympathy for WaP!’s apparent consciousness-raising intentions. Although I admired Groth’s hardline stance in favor of quality independent comics, I thought his mocking, dismissive attitude reminded me of the editorial that had appeared a couple months previously in my school’s officially-sanctioned student newspaper attacking the underground newspaper that I had started.

    In 1988, it seemed like the public was catching on to comics, that a renaissance was right around the corner. That summer I bought SPIN’s August issue which ran a positive cover-featured article on comics (“Comics Are It”) which compared the blandness of record shops to the anarchic quality of comics shops where, in the words of the article’s author, all hell had broken loose.

    While that may have been a positive image for soon-to-be adults like myself, where opposition to Tipper Gore and the PMRC was both natural and expected, the same minds that would feel threatened by the likes of 2 Live Crew (“Me So Horny” was released in 1989) turned their attention to comics as well. As in the 1950s, many (non-creative) types in the comics industry attempted to surrender before the “adult comics” controversy could harm their image with concerned parents (who weren’t buying comics anyway). I guess that I was oblivious to the controversy in late 1988 as I took the first issue of TABOO to my high school art class, attempting to draw my own five-page B&W comic for possible publication in such an anthology. (Luckily my art teacher was cool and supportive.)

    I had a subscription to the Journal by #129 (May 1989; I graduated high school in February of that year) which led off with news of Rick Veitch quitting Swamp-Thing over Jeanette Kahn’s axing of his “Morning of the Magician” issue. The very next issue, #130 (July 1989), featured a massive interview with Dave Sim by Gary Groth, as well as Groth’s opening editorial relishing the opportunity to paint those behind WaP! as hypocrites.

    That summer CNN’s “Larry King Live” featured a debate between Kitchen Sink Press publisher Denis Kitchen and psychologist Thomas Radecki on the controversy over adult comics, with Frank Miller appearing briefly by phone. Tim Burton’s “Batman” movie was released in June 1989, fueled by the success of Miller’s Dark Knight graphic novel, leading to a feeling initially among fans like myself that perhaps this was the moment, this was the summer, when comics would became a regular part of serious mainstream entertainment, like films, like novels.

    But within a year, it seemed like (for me anyway) the dream began to fade, as Batman movies (which I never went to see anyway) had little to do with comics — except as a way for the industry to try and sell more Batman comics than before. Instead of continuing to be at the forefront of a new movement, comics publishers (and fans) were nakedly chasing whatever moronic gimmick that they thought might make a buck. By 1991, instead of being supplanted by more literary work (like my own favorites, Love & Rockets and Yummy Fur) comics that I had left behind years before, like the X-Men, were more popular than ever.

    It seemed that I had finally outgrown comics, as the sight of new releases on the shelf now left me cold. The industry I had loved, and which I felt had held such promise, was now a stranger to me, as the torch was passed to a new generation, younger than myself, who loved Pearl Jam and Spawn. The passion I had felt in the late 1980s was impossible to sustain when no one seemed to care anymore. This is how the revolutionary spirit of my youth was dimmed, at least when it came to comics, crushed beneath the weight of an avalanche of shiny, plastic product — of the exploited, by the exploited, and for the exploited.

  4. Henry R. Kujawa

    I’m so glad I clicked on this article to read the comments. That assinine Richard Gagnon stuff on the other page is distracting too much from more “important” issues, I suspect (typical “Republican” or “MMMS” behavior– bury with B***S*** so nobody can see what’s REALLY going on).

    As with music from the mid-60′s to mid-70′s, when it looked like the “artists” were gaining control– and the corporatations decided to “take it back” starting in 1976 (a slow destructive process which is STILL continuing!!), so comics looked like they might be entering a new wondrous age in the 80′s. But keep in mind, too many of these “independant” publishers (especialy First) insisted on controlling the “rights” to anything they were publishing, and while a lot of fun stuff did come from DC, Marvel was on a long slow slide to oblivion. Fans who repeatedly point up “Walt Simonson’s Thor”, “John Byrne’s FF” and “Frank Miller’s DD” seem to forget HOW AWFUL and unreadable all those books got as soon as those guys left. (And I’ll still take Jack Kirby, Jack Kirby, and Wally Wood ANY day.)

    By the early 90′s I’d stopped buying any Marvels, and I began to notice most of the DCs I was buying were related to their “AA” (JSA) characters, rather than “the big three”. (Yes, as soon as Mike Carlin was replaced by Joey “Spider-Clone” Cavalieri, Superman went to hell all over again. And try as he did, even George Perez’ Wonder Woman was NEVER as good as some keep trying to believe it was. When I read finally read the Marston-Peter issues, I saw why.)

    For the last 20 years– or is that 30??– it’s been the “independant”, smaller, more obscure, more unknown stuff that’s the MOST fun, the most worth seeking out. And for the last 20 years, that goes DOUBLE for the music industry. Music and comics– I keep seeing them as almost mirror images of each other. When I can afford it, I’ve been buying AND ENJOYING more new music in the last 15 years than I ever did in all the years before– and NONE of it ever gets heard on the radio or TV (except when Los Straitjackets turned up on Conan OBrien).

    Spoken by a guy who actually PUBLISHED an X-rated comic-book! (But a very NICE one, if I do say so myself… heh.)

  5. Henry R. Kujawa

    By the way, in retrospect, one of my heroes has become Bill Black. He’s been publishing since the late-60′s, although the “AC” label didn’t start until the early-80′s, and he’s probably the ONLY “small” publisher from those days who is STILL around– because, as he explained, he “stayed small”. In the last few years, a growing number of my mail-orders have been with him. I think that says a lot.

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