Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Puma Blues: The Cat Returns!
(from This Week In Comics by Joe McCulloch, 8 October 2014)
I doubt there’s very many of you who didn’t hear yesterday that Twin Peaks is coming back to television in 2016, but fuck that noise – I was already high on an announcement you may have missed. A confirmation, really: made by no less an authority than Dave Sim, who has apparently been retained to write an introduction for a new Dover Publications reissue/continuation of The Puma Blues, a 23 1/2-issue series (1986-88) from writer Stephen Murphy and artist Michael Zulli which Sim had initially financed through a company of his, Aardvark One International. This ultimately led to a distribution contretemps, after Sim — who had found some success in selling collected editions of his own series, Cerebus, directly to readers via mail order — elected to withdraw an upcoming printing of a collected edition for the “High Society” storyline from distribution via Diamond (or any Direct Market-servicing distributor) due to low advance orders. In response, a national account representative for Diamond suggested that the distributor, invoking its own privilege to choose what to carry, would no longer distribute The Puma Blues, an action which would result in a 1/3 circulation drop for the series. 

As it happened, Diamond never did drop The Puma Blues, although the incident did inspire a special 1988 "benefit" issue – more a show of creator solidarity that economic stimulus, which featured publication of "A Manifesto for Creators" (a predecessor to the Creator’s Bill of Rights from later that year) and a number of collaborative or solo comics, including pages from Chester Brown, Tom Sutton, Dave Roman, Tim Truman, and Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, whose Mirage Studios would subsequently become the series’ final publisher. The best stuff in the benefit issue, though — specifically, The Puma Blues #20 — involves the famous team behind The Saga of the Swamp Thing. Alan Moore & Stephen R. Bissette (with inks by Zulli) provide a terrific four-page reflection on the angst of intimacy in a threatening world told from the point of view of a young man jerking off to mutant flying rays mating over a toxic lake, while Murphy (a comic store employee who’d written and drawn an earlier iteration of the series as student work) scripts a nice Zulli-pencilled, Bissette-inked horror short about a domesticated dog rediscovering its killer instinct in the midst of a happy family’s home. Or at least, that’s the climax. 

The Puma Blues, you see, was never one for traditional narrative build and release. Superficially, it is comparable to the post-Swamp Thing Suggested for Mature Readers wing of DC, insofar as Murphy was, at that time, a fairly verbose writer in the Moore vein, and early issues of the series adopted a skewed genre comic’s perspective on a near-future world kissed by terrorist assault (on NYC, uh-oh!) and the threat of ecological ruin. But that’s not what’s interesting about the series – unlike the proto-Vertigo comics, which were beholden to editors and preexisting characters and audience expectations, The Puma Blues was free to drift away entirely from the burdens of plot and spend issue after issue dreamily exploring how comics might convey the despair of being lonely and worried in the wild. It is a portrait of two green creators — this was Zulli’s first published comics work too — seeing what they could do at a very specific moment in time that allowed a certain amount of visibility and economic comfort for such stumblings: the series had a five-figure readership, and only ended when Murphy found, by his own admission, that he was no longer at a place in his life where he felt he could access the series’ glum and isolated tone. He subsequently wrote a huge number of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics (often under the pseudonym “Dean Clarrain”), as well as the 2006 Image series Umbra and a 2010-14 webcomic, Contains Traces Of, which he also drew. 

Nonetheless: now the series is set to return, apparently with some sort of new conclusion, although *I* wonder if it’s not just a conclusion to the series’ third storyline, “Under a Deep Blue Sun”, which was close to being finished when the series stopped, although the series as a whole never seemed anywhere near a definitive ending – I think I recall Zulli estimating that they were about a third of the way through, which (amusingly) would put the series’ total length at the classic Vertigo series length of 60 to 75 issues. 

There haven’t been many Vertigo comics looking like this, though – not even the ones Zulli himself would later draw... [Read the full article at]

The Puma Blues was a comic book written by Stephen Murphy and drawn by Michael Zulli. Published first by Dave Sim's publishing imprint 'Aardvark One International' and later by Mirage Studios, it ran from 1986 to 1989, stretching over 23 regular issues and a single "half-issue" minicomic. In 2015 Dover Books will be publishing a collected edition of The Puma Blues.


Travis Pelkie said...

I assume that's just a typo up top and the piece referred to here is from October 8 2014 -- also, the TCJ link for the "This Week in Comics" goes to the post here at AMOC reprinting Dave's farewell from glamourpuss from Sept. 2012 (which means I've been visiting here for a little over 2 years now, since that's how I started following AMOC!)

Anyway, in non-annoying typo pointing out news ;) , is the material from the "benefit book" appearing in this new collection (um, if anyone knows)? And if so, has Alan Moore given permission, I wonder? He can be a prickly dude. Also, did Dave do anything for the benefit book, or did he stay out of it because of the Diamond problems?

And Murphy was "Dean Clarrain", huh? Cool.

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Hi Travis,
Well that was embarrassing! Have now fixed those links.

As to the contents of the book, I have no further info than you, but I notice that Drew from Dover Books follows AMOC on Twitter (@doverpubsdrew) and he may have the answers. I'll ask.

Dave did indeed contribute to the Puma Blues 'Benefit Book' with a single page illustration, posted onto AMOC here:

Many thanks,

Michael said...

Maybe I'm just from a different time, but is it really necessary it include the F word as such a casual piece of conversation in an article from a professional journal.


Tony Dunlop said...

I'm old-fashioned enough to agree with Michael about the "f bomb," but that ship left port long ago. Have you ever sat next to a table full of white alpha-male business types at a Starbucks? And these guys are supposed to be the pillars of society.

As for Puma Blues' return, well…

Tony the luddite said...

Da…ng, the link was supposed to embed. I'll try again:

Oh, those tags aren't supported here. Click away:


A Moment Of Cerebus said...

I received this reply from 'DoverDrew' on Twitter:
"The creators have decided not to include the material from issue 20. If you have any other questions let me know. Thanks."

Travis Pelkie said...

Ah. Not too surprising, actually. Thanks for the update, Tim.

Someone alert Rich Johnston so he can do a speculator alert on issue 20! (oh, ok, I will!)