Wizard #58: Top 10

June 1996 (on sale date: April 1996)

You can’t really tell from the X-Men on the cover (and the inset photo of Barb Wire star Pamela Anderson), but this issue of Wizard kinda-sorta had a small press focus. It contained a feature article profiling several self-publishers, a contest centered around Terry Moore‘s Strangers In Paradise, an original Milk & Cheese comic story by Evan Dorkin, a one-page profile of Poison Elves creator Drew Hayes, and a Dave Sim Q&A written by yours truly (which will be the subject of the next blog post). Since the Wizard editorial team was really going out of their way to spend an entire issue not talking about Jim Lee and Joe Madureira, they decided that “Palmer’s Picks” for this month should also tie-in with the magazine’s loose indy theme. Instead of my usual creator profile, I was asked to run my picks for the top 10 small press books of all time.

Marvel Comics’ mutants Cyclops and Gambit take the spotlight for the cover of Wizard #58 by Joe Madureira. Check out all of those extra muscles on Cyclops’ upper arm! Reminds me of Johnny Ryan’s “Weight Lifting Gophers” strip from the back cover of Angry Youth Comics #4.

When I was putting this list together, I had no idea of the exact contents of the other small press coverage in this issue (aside from the Sim Q&A I was tasked with). So, I assumed that the Wizard editors were going to play it safe and cover the crop of self-publishers who were struggling to survive in the failing mid-’90s marketplace—the majority of those comics were not too far from the mainstream. Working off of that assumption, I put together a list of ten comics that I was pretty certain would not be mentioned in the rest of the magazine. And it looks like I was right!

By excluding what I thought was going to be covered elsewhere, the focus of my column shifted a bit from what I was assigned. Instead of the best of all time, I ended up with a best of all the rest. All in all, it’s still not a bad list. With the benefit of hindsight, I might pick a few different works from the same artists—for example, while Jar of Fools is great, Berlin would be a better pick from Jason Lutes. And I might not have included any anthologies on the list. (Sorry, Taboo!) But I think Dirty Plotte, Eightball, Hate, and Love and Rockets are essentials on any sampling of the best independent comics from the time period. And Tom Hart‘s Hutch Owen’s Working Hard remains one of my favorite single comics of all time. It’s just that good.

Palmer’s Picks

Ten Small Press Books You Should Own

By Tom Palmer Jr.

Everybody knows about Cerebus. You’ve probably heard a lot about Stray Bullets. And it’s hard not to notice Bone now that Jeff Smith has joined the Image gang. It seems like everybody is paying attention to the small press these days, but there are still some really great comics that not many people know about. Some of them are no longer published, and some have been around just as long as, or even longer than, the big guns of the small press. They might not enjoy a big audience from the general comic reading community, but they draw on a different crowd who might not set foot in a comic store. To make things easy for you, I’ve gathered together 10 comics (in alphabetical order) that I consider to be the best of the rest of the small press. Now all you have to do is bug your local comic store to carry them.

Dirty Plotte (1991-present)Julie Doucet isn’t the first female cartoonist to unflinchingly present a woman’s dreams and imaginings in a comic, but she is certainly one of the best. Her boldly innovative cartooning is endearing, and there is a dreamlike rhythm to her narratives that will mesmerize you. A good place to start with the Dirty Plotte series would be the latest issue, #9, which features a full-length story about all of the weirdos Doucet encountered at art school.

Eightball (1989-present)Dan Clowes‘ slick art and darkly humorous stories have earned him a reputation as one of the best, and weirdest, cartoonists around. Eightball has featured a wide range of stories in different styles and techniques, like the surreal “Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron,” the lethal satire of the comic industry in “Young Dan Pussey” and “Ghost World,” the story of two teenage girls’ summer vacation. A good thing about Eightball is that the mix of serialized and self-contained stories makes it easy to pick up any issue, so don’t forget to reserve a copy of the next issue (#17) when it comes out in July.

Hate (1990-present)Peter Bagge‘s Hate is one of the few comics that gets better with every issue. Aside from being a hilariously funny chronicle of the slacker generation, Hate offers keen insights into family life in America. And to top it off, Bagge’s in-your-face cartooning is even in full color. If you’ve already been following Hate, look for some pretty wild developments as life gets even weirder for its protagonist Buddy Bradley in New Jersey (if such a thing is possible).

Hutch Owen’s Working Hard (1994)—Tom Hart took his Xeric Grant money and put it to good use when he published this impressive graphic novel about the life of Hutch Owen, a unique outsider who turned his back on society and moved to the woods. Hart’s spare cartooning style will grab you right away, but don’t be fooled; this story will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading. But beware: This story also has more four-letter words than you can shake a stick at. If you’re hankering for more Tom Hart, be on the lookout for The Sands, his regular series from Black Eye Productions this summer.

