Sunday, 19 April 2015

Taboo: A Financial Kamikaze Plane

Taboo #1 (SpiderBaby Grafix, 1988)
Cover art by Steve Bissette
(from an interview with Chris Dahlen at A.V.Club, 23 July 2009)
...Taboo was not self-publishing. Taboo was my first real experience with publishing. Of the work that appeared in Taboo, very little of it was mine. With Taboo, I learned about the ethics of publishing. And our deal with Taboo was, we sunk no proprietary rights or hooks into any of that material. It was one-time publication, a flat page-rate, $100 a page, and that was it. Deal over.

When From Hell the movie was made, we got nothing from it. Some people felt like that was unfair, but hey, that was the deal. The whole reason From Hell and Lost Girls and Throat Sprockets exist today is because they were made for Taboo, and Taboo, I was the midwife. I literally looked at it as that profession. My job was to facilitate the birth of something into this world, and then I’m done...

...Dave Sim forged a friendship with John Totleben and I at the Mid-Ohio-Con. And Dave laid out his whole vision of the inverted pyramid, that the whole superstructure of these businesses was built on the backs of freelancers that they were treating badly, paying badly. But they wouldn't be going home with their paycheck every Friday if the freelancers didn't get their work done, and all their income and revenue was generated by the work of a freelance pool that was at the end of the food chain, instead of benefiting from the food chain.

I was receptive to that. Not just because it was a radical thought -- and it was, at the time -- but also because it was the first thing I'd ever heard from someone else in the industry that was making sense of my real-life experiences with the industry...

...Taboo was like a kamikaze plane going into the deck of the Midway. It was a defunct business model before it started! I lost tens of thousands of dollars. Dave Sim poured tens of thousands of dollars into it that he never got back. The year I made a ton of money off 1963, I sent Dave Sim a check for $10,000. And he said "Steve, your checks are no good here. Keep it." For Dave, it was an investment he had made in not just Taboo, but a group of creators he believed in, and it ended up having a beneficial effect on comics.

But no one ever waited for a check from Taboo. My family ate macaroni and cheese some weeks, which drove my wife nuts, as you can well understand. Because instead, a few hundred dollars were going to Eddie Campbell and Alan Moore, because the work on From Hell was underway...

As a comics-artist, Steve Bissette is best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore and John Totleben on DC Comics' Swamp Thing in the 1980s, as well as his own self-published Tyrant. As editor of the horror-anthology Taboo, he published the first serialised appearances of From Hell (by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell), Lost Girls (by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie) and the still-born Sweeney Todd (by Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli).

After self-publishing Taboo #1-4 through SpiderBaby Grafix, Steve edited Taboo #5-7 and Taboo Especial which were co-published with Kevin Eastman's Tundra Publishing. In 1993 Tundra Publishing was involved in a controversial merger with Dennis Kitchen's Kitchen Sink Press, which published the final two volumes of Taboo, #8-9, in 1995 edited by Philip Amara. In 1994 Kitchen Sink Press had been purchased by Ocean Capital Corp. Kitchen Sink Press was finally dissolved in 1999.

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