When I first wrote about Tundra back in Wizard #12, the fledgling company was in the midst of a big push of new releases in an attempt to create an identity and gain a foothold in the cutthroat direct market of the 1990s. When it came time to profile Tundra again, I was writing about a company that was, unbeknownst to me, on the brink of collapse.
The signs really couldn’t have been more obvious. After three years on the scene, Tundra was still struggling. There was some promising buzz around a few of their books, like Madman or The Crow, but they still lacked a breakout hit with huge sales. And there were a significant number of projects that had been announced but were stuck in development, including Bernie Wirghtson‘s Captain Sternn, Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli‘s Sweeney Todd, and the ever-elusive Big Numbers. Publisher Kevin Eastman could only throw so much Ninja Turtles cash at these projects before something had to give.
Things must have been chaotic behind the scenes at Tundra, and I got a brief taste of that while putting this article together. Right as my deadline was approaching at the end of March, 1993, news broke that there was a tragic accident on the set of The Crow—the film based on James O’Barr’s cult comic—that took the life of star Brandon Lee. Early word was that the movie was shaping up to be something special, and was likely to boost Lee out of the low-budget fare he was known for and could even be the big break that Tundra was looking for. But now that its star was dead and an investigation was underway, the film was put on hold with only a few days of filming remaining. And not to mention, my Tundra profile was in need of some last-minute fixing!
I was in the midst of the second semester of my freshman year of college as I worked on this article, back in the stone age before cell phones were prevalent. I happened to live in one of the only dorms on campus that did not have landline phone jacks in each room. Instead, there was a shared phone in the hallway of each wing of my building for on-campus and local calls, while long distance calls were made from an old, cramped, wooden phone booth, complete with a folding door and tiny corner shelf. In order to phone home—or conduct interviews for Wizard—I would have to either make a collect call, buy a prepaid phone card, or scrounge up enough coins to buzz someone and ask them to call me back. Needless to say, making several frantic calls to my editor at Wizard and my contact at Tundra to figure out how to salvage this article was an exercise in patience and perseverance. Email was not widespread, so I also had to trudge out to the local copy shop on foot in order to send and receive faxes.
Despite all of these obstacles, I was able to finish up my revisions and get the article completed in time. It’s interesting to note how plans for the movie changed after Lee’s death. As mentioned in my article, The Crow was still tentatively slated for release in the summer of ’93, but it would be another year before the movie hit theaters on May 13, 1994. Plans for the film’s soundtrack changed slightly as well, since I mention contributions from Alice in Chains, Sonic Youth, and Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler, all of which did not make it onto the chart-topping soundtrack that was eventually released.
I thought everything was nice and tidy after all of the chaos around The Crow went away, but out of the blue came news that Kitchen Sink had apparently bought Tundra. (If you’re interested in the details of the acquisition/merger, check out the revisit of my first feature about Tundra.) After spending so much time on the first round of changes, it was decided by editorial to address the late-breaking news in-house with other writers. Two sidebars were added to the article, one to cover the news, and another with a short Simon Bisley interview.
Aside from all of the craziness that surrounded this article, what eventually saw print was too similar to my first profile of Tundra. The writing was a little breezier this time around, but it was still just another run-of-the-mill list of comics. I would go on to write a few more articles for Wizard outside of my regular “Palmer’s Picks” chores, and I think those turned out a little bit better than this. Stay tuned!
Everything…And The Kitchen Sink, Too
Tundra Publishing Offering Full, Diverse Line of Summer Reading
By Tom Palmer Jr.
There are few comic companies that publish work from creators who are both skillful artists and talented writers, or from teams where the artist and writer work in a mutual collaboration. Some companies are breaking new ground and trying new things. They encourage comics to grow as a storytelling medium with both great artwork and great writing. One of these companies, Tundra Publishing Ltd., hopes to provide readers with comics that are both thought-provoking and visually stimulating. Its line-up of comics and graphic novels for this summer ranges from informative and intelligent non-fiction and well thought-out historical speculation to off-the-wall humor and well-crafted fantasy and adventure.
