Chas cvrSome thoughts on FantaCo Enterprises, following up on Roger Green’s and my exchanges

  • on this comment thread at Myrant,
  • at Roger’s own blog, here, via this post,
  • responding in part to this Wikipedia entry (which is already being revised as you read this).
  • This likely won’t make much sense unless you read those first — I’ll post links to my previous FantaCo and Gore Shriek posts this weekend, to provide a proper context, but for now, I just want to get these thoughts down in some form and up here.

    Strobe 1First of all, that Wikipedia listing of what they’re calling “FantaCo/Tundra” publications seems completely offbase to me — only those comics Kevin Eastman had a direct creative hand in (Zombie Wars) were possibly co-published titles. That involves, tops, two titles, by my memory.

    * I know Wendy Snow-Lang worked directly with Tom Skulan at FantaCo, period. Her excellent Night’s Children series emerged from the publication of her story “Want” in Taboo, which sprang from my being at the Necon Wendy first read that short story at, leading to my invite to her to draw it for Taboo, launching the entire process for Wendy. I don’t recall her once mentioning Tundra in connection with Night’s Children — that was FantaCo all the way, period.

    * FantaCo had the Night of the Living Dead licensing in place before Tundra existed — those books were never Tundra projects, ever; FantaCo only.

    * The Shriek specials — like the 1992 Jim Whiting one-shot The Bridge — say nothing about Tundra or Kevin Eastman in their indicia or contents — only FantaCo and FantaCo staff, primarily Tom Skulan (editor/publisher). In fact, Clive Barker and Steve Niles are named more than anyone other than Tom Skulan! Kevin Eastman and Tundra aren’t mentioned, period, in these titles. The Tundra logo does not appear; only the FantaCo imprint and address.

    Gurch1* The same goes for Vault of Screaming Horror and Tales of Screaming Horror by Gurchain Singh — FantaCo. Period. I’ve got them right here, I’ve scoured them twice.

    * The FantaCo catalogues up to 1994 say nothing about any of these being anything but FantaCo product. Eastman is never mentioned, save for the Eastman-co-created titles (again, the Zombie Wars titles), nothing has anything to do with Kevin. Tundra isn’t even mentioned; only Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is linked with Kevin Eastman in any and all FantaCo catalogue or in-house (comics) ads.

    * My memory, too, is of some of the Tundra staff complaining internally in the Tundra offices (to me, and to each other) about Kevin doing work with FantaCo. In short, they didn’t understand why Kevin wasn’t doing the Zombie Wars books for Tundra.

    For Kevin, Zombie Wars were a relief from the pressures of both Tundra and Mirage. Thus, Kevin and FantaCo benefitted, sans any formal arrangement between Tundra and FantaCo — which arguably would have cramped Kevin’s sense of fun and playing hooky, if you will.

    Again, I’m happy to be corrected, but whoever is floating this FantaCo/Tundra connection needs to substantiate it.

    FantaCo was capable of publishing all they published sans outside investors, like Eastman — and Tundra was history by 1993, having folded into Kitchen Sink Press, and there’s absolutely no FantaCo/Kitchen Sink crossover of publication remotely in sight. Understand, the Tundra imprint was buried as of 1993. Ceased to exist. Kevin literally left the building, as did many Tundra employees (only a few were retained by KSP). After 1993, there is no possibility of a Tundra/anyone crossover, save for the Heavy Metal ‘Metal Mammoth’ imprint which Kevin retained only for HM.

    I put the greatest credence in what the creators themselves of those series (including Jim Whiting and Steve Niles) and whatever Kevin Eastman or Tom Skulan might have to say about that — if they’re talking.

    I welcome any corrections to anything I may say here, or in prior or subsequent FantaCo related posts. But you’ve gotta have genuine FantaCo experience or material evidence to back your claims.

    Smilin EdHere’s my thoughts, off the top of my head, on the broader issue of FantaCo’s closing its doors in 1998:

    * Distribution was key to FantaCo — as a retailer, and as a publisher. My memory is that Walter Wang (who also had supplied comics to Moondance, the Vermont-based mail order and retail firm/chain Alan Goldstein founded) was among the first casualties Marvel exacted before going direct-only as an exclusive with the distributor Marvel purchased, Ivan Snyder’s Heroes World. Larry Shell could likely confirm that.

    * A ton of retailers — literally thousands of accounts — left the comics field between 1996 and ’98. Many of those accounts were card dealers who had gotten into the comics market when speculation bubbled and burst; but many excellent, seasoned vets went down, too. I see no reason to speculate about any other reason for FantaCo closing its doors.

    * Furthermore, the horror market was key to FantaCo. The ebb in the horror market after the mid-1990s must be considered, and in its true historical context.

    * Mind you, DVD didn’t enter the marketplace as a measurable force until 1998-99; all of this is documented in the Blur Volumes 1-4 work I just completed, so it’s really fresh in my braincells. Prior to that, the video market wasn’t strong on sell-through, except on older catalogue titles, and most new horror titles on vhs were priced for rental (meaning $100+ when a title was new), so there wasn’t a strong retail market for videos as yet.

