Category Archives: Mitch Cohn

Another FantaCo Recollection


Gates of Eden (May 1982) was arguably the best thing FantaCo Enterprises of Albany, NY, where I worked from 1980-1988, ever put out. Had a great Michael Kaluta cover, and work by John Byrne, Steve Leialoha, Michael T. Gilbert, Trina Robbins, Fred Hembeck, Foolbert Sturgeon, Lee Marrs, Jeff Jones, P. Craig Russell, Rick Geary, Kim Deitch, Spain, Sharon Rudahl, Gary Hallgren, and John Caldwell. It was also a disaster commercially. Comic blog impresario Alan David Doane has put together some memories of Gates of Eden,; the title was inspired by Bob Dylan. See what Christopher Allen, my Internet buddy Johnny Bacardi, and yes, I had to say about it here.

I was looking at the FantaCo Wikipedia page recently and it occurred to me that someone should do a Wikipedia page for the late Raoul Vezina. Not only did he do the Smilin’ Ed series for FantaCo, he also worked on New Paltz Comix with the aforementioned Michael T. Gilbert. With Don Rittner as writer, Raoul drew a series of Naturalist At Large cartoons, many of which I had bnever seen before.

It came out a while ago, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still be plugging Fred Hembeck’s 900-page anthology again. It includes Fred’s seven magazines published by FantaCo, plus about 700 MORE pages of goodness.
***
My, I’ve been feeling crummy the last four days. And I’m supposed to sing this afternoon. I’ve had a range of about a half an octave; wish me luck.

ROG

FantaCo Chronicles: Webslinger, si; Freak Brothers, No

FantaCo was the comic book store/publisher/mail order center/convention house where I worked from May 1980 to November 1988. It opened August 28, 1978, 30 years ago today. And it closed on August 28, 1998, 10 years ago today.

The Chronicles were comic-book-sized magazines about various comic book characters. I’ve previously talked about the X-Men Chronicles, how much I liked working with Raoul Vezina, but hated having to retrieve the wet cover from Dave Cockrum. I’ve noted how Jim Shooter screamed at us for using the Jack Kirby interview in the Fantastic Four Chronicles. I’ve mentioned how Marvel appropriated parts of the Daredevil Chronicles for its Daredevil Omnibus; I tend to agree with the criticism that it leaned too heavily on Frank Miller’s period, ignoring Wally Wood and other DD history.

Next up, the Avenger Chronicles, edited by Mitch Cohn. I always thought the George Perez cover was a bit lackluster, but it was a decent enough book. It features a lengthy essay by me about the Avengers/Defenders War, detailed nearly as much as one would have described the Peloponnesian War.

Which brings us to the Spider-Man Chronicles. This is my favorite book in the series. I loved the varied layout that I instituted, which I though gave it a clean, modern look. I felt that I had finally developed a good line of contributors I could count on, and I felt for the first time that I really knew what I was doing. My favorite feature might have been humor cartoonist Fred Hembeck interviewing Spidey scribe Roger Stern, complete with illos.

The mag was almost hassle free. Well, except for two little things. One, of course, was the cover; it’s always the cover. I had, or more likely Mitch had contacted Frank Miller about drawing it, as he had done for the Daredevil Chronicles, and he had agreed, but at the last moment, he had to beg off, leaving me very much in the lurch.

I couldn’t use the back cover done by Joe Staton, because it wouldn’t have worked design-wise. Let me mention here Joe was possibly the sweetest man I’ve known in the comic book industry and who I would see from time to time in the store.

So, what to do, what to do. Pretty much in desperation, I called John Byrne, who had done the Fantastic Four cover. He whipped it out so quickly that it did not negatively affect the production schedule we had set with the printer. Say what you will about John Byrne, who apparently has been known to say some controversial things, but he saved my bacon — twice. I will never say anything bad about John Byrne.

The other problem was a drawing that Raoul Vezina had done of Spider-Man upon which he had put on the lyrics of the Spider-Man cartoon show. Rather like this:

We had contacted the copyright holder, seeking their permission to use those lyrics, and waited. And waited. And waited. We were even willing to pay them a reasonable amount of money for the rights. But ultimately, their response at the 11th hour was that we couldn’t use the lyrics at all. Ultimately, Raoul changed the words so it merely said “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man,” which we believed to be a copyright fair-use solution.

