See yesterday’s post —

Remember: 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 this detailed 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.

Consider, if you will, what’s inside the benefit issue. It’s not just the text pieces, such as Bill’s, I’m referring to here, but the entire issue’s embodiment of creative collective solidarity. This is a pretty unique fusion of talents, all of whom donated their work to the issue:

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* Collaborative cover and first story “Pause” (story by Steve Murphy; cover and story, pencilled by Michael Zulli, inked by yours truly, lettering by Rob Caswell) [Splash page is above: ©1988, 2009 Steve Murphy, Stephen R Bissette, Michael Zulli]

* Mirage Studios is fully involved: Mirage Studios artists Steve Lavigne, Ryan Brown and Eric Talbot jammed illustrating Steve Murphy’s one-pager Puma Blues parody “Poomba and Flapjack” (Poomba is a wiseass puma, Flapjack a comedic flying manta ray, both staples of Puma Blues‘ menagerie and iconography) and Ryan and Steve collaborated on the color back cover “Flapjack’s Finale”; Peter Laird contributed his 1978 stipple-pen-and-ink portrait of Georgia O’Keefe, and Peter wrote and collaborated with Kevin Eastman on the art for a 4-page Puma Blues story “Choices”; Dan Berger drew a full-page Puma Blues pinup piece; Jim Lawson wrote and drew an enigmatic meditative untitled two-page story in which a man is essentially absorbed by a tree (beautiful piece, really!); and Eric Talbot contributed a solo one-page illo linking the Puma Blues flying manta ray and nuclear waste entitled “Blackened”.

*  Chester Brown‘s exquisite drawn-from-life one-pager “The Afternoon of March the 3rd 1988″

* Dan Day contributed a knight-vs-dragon symbolic one-page illustration

* Dave Sim contributed a one-page illo of an airborne cigarette butt about to be scarfed by a flying manta ray accompanied by an actual Ukiah, California UPI newspaper article clipping about bites from a mysterious unidentified Lake Mendocino-dwelling aquatic lifeform, “Mini Jaws spooks lake”

* My first wife Nancy (now Marlene) O’Connor contributed a single-page black-and-white stipple-board illustration showing a Native American woman and a smoke vessel congealing into “Puma Dreams”

* Tim Truman contributed a full pager “From Our Camp to Yours” – another Native American themed piece

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* Journalist Dick Russell‘s essay “The Media and the Environment: Redefining National Security”reprinted here with permission from the May/June 1988 Extra! (newsletter of FAIR — Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting)

* Massachusetts writer/artist David Roman‘s 6-page non-fiction ecological comic narrative “The Lake”

* Tom Sutton‘s evocative full-page Lovecraft piece “Under Innsmouth” (Note: this piece prompted Tom and I to discuss his adapting his favorite Lovecraft stories for Taboo, which metamorphed into his working on an adaptation for the planned Tundra project The Illustrated H.P. Lovecraft, which never bore fruit; this is also part of the linkage of events that led to Michael Zulli pencilling and Tom Sutton inking Rick Veitch‘s script for Swamp Thing #88 — which also, ultimately, never saw print; the plug was pulled midway through Tom inking the issue)

* Poet and vet underground comix legend Tom Veitch contributed the essay “Ideas Are Fish: An Ecology of the Mind,” a text piece illustrated by yours truly and Nancy (now Marlene) O’Connor (we drew nine pen, brush and ink portraits of strange deep-sea fish and lifeforms)

* “Act of Faith,” a seminal (literally!) four-page Puma Blues story scripted by Alan Moore, pencilled by yours truly, inked by Michael Zulli. As I’ve mentioned before, in many ways this story is a successor to Saga of the Swamp Thing #21′s “Rites of Spring” and precursor to Alan’s and Melinda Gebbi’s  Lost Girls; essential reading for Alan Moore fans and scholars [Splash page is above; ©1988, 2009 Alan Moore, Stephen R. Bissette and Michael Zulli, all rights reserved]

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* “The Brain Zoo,” an excerpt from a jam-story Rick Veitch and I had toyed with between 1981 and 1988, never finished; this represents its only publication to date, and it’s as complete as this jam ever was to be; this was our final ‘Creative Burnouts’ effort to date [splash page above, below ©1981, 1988, 2009 Rick Veitch and Stephen R Bissette, all rights reserved]

* Inside back cover photo of a monstrous Steve Fiorilla sculpture “Headache”

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That wasn’t only a lot of bang for the buyer’s buck (cover price: $1.70 US, $2.00 Canada), but a pretty solid show of support for Steve and Michael personally and professionally.