Jar of Fools (1994-95)—It’s too bad there aren’t more comic books like the two-issue Jar of Fools by Xeric Grant winner Jason Lutes. Through the story of Ernie Weiss, a down-and-out magician, Lutes gives you a well-drawn story with convincing characters that you’ll instantly care about, and he even wraps the whole thing up with a satisfying ending. The first installment of Lutes’ new project, Berlin, should also be in stores now.

Love and Rockets (1982-96)—This landmark series from Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez has influenced a host of cartoonists, and has remained at the forefront by combining enthralling stories, strong female characters and innovative storytelling. Just about every issue is split into two stories, one telling about Gilbert’s fictional Central American country Palomar, and the other dealing with Jaime’s collection of post-punk Californian characters. Some highlights include Gilbert’s gangster epic “Poison River” and Jaime’s classic “Mechanics” from issue #2. Sadly, Love & Rockets is coming to an end in March, but Los Bros. will return this July, each with their own new mini-series (before they launch into regular series). Gilbert will start with the three-issue Girl Crazy and the six-issue New Love, which will focus on short surreal stories with a continuing serial, “Letters from Venus,” about a young girl who collects comic books. Jaime weighs in with Whoa, Nellie!, a three-issue series featuring his wrestling characters, before moving on to his regular series Penny Century.

Rubber Blanket (1991-present)David Mazzucchelli could have taken the easy road to success after his acclaimed work with Frank Miller on Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again, but instead he chose to start Rubber Blanket, an oversized avant garde anthology. Even more impressive than the lush production values of Rubber Blanket is Mazzucchelli’s maturity as a storyteller, evinced by stories like “Discovering America” in #2 and “Big Man” in #3.

Taboo (1988-95)—Before he became famous for drawing dinosaurs, Steve Bissette published Taboo, one of the groundbreaking anthologies of the late ’80s. Taboo stretched the boundaries of what horror comics could be (provoking some customs officials in the process) by giving a home to stories like Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell‘s From Hell, Jeff Nicholson‘s Through the Habitrails, and the disturbed scrawlings of underground shock-meister S. Clay Wilson.

Yummy Fur (1986-95)Chester Brown always seems to set the comic community on its ear. He shocked just about everybody with the no-holds-barred stream-of-consciousness “Ed the Happy Clown” storyline. Then he made a 180° turn with stark autobiographical stories like “The Playboy” and “I Never Liked You,” in his old, long-running series Yummy Fur. He has also confounded his readers with his new series, Underwater, which is written in a new language Brown invented. Early issues of Yummy Fur would be a good place to start to get a taste of Brown’s off-beat humor and minimalist cartooning.

Zot! (1984-91)—Back when everybody was trying to be grim and gritty, Scott McCloud reminded us that superheroes could still be fun. Even when the comic got serious with the “Earth Stories” and the spotlight moved away from Zot (a teenager from another dimension) to focus on the supporting cast, Zot! remained a fascinating read. You won’t have to rummage through the back issue bins for old copies of Zot, though, now that Kitchen Sink Press is reprinting the entire series, beginning with a full-color volume of the first 10 enjoyable issues this July.

Stronger than ever before, Tom Palmer Jr. is a drug against war. He’s also the guy who wrote the Dave Sim Q&A on page 58.

FYI: For more information on Dirty Plotte and Yummy Fur, write to Drawn & Quarterly Publications, 5550 Jeanne Mance Ste. #16, Montreal, Quebec, Canada 112V 4K6. To get the scoop on Eightball, Hate and Love & Rockets, call 1-800-657-1100 for the Fantagraphics catalog. To find out about Jar of Fools and Tom Hart, write to Black Eye Productions, 5135 Parc Ave. #5, Montreal, Quebec, Canada 112V 463. Call 1-800-365-SINK to get Kitchen Sink’s catalog and more information on Taboo and Zot!. And if you need to know about Rubber Blanket, write to Rubber Blanket Press, P.O. Box 3067 Uptown Station, Hoboken, NJ 07030.

Recommended Reading

Exit: Nabiel Kanan is a talented new cartoonist, and his comic book, Exit, is definitely something to pick up. The stories in Exit are of the slice-of-life variety, but everything is given that extra touch by Kanan’s stylized minimalist artwork and expert sense of timing. Probably the only drawback to reading Exit is all the black ink on the pages; it leaves weird smudges on your fingertips. If you can’t get Exit locally, call Caliber Press at 1-800-346-8940 to find out how to get a copy. There are three issues available, as well as a trade paperback collecting the first eight-issue story arc that Kanan self-published.

A World of Trouble: Jeremy Eaton is breaking new ground with recent stories in his comic A World of Trouble. Most notable of these is “Quiet Charlie,” where he tells the tale of Charles Gleason, an actor who played Tarzan in silent films and was forced out of his job with the advent of movies with synchronized sound. Gleason’s silent world is told through a series of fake newspaper clippings, and a comic story supplemented by a text story. With its interesting combination of different techniques, “Quiet Charlie” is one of the few stories that can only be told effectively in comics. For more information on A World of Trouble, write to Black Eye Productions, 5135 Parc Ave. #5, Montreal, Quebec, Canada 112V 4G3.

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