Following up on yesterday’s post, and the conversation begun on the comments thread between Bob Heer and I –

I originally posted the following as a comment, then thought, “wait a minute, this is worth posting generally.” Here goes:


Attentive fans catching such damaging errors shows how little proofing attention is paid to these collections. You’d think some paid DC/Vertigo employee would at least be compensated for the time to compare the original comics printings of each issue to the final page proofs for these books.

I was (pleasantly) surprised when visiting Neil Gaiman’s home last November that they were sending page proofs of The Absolute Sandman to Neil — to proof color, too, if I recall correctly. Nothing like that has ever, ever been asked of any of us connected to Swamp Thing. This shows where we sit in the DC/Vertigo universe pretty clearly — I’m just glad the generation after us (Neil, Grant, etc.) are afforded more caring and better treatment.

FYI, I have the original art for that very page here.

All of John Costanza’s lettering was done ON THE BOARD, the placement of all text being part of what I did with my pencils every single issue.

Lost lettering would be due to a stat trimmed incorrectly in this case, I would guess; the final line of Alan’s script is placed in the extreme upper left hand corner of this page, and should be retained in all stats/film DC/Vertigo has, but for some reason is gone.

I never could grasp why “Just say Uncle” was lost from the climactic spread of “Love and Death” (SOTST #29), as that, too, is right on the board (I have that original art, too).

All of Costanza’s lettering is on the original boards — no pasteups, ever, on our run.

Though John and I retain cordial relations with Karen Berger and other editors at DC/Vertigo, DC/Vertigo has never, ever involved John or I in the production process of these collections.

To date, the only publishers to ask for any involvement from either of us are overseas: I wrote a couple of intros for the Titan b&w collections back in the ’90s, and was asked to contribute ‘extra’ art (pencils; I kept photocopies of everything) by one of the editors of the recent French reprint volumes, but they used almost none of it.

Hence, you might understand why John and I just sort of ignore all this.

We’re not asked anything; we’re not invited to participate; we see errors every collection after they’ve been printed; c’est la vie. We care, but there’s no way to involve ourselves. We get a box of comps, and the checks arrive months later (we do earn royalties on these books). We’re not even asked to do covers.

swampthing1987covr1When the first collection was being pulled together in the late 1980s (for 1987 publication), we were invited to the DC and Warner Books offices. It was immediately obvious (a) the two editorial offices weren’t working together, and were in fact competing openly (John’s painted covers were different on the DC and Warner editions of the first collection); (b) our input wasn’t welcome, and (c) it was all about promoting Alan Moore. We just happened to be the artists.

Sorry to say, (b) and (c) remain the facts in the matter, and we long ago found our peace with this, even though it’s our work (including uncredited plotting of stories) being reprinted.

We also, at the time of that first collection, asked about and offered to draw (1) new pages to make up for ad pages, so the narratives would flow properly in book format, and (2) character model sheets of Swamp Thing, Abby, Arcane, Woodrue, etc. for future DC use.

Both were refused, and actually ridiculed (“you guys are just fishing for another page payment”) — but not by Karen Berger, I’ll add. Still, the end result was we did neither, and the results have been plain to see.


Above, right: The DC Comics 1987 trade paperback collection cover; Left, the Warner Books 1987 trade paperback collection cover. The DC cover was shot from a painting John Totleben created for auction to benefit the American Cancer Society for Mid-Ohio Con, circa 1985-86; the Warner Books cover used the collaborative cover (design and pencils by Bissette, final painting by Totleben) John and I created for Saga of the Swamp Thing #34 — note the original cover painting is still missing and is still stolen property. Warner Books edition cover scan from; DC cover scanned from an ebay auction.


The only subsequent Swamp Thing artist to ask me how John and I drew Swamp Thing was Michael Zulli. Michael’s a good friend, and he and I got together and I walked him through the peculiar anatomy of our favorite mossman.

To my knowledge, no subsequent ST artist has asked John. I know for a fact no other has asked me, ever.

At one point in the late 1990s, when DC/Vertigo was reprinting the series in the black-and-white comics format, we were asked to loan DC/Vertigo art for covers. We refused, given the theft of cover art in the 1980s (including our own SOTST #34 cover, which is still MIA), and instead had the covers photographed to provide the needed transparencies. There was the usual fendango over payment for the transparencies being shot, and of course it was all needed immediately if not yesterday.

That’s the only time, to my knowledge, we’ve been asked for ANYTHING.

Though John and I sold much of our art over the decades, I’ve held on to many of my favorite key pages. I held on to photocopies (full size and reductions) of all my pencils, all John’s inks, and the complete Alan Moore scripts.

There’s an abundance of material that will eventually be retained by the Bissette Special Collection at HUIE Library at Henderson State University, and to the Center for Cartoon Studies, and I will be preparing paperwork to ensure that, like all researchers, scholars, professionals and fans, DC/Vertigo has access to but no claim to that material.

DC/Vertigo’s track record of ignoring/refusing access speaks volumes, and has established the unfortunate nature of this relationship.

