Spider Baby Lives!; The Conundrum of Books; Diabolik Redux; SpiderBaby Archives: Taboo Origins, Part 8By srbissette on June 26th, 2009
Posted In: News
* Jack Hill’s Spider Baby is on the big screen in Massachusetts!
Alert! Ken at Main Street Records and my son Daniel brought this to my attention, and now I’m bringing it to yours:
* “You give ‘em books and you give ‘em books, and they jes chew on the covers…” Dept.:
Sci-Fi Wire Scoop? I think not.
Chris Golden, Hank Wagner and I put this story in print in greater detail back in October 2008, in Hank’s and my exclusive in-depth interview with Neil in Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman (St. Martin’s Press) — among other revelations that will or have no doubt been posted online as ‘news items,’ too.
I can’t say print is no longer relevant, as Neil’s star has risen on the books he’s written.
But it has been a discouraging week here concerning book projects, and this was a bit of icing for that particular cake.
So — just a head’s up, the Sci-Fi Wire story is indeed old news, for those who still read those things called books.
* Deep Down Down Dept.:
How did I forget this in my last post?
Amid the Mario Bava Diabolik joys of recent vintage, I neglected to acknowledge the homage to Diabolik helmed by Mario’s own son (who worked on the original Diabolik himself), Lamberto Bava! The man behind the scenes at DVD Trash – howdy and thanks, Nick! — posted a comment on that thread I want to front-load here by providing this link:
Give it a look and listen, and enjoy!
SpiderBaby Archives: Taboo Origins, Part 8
[Note: This latest multi-chapter account of the formative years of Taboo is another SpiderBaby Archives series of documented posts offering snapshots of my personal and professional comics history. This is proffered as being my own memory (which is fallible) of and perspective on long-past events; I do my utmost to verify these accounts via artwork, dated documents, published accounts, and so on. I at all times welcome and encourage corrections, revisions, and always further documentation. Thanks!]
(Taboo 5 cover, artwork ©1991, 2009 Jeff Jones; Taboo TM Stephen R. Bissette.)
At this point in 1987, having finally settled on the title Taboo (suggested by Mark Askwith) for our upcoming horror anthology project, John Totleben and I were on tenderhooks about how to proceed. John had in fact lost interest — the editing process interested John less and less, and the business side interested John not at all.
Adding to John’s disenchantment was the increasingly threatening rattling of sabers around anything to do with Aardvark One International and Dave Sim, our erstwhile confederate, confidant and publisher. Most of the saber-rattling was coming from Diamond Comics Distribution, as we’ve already discussed, though others were involved in different ways. John had had it — this isn’t what he intended to do with his time. I, however, was fully engaged, and recall long, long phone calls from Dave about the ethics and core issues at hand. (Later, I was the one making long, long phone calls to Dave, but that’s another story).
These sometime came at unexpected hours — another fact John simply had no interest in indulging.
My personal favorite was a 1 AM call from a rather hammered Dave which began, immediately after my sleepy “Hello?” (expecting some dire family emergency with a call at this time of the morning), with Dave’s terse statement, “True or False: A distributor is just a functionary! True or false???”
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.
On 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.]
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.
Dave was questioning the validity of publishing the work of others ever again after the threat against Puma Blues — after all, why should Steve and Michael be threatened? They’d been used as bargaining chips and pawns in business affairs that had nothing whatsoever to do with Steve, Michael or Puma Blues. What could the future hold?
Why should Dave’s self-publishing ventures impact negatively on those creators he chose to publish? Was there no ethically sound business model for publishing that couldn’t be used against the creative parties involved when outside interests decided it was opportune to upset the applecarts?
And there were deeper issues — individual creator rights and needs vs. collective creator community rights and needs. These same issues have since become potent, key issues for those creators awake to them, though they’ve always been pressing and ominpresent.
We can bemoan what was lost, shake our heads over how badly Zappa might have handled it (he and Herb Cohen called the Mothers in for a meeting and essentially said, “that’s it, guys, it’s over…” — cold indeed), but I understand it now as I didn’t in my youth. In other media dependent on creators, the business interests usually assert their prorioties over those of the individual artist, but when such splits are between easily-defined partners and entities — for instance, the original Laurel Entertainment partnership of creator George A. Romero and businessman Richard P. Rubenstein — its easier to recognize the issues at stake. As detailed in the excellent The Zombie That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George A. Romero by Paul R. Gagne (1987, sadly long out-of-print), the reasons for the split between Romero and Rubenstein came down to the collective vs. individual needs: frustrated by what he saw as great growth potential for Laurel impossible as long as the company’s fortunes were tied to a lone creator — founding partner Romero — Rubenstein coaxed one unfettered property from Romero (the script for the Tales from the Darkside pilot “Trick or Treat”), and that was all she wrote, as they say. Tales from the Darkside was all Rubenstein needed, and it didn’t take long for the original business plan (Laurel serving Romero’s needs) to be abandoned and Romero to find himself squeezed out of his own enterprise. Though he has remained active, Romero’s career never recovered from that mortal blow; it’s painful to contemplate all that was lost.