After having dealt with Marvel, sometimes with some great difficulty, FantaCo decided to go in a different direction with the series. We put out the Chronicles Annual, an overly broad history of what else was being published at the time, which Mitch and I edited. Then we decided to look to the “independent publishers” and put out Chronicles based on their characters. The first one we were going to do was the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers Chronicles, which Mitch was going to edit. It was announced in our monthly newsletter, Fantaco Nooz, and Mitch reminded me that we even had a Gilbert Shelton cover, which looked a lot like this, obviously later used instead for a Freak Brothers anthology: But for reasons that now escape me, that book never saw the light of day. After that, I was supposed to edit the Kitchen Sink Chronicles, and there was even passing conversation about getting a Will Eisner cover. That too never got off the ground.

Well, *I* forgot the reason those magazines didn’t come out. Fortunately, an THE authority on FantaCo publications remembered. That would be Tom Skulan, founder/owner/big kahuna of FantaCo, who I’ve been in touch with for only a couple weeks after a nine- or ten-year hiatus. He noted that the Freak Brothers was never done because FantaCo did not receive enough material for a full issue; I guess some potential contributors were, like, too laid back. The Kitchen Sink Chronicles was never done because the initial feedback FantaCo got about it indicated that, unfortunately, it would be a very small print run, which broke my heart. Thus, as a magazine series, the Chronicles came to a bittersweet end, though one much later FantaCo BOOK was always thought of as a continuation of the series.

ROG

Dealing with Stuff

Saw a couple people yesterday that reminded me about my war with stuff. There was a period, once upon a time, when I coveted stuff – new music, new books, pretty much what every good American has been trained to do. Yet at the same time, I admired people who had a better handle on stuff. I knew this couple from my former church who lived in a small house, and they had a rule that for whatever came into the house, something of equal size had to go out. Music, books, magazines were purchased, but something else had to be passed along.

This is why I have rules about playing music; if I own it and am not playing it, what’s the point? To “have”? (Whereas I’m keeping my Warner Brothers’ Loss Leaders LPs for a reason.)

Alan David Doane, noted comics blogger, and former FantaCo customer, came by my house yesterday morning and took a comics magazine-sized box of periodicals out of my house. It included early Amazing Heroes (back when it WAS mag size), about 30 Comics Journals, and various and sundry other bits of comics journalism from the early 1980s. As I looked through the box, I had a twinge of nostalgia, especially for a square-bound CJ featuring the Pinis and Elfquest. But an even stronger sensation was this: I will never read these magazines again. ADD will enjoy having them much more than I at this point. And, if he finds any FantaCo-relevant info in there, ADD will tell me, making it a win-win.

Less than an hour later, I had lunch with Mitch Cohn, who used to work at FantaCo and edited 2/5 issues of the Chronicles, Gates of Eden and Deja Vu. (Mitch says hi to Fred and Rocco.) In the course of catching up on our lives – he’s teaching English in NYC – Mitch wondered whether Tom Skulan, former FantaCo owner, still had this copy of Abbey Road purportedly signed by all four Beatles. I said no, he gave it to me for Christmas or my birthday in 1984 or ’85. Here’s the weird thing about that; I often forget that I have it. There was a show of Beatles memorabilia to which I had contributed some pieces, but the Abbey Road, which was/is NOT with my Beatles’ materials, totally slipped my mind. So,I’m thinking that I probably should just sell it. Of course, this would probably involve authenticating the signatures. The Beatles were notorious for letting their surrogates sign on their behalf. But having it to “have” it just isn’t making sense anymore.

It’s not that I’m immune to wanting stuff altogether. Sure I’d like a stereo HDTV some day. But my now 21-year-old, pre-SAP, pre-V-chip TV still works, and I’m not throwing it to the curb (probably not literally; there are rules in this city against that) for something I want but just don’t need.
***
Things that are bugging me:
*the way the US Census discounts, or more correctly, uncounts married gay couples
*this cartoon featuring Barack Obama; I think it’s racist. No, it’s not the New Yorker cover.
*and I feel rather callous about this one, but after Martha Raddatz, the ABC News White House correspondent reported on the death of former White House press secretary, who died of colon cancer at the age of 53 earlier this month, anchor Charlie Gibson thanked her, adding “I know how hard this story was for you.” Undoubtedly, some affection develops for someone one talks with on a near-daily basis, but hearing “how hard” it was for Martha, who was showing no visible signs of emotion, made me wonder how aggressively the network was in dealing with the Bush administration. (No, that’s not the ONLY thing that made me question that.) And it made Martha’s reaction part of the story, which made me uncomfortable.