I wish it were otherwise, folks.

Still, I do encourage Myrant readers to pick up the hardcover collection of our Swamp Thing work.

Despite the unfortunate text omission gaffs, it is the best collection available in the US, and the color repro of Tatjana Wood’s exquisite colors offer the best reproduction since the original comicbooks were printed. Tatjana’s colors have been ill-served for two full decades, and that alone makes this hardcover collection my personal favorite of all the collected editions to date. 

And John, Rick Veitch, Alan Moore and I do earn royalties on every copy sold. This does support our ability to continue working on our respective projects and feed our families.

swampthingbookcvrAnd a little shameless hucksterism:

  • A reminder: you can order your copy of the brand-new Swamp Thing hardcover Volume 1, with a exclusive signed bookplate by yours truly — just click on this link.
  • (The softcover collections of the complete Alan Moore / Bissette / Totleben / Veitch / McManus / Alcala / Woch etc. collaborative run — the series that launched the entire Vertigo line — are still available from PaneltoPanel, too).
  • So, there it is.

    No sour grapes, just stating the facts.

    Make of it what you will.

    Discussion (11) ¬

    1. John Soanes

      Hi Steve
      In common with the previous reprints, but not the original print of ‘The Anatomy Lesson’, I notice that the colour effect behind Swamp Thing when he’s killing Sutherland – the effect of his flailing legs ‘reflected’ in the shiny surface behind them – is absent from the hardcover. Is this an omission as well? I guessed from the linework on the original that it was detailed by you and John as opposed to added in as a colour effect by Tatjana, and I was faintly surprised to see it was missing (I don’t have my Titan b&w version of it to hand to check) from the ‘super-deluxe’ edition as well…

    2. srbissette

      Ah, the surprints.

      I considered addressing this in the post above, but thought it might be too technical or of no interest — and here you are to prove me instantly wrong!

      That set of kicking legs was pencilled by me on the original boards, but inked by John Totleben on vellum as a surprint — a hand-drawn color seperation layer — to be printed in cyan (blue) only.

      These were decisions either John and I, or at times John, made as part of our process. We would fully note the surprints on both the original inked boards and on the vellum overlays, and in all cases they were used in the original printings of the respective issues.

      If anyone’s interested, I would be happy to post more info on this — including scans — at a future date here on MYRANT.

      John and I used surprints throughout our run on the series, and DC/Vertigo has seemingly lost all but the most readily apparent of them. For instance, the monstrous Arcane in the background of the notorious Comics Code-busting “Just say Uncle” double-page spread that ends “Love and Death” (SOTST #29) was a surprint, and a mighty astonishing one at that. That is a surprint too vital to the narrative of the page to survive such an oversight, but the surprints of the Green in later issues, and the one you’ve spotted of Sunderland’s final death throes, are beneath notice for DC/Vertigo’s production teams, sad to say.

      John and I have tried to address this in the past with DC/Vertigo, but as with all these issues, nothing came of it. Nobody cares up there. At one point, we offered to send our photocopies of the relevant pages/panels, as we both kept photocopies of the overlay inks for the surprints, too, but we never heard back from anyone.

      All of this begs some restoration process at some point, but it doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s interests at DC/Vertigo at this time. As I said, c’est la vie — John and I resigned ourselves to this well over a decade ago. But we tried, we tried….

    3. BobH

      The “Just Say Uncle”, I always assumed (without real evidence) that Berger had prepared a censored version ready to go to press if DC didn’t back her when the Comics Code squacked, and then DC surprisingly showed some backbone, but for some reason the other version was still floating around in the files when they prepared the reprint.

      I have to admit, if I wasn’t lucky enough to have found a cheap copy of #20 some years back I’d probably have given in and bought it. And the fact that they pay royalties is no small thing. One of the reasons I have to hold my nose to buy a Marvel reprint is knowing the Kirby estate usually sees nothing from it (with some exceptions like the recently restored version of FF #108). I might still, but I’ll wait to see if they fix a later printing. As it is, it would feel like buying a copy of KING KONG where the sound drops out after “It wasn’t the airplanes”.

      I just don’t understand DC sometimes. To me, this is an error big enough to justify recalling the whole print run and issuing a correction (something they have no hesitation in doing for things like Superman drinking a beer or “accidentally” letting Frank Miller put some profanity in a Batman comic), and instead the best I can seem to hope for is that maybe the second printing will fix the most egregious of several errors.

      I briefly held some hope for this last year when they put up their errata site, but it’s become clear since then that it’s not something anyone there has an interest in maintaining (nothing from a list of about two dozen entries I sent in last summer is noted as yet, and considering one of them was a credit for “Jack Kieby” you can’t argue that it’s just a difference of opinion).

      I’d love to see more examples of where they fell down in the reprints. If asking nicely doesn’t work, maybe a good public shaming will do the job.

