Sunday, October 25, 2015

Suggestions Unboxed -- Getting My Comics Outside the 'Big Two'

Jeirich: I'd be interested in a discussion of the short-lived Atlas Comics line in the mid 70s. They managed to attract an amazing level of talent, which they promptly seemed to waste: Ditko, Adams, Toth, Heath, Chaykin, Buckler . . . I think a creator's rights approach helped them get these heavyweights (and to-be-heavyweights).

pfgavigan: There is a lot of great material out there that was produced by the small independent companies that we rarely touch upon that might make a good subject for a post. First, Pacific, Valiant are just a few of the companies that I was reading at the time.

To be honest, reading a lot more than the Big Two at the time.

Garett: I'll second PFG's suggestion about independent comics. To me they were a major part of the Bronze Age.


RobAnderson said...

I had bought some non-Marvel and DC titles right from the beginning -- many Disney, Gold Key, etc. But Atlas was the first time I experienced a whole new line from the ground floor. It was very exciting and they grabbed a good share of my allowance for a bit, mostly from DC titles. Most, though, seemed cooler in theory than execution for me. I did love Protector/Phoenix, tho the concept kept changing. And I kept that Man-Monster one-shot issue for many years (with the red monster on the cover). MUCH Indy reading in future years, but Atlas was a first for me.

J.A. Morris said...

Good topic. As a little kid, I bought tons of licensed comics published by Charlton, including Flintstones and Valley Of The Dinosaurs. I occasionally picked up issues of Harvey comics like Richie Rich (the REAL king of Bronze Age comics, as 'The Spinner Rack' has shown us). I read Archie sometimes, and I still pick up the Archie Christmas digests every holiday season.

I'm a big fan of 'Love And Rockets' from Fantagraphics. Coming from a punk/hardcore background, I always preferred the Maggie & Hopey stories over the Palomar tales, but they're all good stories. It's interesting to go back to the beginning and watch Jaime's tales evolve from sci-fi to a sort of punk rock Archie comics.

Humanbelly said...

So I must have been 13 when Atlas launched-- right in the prime of middle-school boy goober doofus-hood. Marvel, from my small crew's perspective, was really the only worthy game going by that point. . . with DC coming in a very distant second which we would occasionally deign to take a glance at. Gold Key, Harvey, Archie-- all kids'-stuff that we were-- heh- far too mature to even give a first glance. I definitely remember that first round of Atlas titles hitting the racks, and our first response was that we couldn't believe anyone would try to launch a whole brand-spankin' new line of comics to try to compete with Marvel. Doomed from the start-- that was our opinion. We had to admit that a lot of those books looked JUST LIKE Marvel & DC's stuff, for the most part-- but none of them seemed particularly original in concept. Better than Charleton, perhaps, but when allowance is limited and you're committed to certain titles, it's not likely you're gonna forego getting that month's Avengers so you can pick up Heap #1. From looking at the Wikipedia entry, though, one gets the impression that Atlas' failure had more to do with the chronic inability of comic book publishers in general to not have sensible, practical, stable long-term business models. "Hope that this works" is not a strategic business plan, y'know?

After that, it was until the mid-80's that I gave any independents another look at all.

Of all the independents, New England Comics (comprised pretty much of The Tick and his spin-offs) was probably my most enduring favorite. Many, many others were of course familiar to the eye from Geppi's terrific wall-racks (The Badger, Cerebus, TMNT, Destroyer Duck, Flaming Carrot?, Megaton Man, etc, etc) -- but even at that point I was wedded by force of habit to Marvel and an improving DC, and couldn't quite make the jump to independents. Many, many years later the one I finally did give over to was INVINCIBLE from Image. . . although it was getting just too graphically intense and tonally dark by the time I decided to abandon it.


Redartz said...

I remember the Atlas invasion in the mid-70's, but never had the chance to read any of their publications.

Later, though, in the 80's, the Indie bug hit me full in the face. I picked up a few issues of Cerebus, but didn't really get into it. However, many other title soon started piling up on my comic shelves (in college, I kept stacks of comics on a series of metal storage racks, taking up precious space in my apartment). Among those titles:

American Flagg- started from the first issue as I enjoyed Howard Chaykin's work anyway. Stayed with the book for about two years; Raul was great- gotta love a talking cat...