First on the list of Tundra’s offerings for the summer is Scott McCloud‘s Understanding Comics, a 224-page book that’s available now, and has already sent shock-waves through the comic-book creative community. McCloud firmly establishes his reputation as both the Thomas Edison and Marshall McLuhan of comic books by dissecting and examining comics as an art form and a means of communication. He starts with a broad, yet carefully-worded definition of comics, and goes on to explain the hidden meanings and ideas of comics that readers take for granted, like how time is represented in comics, closure (what the brain fills in between panels), and the entire creative process behind comics (or any art form, for that matter), among other things. While he gets into some very complicated topics, McCloud is able to keep the reader involved by thoroughly explaining each of his ideas in an accessible, cartoony style. A comic book about comics, Understanding Comics is a thought-provoking book that will be talked about for years to come.
Also out now is Deadface creator Eddie Campbell‘s Graffiti Kitchen, a 48-page adults-only graphic novel about a love triangle involving Campbell’s Alec character, Georgette, and her mother. This lighthearted and humorous story is illustrated in Campbell’s distinctive pen-and-ink style, in combination with his irreplaceable wit, to embody “The highest truth in the lowly form of the comic strip.” Campbell’s Alec strips have recently been popping up in several anthologies, but this graphic novel contains all new material and is not a reprint volume.
Campbell also lends his pen to From Hell, Volume 2 in June, the second collection of the graphic novel written by Alan Moore and serialized in Taboo. This 64-page black and white book reprints the third and fourth chapters of the story. Moore has carefully researched a theoretical solution to the Jack the Ripper murders in Victorian England. Originally proposed by Steven Knight as “the final solution,” this theory implicates Queen Victoria as the engineer of a cover-up to conceal the illegitimate child of her nephew, Prince Albert. To add depth and accuracy to the comic, Moore has painstakingly researched all aspects of Victorian culture, from the architecture to the weather patterns. Moore and Campbell never sensationalize the horrible murders, but are able to generate an air of evilness and horror in their collaboration. Campbell’s fine linework perfectly combines with Moore’s linguistically-accurate dialogue to evoke the subtleties of Victorian society. In addition to a fully-painted cover by Campbell, this volume includes an extensive bibliographic appendix citing Moore’s sources for every page of the story.
On a less serious and more whimsical note is the third issue of Madman Adventures by Mike Allred, due in July. Unlike the first two issues of this series, which have been reprinted in a collection that’s available now, this story is completely self-contained. The full-color comic takes Madman and his friends on a camping trip in the desert, where they find a celestial compass, left by an ancient astronaut, that is transmitting a signal to Madman. Renegade government agents try to steal the transmitter, leading Madman and company to go to South America to find the stranded astronaut. You can be sure to expect more of Allred’s breezy and fun writing and dynamic artwork with this new issue. The original, two-color Madman series is quickly going out of print (the first issue is already sold out), so Madman Adventures is sure to be in demand this summer.
Also due out in July is The Allagash Incident, based on the true-life experience of the writer/artist team of Chuck Rak and Jack Weiner. The two, along with two other friends, were abducted by aliens on a night fishing trip in a remote area over 15 years ago. The group was taken aboard the alien spacecraft and were the subjects of several traumatizing scientific experiments. After being poked and prodded for hours, the men had no recollection of their experience. Only through hypnosis were they able to recall the exact details of their terrible fishing trip. Weiner has previously collaborated with Rick Veitch on a photo-comic story for Taboo that was processed on an Amiga computer, and parts of The Allagash Incident were done with the help of a computer. This comic book is in black and white, and is definitely going to be one of the more unique and bizarre books of the summer.