Roger Answers Your Questions, ADD

The inimitable Alan David Doane, with whom I spent much of last Saturday afternoon, along with John Hebert, Rocco Nigro and Fred Hembeck wrote: I have five questions, which if you answer them all, I will steal your responses and put on my blog, because that’s just the kind of guy I am. And he is. He really is. He’s also a guy who hates his cell phone but keeps it charged, whereas I often don’t know where the phone and/or the charger are.

What is your favourite comic book story?

Yeesh. I must admit a fondness for the Defenders when Gerber was writing it, and I love a good origin story (Spider-Man, Hulk), but ultimately, I end up with Giant-Size Man Thing #1.

When reading comics, do you focus on the writing over the art, the art over the writing, or both about equally?

Serviceable art will allow me to read a well-told story. The most beautiful art will not save a terrible story line. One of the comic books I hate the most has to be Spider-Man #1. The McFarlane art was tolerable at best, but the story was so gawd awful, I stopped buying the title after 3 or 4 issues. Given the fact that I LOVED-LOVED-LOVED Peter Parker/Spider-Man, it was painful, but necessary. This was NOT the Peter I knew. The Spider-Man was more like Spawn. Loathsome.
When the Pinis used to come to FantaCo to do Elfquest signings, Richard used to rail against the comic fanboys who cared about art to the exclusion of story, and I thought he was absolutely right.
That said, sometimes the art DOES move me. I was buying Sub-Mariner during Bill Everett’s second run, and I loved the look.

Who do you think is the greatest comic book artist still alive today and why?

Well, besides Fred G. Hembeck, who should be considered just based on the sheer number of characters he’s drawn? I’ll cop out and say Art Spiegelman because he helped bring the comic form out of the comic book ghetto.

What’s your happiest memory of working at FantaCo?

I almost always loved when our publications came in, but I’m going to pick something rather arcane.
There was a graphic novelization of the Stephen King’s Creepshow drawn by Berni Wrightson in the mid-1980s. Having connections in both the comic and horror markets we knew, both instinctively and from comic and horror film stores we dealt with that there was still a demand for this title. The publisher, we ascertained, still had many copies of the book. I wrote to the publisher- nothing. I called the publisher – I was told the book was no longer available, which I knew to be untrue. Finally, I reached someone who acknowledged that they had copies but that it was not worth it for them to send it out only to deal with a huge percentage of returns.
So I said, “What if we bought them non-returnable?” I thought the guy’s teeth were going to fall out. “Non-returnable?” So, we took 100 copies of it at 70% off the $6.95 cover price, put them in the store and listed them in a Fangoria ad, and blew through them. So I called again and said, can we have another 100?” By this point other stores were clamoring for this book, so we ordered an additional 500, and sold it to these horror book stores, and a few comic book stores, at 40% non-returnable. The stores got to sell a book they could otherwise not get, we made a decent profit even wholesaling someone else’s book, and we kept the Wrightson book from just being remaindered. My persistence in dealing with this publisher was, strangely, my favorite FantaCo moment.

Here’s another: I just came across in the past week a letter that one of FantaCo’s mail order customers sent to me. Why it should resurface now, I have no idea, since we’ve only been in the house since 2000. (A 1989 article about the comic book Shriek was also in the pile.) This guy worked for Ryko, and he would send me, his mail order purveyor, free music.
Roger-
Good to speak to you on the phone today (1-26-88)…I’m finding Ryko fans in the strangest places.
Hope you enjoy these guys – I chucked in a couple 3″, too. The one with no writing is “They Might Be Giants”, a couple of guys from Hoboken, NJ.
I like this not for the swag, but because apparently I was giving him service worthy of him sending me free stuff. Still have that unlabeled TMBG disc.

What do you think is the single best publication FantaCo released in its history?

