Wizard #10: Anthologies

June 1992 (on sale date: April 1992)

Cable! Shaft! Liefeld! The cover for Wizard #10 from the summer of ’92 was all gritted teeth and pointy feet.

Things were starting to fall into place with “Palmer’s Picks” for Wizard: The Guide To Comics #10. But I still needed to get my act together.

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice that I didn’t write about “Palmer’s Picks” from Wizard #9. There’s a very good reason for that: It’s because there was no “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #9. I don’t have any detailed records to reveal why I was skipped an issue, but it could be for any number of reasons—Someone at Wizard forgot to include “Palmer’s Picks” in issue 9 and then remembered for the next issue. The printer had an unspoken vendetta against my family and refused to print any pages with my name on them. Or maybe I simply missed the deadline. Regardless of what really happened, once I found out that I got bumped, I started to worry. And when you combine this with the mistake of leaving the name “Palmer’s Picks” off of issue 7 and forgetting to include the column in the table of contents in issue 8, my self-doubt started to creep in and I thought that I wasn’t wanted anymore. I mean, when you’re the one thing in the magazine that doesn’t seem like everything else, you’d have to be kinda clueless to not think that you’d be the first to get the axe. But instead of wallowing in my misery, I just stuck my head down and continued to write. Lucky for me, it was still a few more years before the powers-that-be decided I had overstayed my welcome!

For this issue, I decided to focus on another general topic, similar to how I wrote about humor comics in the previous issue (with mixed results). In keeping with my attempt to counterprogram the rest of Wizard‘s columns, I picked anthologies as my topic. Anthologies are probably the least cool type of comic book ever. Sure, there are some fans who might say that they like Dark Horse Presents, but not many are going to stick their neck out and call it their favorite comic series ever. Anthologies are always uneven, especially when judged issue-by-issue. And there’s always a rotating roster of creators and characters that make it almost impossible to please everyone.

Despite all of these drawbacks, I thought there were a few key anthologies that needed to get some attention: RawTaboo, and Drawn & Quarterly. This issue of Wizard hit stores in April 1992, and, sadly, all three of the series I picked didn’t last too much longer. While there was certainly a demand, there were no more issues of Raw after Volume 2, Number 3 from 1991. There were five volumes of Taboo available when I wrote this column, and only two more were published in ’92 before the lights were turned off. (Two more issues of Taboo appeared a few years later, but they were really just a collection of leftover stories that didn’t find publication elsewhere.) Of the anthologies I profiled, Drawn & Quarterly had the longest life. While it wrapped up its first run with issue 10 at the end of the year, D&Q gave it another go with volume 2 in 1994 and a few more oversized books after that.

The one good thing about the anthologies I picked is that they all had striking covers. When I had to pick out artwork this time around, there were too many good covers to choose from. Since the cover artists weren’t credited in the magazine, here’s the scoop: Robert Crumb from Raw (Volume 2) Number 3, Mary Fleener from Drawn & Quarterly #6, and Michael Zulli from Taboo #3. I think the images I chose helped this column stand out and hopefully led a few Wizard readers to check out what I had to say and maybe track down these comics. If you have a copy of this issue of Wizard, it’s a little surreal to flip through the pages and see R. Crumb art among the pages adorned with Spider-Man and X-Force.

While this “Palmer’s Picks” isn’t my absolute favorite, it’s one of the early ones that doesn’t make me cringe when I look back. In contrast to the previous “funny comics” premise, the focus was a bit tighter this time around; it’s a lot easier to describe an anthology comic than it is to explain why something is funny. And the fact that all of the anthologies I picked had unique and interesting back stories helped make the copy a bit more interesting than the dry rundown of humor cartoonists and their credits.

Cartoonist Kayfabe segment on “Palmer’s Picks” from Wizard #10.

