Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Stephen Bissette: Feeding The DC Machine

Brighter Than You Think: Ten Short Works By Alan Moore
with essays by Marc Sobel


MARC SOBEL:
(from Brighter Than You Think, Ten Short Works By Alan Moore, Uncivilised Books, 2016)
...Taboo was a horror anthology series edited and published by Stephen Bissette. Like Moore's short story [Come On Down], its origin also dates back to 1985 when Moore, Bissette and John Totlebon were still working together on Swamp Thing for DC Comics. While the three creators were enjoying great success with DC, the winds in the industry were shifting and more and more creators were embracing the underground comix model of self-publishing. At the time, no one had achieved more success in the self-publishing arena than the Canadian cartoonist, Dave Sim, the visionary creator and publisher of Cerebus The Aardvark, a series that he had produced entirely on his own since 1977. Inspired by his own experience, Sim was a passionate and outspoken advocate for creator independence and, according to Bissette, in 1985 he, "began extending invitations to a small pool of creators he felt were ready (and needed) to make the plunge into the deep, wide waters of self-publishing. This was part of a creative community re-education process Dave was committed to..." In particular, Sim believed that the Swamp Thing creative team was wasting their talents "renovating, restructuring and making (DC's) defunct corporate property worth something... Dave wanted us to be self-publishers, not feeding the DC machine".

But Sim was not simply encouraging creators with no publishing experience to blindly cast out on their own; he was also committed to helping them do so by building upon his own success. As a result, in 1985, he created a new corporate entity, Aardvark One International, in order to publish work from these creators. In addition to Moore, Bissette and Totlebon, many other creators working for the mainstream publishers, including Frank Miller and Bill Sienkiewicz, were also contacted by Sim.

Bissette and Totlebon were intrigued by Sim's offer. In particular, the two artists were excited about publishing a new kind of horror anthology which would fill a creative void they perceived existed in the industry at the time. Despite the presence of some new alternative horror series in the 1980s like Twisted Tales and Gore Shriek, Bissette felt that "horror comics were in a funk. John and I were finding no fertile ground for our own efforts in these 'new' anthologies, despite our attempts, and found it frustrating that the genuinely innovative horror comic stories were appearing sporadically in non-genre anthologies like RAW or self-published tiles like Chester Brown's Yummy Fur. There was no focal point for these creators and sensibilities to come together; no publisher willing to take the risks necessary to do a genuinely adult horror comic for the 1990s; no title with a point of view or understanding of the genre willing to explore, rather than exploit, its often dangerous potential." In short, Bissette felt that the "evolution of horror comics required something more radical and unfettered" and that he and Totlebon "were audacious enough to think it could be done and that (they) might be the ones to do it". Although Sim was reluctant at first to support an anthology, he eventually agreed and early in 1986, Bissette and Totlebon began contacting potential contributors.

However, just months before Taboo's first issue was scheduled to be printed, a protracted dispute between Sim and Diamond Comics, the largest comic book distributor in the United States, reached its tipping point, resulting in the dissolution of Aardvark One. With so many creators having already contributed to the series, the sudden loss of its publisher at the last second forced Bissette and his wife to scramble to form their own publishing business. Thus, SpiderBaby Grafix was born, hastily created to publish Taboo much the same way Moore had founded Mad Love to publish AARGH!...

12 comments:

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Didn't Taboo also have problems with printers refusing to run the job because of the content? I have a vague memory of this; can anyone confirm?

-- Damian

Barry Deutsch said...

Yes, that's my recollection, as well.

Dominick Grace said...

Not sure, but I would not be surprised. Issue 2 was banned in Canada--I eventually found a copy of it in the US and smuggled it home, scofflaw that I am. I suspect the problem with that issue was some fairly explicit, nasty work from S. Clay Wilson, though Canada has loosened its regulations about such stuff now, so perhaps today it would get in. Anyway, I wold not be surprised if some printers and distributors had some problems with Taboo generally and with issue 2 specifically.

Travis Pelkie said...

I don't know where I have them, but I have a couple of later issues, and I believe there's a retrospective on the series where they mention in there that there were printer issues, where the content offended the printer.

Hell, apparently Marvel Comics had an issue with the printing of Alias 1 (the first Jessica Jones comic), as the printer took umbrage about either the implied anal sex, or the interracial sex. IIRC, the printer was in Alabama, so it could have been either.

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Dominic: You said, "Issue 2 was banned in Canada." Not universally! I still have my copy of issue 2 that I bought when it was first published at the now-defunct "Island Fantasy" store in Market Square in Victoria, BC. I am missing issue 3, though, but that may be my fault.

-- Damian

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Oops! And Dominick, I apologize for misspelling our name. My brother's name is sans "k", so that's my excuse.

-- Damian

Travis Pelkie said...

I'll say what I said with Jeff: There's another one of you? ;)

Travis Pelkie said...

Also, just read this excerpt, finally. I have this Moore book, and I believe there's another bit about Dave somewhere in it, but couldn't tell you where without looking.

Also, it's "Totleben".

Dominick Grace said...

Damian, glad you could get Taboo out there on the west coast. I am in Ontario, where it was not available; I guess I should not have extrapolated from that a nationwide ban, though in my defense, my recollection is that was what my store told me at the time (they were happy to carry porn, so I doubt it was just their decision, with costumers lied to about it. Maybe Ontario had stricter laws; I know that film censorship was provincial, for instance, so there were films you could not see in Ontario that you could see elsewhere. Customs is federal, though, provincial, so I doubt that's it. Maybe it wasn't actually banned but one of those things that got through or didn't depending on who the customs agent was who reviewed it, and it got caught by a bluenose Ontarian customs agent. . . .

Dominick Grace said...

... um, CUSTOMERS lied to about it.... d'oh!

Damian T. Lloyd, Esq. said...

Dominick: The prohibition seems to have been inconsistent. I recall a few issues of Heavy Metal a couple of years earlier had been seized and prohibited for sale in BC. I think I bought one with a couple of pages ripped out -- Serpieri's "Druuna", as I recall; it didn't seem to hurt the story.

-- Damian

Dominick Grace said...

Druuna had stories? lol!