While I have a strong affection for the Spider-Man Chronicles, which I edited, I’m going to say Gates of Eden, which Mitch Cohn edited. No, I’m NOT going to pick the Amazing Herschell Gordon Lewis and his World of Exploitation Films, no matter how much you beg, Alan.

ROG

What Hast Moss Wrought

Lynn Moss, the wife of Fred Hembeck, has posted pictures of the second FantaCon back in 1980, before she WAS the wife of Fred Hembeck, if I’m remembering correctly. (EDIT: I wasn’t remembering correctly: they were married the year before.) The convention was put on by FantaCo Enterprises, the comic book store I worked at from 1980 to 1988. The pictures feature Fred, Lynn, Bill Anderson, Joe Staton, Wendy and Richard Pini, Dave Simons, and John Caldwell, plus FantaCo artist/front man Raoul Vezina, FantaCo employee Mitch Cohn and FantaCo owner Tom Skulan. The pictures also feature the “art jam” drawing done by Fred, Raoul, Wendy Pini, Berni Wrightson, Jeff Jones, Simons, Caldwell, and Staton, a drawing Fred described on November 28, 2003.

BTW, 21 Central Avenue, Albany, which was FantaCo’s location for its 20 years, has been several things in the years since it closed in 1998. Currently it’s a bazzar (their spelling), a convenience store that sells halal meats and other items.
***
R: You really ought to plug Fred’s upcoming book again.
R: Well, I have all of those FantaCo publications in the Smilin’ Ed and Hembeck series. In fact, just came across them in the attic this weekend.
R: Yeah, but there’s over 600 MORE pages, some of which you’ve never seen.
R: Really?
R: Yeah, and all for about $25.
R: WOW! But I need a new angle.
R: How’s that?
R: I need a new way to plug the book again.
R: How about the cover, with the color scheme they chose NOT to use?

R: That’d work.
***
A bunch of Jack Kirby stories that have allegedly never been reprinted. (Thanks, Dan.)
***
Fred and Rose talk about commerce, of a sort.

ROG

Chronicles of the Fantastic Four Chronicles


(This conversation will be limited to the Chronicles series. FantaCo had also put out Splatter Movies and Hembeck 6, among other items, in this period.)

The X-Men Chronicles was a hit for FantaCo Enterprises in 1981. We had printed 50,000 copies and had presold at least 35.000 to the distributors. And not only did it also sell as an individual item in the store and in the mail order, we were able to trade some for Marvel, DC and other companies’ product, particularly underground comics from Last Gasp, a company our comics distributor, Seagate, wasn’t dealing with.
So what do we do as a follow-up? We decided to do two books, the Daredevil Chronicles, which Mitch Cohn would edit, and the Fantastic Four Chronicles, which would be my baby. I’m not going to talk much more about the former, except that I thought it was terribly Frank Miller-heavy. One of the Mullaney brothers from Eclipse Comics, Jan or Dean, apparently agreed; he wrote to say he read the book and threw it in the trash. (The letter, I think, appeared in the Spider-Man Chronicles, or maybe the Avengers Chronicles.)

The stuff below in italics is directly from my journal:

September 2, 1981: I call John Byrne, who agreed to write an article and do a centerspread, in addition to the front cover. And I called Jack Kirby, who agreed to fill out a questionnaire about the FF. “What a coup!” I wrote.
October 16: George Perez agrees to do the back cover for the FF book.
October 22: Receive Byrne front cover, centerspread and article.
November 5: Call Jay Zilber re: Wein/Wolfman interview. Then called Jack Kirby re: Q&A – he said he couldn’t answer questions re: FF, Marvel, only re: new projects. I panicked and got upset and angry. By that point, we probably had sent out info on the book to the comic distributors, indicating its content.Mitch calmed me down & said “Why don’t you do interview on Kirby now with a caveat. He [Kirby] agreed to that & also said I could use the rather nasty stuff re: FF 236 & his lack of prior knowledge that it would be used. Typed up new questions.
November 18: Michael Hobson of Marvel called to OK licensing on the FF and DD books, and that the company had “no problem” with the non-licensed X-Men Chronicles.
November 23: Get Kirby response.
December 17: I was going to do some editing (e.g., Joe Fludd’s lengthy piece, Jay Zilber’s just-arrived article), but instead spent most of the day looking unsuccessfully for a letter from Mike Hobson of Marvel giving us permission for licensing, which Tom needs for another bank loan.
O.K., I lied. I AM going to talk a little about Splatter Movies. This was a book written by an author named John McCarty that was really Tom’s baby; Mitch, Raoul and I were all a bit disturbed by it, although I did end up up proofreading it. And it turned out to be the most profitable thing FantaCo published in my tenure there. But at $8.95, it was initially a slow road selling to our distributors, who, after all, were comic book folks. This created a cash flow problem, for which the loan was to address.

