This installment of “Palmer’s Picks” featuring Rick Veitch and his dream comic series Rare Bit Fiends was the third—and final—time I would double-dip. (I first wrote about Veitch more than three years earlier in a column focused on his various revisionist superhero comics.) As you might recall, my profile of Jay Stephens in the previous issue of Wizard was also a repeat. Having two back-to-back columns where I wrote about creators that had already been given the spotlight might not have been the best use of my monthly soapbox, but I really couldn’t pass up the chance to interview Veitch.
I consider Veitch to be a master of comics, and I think he really doesn’t get the accolades he deserves. And when I say “master” I mean it in the truest sense of the word. He excels at all aspects of the medium—his writing is top-notch and he’s a great draftsman. And he also has that one key ingredient that so many other comic creators lack—an understanding that comics is its own medium and a unique form of communication, and not merely a combination of “good art” and “good writing.”
There are so many examples of Veitch’s mastery of comics that it’s sometimes hard to pick out one or two. He’s had a long career and has worked in virtually every part of the industry—undergrounds, independent comics, mainstream superheros, self-publishing—so it can be difficult to zero in on an example without feeling like you’re ignoring something else. But the one aspect of his art that I feel doesn’t get enough recognition is his skill in creating cover art. I mean, just look at this gallery of all of the covers for the 23 issues (to date) of Rare Bit Fiends. There’s not a clunker in the bunch! They’re all evocative images; eye-catching and full of hidden symbolism and meaning.
Veitch’s The One from Marvel’s Epic Comics line also had a series of striking covers. The pop art-inspired artwork really stood out on the stands in 1985, and was a bold move for an up-and-coming cartoonist on his first creator-owned series. The logo of the comic changes from issue-to-issue, which was virtually unheard of for a series published by a mainstream company in the mid-’80s.
If you’re looking for more recent examples of Veitch’s masterful comics work, you’re in luck. He’s still going strong, publishing his new work via print-on-demand services. Under his Sun Comics imprint, he’s published a few stand-alone comics/graphic novels —Super Catchy, The Spotted Stone, Otzi, and a new edition of Can’t Get No. And he’s also revived his memorable ’90s comics with two new issues of Rare Bit Fiends and the next installment of the King Hell Heroica, Boy Maximortal.
I Dream Of Comics
By Tom Palmer Jr.
“I’m sitting in a room, and in one hand I’m holding one of the homemade comics I made when I was a little kid, and in the other I’m holding my dream diary,” Rick Veitch explains in an even, measured tone as he carefully recounts a dream he had when he was 22. “I’m trying to put the two together, but they keep smashing; they won’t go together. A voice comes from the ceiling and says, ‘They don’t fit, do they?’ I say to the voice, ‘I know who you are; you’re my grandmother and I love you,’ but the voice says, ‘No, I’m not.’ “
Veitch’s voice grows more intense as he continues: “I’m getting frustrated because the comic and the dream diary won’t fit together, and I’m yelling louder and louder, ‘Yes, you are!’ but the voice keeps saying ‘No, I’m not.’ Finally, I’m crying and screaming and suddenly the comic slips into the dream diary and clicks into place with a satisfying ‘click.’ Then the voice says, ‘You’re right, I am your grandmother.'”
This dream is one of many that the 44-year-old Vermont artist is using as source material for “Crypto Zoo,” a story currently serialized in the monthly comic book Rare Bit Fiends. Witch has gone back to some dream diaries he kept while in a state of severe depression as inspiration for this storyline. “Someone handed me a book on dreams when I was 22,” he explains, “and I really started getting into it, and I began to write all my dreams down. It helped me climb out of the emotional hole I was in at the time. It’s really clear when you sit down and read all these dreams how this whole problem was expressed in my dreams and how I healed myself as I worked my way through it.”
Veitch is currently interested in following and illustrating his own dreams, but his earlier comic work centered around superheroes. He pioneered the revisionist superhero genre in 1985 with Epic’s The One and later revitalized it with his examination of superhero sidekicks in Bratpack (1992) and his exploration of the superhero myth in The Maximortal (1992-93). He also grabbed comicdom’s attention in 1989 by writing a story where a time-traveling Swamp Thing encountered Jesus Christ, but DC Comics refused to publish it, and Veitch left the monthly title.
By turning away from superheroes to focus on dreams, Veitch has learned quite a few things about human potential. “There are parts of us that know who and what we are going to be in the future, and the potential for what we can accomplish. By plugging in to your dreamwork on a regular level, you begin to get in touch with it.”
Veitch stresses that the insight he has gained is not derived from a special talent or superhuman clairvoyance. Everyone has the potential to learn from their dreams, but society gets in the way of people who try to tap into this hidden power. “We’ve always looked down our noses at dreaming and seen it as a primitive form of being, but other civilizations, especially the aboriginal people, are very much in tune with it.”