Unless the individual is truly autonomous and in charge of their own creations and properties, the collective business interests will dispose of or crush the individual when it becomes imperative to the collective’s interests to do so. On the other hand, as my own career has proven, autonomy and ownership does not guarantee productivity. The essential merger of business and art is never easy to negotiate or navigate, and every path is rich with potential and peril.
Dave was hoping to pioneer a model that wouldn’t nurture such empasses — and the market was now imposing its collective will in such a way that it jeopardized everything.
Dave was beginning to recognize that even the best intentions, best working relations between creative partners and most carefully laid and clearly defined publisher-creator relationship were fraught with peril — as I myself discovered first-hand via Taboo (and, later, 1963).
These were big issues, that no previous generation of comics creators seemed to have ever articulated or come to terms with — not in a way our generation could access at that time, in any case. We knew the underground comix creators had their battles, but weren’t privvy to the particulars. As I’ve since discovered, there were precursors to the undergrounds. There always are. Mickey Spillaine‘s bid for creating a creator-owned comics publishing firm in the 1940s (scuttled, Spillaine instead poured his energies into writing, and the rest is history); Archer St. John‘s progressive model in the late ’40s and early ’50s (which, when terminated, resulted in St. John and Joe Kubert settling their affairs with Joe owning his own creation, Tor); Wally Wood‘s Witzend experiment in the ’60s; all leading to the breakthrough underground comix movement of the ’60s, which is jam-packed with case histories of collective publishing enterprises, including Rip Off Press, Last Gasp and Kitchen Sink Press.
Building on his Aardvark-Vanaheim self-publishing and publishing experiments and experiences — including the crucial and acrimonious end of his marriage to Denise Loubert, which also spawned her own short-lived imprint Renegade Press — Dave was trying something different with Aardvark One International. But this whole Diamond debacle was scotching the experiment — or, to be more precise, unexpectedly shaping its results and conclusions.
This was spilling well beyond Dave, Aardvark One International and our circle. Thanks to Marvel Comics Group‘s abominable treatment of Jack Kirby and the much-publicized mid-1980s debacle over the return (or non-return) of Kirby’s original art, our generation of creators were already galvanizing around collective action to serve the needs of individual creators. Between 1986-88, there would be other case histories; in the end, it culminated in a series of ‘Creator Summits‘ spearheaded by Dave and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and the Creator Summit that yielded the Creator Bill of Rights.
Subsequent to the events I’m relating here was the infamous Saga of the Swamp Thing #88 fendango, which directly impacted two in our circle (Rick Veitch and Michael Zulli).
But that was yet to come, just around the corner in 1989 — let’s get back to 1988.
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.
This wasn’t paranoia on Dave’s part, mind you — I witnessed it myself, time and time again, and heard it directly from retailers as well. The closer Taboo came to publication, the more I found my self in the crossfire.
During one of my first-ever trips to Kitchener, Ontario to visit Dave and Gerhard, Dave decided to introduce me to his beloved local comics retailer. This detour and warm pleasantry became decidedly unpleasant when a young couple from one of the two standing Canadian distributors (either Neptune or Andromeda, I don’t recall which — both now long-defunct, of course, casualties of the 1990s implosions) popped in to drop off that week’s order. They immediately began to verbally spar with Dave over the whole Cerebus/Diamond/Puma Blues debacle, and amplified their ire as the matter of Dave’s self-distribution of the Cerebus ‘phonebooks’ came to the fore. You’d have thought Dave was robbing bread from their baby’s mouth, given their rhetoric.
Dave did his best to remain polite and courteous, but the couple didn’t relent, and it ended with everyone outside in a screaming match. They were still shouting at Dave as they drove off in their van.
Now, I was there, in person, in the store and then outside on the sidewalk. I saw and heard it all, from beginning to end. Dave didn’t provoke this skirmish, he tried his best to defuse it, he remained courteous and then moved outside (so as not to further embarrass the shop owner or create a scene) to ensure the argument moved outside, but the couple just would not let up.
Dave finally exploded when the increasingly caustic remarks from the two distribution folks became really personal, and that was that. When they finally drove away — shouting their final “Fuck you!” – Dave turned to me, red-faced and at wit’s end, and sighed, “Now do you see how it is?”
I did indeed.
Now, the comics press — such as it was then, and a much more vital and alive thing then that it has been since the early 1990s — entered the fray. Read on, closely; we’re now getting to real clusterfuckdom.
To be continued…