E-Man- another title I collected for the full run.

Mars- Marks Hempel and Wheatley, kept it up for about a year (and yes, I was helping keep First! comics afloat).

Journey- Bill Messner-Loeb's frontier saga of Joshua "Wolverine" Macalistaire became one of my all-time favorite comic series, period. The historical details, the range of characters (including Iroquois braves, a French mystic, a British officer bent on subverting the nascent US, and a rather odd poet channeling Lovecraft), and Loeb's art all combined wonderfully. I still reread the whole series periodically, and remain hopeful of a new installment someday.

Mr. X- Paul Rivoche created a masterpiece of dystopian story and art. The first few issues, by the bros. Hernandez, were a treat for the eyes. More great graphics followed...

Neil the Horse- Arn Saba's wonderful homage to Barks and "Walt Disney's Comics and Stories", featuring the charming talking, banana-eating horse Neil. Along with his friends Soapy (a curmudgeonly cat) and Mam'selle Poupee (a dancing, talking, living marionette). The comic helped 'make the world safe for musical comedy'...

Then there were Normalman, Cutey Bunny, Usagi Yojimbo, and so on, and so on. There was a true renaissance of variety available on the indie stands, and I was loving it!

Redartz said...

J.A. - yes, "Love and Rockets" was another winner. Can't believe I forgot to mention it. Also forgot to mention the "Jonny Quest" series from Comico in the later 80's. A very good treatment of the cast, written by Bill Messner-Loebs (yes, I was becoming quite a fan of his at the time).

Anonymous said...

I've never read anything from Atlas, but I think I may have picked up the odd Charlton or Gold Key as a kid...though nothing comes to mind.

As for 80s indies, I didn't read any at the time, since I was getting all my comics off the rack back then. I've since read Grell's Jon Sable (which I loved) and I've been meaning to read several others (Love & Rockets, American Flagg, Grimjack, Ms. Tree), but I never seem to get around to it.

Mike Wilson

William said...

If we're not talking strictly Bronze-Age stuff, I was actually pretty big into "Valiant" when it was around originally. I loved Ninjak, Eternal Warrior, Archer & Armstrong, X-O Man-o-war, Harbinger, Solar, and etc. The good storytelling and tight, interactive continuity reminded me a lot of classic Marvel. Of course, things went downhill when they unceremoniously booted Jim Shooter out of the company he founded.

JJ said...

I was thrilled by the Independents and bought as many as I could afford at a place called Bender's Books in Phoebus, Virginia. I discovered Neal Adams' Ms. Mystic there (still have the first issue), Grimjack, Grell's Starslayer, Kirby's Captain Victory, and a wide array of other titles. It was an exciting time for comics.

My two favorites though were Chaykin's American Flagg and Dave Stevens' Rocketeer. I would pore each and every issue. (The Rocketeer started as a backup in Starslayer) To this day I still consider The Rocketeer the most beautifully illustrated comic I've ever read. Flagg was a bit over my head but I adored the snarky tone and the sexual content. It all seemed so racy at the time. And, wow, what gorgeous artwork from Chaykin. So modern and cutting edge.

Edo Bosnar said...

I actually read quite a bit from outside of the big 2; I had a both a funny animal phase (Disney ducks) and an Archie phase. I occasionally read Charlton books, mainly the E-man reprints that came out in the late '70s, as well as an issue or two of Doomsday +1 (again, the later reprints).
As for Atlas, I recall seeing a few of those books on the racks when I was just starting as a young comics reader, but never got any of them, as something seemed kind of "off" to my young mind (I guess they seemed kind of scary and 'adult'). However, I now have the first two issues of Chaykin's Scorpion, which are not that bad (I even started to write a review of them a while back, but I just seem unable to get it finished).

As for the indie stuff from the '80s, initially I was really on board when Pacific Comics launched, and I had the first bunch of issues of Kirby's Captain Victory and Silverstar, Grell's Star Slayer, Aragones' Groo, the first issue of Adams' Ms. Mystic, and a bunch of others. I also had a single issue of an indie flip book comic, with one half featuring a team called the Justice Machine, and the other a hero called Cobalt Blue. I recall thinking that was really cool, but I never saw another issue of that again, even in comic book shops.