There was a very small change with this “Palmer’s Picks” that had huge ramifications for how the column was perceived. I decided to add publishers’ addresses to the “Recommended Reading” section. While this might not seem like a big deal, it meant a whole lot to all of the small companies behind these comics. Most of them couldn’t afford to advertise in Wizard (if they even thought they would be reaching their target audience) so this was basically like giving them a free ad. While this was surely a great benefit, it really wasn’t on my mind when I decided to run the addresses. With each “Palmer’s Picks” the comics I was mentioning were getting more and more obscure, so I wanted to make sure that someone reading had a backup plan in case their local comic shop was strictly Marvel and DC.

Palmer’s Picks

by Tom Palmer Jr.

In recent years, a number of anthology titles have appeared from both mainstream and independent publishers. While not the most successful titles, there are many that provide interesting stories and new ways for artists to express themselves. The majority of financially successful anthologies have been published in Europe, such as 2000 A.D. and Deadline from England. Most attempts to start anthologies by American publishers have not fared well, as when DC tried changing the long-running Action Comics into a weekly anthology. Around the same time, Marvel started its own anthology, Marvel Comics Presents, which attracts readers by placing popular characters like Wolverine with lesser-known ones. The only other anthology on the same level as Marvel Comics Presents is Dark Horse Presents, which showcases such big-name attractions as “Concrete” by Paul Chadwick and “Sin City” by Frank Miller, with obscure yet acclaimed characters like “Deadface” by Eddie Campbell.

Aside from these financially flourishing anthologies, there are a few comics that are not as widely recognized, yet provide the same, or even better, quality material. These range from the bookstore distributed Raw, to the slickly produced magazine Drawn and Quarterly, to the notorious horror anthology Taboo.

Raw was started by underground cartoonist Art Spiegelman and his wife, Francoise Mouly, in 1980 as a place to publish work from European cartoonists in America. There were several large magazines like Andy Warhol’s Interview published at the time that were placed together on newstands because of their abnormal size. Spiegelman and Mouly decided that Raw would benefit from this exposure and decided to make it an over-sized magazine. They originally intended to publish only one issue, but surprisingly their over-sized magazine caught on.

Each copy of the first issue contained a hand assembled insert booklet, starting a tradition that would last through the first run of the magazine. Subsequent issues included such fresh gimmicks as bubble-gum cards (with a real piece of gum included), and flexidisc recordings. After the eighth issue, Spiegelman and Mouly started the magazine over at Penguin Books and it was shrunk to the size of a paperback book to fit easily into bookstores. However, it didn’t lose its sense of innovation and creative design and printing. Among the inserts in the new series are reprints of newspaper comics like Krazy Kat printed on newsprint paper, and fold-out reproductions of wall-sized paintings.

While the early issues contained mostly European cartoonists like Jacques Tardi and Joost Swarte, Spiegelman and Mouly also published other underground artists and newer American artists. Raw included some of the early work by humorist Drew Friedman, comics containing the bizarre world of Hoboken, NJ resident Kaz, and the primitive scratchings of Gary Panter, who went on to design the sets for Pee-wee’s Playhouse. Recent issues of Raw have included work from these cartoonists as well as the crisp black and white art of Charles Bums, the depressing cartoons of Mark Beyer, and the cartoons of Kin Deitch, who is heavily influenced by the early, black and white animated shorts of the 1920s and ’30s. But perhaps the most famous strip to come from Raw is Art Spiegelman’s highly acclaimed story of the Holocaust and his relationship with this father, Maus. Now that Maus has been completed, it is unclear if Raw will still be published, but it seems that there is enough demand for at least a few more volumes.

Drawn & Quarterly does not have the long history that Raw does, as it was started less than two years ago, but it has an interesting one nonetheless. Diamond Comics, the largest comics distributor in the United States, declined to carry the first issue of Drawn & Quarterly because they thought it was not a high-quality magazine. But, Drawn & Quarterly‘s editor and publisher, Chris Oliveros, was able to convince Diamond that the comic was indeed a top-notch production because of the number of well known artists in the magazine and its attention to quality. With a slight delay from this distribution problem, Drawn & Quarterly has appeared on schedule.