Like I said — a lot of people, including those not directly involved, took all this very personally.

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By the time of that May Capital City Conference, we were already working on making Taboo 1 a reality as the first-ever SpiderBaby Grafix & Publications effort.

It was a steep learning curve, but we did it. On our own, Taboo 2 and Taboo 3 eventually saw print — but that’s another story for another time.

Given the essential lead time, we must have had solicitations for Taboo 1 out there shortly after the May 1988 Capital City conference (I don’t have those particular Taboo files at hand; more on that at a later date).

As I say, though, the damage had been done.

Dave dissolved Aardvark One International.

There were still fruits of that labor to come — Taboo 1; Alan and Phyllis Moore and Debbie Delano‘s first Mad Love imprint effort, the fund-raising anthology AARGH!; and of course Puma Blues.

What happened to Puma Blues — Steve Murphy’s decision to work more and more with and at Mirage Studios, and the eventual dissolution of Puma Blues a precious few issues before its planned conclusion — is a tale in and of itself, and a cautionary tale in ways Steve and Michael never originally intended.

zullirawhead3Michael and I so enjoyed collaborating on the cover and story “Pause” for Puma Blues #20 that we tried mightily to mount another collaboration we could pour ourselves into.

I’ve already written about those at length in the earlier SpiderBaby Archives posts — our planned adaptation of Clive Barker‘s “Rawhead Rex,” (illo at left ©1990, 2009 Michael Zulli) licensed via Steve NilesArcane Press until Eclipse Comics snapped up all that was Barker and/or Arcane, and Michael and I walked away from that project.

That was followed by our pitch to adapt Rick Hautala‘s excellent Little Brothers short stories in direct collaboration with Rick.

Alas, neither came to pass… live and learn, and further hard lessons about publishing, packaging and life in the comics industry.

Taboo, though, did exist.

It lasted in the end for five years and yielded a full ten volumes, each over 100 pages and jam-packed with the finest comics creations available to us or created specifically for us. Among the latter were expansive serialized works and graphic novels — true graphic novels! — like Tim Lucas‘s Throat Sprockets (in collaboration with artist Mike Hoffmann, then David Lloyd), Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s magnificent From Hell, Jeff Nicholson‘s unjustly neglected Through the Habitrails, Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie‘s epic sexual exploration Lost Girls, and much, much more — a rich legacy of original work that changed what horror comics were, could be, and became. In many ways, Vertigo emerged as much from Taboo as it did Swamp Thing — but that’s another story, for another day.

But something else emerged from these upheavals and tempests: the Creator Summits, which I’ve mentioned a few times in this chronology. They began in 1986 with meetings between Dave Sim, Gerhard, the Mirage Studios crew, Steve Murphy, Michael Zulli, and yours truly. The circle grew pretty quickly to involve, at one time or another, Wendy and Richard Pini, Rick Veitch, Larry Marder, Scott McCloud and others; a document entitled “A Manifesto for Creators” resulted, and was published in its entirity in Puma Blues #20.

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And blahblahblah — as my high school creative writing teacher Carol Collins used to say, “Oh Lordy!” 

Thankfully, the Manifesto wasn’t the final word. The end result in November 1988 (about two months after Taboo 1 shipped) was the fateful Northampton, MA Creator Summit in which Scott first participated and unveiled fait accompli the Creator Bill of Rights

But again — that’s another story…

Hope you’ve enjoyed this trip down memory lane. 

_________________________________________


Discussion (4) ¬

  1. John Rovnak

    Puma Blues #20 still remains most favorite single comics issue. Thanks for the added history.

  2. Jason Moore

    Steve, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing these memories with us. Those years (mid to late 80′s) were very formative years for me in my love of comics. I am glad to say that even though I was still new to the independent comics scene, I was heavily into Taboo, Cerebus, Puma Blues and all of the work everyone involved in these stories you’ve presented were working on. I still have my copy of The Comics Journal that had interviews with everyone about the Creator’s Bill of Rights and I actually break it out every now and then and re-read it lol.
    The behind the scenes of comics back then is fascinating to me and it really shows the passion that everyone had that was involved. There were people back then who wanted or felt they needed to push the boundaries of what was the conventional process of how things worked back then as far as the politics and mechanics of the comics industry. I just don’t hear any stories or situations like this in this day and age of comics. I still feel that alot of the issues that were being fought for back then as still relevant in todays comics industry….but today’s comic industry is really an entirely different beast then it was then.
    These stories you share really make me yearn for the comic industry of old, even with it’s faults. There is just something about it that seems / feels a bit more heart felt than the industry is today. I think because it was more about creating and expressing your vision and not necessarily about creating a product in hopes of it getting optioned for a movie or tv series.
    Anyway, I’m rambling. Thanks again SOOO much for doing this Steve!