August promises to be Tundra’s biggest month ever, with the planned release of The Crow, a movie from Paramount. The film was shot on location in North Carolina and stars the late Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee. Unfortunately, the movie ran into some problems when, tragically, Brandon Lee was killed during the last week of production. From current reports, the movie will still be released this summer. The movie boasts a soundtrack with some of the big names in alternative music, like Nine Inch Nails, Sonic Youth, Alice in Chains, Richard Butler of the Psychedelic Furs, and The Cure. From early reports, The Crow should be one of the big movies of the summer (if it is released) and Tundra has several things lined up to celebrate that it will go ahead with even if the movie isn’t released.
Tundra will publish the collection of all three issues of The Crow it has published, along with a prologue and additional story material first published by Caliber. Debuting in 1989, The Crow was left unfinished after its initial four-issue run at Caliber. Last year, Tundra reprinted the original issues of James O’Barr‘s violent saga of tragedy and retribution, and published the long-awaited conclusion. Due to limited print runs, the original Caliber issues of The Crow are scarce and are in high demand. Tundra is having trouble keeping its series in print (the first book is already in its third printing), so the collected edition should be very popular. The collection is also wrapped with an all-new cover by O’Barr, making for one of the more attractive and enticing packages of the summer.
Aside from the reprint volume, Tundra has other Crow merchandise planned for the summer, in association with Paramount. The future of these items is uncertain, due to the problems associated with the movie. There is a selection of T-shirts and a full-color portfolio already available, and Tundra will be putting together a set of Crow trading cards. The cards will feature scenes from the movie and comic book, as well as production drawings by O’Barr.
In addition to the big projects planned for every month, Tundra also has some other special items on its agenda that are spread out over the entire summer, as well as some exciting developments in its regular series.
Every month, in cooperation with Heavy Metal, Tundra will publish a new, full-color hard cover European graphic novel. The line already includes Margot in Badtown, Wind of the Gods, and Adios Palomito. Throughout the summer, Heavy Metal/Tundra plans to add Peter Pan, a two-volume, adults-only version of the classic children’s story, and Eva Medusa, a tale of voodoo, black magic, and curses.
This new line of hard cover graphic novels is a direct result of Tundra publisher Kevin Eastman’s recent purchase of Heavy Metal magazine. Under his direction, Heavy Metal has once again become a magazine worth looking at. Aside from the translation and reprinting of European graphic novels and short stories, the magazine now boasts a comic- strip section called StripTease, featuring all new strips from Mark Martin, Mary Fleener, Kaz, Eric Drooker, Rick Geary, Peter Kuper, and many more.
Along the same illustrated fantasy lines as Heavy Metal are the paintings of Frank Frazetta. In preparation for the release of The Frank Frazetta Pillow Book in November, Tundra is releasing a series of high-quality Frazetta collectibles throughout the summer. T-shirts, posters, prints, and a portfolio with images from the book will all be available for the multitude of Frazetta fans worldwide. Frazetta is one of the most respected and revered fantasy illustrators, so the all new volume of previously-unpublished paintings will surely be one of the more anticipated books of the fall.
Aside from its many special projects, Tundra also publishes several continuing series, like Cages, Trailer Trash, Hyena, Tantalizing Stories, and The Maximortal. Each of these series is unique in its own way and is definitely not like anything you’ve ever read before.
Dave McKean‘s Cages has received numerous prestigious awards, as well as mountains of praise from both inside and outside the comic-book community. Having only seen his artwork on the covers of Sandman, or in collaboration with Neil Gaiman, many fans were skeptical about McKean’s ability to hold his own as both a writer and an artist. But McKean has proved that he is as talented with words as he is with the many artistic tools at his disposal. He has shown his mastery of a wide array of writing styles, ranging from descriptive prose and straightforward narrative, to abstract, impressionistic poetry and free-flowing verse.