    * Also, anime was picking up steam but not yet a viable commodity for a business like FantaCo, circa 1997-98; firms like Central Park Media and the like grew in the few years I attended video trade shows (1998-2002) from one-booth wannabes to the viable companies they are today.

    Delectus* Horror merchandizing, post-Freddy Krueger, slowed to a trickle, this at a time when even the major book publishers were easing away from horror for cozier labels like “dark suspense” (and, in the video stores, “erotic thrillers”).

    * Video distributors didn’t seek inroads into the comics market in any case. In fact, it was the other way around: I remember (and files/records to back this up) Diamond crashing the video trade shows, 1998-2001, seeking inroads into the video retail market to pick up the slack of the lost direct sales comicbook marketplace — really, the devastation of the 1996-97 implosion was felt everywhere, by Diamond’s exclusives and Diamond itself.

    As I say, this anecdotal evidence alone provides ample reason for the shop on 21 Central Avenue to have closed its doors by 1998, having hung in there for almost 20 years — and seen the guts torn out of the view alternatives to Diamond that had existed prior to 1996-97. With Capital, Friendly Frank’s, Titan, Andromeda, etc. no longer in existence to do business with a firm like FantaCo — as suppliers or as distributors of FantaCo product — Geppi was the only game in town.

    FantaCo wasn’t alone in saying, “Ah, fuck it!’ to the brick-and-mortar shopfront, and plenty of small publishers (yours truly included) had already thrown in the towel (or, in the case of Colleen Doran, Jeff Smith, etc., sought safe ground with umbrella publishers like Image for that period).

    OK, I welcome discussion, input, corrections –

    Discussion (15) ¬

    1. Larry Shell

      Yes, Walter Wang and Ron Foreman ran Comics Unlimited on Staten Island. Walter was not one to keep his opinions to himself and he made strong comments about the current policies of one of the big two distributors, either DC or Marvel, I forget which, and they cut off his distributorship of their titles permanently, thus effectively putting Comics Unlimited out of business. I believe Diamond ended up taking over their retail accounts after that. That’s the story to the best of my recollection.

      Larry S

      “Distribution was key to FantaCo — as a retailer, and as a publisher. My memory is that Walter Wang (who also had supplied comics to Moondance, the Vermont-based mail order and retail firm/chain Alan Goldstein founded) was among the first casualties Marvel exacted before going direct-only as an exclusive with the distributor Marvel purchased, Ivan Snyder’s Heroes World. Larry Shell could likely confirm that.”

    2. srbissette

      What I recall vividly is that many accounts Diamond (and everyone else) ASSUMED they would be taking over simply — vanished. The implosion shattered the illusion that the market, as it existed in ’96, would just carry over to Diamond relatively intact. What happened was much of it simply went away — Diamond had, over the years, alienated and/or exiled many retailers (for good reason in many cases, on both sides of the equation), and facing Diamond as the only game in town after Capital’s capitulation to market forces amid exclusivity deals, a plethora of retailers chose to leave the market rather than soldier on.

      That FantaCo lasted until 1998 is a testimonial to Tom Skulan’s tenacity; a snapshot of what might have been happening regionally in the Albany/Troy/Schenectady area would be useful, no doubt. I’ll get into that with Bill Townsend when we chat…

      Thanks, Larry, for weighing in!

    3. Larry Shell

      Another major factor in comic shop closing down in mass amounts was once Marvel went to self-distribution, the simple fact was not many stores could handle dealing with more than one distributor to get their books. They were used to one-stop shopping so to speak. Dealing with both Diamond and Marvel/Heroes World was just more than they could handle. Few retailers of the period were as savvy as say, Tom Skulan, Jim Hanley or the late Bill Liebowitz (Golden Apple Comics) when it came to running their comic shops like the business they were.

      Hey Roger Green, if you do hear from Tom Skulan, tell him Larry Shell sends his best. I always liked Tom.

    4. Roger Green

      Hi, Larry- Do you know what I’d love to see, if you haven’t discussed it already? A piece on how FantaCo ended up doing Alien Encounters, from your POV! A book that was much better than the marketplace treated it. Maybe our fault for not promoting it better. If you have done so already, I’ll link to it, and without bewing presumptuous, I’d bet Steve would too.

      FantaCo lasted until 1998 because FantaCo was doing something that…well, the word, which I happen to hate, is synergy. We had the store promoting the mail order and publications and convention; the publications hyping the other three, etc. The multiple distributors probably didn’t hurt FantaCo; we used Seagate and Walter Wang, then Walter and Cap City, but even in my time there, Diamond was a pain to deal with in terms of wanting better terms for FantaCo pubs.

      Steve – I so hate that massive FantaCo/Tundra section in the Wikkipedia, but more, I hate the reference he used, the Comic Book Database, which notes items such as Hembeck and the Chronicles as FantaCo/Tundra! Talk about revisionist history. Tundra was in no way involved in those items; it also ignores Smilin’ Ed. . I’ve registered to change it, but my wife’s having jaw surgery Monday, so it’ll be awhile before I can change it..

    5. pumpie

      Good luck policing mistakes on the internet. It will probably be an endless thankless task!

