Posted In: News
Interlude: A Report from Florida’s MegaCon
Or: Please Help My Old Friend Steve Perry
If you are at MegaCon today, and if you see this in time, please take a moment and take a bill — a $5 or $10 bill, if you could — and put it in the jar in front of my no doubt very-ill-looking friend Steve Perry. I doubt if he looks very approachable: sick with cancer, desperate, dying and stuck in a comicbook convention where no one knows or cares about him. Sounds like a circle of hell to me.
If you were or are a Thundercats, Silverhawks or Time Spirits fan, or remember the Bizarre Adventures stories I did with Steve, or just want to let Steve know his work mattered, take a moment to say so.
This just in from Steve at MegaCon:
iT’S A BUST FOR ME. there is nothing for me to do, nothing for me to be. all i can do is spend what little monmey i have on food. i am completely lost. oh, its a nice room, but i don’t do sketches, and there’s no one want to buy timespirits or anything. [Artist seated next to Steve] fills jar after jar with money, my poor little jar sits empy. i should not have come. now electric at home goes off. I am so fucking sick, too. sorry to bother you. even to have internet costs 13 bucks.
to day is the bif day — mYBE I’LL MAKE A SIGN BEGGING. I DON’T KNOW. PEOPLE DON’T GIVE A FUCK, REALLY.
If you’re not at MegaCon, and can afford to, please send something, anything to Steve‘s Paypal account — firstname.lastname@example.org — to help him get through another day, another week. I just did.
I don’t know what else to do. Sorry, Steve… and sorry, Myrant readers, to again be making an appeal. I just don’t know what else to do.
Forgotten Comics Wars
Or: How Angry Freelancers Made It Possible for A New Mainstream Comics Era (Including Vertigo) to Exist, Part 2
That December 10th, 1986 bust of Friendly Frank’s was very much on the mind of many of us involved in this whole dance.
Comics retailers were on the firing lines, facing arrest, for the increasingly adult content in comicbooks — and rather than doing anything about the retailer’s point of vulnerability, the major publishers were rearranging their in-house deck chairs.
In this case, Michael Correa was the 28-year-old under arrest for obscenity charges; he was the guy behind the counter when officers Anthony J. Van Gorp and Jerry Zeldenrust arranged their sting operation, and he was the individual cited as ‘offender’ in the arrest report for obscenity.
Michael‘s dire situation was outlined in a December 29th 1986 letter Friendly Frank’s proprietor Frank Mangiaracina mailed to Frank Miller (which is how a photocopy of the letter landed in my files) and six publishers and/or publisher reps — Ron Turner (Last Gasp), Denis Kitchen (Kitchen Sink), Deni Loubert (Renegade), Bernd Metz (Catalan), Carol Kalish (Marvel Comics) and Bruce Bristow (DC Comics, Inc.).
“People Mike hasn’t heard from since he worked at U.S. Steel are calling him up and asking him what its like to work in an X-rated comic book store,” Frank M. wrote.
Originally, Frank Mangiaracina had intended to keep the bust under the radar as best he could. Alas, this article in The Hammond Times the week of December 10th, 1986 forced Frank‘s hand:
That prompted Frank M‘s letter, which I’ll excerpt here:
“Apparently the second article only ran in the Illinois editions of the Hammond Times,” Frank M. noted, ”so none of Mike’s (or my) family and friends will see it.”
Thus, the possibly slanderous misrepresentation of the entire bust stood in the public mind of the shop and Michael Correa‘s neighborhood, much to the detriment of Michael and the store.
Frank M‘s letter continued, “We agreed to sign an amendment to our Business License Application which stated we would not display, stock or deliver obscene material, and that the material mentioned in writing would be removed.” I’ve always wondered if that included Heavy Metal, which was the only “obscene material” cited (by inference, not by title) in the officer’s narrative in the arrest report and in the Hammond Times newspaper article — a magazine that was likely on every newsstand of any size in Illinois.
I found and still find that interesting. Had the article named Heavy Metal, the arresting officers would have looked ridiculous, the bust specious. By December 1986, Heavy Metal was entering its first decade of publication and national newsstand success, and the animated feature film was five years old and playing cable. Simply referencing “the Adult Illustrated Fantasy Magazine” did its dirty work quite efficiently.
Sold to an adult.
Sold, in fact, to an adult police officer.
Who knew what he was buying.
Who arranged the sting purchase.
Who was not subsequently slandered or getting the phone calls Michael Correa was enduring.
“As a result the Lansing store,” Frank wrote, “which was closed in the middle of the day Wednesday [new comics day, the key day of the week for comics retail] because of zoning violations [due to the bust], was allowed to reopen the following Monday (when we’re normally closed). Business was approximately 25% slower the first week we reopened… How much business was lost in the short and long run is hard to say. An article like Britt’s could prevent anyone from ever taking their child to any comic book store, which is sad.”
That’s what was on the line, folks.
And this was just one of the comic shop busts happening around this great, freedom-loving country of ours.
Note again the comics titles Frank M. cited in his letter: Weirdo, Murder, Wonder Woman, Elektra Assassin, Moonshadow, Swords of the Swashbucklers, She Hulk Graphic Novel, Flesh, Fever Pitch.