Love & Rockets is something I never read at the time (much to my regret now) but which I discovered later and, even though I haven't read nearly enough, I absolutely love the series and pretty much everything else I've read by the Hernandez brothers. And just to be the yang to J.A.'s yin (or is it the other way around?), I slightly prefer Gilbert's Palomar stories over Jaime's Maggie & Hopey (and I love his spot-on description of the latter as 'punk rock Archie').

Anonymous said...

The independents of the early direct market period were great, as I'd pretty much lost interest in superheroes, but found really great comics like Love & Rockets and Cerebus to read instead.

I also enjoyed the likes of Sabre and American Flagg (the Chaykin issues obviously - it went downhill fast after he left) and the chance to see what the better Marvel or DC creators could do with a bit of freedom. The flip side of that, though, was slack deadlines and a general lack of professionalism, which was fine in small doses but more of a problem as those publishers became larger.
At which point they imitated the big two and all their comics became standard format colour monthlies (Eclipse even coloured Gene Colan's wonderful work on Ragamuffins!)


Garett said...

I loved many indie books in the early '80s, and many have been mentioned here already. I'm with Edo in that I preferred Gilbert's Love + Rockets to Jaime's, although both were great. Mr. X, Flaming Carrot (I'd like to find this series again), American Flagg, Starslayer. Ms. Mystic was exciting to see at first for a new Neal Adams comic, but didn't last long. Some I remember liking at the time, but not sure if they'd hold up now, like Justice Machine. There was also Reid Fleming: World's Toughest Milkman, Mr. Monster by Michael T. Gilbert, Xenozoic Tales by Mark Shultz, Elementals by Willingham, Rocketeer by Stevens.

Jon Sable is my #1 favorite indie book and one of the best books of the Bronze Age by any company. Mike Grell in top form with story and art. Dreadstar by Starlin is another favorite, although I liked it best at the beginning when published in Marvel's Epic line.

In the '70s, Chaykin's Scorpion is cool (I'd like to see a review Edo!). Other Atlas: Wulf the Barbarian. I remember liking Cerebus more in the early issues when it was a Conan spoof. E-Man is one I read recently for the first time, and it's fantastic.

Overall, the indies were exciting because they seemed to have more freedom than Marvel or DC. It was like discovering an awesome new rock band that no one had heard of yet.

Garett said...

Another spinoff topic from this could be foreign comics during the Bronze Age. European, Japanese...Canadian!!

Ward Hill Terry said...

I started collecting after Atlas folded, and was still too mainstream when Pacific emerged, but First Comics came along just when I was ready to stretch myself a little more. Warp, Grimjack, E-Man, the Badger, and Nexus! I stuck it out with Flagg and Nexus for many years. I was a regular reader of Cerebus by college (1982-1985) and picked up the other Aardvark-Vanaheim books, Normalman and Journey, which deserves more mentions here. After looking at the covers for 10 or so issues, I bought Love and Rockets, then bought as many back issues as I could! I stuck with L & R and Cerebus after DC abandoned Earth 2 and got rid of me as a reader. OH! Stig's Inferno by Ty Templeton! Great book!

pfgavigan said...


For some reason Marvel comics completely disappeared from my area during the early Seventies so I was more willing to take a look at the Atlas books that somehow reached the magazine stand. What I remember was that some of these comics had a lot of energy. Maybe not a lot of coherence, Iron Jaw fore example, but a lot of energy. Chaykin was working on his proto-adventurer, Fleisher was was pressing the bounds of good taste and Conway and Buckler were producing characters that should have gotten them sued out of existence when they were, more or less, transported to Marvel.

Energetic but chaotic, definitely a foreshadowing of what would take place later that decade when a lot of these creators would take up professional residence at Marvel.

Bye the way, it should be mentioned that even though Atlas comics failed, Goodman's Seaboard Periodicals did continue into the Nineties with a series of specialized interest magazines and soft core porn.