The seventh issue of McKean’s 10-issue story about life, art, loneliness, and ratatouille will be published this summer. With this latest installment, McKean has begun to bring together some of the seemingly-independent plot threads he has weaved since the beginning of the series. Expect a dramatic turn of events in the story, combined with McKean’s experimental and daring expressionistic artwork in the latest issue.
If Cages is considered to be high art, then Trailer Trash has to be the lowest art out there. Roy Tompkins has had stories of his pathetic Harvey the Hillbilly Bastard character published in anthologies like Buzz, and Tundra’s own Hyena. In Trailer Trash, Tompkins is let loose to spin hilarious, depraved tales of Harvey and a supporting cast, including Harvey’s Ma and Pa, Billy, Harvey’s girl Lara, and other sickos and hicks in his inimitable ugly-art style. Tompkins pulls no punches as he portrays the sick and twisted existence of the biggest losers you’ve ever seen. Four issues have been published so far, and the fifth will appear this summer.
Continuing the tradition of no-holds-barred humor is Mark Martin’s anthology title, Hyena. The material in Hyena ranges from short newspaper-style comic strips like “The Fruitheads,” to all-out gross humor like “Pee-Dog” or “The Return of Sherwin Mudflapp.” Under Martin’s editorial guidance, Hyena has published Lillian Spencer Drake fake ads, humor from France by Pic, Jeff Nicholson’s “Ultra Klutz,” Tompkins’ “Harvey the Hillbilly Bastard,” “Pulque” from Jim Woodring, and comics by Scott Musgrove, Brian Sendlebach, Mack White, Terry LaBan, and Wayno. With such an impressive roster of talent, Hyena is shaping up to be one of the better humor anthologies on the stands today.
Martin is also one half of the team producing Tantalizing Stories. Martin’s part of the comic is the consistently hilarious and silly “Montgomery Wart,” while his partner, Jim Woodring, is responsible for the surrealistic, pantomime wanderings of “Frank.” Each issue of this title so far has loosely revolved around a specific holiday, like Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and April Fool’s Day. Woodring’s “Frank” stories are always bizarre and slightly unsettling, but they have their own personal rhythm and presence. “Montgomery Wart” also has its distinct language and style that is enhanced by Martin’s rich, tonal artwork. Although Tantalizing Stories is published in black and white, both Woodring and Martin are able to show off their expertise in color artwork on the fully-painted front and back covers of every issue. Among the multitude of “mature readers” and “adults-only” comics out there, Tantalizing Stories is one of the few comics that is both accessible and attractive for young kids and well-crafted and entertaining enough to appeal to older readers.
One book that will definitely only interest older fans is Rick Veitch’s The Maximortal, the serialization of the latest graphic novel in Veitch’s King Hell Heroica, a disassembling and examination of the superhero myth. This full-color series builds on themes hinted at in Bratpack, the first graphic novel in the cycle. On the surface, The Maximortal is the story of the creation of the world’s ultimate hero: True-Man. Veitch’s approach to the “origin story” is anything but traditional. We follow True-Man’s life in detail, beginning with his birth and violent childhood in the early 1900s. Veitch leaves nothing out, portraying every aspect of his life with shocking explicitness. As an interesting subplot to the main story, Veitch is creating a partially-fictionalized account of the corporate injustices suffered by Superman’s creators, with his familiar-sounding Spiegal and Schumacher characters. Appearing as a back-up feature in every issue is an excerpt from Veitch’s dream diary, “Rare Bit Fiends.” Two new issues will be published this summer. The Maximortal will also be lowering its price by one dollar, while remaining in full color.
From ground-breaking books like Understanding Comics and From Hell, to innovative concepts like The Allagash Incident and Cages, it’s obvious that Tundra hopes to accomplish something with the books it publishes, rather than just sit back and follow what everyone else is doing. Tundra boasts a roster of creators who not only realize that comics are very visual, but that they must also incorporate original ideas and creative writing for inventive and exceptional storytelling. With its summer schedule of comics and graphic novels, Tundra truly is publishing comics to read.