(BTW, Colleen Doran just emailed me to note, “I remember my work on Swords of the Swashbucklers getting nabbed in that! AWESOME! Good times!” Quoted here with Colleen‘s kind permission; thanks, Colleen. If she can find the offending page, she’ll be posting it over on her blog, I reckon.)
The officer who considered some of the comics “satanic” (oh, Lord) was disturbed by a poster of Wonder Woman. Marvel product — including the marvelous Epic Comic series Moondshadow and the Frank Miller/Bill Sienkiewicz classic Elektra Assassin — was disturbing the officer. But he only cited six comics as ‘obscene.’
Whew, DC and Marvel dodged that bullet, eh?
Note again the titles cited in the arrest report (document not shown here, but take Frank M. and my word for it): Heavy Metal, Bizarre Sex, Omaha the Cat Dancer, The Bodyssey, Murder, Weirdo.
With the exception of Heavy Metal, none of those titles were available anywhere in the US except comic book stores at the time.
These were the new wave of independent titles, prominent among them the cutting-edge anthology Weirdo, edited by Robert Crumb and (later issues) Peter Bagge.
It was open season on the comic book stores — on the folks who worked behind the counters, on the shop owners.
Denis Kitchen, like many of us, was outraged.
Denis did something: to quote the Wikipedia Comic Book Legal Defense Fund article, “The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund began as a means to pay for the legal defense of Friendly Frank’s comic shop manager Michael Correa, who was arrested in 1986 on charges of distributing obscenity. The comic books deemed obscene were Omaha the Cat Dancer, The Bodyssey, Weirdo, and Bizarre Sex. Kitchen Sink Press released an art portfolio of pieces donated by comics artists; proceeds were donated to Correa’s defense. After Correa’s conviction was subsequently overturned, Denis Kitchen officially incorporated the CBLDF in 1990 as a non-profit charitable organization with capital of $20,000 left over from Correa’s defense fund.”
[Please note: I brought this essay installment to Denis Kitchen's attention, and he kindly emailed me the following correction on March 17, 2010:
"The only thing that looks wrong to me is a portion of the quote from Wikipedia (which, oddly enough I’d never looked at) saying, 'Denis Kitchen officially incorporated the CBLDF in 1990 as a non-profit charitable organization with capital of $20,000 left over from Correa’s defense fund.'
The portfolio raised over $20,000, but the CBLDF as an ongoing organization was officially formed with the money left over after Michael Correa’s legal expenses were paid to attorney Burton Joseph. The records are no longer here and it’s been nearly thirty years now, but the seed money would have been in the neighborhood of a few thousand, not the $20K+ that we grossed from sales of the benefit portfolio."
Thanks, Denis; correction duly noted and posted via this addendum note.]
I’m proud to say I was in that initial art portfolio, as were many others who immediately joined the fight: Sergio Aragones, Hillary Barta, Bob Burden, Richard Corben, Robert Crumb, Howard Cruse, Will Eisner, Denis Kitchen, Frank Miller, Mitch O’Connell, Donald Simpson, Eric Vincent, and Reed Waller.
Also note Richard Bruning — who worked at DC at the time — donated his time, skill and energy to designing the folio.
And that, I’m also happy to say, was just the beginning. But it was Denis Kitchen, first and foremost among all American comicbook publishers, who stepped right up to the plate and immediately, definitely did something.
But what did those with the greatest means, profits and clout do?
DC Comics was responding with this:
And Marvel — Marvel was just talking about something similar.
Frank Miller knew something was up, but there’s no documents in my files to substantiate what, indeed, Marvel might have had in the works. Marvel being Marvel in 1986, they were waiting to see what DC was going to do, and how those chips were gonna fall.
Yep, labels were going to save the day.
Labels like “The Adult Illustrated Fantasy Magazine” that officers like Anthony J. Van Gorp and Jerry Zeldenrust could reference in the preparations for their sting operations and handily cite in their arrest report narratives, labels reporters like Phillip Britt could cite without explanation or context in their short articles — thus not having to cite titles like Heavy Metal or — heaven forbid, if the worst happened! — even Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Titles that would look silly and embarrassing in that context.
Labels were going to make all the difference.
Labels brilliantly designed to look like the target bullseyes they were sure to become.
Oh, and adjusting internal company standards — but not too much. I mean, Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen were big news and big earners, and Swamp Thing was still something to nurture, especially since it lost the Code seal of approval and opened up a whole new window of opportunity.
We don’t want to upset the applecart. After all, DC and Marvel were making money taking some chances with content, pushing some envelopes. Some.
But they didn’t get behind Frank Mangiaracina or Michael Correa or the comic book retailers on the firing line. Or rather, they stayed waaaaaaaaaaay behind them. Out of firing range.
And the corporate publishers in New York didn’t get behind Denis Kitchen, or better yet mount an even more succcessful fundraising folio or effort, nor get behind the support that in three short years spawned the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. No, no sense in doing that.
Let’s rearrange the deck chairs, shall we?
Tomorrow: The Standards, and A Letter from Jenette…