    6. srbissette

      Mark, this isn’t about ‘policing mistakes on the internet,’ it’s about Roger and I choosing to tackle some archiving and detailing of the FantaCo history due to our personal association with that publisher. I’m — we’re — hardly tackling the ‘endless thankless task’ you suggest, just focusing on one publisher/retailer we both had experience with.

      This’ll be fun! I’m already interviewing a couple of folks via email, and will be tackling more this week. The result should be pretty entertaining reading, and I was already holding on to a rich nugget of info about one of FantaCo’s most popular cartoonists, Gurchain Singh, that I’ll be sharing this week.


    7. pumpie

      Oh you tease! Release that Gurchain Singh nugget!!!

    8. srbissette

      Howabout those Mark Martin FantaCo creations?

    9. JC Glindmyer

      I remember the turmoil around the time of the Marvel vs. Walter Wang showdown.

      Marvel at the time was introducing a concept called “Marvel Mart” which was a catalogue stapled into the middle of direct sales copies of Marvel comics. I was pretty pissed at the time since it not only offered comics that we were told that were sold out but it attempted to get a mailing list of our customers. To make matters worse, it emphasized that getting comics delivered to your home was preferable to going to a comic store. After about a week of selling these things, I called and asked Walter Wang if I removed these from the books would I be in any violation of terms. Walter mentioned a lot of retailers were angry about them and saw no problem in me removing them. I opened up a Marvel comic, looked at it, then slowly pulled out the offending signature. To my surprise it came out quite easily and didn’t damage the book at all. After a bit of soul searching, I did the same to the rest of the books. When all was said and done I found that I had filled an entire standard sized box. I then sealed the box, and addressed it to Matt Ragone, who was the head honcho of direct sales at the time, and included a note saying something to the effect of please don’t leave your unsolicitated garbage in my store.

      Walter Wang was a bit more vocal about this. Every month along with the order form he’d include a note to his “valued retailers”. Walter expressed his displeasure of Marvel trying to cut out the middle man and said something along the lines of “support publishers who support the direct market”. He didn’t come out and say not to push Marvel Comics, but we all knew what he was saying.

      Unfortunately, so did Marvel. A month or two later, they advised Walter that they would no longer sell Marvel comics to him to distribute. Walter saw the handwriting on the wall- Friendly Franks was gone, along with half a dozen other distributors, either going out of business or being bought up by Steve Geppi’s Diamond. Again, Walter was forthcoming and in his final letter to retailers, said that because of this, Comics Unlimited would not be able to operate as well as a distribution center should and sold the whole operation to Diamond Comics.

      Marvel was speeding ahead to aid in the almost self destruction of the direct market, with its purchase of Heroes World and its ultimate demise. It was a tough time for comic stores, some falling to the wayside, but it was a real shock when Fantaco closed. I’m not sure if it was a large factor in Tom’s decision to close the store, but it sure didn’t help.

      Once in awhile I’ll buy a collection and see tucked into a comic box a copy of Gore Shriek, Daredevil chronicles, or even a Smilin’ Ed comic. Some fan will come in and talk about the legendary Fantacons and each will have a unique remembrance. Not a bad legacy for anyone to have, especially when Fantaco has been gone for ten years now.

      Well done, Tom.

    10. Roger Green

      “Correcting the whole Internet.” that’s really funny.
      In some ways, it’s not just FantaCo’s history, it’s my own.

    11. srbissette

      Ditto, Roger — hence, our reasons for doing this.

    12. Josh Neufeld

      Hey Steve (and others),

      I’m the guy who created the FantaCo entry on Wikipedia. I certainly meant no harm or disrespect when I made such a big deal about the Fantaco/Tundra thing; as Roger mentioned, I got a lot of my info from the Comic Book Database, which ascribes most of FantaCo’s post-1990 output as being Fantaco/Tundra. So I thank Steve for correcting that error. I’ve noted the revised — and hopefully more correct — history in the Wikipedia entry.

      I started the entry in the first place because I was curious about who Hembeck’s publisher was in those early days. (Believe it or not, I was heavily involved in a fan club of his back in the early 80s.) That led me to further investigation, to Steve’s blog, etc. And voila!

      So at least now there is a history of some sort of Fantaco, which if we work together, we can make as precise as possible. One step in “correcting the whole Internet.”

    13. srbissette

      Good morning, Josh — and thanks for kicking all this off!

      No harm done, no disrespect taken (not that I’m in a position to consider either) — and it’s appropo that your Hembeck devotion that’s the wellspring, since Fred’s work initiated FantaCo’s comicbook publishing ventures.

      Comic Book Database being the source of the whole FantaCo/Tundra error is worth noting, thanks on that. Nothing but good thus far has come of all this, as far as I can see! Please weigh in as this series continues, and feel free to quote/cite anything of merit here as Roger and I continue this process.

    14. Eric Stanway

      Hell, yeah — FantaCo. I have fond memories of working for Gore Shriek, Night of the Living Dead, Night of the Living Dead: London. Besides which, I thought Tom Skulan was one hell of a nice guy. The comics implosion of 1997 left a lot of us in the dust. Pretty sad.

      That’s all I got.

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