      The funny thing is, they should know by now how well they do when they do invite creators to make sure a reprint is high quality. Brian Bolland’s remastered version of THE KILLING JOKE seems to have been an unqualified success. I’m sure the green lighting the Gibbons/Higgins updating of the colouring for WATCHMEN has paid for itself many times over.

    4. srbissette

      No such thing happened with the ‘Just say Uncle’ balloon — in fact, it was the flies buzzing out of the rotting zombie skull openings that first triggered the Comics Code ire. By the time the word balloon and incest angle was the issue, it was print or don’t print — and DC, to its eternal credit, did print.

      So, the loss of the “Just say Uncle” balloon is wholly a later paperback collection production error, probably mucked up in the incorporation of the Arcane surprint background.

      Your supposition is interesting and grounded, at least, in extrapolation from some element of fact — i.e., the brief (a few days) debacle over the CCA objections to SOTST #29 — but it also shows how even the best-informed, best-intentioned of outside guesses as to what happens and why in comics are so often completely off-base. Thankfully, this is the first I’ve read of that guess, so let’s hope this reply is nipping the ‘Just say Uncle’ rumor mill in the bud.

      As for the DC/Vertigo policies, I don’t get it, either, Bob. Plenty of bridge-building opportunities have been squandered, and a long line of faulty product (the various ST reprints) have resulted.

      Just as Paul Levitz has gone to extremes to rekindle and improve relations with Golden Age DC creators, one hopes somewhere down the road some DC higher-up will see the opportunity to change much of this for the better by re-establishing productive relations with Silver Age, 1970s and (if I live long enough!) 1980s creators and issue ‘definitive’ restored editions of these works.

      SWAMP THING seems to have stood the test of time thus far, so here’s hoping.

    5. BobH

      Sorry, I should have been more clear that I meant my “Just Say Uncle” theory as a joke (hence saying it was “without real evidence”). I sometimes forget that those kinds of things get repeated out of context, so definitely, no one take it seriously and repeat it.

      It being a problem with the surprint makes sense, knowing that the surprints caused them so much trouble that they routinely took the easy way out of ignoring them, which wasn’t an option in that scene. Plus, I think the error first cropped up in the b&w reprint of that story, which probably added another production hassle for them. I’m not sure if the later printings of the paperback also had the omission, but it’s something I hope whoever does production for the next printing is aware of. Of course, I hope that such a person does a page-by-page comparison with the original comics, and I know that’s not going to happen.

    6. Mauricio Matamoros

      Well, a pleasure to read all this. I still have not purchased my copy of the hardcover because is not cheap at this times, and beacuse I have my originals copies. But all this info is pure gold. For years, since the publication of Essential Swamp Thing I wonder what about some differences in the details (like the mentioned flailing legs; I don´t have the Titan volume with that chapter, so I don’t know if the difference was there already), and what about the difference between the original cover for 29 and the cover for the reprint in Essential (number 9, actually). I don’t know if that has been already discussed, so apologies if tha’s so. Mr. Bissette your work is an inspirations. Salutes form Mexico.

    7. James Robert Smith

      Nice article.

      I bought a page of ST art from you many, many moons ago. It featured Flutch and Muttlecraunch, a pair of demons who resided in Hell and who were particularly nasty. The page was, alas, stolen from me. I even encountered it once at a comic convention in New York City a few years after it was stolen. I knew that to get it back would involve a battle with the dealer who had it, so I just let it go. I did ask him where he’d bought or traded it, and he couldn’t recall.

      I know who stole it, and it wasn’t that dealer. I just wanted to know how it ended up with him.

    8. Koala Mentala

      Another mistake that remains uncorrected in the new collection: Jason Blood’s miscolored hair near the end of the book.

    9. Kim DeMulder

      Now, I wish I had contacted both you and John when I was inking all those issues that I did, but at the time I don’t think I had any contact info for you (and no internet for me, then). But I will say that I kept most all of your run on Swampy readily at my side when I was working and referenced that beautiful stuff constantly. John’s inking techniques obviously had quite an influence on me. Even way back when we were both Kubert students (I used to like to go up to the room that his class was in just to watch him twiddle that brush around!) John had a sort of look that seemed to harken back to the look of the old 19th century engravings (and Franlin Booth) that I also tried to get in my work. The same kind of thing that Bernie Wrightson was doing in his Frankenstein book. I also took a lot of inspiration from the work of Virgil Finley and I assume that John did, too. My intent as Swamp Thing inker was to try keep the look that you guys had established and that I enjoyed so much!

    10. James

      One of your fans gave that strange Swampy anatomy a shot when he was a teenager…

      Didn’t ever work on the book, though. Wonder what happened to that guy?

    11. srbissette

      Why, I think both Kim and James did juuuuuuuuuust fine. Thanks for weighing in (and for the peek at the James Owen Swampy and Abby, James!), and great to hear from old friends!

      Shit, Bob, art theft is the worst — I’m sorry you’ve suffered that loss, especially that page from that issue (the ST ANNUAL “Down Amongst the Dead Men”). Wish I could do something to correct the situation, but neither John or I draw like the team we were in the 1980s…

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