The SpiderBaby Archives essay series continues…
This is an occasional series of essays on the behind-the-scenes reality behind a number of the projects I’ve had a hand in since entering the comics field in 1976.
As I’m a hopeless packrat, saving every scrap of paper connected to each and every project (published and unpublished, completed and incomplete) I’ve ever been part of, the SpiderBaby Archives offer a pretty thorough account of almost every venture I was part of during my 30+ years in comics.
These notes, files, scripts, sketches and papers are all archived at (or soon will be, if they’ve not already been sent along to) The Stephen R. Bissette Collection at HUIE Library at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. This massive collection will forever provide fellow creators, comics scholars, researchers, writers, artists, fans and everyone access to my papers, works and collections. This is a work in progress, though HUIE Library already has catalogued and archived a pretty astonishing quantity of unique materials, including much of the material I’ll be sharing in this series of essays.
Later this summer, I’ll dive back into some of the behind-the-scenes creative chemistry that fueled my collaborations with Alan Moore, John Totleben, Rick Veitch, Marty Pasko, Tom Yeates and DC editors Len Wein and Karen Berger on Saga of the Swamp Thing — but now, let’s get into the origins of the cutting-edge horror anthology Taboo that John Totleben and I co-created and began work on in 1985. [Note: Taboo 2 cover, above, ©1989, 2009 John Totleben; all rights reserved. Taboo TM 1989, 2009 Stephen R. Bissette.]
A brief chronology:
* In 1985, Cerebus creator and self-publisher Dave Sim began extending invitations to a small pool of creators he felt were ready (and needed) to make the plunge into the deep, wide waters of self-publishing. This was part of a creative community re-education process Dave was committed to, but he had some major stumbling blocks along the way — none more omnipresent than the blinders we all wore as freelancers working (and dependent upon) the mainstream comics industry. (Note: I will write at length about this period of time, and Dave’s and my growing relationship, at a later date and venue.)
* Dave extended those invitations, to the best of my knowledge, to pros like Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Bill Sienkiewicz, John Totleben and myself, among others.
* Dave in fact was hoping Alan, John and I would simply walk from DC and take all the creative energy we were pouring into Saga of the Swamp Thing and immediately reapply ourselves as a team to something new, of our own creation. For reasons I will get into later, this was probably the most unusual experiment — creative teams that pursue self-publishing are particularly fraught with potential peril, as we shall see.
* For the purposes of this publishing experiment, Dave created a new corporate entity, Aardvark One International, in December 1985 (see notes, below).
* Dave continued this process until the summer of 1988, at which point he concluded there was no viable method of publishing others to encourage them to self-publish, and Aardvark-Vanaheim One International was quietly dissolved.
I hasten to add that Dave extended a generous cushion to ensure a smooth transition between the dissolution of A-V One In’t and the launch of SpiderBaby Grafix & Publications, the business entity my then wife Nancy O’Connor (now Marlene O’Connor) and I had to create to publish Taboo 1 in the fall of 1988.
Back to the core issue:
One either self-published, or did not. Dave was right — and Taboo was instrumental in demonstrating that fact.
I still have this conversation/debate/argument with young cartoonists, editors and creators today. To my mind, self-publishing means just that – you are publishing only your own work. As affirmed in personal conversation with Jeff Smith (Bone) just last month, Jeff and Vijaya Smith have arrived at the same conclusion, based on their own experiments with publishing the works of others. It is a lesson that every generation should take to heart.
This does not preclude publishing – many (most) creators need publishers — just, please, don’t say you’re self-publishing.
If creators/editors/publishers are publishing any work other than their own, they are publishers, not self-publishers; they are publishing, not self-publishing.
OK, the groundwork has been laid — here we go:
Taboo Origins, Part 1 –
Amid the excavations, unpacking, organizing and shelving of the massive SpiderBaby Archives project I’m now in the midst of, I’ve just turned up a clutch of original 24-year-old notes from the first months of work on Taboo!
[Note: At the time, this anthology proposed by John Totleben and I in response to Dave Sim's invitation to publish anything we wanted to do didn't have a title. My referring to it here as 'Taboo' is historically inaccurate; we essentially had no title for at least two years. This was called, for a time, The October Project. It was comics writer/retailer Mark Askwith (now a journalist, who had worked for over two decades now in Canadian television) who suggested the name 'Taboo,' and Mark's title won the day, winning my undying gratitude.]
I’ve always recalled our having discussed this with Dave at the Mid-Ohio Con of November 1985; these notes clearly indicate the invitation was months extended before the Mid-Ohio Con, and it looks like Dave’s response to our proposal was accepted by telephone conversation before Mid-Ohio Con, which tended to fall on or about Thanksgiving week in November.
Based on these notes, it looks like John Totleben and I had intensively powwowed with Dave at the Mid-Ohio Con in November 1985. Before mid-December, we’d already begun lining up our initial wish-list of contributors.
Things were moving quickly.
On December 12, 1985, Dave called me to go over the concept and specifics of his new corporate plan — Aardvark-Vanaheim would not be financing or publishing our project, a new entity called Aardvark-Vanaheim One International (eventually Aarvark One International) would serve that function.
Within two weeks of that conversation, the following list of initial contributors and stories had been drawn up, and methodology worked out for monthly contact with A-V One International:
Of that initial list, only two stories — Eddie Campbell‘s “The Pyjama Girl” (his first sale to an American publisher, though a subsequent sale to another US publisher beat this story into print) and Jack Butterworth‘s “Eyes Without a Face” (vividly realized in comics form by the great Cam Kennedy, then best-known for his work on Judge Dredd) — were in Taboo 1 when that finally saw print in the fall of 1988:
To be continued… coming up:
First letters; The Taboo Manifesto; A Manifesto For Creators; the Puma Blues/Diamond Comics debacle!