  3. James Robert Smith

    Interesting reality arc. Of course you’re leaving out some stuff that I hope will be added later. Or maybe it won’t be added later.

    I recall at the time understanding what a monster Geppi was (is), and very few in the industry coming to grips with that fact. I’d met him, you see. Face to face. One on one. The banality of evil and all that stuff–believe me, it’s true.

    I saw during the days when there was still some competition in the distributor biz that Geppi was someone who needed to be stopped. He needed to have his plug pulled in the worst way. At that early date it could have been done by a steadfast cadre of creators willing to show some courage. Unfortunately, nobody would do it.

    And, later, I recall the nausea as I read Sim’s editorial when he decided, after sharing a urinal with Geppi in a men’s room, to bury the hatchet with the new King of All Things Comics. What a truly disgusting act. Of course, by that time it was far too late to stop the Creature from Baltimore. Way too late. At that point everyone seemed to be standing in line to suck Geppi’s dick. Or, in the case of some cowards, crossing swords with him in a men’s room.

    So, please…enough with the false courage of Dave Sim. I feel the nausea coming back.

    As for PUMA BLUES…I never could get into the book. It was nicely drawn, but the plot was so splattered all over the map that I could never get a grip on it. And the author(s) never could seem to tell a coherent story or stick to a consistent message. It lost me very early on and I stopped reading it long before it came to anything near a concluding issue.

    As for the CEREBUS phone books–it was while reading through a couple of those that I realized what a shallow work. The key to most of it was lost in a mash of topical comic book geekdom. Not long ago someone related to me that Sim was comparing himself to Franz Kafka. Yes, we roared with laughter—what would be many LOL! in the current world of online text. With rolling animated smiley faces.

    THE CREATOR’S BILL OF RIGHTS was a good start. Of course it was a good start almost 30 years ago. These days, does anyone look at it? Do any creators use it as a template? Do publishers laugh at it? I mention it from time to time, but no one, sadly, seems to recall it at all.

    In the end, Geppi won. The publishers won. The bad guys, as they almost always do, won. And some of the folk who seemed like good guys turned coat or fled the scene entirely or just decided to go with the flow.

    Some of them became right wing pro-corporate racist religious Bible-humping misogynist zealots. Those guys were the worst.

  4. srbissette

    Thanks, all, and thanks most of all Bob. Bear in mind I’m writing about who people were (to me) THEN, and what was going on THEN. As I’ve made clear, that was two decades ago — and alas, I have to concur with you about many of your conclusions. Don’t forget that I, too, left the field in utter disgust in 1999.

    But 1986-88 was a different era. We were, many of us, very different people, some of us at the peak of our game in terms of creating comics. At that time, Dave was a courageous man fighting to carve out viable alternatives to the status quo — and for some of us, that was an important awakening and turning point. At that time, Alan Moore was still a friend and ally. At that time, Kevin Eastman was becoming a friend. A lot of water under the bridge since then — and all of us are now very different people in very different places.

    Agreed, too, about the Creator Bill of Rights. It was a good start, period. That many of those who were there on the day of its creation — including Kevin Eastman — would refute its principles by their actions had much to do with how the community I’m writing about here came apart within ten years.

    It was indeed astonishing by 1996-97 — when the shit really hit the fan and Geppi came out on top — where opportunistic ethics and loyalties led various parties. My subsequent actions spoke clearly: I abandoned self-publishing and directed all my creative and personal energies elsewhere, out of necessity. Only with the 2005 founding of CCS and invite from James Sturm and Michelle Ollie to engage did I find myself return to comics as an educator, to commit to the very worthy venture of working with a new generation of creators — in the hopes, too, of helping them not make many of the mistakes my generation did.

    But every generation has their own trails to blaze, their own paths to lead or follow, their own respective mistakes and victories to make or celebrate.

    As for the worst — well, that’s a matter of opinion, and I’ve got my own. Again, another time, another chapter, Bob.

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