Veitch regularly displays this creative potential in Rare Bit Fiends. It originally started as a 24-hour comic that saw print as a back-up in The Maximortal, but Veitch refined the concept when he started the regular series in 1994. Reading an issue of Rare Bit Fiends is a unique experience that brings out a new relationship between creator and audience: You can actually watch someone else’s dreams. By recording the unusual and symbolic details of dreams, Veitch has found the best vehicle for his versatile, illustrative approach to comic art. While the concept behind Rare Bit Fiends might sound dry and uninteresting at first, the comic is actually a joy to read. Where else can you see Neil Gaiman or Jeff Smith as characters in a comic book?
The creator is quick to acknowledge that there’s a direct link between comics and dreams: “Comics operate with the same language that your brain is hardwired with. Even when we were apes in the trees, our minds worked with imagery. That’s how dreams operate and that’s how comics work. When you run the images in panel art for someone to view, it runs a lot of the same programs that are in our brains already.”
It takes a lot of work for Veitch to get his dreams down to the comic book page. After taking copious notes every morning, Veitch must decide what is appropriate for his audience. Naturally, there are some things that never make it to an issue of Rare Bit Fiends. “There are certain things that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with a huge audience. But at the same time, even when there’s an idea that makes me feel uncomfortable, I like the challenge of getting it onto the page. It seems to be good therapy.”
“Crypto Zoo,” which began in Rare Bit Fiends #15, follows a younger Veitch’s dreamlife, but earlier storylines in Rare Bit Fiends have chronicled Veitch’s current life as a prominent alternative cartoonist and his troubles with self-publishing. Despite the hard work associated with self-publishing, Veitch is happy about the rewards. “If Rare Bit Fiends has proved anything, it’s that a really distinctive personal vision can exist in a marketplace and actually make enough money where someone like me doesn’t have to do mainstream comics all the time to live. That’s a terrific place to be in. I can’t tell you how many years I’ve wandered around hoping to get set up like this.”
Tom Palmer Jr. is a freelance writer from New Jersey who tried to keep a dream journal once, but he kept failing asleep while writing it.
FYI: You should be able to find Rare Bit Fiends at your local comic store, but if you have trouble, you can order directly from the publisher. Sample issues are $4 (which includes postage), and six-issue subscriptions are $24. Write to King Hell Press,
PO Box 1371, West Townshend, VT 05359 for more information. Rabid Eye, a collection of the first eight issues (and “Understanding Rare Bit Fiends” from issue #12) is also available for $16.50 (including postage). Look for Pocket Universe, a collection of issues #9 through #11 and issues #13 and #14, this spring.
Roarin’ Rick’s Recommended Reading
Rick Veitch says: “I’m really encouraged by the growth in stores that do nothing but sell alternative and independent titles and ignore mainstream superhero books. There’s a lot of good stuff happening in terms of the artform, and it’s all there if you know how to scratch for it.” Some of Rick’s favorite comics are: Cerebus, Tyrant, THB, Bone, Bizarre Heroes, Sandman, Love & Rockets, Jim, Acme Novelty Library, From Hell and Bacchus.
The Very Vicky Junior Hepcat Funbook: John Mitchell and Jana Christy, creators of Very Vicky, are celebrating their newborn twin boys, Harry and Hugo, with the publication of The Very Vicky Junior Hepcat Funbook (see right). The main attraction of this 80-page trade paperback is a pin-up section with work from Brian Michael Bendis, Steve Bissette, Evan Dorkin, Sarah Dyer, Batton Lash, Dave Sim, Rick and Cindy Veitch, and Michael Zulli. The rest of the book is a collection of Very Vicky short stories from various places, including her first appearance from the Iconografix Special in 1992. Look for the Funbook in April, retailing for $8.95, or write to Meet Danny Ocean at
PO Box 383286, Cambridge, MA 02238 for more information. And all of you big enough to reach the bar without sitting on a phone book might also want to check out Joseph Lanza’s The Cocktail, from St. Martin’s Press. It’s a comprehensive history of the cocktail in American history that features an appearance by Very Vicky and the Atomic Drinker. Look for The Cocktail in your local bookstore (it’s a “real” book, not a comic book).
Death Rattle: It’s hard to say that the new Death Rattle series is strictly a horror anthology. The stories in this bimonthly comic are not the typical gross-out bloodfests associated with horror comics, but they are still unsettling and disturbing. Highlights from the first two issues include “The Probability Chamber,” an EC comics-inspired story by Mark Schultz and Roger Petersen, “Cut-Up,’ an urban horror story by Brian Biggs, and chapters of “Alcoholic Janitor” by Zane Campbell. The third issue of Death Rattle is set for release in April. You should check your local comic store, or get a free catalog by contacting Kitchen Sink Press at
1-800-365-SINK or sending e-mail to [email protected].