I really wish that the descendants of Martin Goodman, and the family does continue, could be located. By all reports Goodman kept meticulous business records and would be a great resource of comic book history.



Anonymous said...

Love and Rockets is addictive, man. I've been following it on and off since the late '80's.
Some great titles mentioned here, but I would like to put in an honorable mention for P. Craig Russel's Elric.
Wild, weird, and captures the mood of the books perfectly.
I enjoyed Kirby's Silver Star and Captain Victory as well. A great era for comics from small companies.

Rip Jagger said...

I was into Atlas-Seaboard from the very beginning. One of my most vibrant comics memories is buying the first four issues from the company (Ironjaw, Wulf the Barbarian, The Phoenix, and Grim Ghost) and reading them at my aunt's house one evening. I was a high school senior looking to head to college maybe or do something with my life and I was looking to make changes in my reading habits. The carelessness at Marvel had gotten on my nerves a bit and DC was great but didn't have the magic quite. The newness and freshness of Atlas was just the ticket for a "Marvel Zombie" ready to move on. Sadly the company flamed out, but it was a glorious fire while it lasted.

Rip Off

RobAnderson said...

If I extend out later than Atlas, I read a ton of "indies" thereafter -- American Flagg, Sable, even ones I've kept and re-read multiple times, like Nexus and Elementals and Xenozoic Tales. Great stuff...

david_b said...

Rip, I agree with you on Marvel's 'carelessness'. I picked up a few of Atlas's 'Planet of Vampires' since I liked the Pat Broderick-Neal Adams covers. Not much in terms of characterization, but the stories were interesting.

Redartz did remind me of that nice "Jonny Quest" series, written by Messner-Loebs, which I enjoyed, especially since it WASN'T Marvel or DC.. Just a nice fresh comic-reading excursion. Great JQ poster from that time as well, I still have it.

Doug said...

Like some above have said, I was so into Marvel and DC in the Bronze Age that I turned up my nose at most other publishers. After reading everyone's comments, the mistake was mine. I didn't get into independents much at all throughout my comics' buying. The closest I came was in the late 1980s and into the 1990s with Bone and Dark Horse's Legend imprint, with Miller's Sin City, Byrne's Next Men, Mignola's Hellboy, etc. I generally enjoyed those books.

Atlas's stable of creators alone should have made me crack open a cover or two at the newsstand all those years ago.


Steve Does Comics said...

I bought a great mountain of Atlas Comics at the time they came out. Reading them now, as an adult, they're nearly all fatally flawed but they did seem like a breath of fresh air at the time and they usually had great covers, if nothing else.

I did have one or two Dell and Gold Key comics but they did nothing for me.

My favourite minnows by far were definitely Charlton Comics, mostly because they did so many horror and mystery titles and they had an offbeat charm, using the likes of Joe Staton, Steve Ditko and Tom Sutton. On top of that, they had the charm of being plucky underdogs compared to the giants of Marvel and DC.

Garett said...

Another is EDGE OF CHAOS by Gray Morrow, from Pacific Comics in '83. 3 issue miniseries about Hercules, who is a modern man pulled back into the time of the ancient gods. I haven't read it in years, but this topic has inspired me to pull it out again. I enjoyed it at the time, and it seems to me it's some of Morrow's best work. There was humour, action and sexiness, and Morrow wrote and drew the story.

david_b said...

ARRG, Garett's mention of Gray Morrow made me remember my beloved Space:1999 comics by Charlton.., didn't read the 4-color John Byrne comics, but certainly enjoyed the larger format offerings with Gray's gorgeous art.

Garett said...

I read through Edge of Chaos last night-- it's great! Gray Morrow's art is more robust than usual, but still has elegant linework and realistic proportions. There's a lot of writing on each page- this is definitely not decompressed modern writing- but Morrow is witty and articulate, so it's a joy to read. Morrow's coloring is expressive, and especially nice in the second issue on glossy paper. The third issue's coloring looks too quickly done and leaves too much white of the page, but at least this still shows off Morrow's fine drawing. This is almost turning into a full review, so I'll leave it at that and give Edge of Chaos a thumbs up!

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