I’d graduated from art school on a Sunday afternoon, then had a few days to goof around, swim, spin my tires and sleep in before Tom Skulan, the guru of FantaCo returned from vacation to (hopefully) officially anoint me the official funnybook arteest of this mysterious project Roger had clued me in on. On that Thursday, I strode into FantaCo to be greeted by Roger and whisked past the rack of comics, fanzines, toys and borderline porn into…THE BACKROOM of the store which was the office and nerve center of the whole operation, not to mention highly top secret and very much off limits to the general populace. It felt cool to be in that elite “club” of people who could pass through that tacky, tacked up curtain behind the shelves and step into the inner workings of a publishing Mecca. This may seem a gushing, drooling bit much but, as so many wanna be comic writers, artists, etc. can attest, when you get to go “behind the curtain” or security door, etc. ala’ “The Wizard Of Oz”, it’s as though you’ve arrived, made it into the inner circle, etc. I can’t even describe the way it felt the first time I was whisked inside the glass security door at Marvel while some hapless and possibly hopeless “shattered dreamers” were left cooling their heels on the couches in the waiting area- it’s like an exclusive club and since so many of us were never invited into the exclusive clubs of the world most likely DUE to being into comics and etc., it’s nice.
The backroom was kind of dismal and gloomy. Not only was it the office but a storeroom stacked with overstocks of various books, magazines, horror posters and borderline porn and it was definitely un-insulated (more on that later), but in the leftmost corner sat Tom Skulan and his desk from which the empire called FantaCo was run. I’d met Tom several times over the years as a customer but it felt different to be actually “peddling my wares” to him as he had a reputation for being able to draw out the best in his creative people. He stood and offered his hand as Roger re-introduced me to him and gave him an abbreviated version of my life’s story, then gestured for me to lay my portfolio out on the desk. I did as directed while proudly repeating the story of my recent completion of art school and coaching by the Zeck-man as Tom flipped through the acetate covered pages, occasionally nodding and mm-hmming approvingly in the quiet but deep Eric Boghosianesque voice that I would come to know well over the next few months (there’s a casting suggestion for Mr. S’s biopic if ever, right down to the curly black hair). Finally, after what seemed like and eternity of my babbling and Raj and Tom’s exchanging of knowing glances not unlike Joe Friday and Bill Gannon, Tom shut the ‘port, looked up at me and said, “Okay, here’s what we’re looking at…” and life was never to be the same again.
The guys broke down the basic plot of what was to become “SOLD OUT”, and I loved it from the moment I heard it, even more so than most of the pitches I’ve gotten over the years from M*rV*l or whomever, this was to be “AN EVENT”, and one helluva satirical one at that. The project was to be a 2 issue spoof/indictment/tell all of all that was bad, hypocritical, phony, and just plain screwed up in comics(I figured that would guarantee some 500 or so pages worth of work right off the top) springing from the then overblown independent, black and white(or as we came to say WAAAAYYYY too many times “poorly drawn black and white”) comic craze. The book would begin with a 3/4 issue or so retelling of the actual history of the comic book marketplace, mercilessly skewering many a comics personality and practice along the way, then spinning out into what may have come to pass if the black-n-white phenomenon was allowed to continue as it had, eventually pushing the comics market into a world of rampant speculation, greed, corruption and eventually decimation due to a lack of that old adage “Those who do not acknowledge the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Before we go any further, let me be the first to say that without reservation, APPROXIMATELY 90% OF WHAT WE EVENTUALLY HAD TO SAY IN THAT LITTLE POORLY DRAWN BLACK AND WHITE COMIC ACTUALLY DID COME TO BE AND WAS EERILY CLOSE TO THE WAY THAT COMICS TOOK A SWAN DIVE IN THE MID-90’s, ALTHOUGH WE “PREDICTED IT” IN 1986!!!!!!!!!! You heard it here, folks, go dig up a back issue and give it a read, it’s more interesting to read now, some 20 plus years later, but, I digress, we’ll come to this later so for now, back to our tale already in progress….
Over the next 45 minutes or so, the 3 or us bounced a lot of ideas off of each other as the project was already obviously writing itself as we went along a la “Casablanca” and the last half of the tale was purposely left to only a brief outline so that we might adapt to the events as they transpired. By the end of our meeting, we’d cited such diverse influences or possible influences as: “Mickey Mouse and The Air Pirates”, “Citizen Kane”, the graphic novel adaptation of “1941” and The Bible. I was sent off to begin sketches of, of all things, a hamster, a turtle, and a stunned kid in front of an empty comic book rack, and, let me tell you, of all the years I was an illustrator and of all the weird stuff I had to reference and sometimes out and out fake, fudge or swipe to tell a story, there weren’t many things tougher to draw than a simple,…… empty,…….. comic book rack…..
To be continued in part 3