Monday, 25 April 2016

Steve Bissette: Teen Angels & New Mutants

by Steve Bissette
(Black Coat Press, 2011)
Cover art by Rick Veitch

Writer/artist Rick Veitch's career bridges the underground comix of the 1970s, mainstream DC and Vertigo Comics, and the self-publishing revolution of the 1980s and 1990s. In that extraordinary body of work, Brat Pack® remains a landmark, and Teen Angels & New Mutants is the first book-length, in-depth study of a creator and graphic novel worthy of the autopsy. En route, Teen Angels offers a crash-course on teen pop culture and superhero sidekick history, fresh analysis of Dr. Fredric Wertham's seminal books, ponders real-world "new mutants" like Michael Jackson, The Olsen Twins, and Justin Bieber, and charts the 1980s comicbook explosion and 1990s implosion -- and more. 

(from 'Chapter 11: Packaging The Pack' in Teen Angels & New Mutants, 2011)
Kevin Eastman and Tundra Publishing Ltd became Brat Pack's first publisher.

In 1990, building on the success of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mirage Studios, TMNT co-creator Keven Eastman founded Tundra, personally bankrolling the venture. Before the company's curious conclusion in 1993, it was estimated that Eastman had sunk $14 million into the enterprise. Brat Pack was one of Tundra's few successes, as was Veitch's sequel The Maximortal, and Veitch's role in Tundra merits attention.

How could a publishing experiment like Tundra rise and fall so quickly? I long ago went on public record with my perceptions of what happened [The Comics Journal #185, March 1996]; for the present, I will rely primarily on Veitch's and Eastman's published accounts of events, while primarily focusing on Veitch and the Brat Pack.

The comics industry was at a number of crossroads at the close of the 1980s and the early 1990s. In hindsight, that roadmap can be charted, dissected and discussed, but at the time, factions of the comics industry and creator communities were struggling in wild disarray to divine and define the nature of the medium and the industry.

Veitch and I personally experienced these jarring shifts. There were new economic models and creative mentors that emerged from the fray. During our own tenure as the art team on Swamp Thing, John Totleben and I met Cerebus creator Dave Sim at the Mid-Ohio Conventions in 1984-1985, and Dave had turned our heads to how the comics industry functioned, the role of freelancers and creators played, and the benefits of self-publishing versus continuing to work for the corporate comics publishers: in short, the core ethics and opportunities of the industry. The industry-wide conversation heated up thanks to two New England cartoonists -- Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird -- who self-published their own modest black-and-white parody comic, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles...

...Even as Eastman and Laird began to explore the comic book community in 1984 as "instant celebrities", Cerebus creator Dave Sim seized the day. Based upon his own experience self-publishing Cerebus since 1977 and experimenting with publishing the work of others (via his imprint Aardvark-Vanaheim, and the newly formed Aardvark One International), Sim used the text pages of Cerebus and his many convention and trade show appearances to expound his own philosophies of the autonomous creative life possible in the direct sales market, without the traditional support systems or yokes of the mainstream (or, for the most part, the alternative) publishers. The one-two punch of Sim's informed, experience-based arguments and the skyrocketing success of Eastman and Laird's TMNT prompted a new awakening for many, including Veitch, myself, and many in our circle. More than anyone, though, Veitch had the experience, background, self-motivation, work ethic, and "chops" to succeed at self-publishing where many failed -- it was, after all, a direct extension of his Sun Comics one-man comics "company" from when he was a mere lad.

Still recovering from his Swamp Thing years, Veitch was considered unfairly by some a sort of an "odd man out" amid these tumultuous times.
"This was the point in which I'm beginning to get into Sim's orbit, and he had been meeting up with Eastman and Laird at conventions, and they were all talking about how to get people into self-publishing, and try to define why self-publishing works, and what part's don't work. Dave came to a comic book symposium that was going on at Greenfield [Community] College, in Massachusetts, where I first met him. We did a panel, and he instantly raked me over the coals as a DC stooge... I guess it was because of the dynamics of out situation at that point, he would paint me as an apologist for DC Comics, which really wasn't where my head was at..." [Rick Veitch, The Comics Journal #175, #March 1995]...

Stephen R. Bissette is best known for his collaboration with Alan Moore on Saga of the Swamp Thing from 1983-87, and for his self-published Tyrant comic, the portrait of a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the late Cretaceous period. He also edited the ground-breaking horror comics anthology Taboo, which launched From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. He co-authored the books Comic Book Rebels and The Monster Book: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and his novella Aliens: Tribes, illustrated by Dave Dorman, won a Bram Stoker Award in 1993. More recently his articles on horror films have been collected in the Blur series published by Black Coat Press and Steve currently serves on the faculty of The Center For Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. 


Andrés G. said...

Hi, I'm a new reader trying to buy the whole thing in paper.

Just wanted to ask if it's possible to ask for N° Zero off Diamond, and if so from which code.

Also if the only volumes currently out of stock are 9 (which i know is in the process of being remastered) and 13.

Sandeep Atwal said...

Hey Andrés, thanks for the message...sadly, Diamond doesn't carry Cerebus Zero, so you'll have to find it on eBay or Twitter....right now, Reads is being reprinted, but everything else Diamond has copies of so you should be able to get it from your local comic store. Hope that helps!