The premiere issue featured work from established cartoonists like Peter Bagge and Dennis Worden as well as relative newcomers like Joe Matt. Matt got his start in other anthologies such as Snarf, drawing autobiographical cartoons with an insane amount of panels crammed into one page. He also did some coloring for some mainstream comics (most notably the as-yet unpublished Batman vs Grendel) to support his more personal comics. Drawn & Quarterly has a color section in each issue that allows artists like Matt and others who don’t normally work in color a chance to expand their artistic abilities. Some of the other cartoonists that have appeared in Drawn & Quarterly include Drew Friedman, Richard Sala, Seth, and mini-comics artist Julie Doucet.

The distribution dilemmas encountered by the publisher of Drawn & Quarterly are nothing compared to the problems of Taboo publisher Steve Bissette with both printers and distributors. Back in 1988, Taboo was going to be published by Dave Sim‘s Aardvark-One company. But Sim ran into a lengthy dispute with some distributors resulting in the folding of the company. Bissette, along with co-creator John Totleben, decided to self-publish the anthology and deal with the problems. The first issue came together smoothly, assembling work by Alan Moore, Charles Burns, Eddie Campbell, Charles Vess, Keith Giffen, and Chester Brown. But the second volume ran into trouble with several printers and binders, with many refusing to handle the book because of what they considered to be questionable content.

Obviously, Taboo deals with some strong subjects without watering them down to fit public opinions or standards. While this policy gets Bissette into many predicaments, it also attracts established artists who wish to express themselves more freely. The main attraction in Taboo is Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s “From Hell,” an examination of the Jack the Ripper murders. The series is a thorough analysis which investigates every aspect of the subject, including a dissection of the social customs of the Victorian era and the histories of all the people and locations involved. While this may sound tedious at first, Moore uses his flair for dialects and dramatic devices to make the story interesting. Taboo also features other serialized stories such as Moore and Melinda Gebbie‘s “Lost Girls” and Jeff Nicholson‘s “Through the Habitrails,” as well as the upcoming “Sweeney Todd” by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli. Aside from continued stories, Taboo also features self-contained works by creators such as Moebius, Rick Grimes, Bernie Mireault, and Rick Veitch.

Anthologies offer an alternative to regular monthly comics, where it is sometimes difficult to pick up on the subtle details of a storyline. They provide a selection of self-contained and continuing stories by both established and new artists to fit anybody’s tastes.

Recommended Readding

Raw – Published just about every year from Penguin Books. If you scour the humor or cartoons section of your local Waldenbooks or Barnes and Noble, you might be able to find a copy of the latest volume (number 3). If not, you could try contacting Catalan Communications at 49 East 19th, New York, NY 10003. You’ll probably have a much easier time finding Maus, which has been published in two hardcover volumes that have been widely distributed throughout bookstores across the country. Solo books by Raw alumni are also available, such as Warts and All by Drew Friedman, Agony by Mark Beyer, Hard Boiled Defective Stories by Charles Burns, and Jimbo by Gary Panter. The very first three issues of Raw have been collected in their original format as Read Yourself Raw.

Drawn & Quarterly – Back issues and subscriptions to this quarterly magazine are available from Drawn & Quarterly Publications, 4550 Boyer Street, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H2J 3E4. They also publish Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet, Palooka-Ville by Seth, Peepshow by Joe Matt, and Yummy Fur by Chester Brown, so you can ask for their free catalogue when you write. Also, a collection of Joe Matt’s comics has been published by Kitchen Sink and should be available in your local comic store.

TabooTaboo is published quarterly by Spiderbaby Grafix and Tundra Publishing. Five issues have been published so far, in addition to Taboo Especial. The first three issues are out-of-print, but the others are still available from Tundra Publishing Ltd., 320 Riverside Dr., Northampton, MA 01060. Tundra also publishes a lot of great comics like Cages, The Jam, Madman, and Cobalt 60, so ask for their 36-page catalogue.


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