January 3, 1982: Type the FF checklist at home while I watch football (Cincinnati beat the Bills, the 49ers beat the Giants; I doubt I was happy about that.)
January 7: I assume we found the Hobson letter eventually because Tom was able to secure $25,000 note from the bank so we’ll be able to pay $8700 printing bill for Splatter Movies.
January: Get various articles and artwork, not including Perez back cover. At some point, I call John Byrne, who allows us to use the front cover as the back cover as well, for free. Byrne was not universally loved, but I always had very good dealings with him; the FFC was not the last time. After the covers go to the printer, Perez cover FINALLY shows up, and I end up replacing content from one of the inside covers. (I’m thinking it was a Joe Fludd piece, because it seemed ironic that such a Perez devotee would be bumped by Perez himself.)
January 26: Tom called accounts (Bud Plant, NMI, Pacific). We now have fewer than 100 out of 50,000 X-Men Chronicles, and anticipate print runs of 70,000 each for FF and DD (the latter, eventually set at 80,000).
March 1: Start shipping out FFC, DDC orders, which takes a week, between the wholesale and retail orders.
March 5: Tom had made up 100 copies each of FFC and DDC in white paper stock, rather than newsprint. Gave 25 each to Mitch and me, 2 each to Rocco and Raoul. Somewhere I still have some of these.
March 15: Returning artwork, paying contributors, sending out review copies.
March 22: For Spider-Man Chronicles, got a Fred Hembeck to interview Roger Stern.
March 26: Mitch called Jim Shooter, who told Mitch in no uncertain terms (“What the f*** were you guys thinking about?”) that they at Marvel were unhappy with the Chronicles series, that there can be no licensing in the future, and that we’d “better be careful” in the future…No [more] Chronicles would be disastrous because another loan was contingent on publishing them…Tom called a patent attorney.
Oddly, a couple months later, there WAS further conversation with Mike Hobson about licensing, but nothing ever came to fruition, and the Avengers and Spider-Man Chronicles came out license-free, with no hassle from Marvel. We DID have another legal tussle, however, but that’s for another day.

In retrospect – let’s hear it for retrospect – I should have either 1) called Marvel about the content of the Kirby interview or 2) pulled the Kirby interview. The former just didn’t cross my mind. The latter did, but I was resistant because it would have meant resoliciting the FFC to the distributors and a costly delay.

I wrote this today for two reasons. One: FantaCo’s birthday was August 28, 1978; the store survived 20 years. The other is that Jack Kirby’s birthday was August 28, 1917, which means he would have been 90 today; he passed on February 6, 1994. Here’s a picture of Jack from the 1982 San Diego comic con, taken by Alan Light.

Daredevil Omnibus


ADD wrote to me a couple weeks ago:
Hey Roger,
I have a question for you that I just posted to my blog
Let me know if you have any info at all.
Hope all is well!


As I may have mentioned, it was rather strange to see in the pages of the Daredevil Omnibus the pages from FantaCo’s Daredevil Chronicles, a magazine I worked on, though Mitch Cohn was the editor. The intrepid Alan David Doane asked me if Marvel had asked permission to appropriate pages directly from the FantaCo publication, and whether they paid the contributors.

The short answer, as far as I know, is no. The long answer is a little more complicated.

When FantaCo put together the X-Men Chronicles, a fanzine about the uncanny mutants edited by me, Marvel was very pleased. SO pleased that they gave us permission to use the Marvel Comics Group strip on the top of the page of the Fantastic Four Chronicles (cover by John Byrne, edited by me) and the Daredevil Chronicles (cover by Miller/Janson, edited by Mitch). In other words, they were licensed products of Marvel. Therefore, my guess is that Marvel believed they had a right to appropriate the DDC for the DD Omnibus, as it was their product, so there was no need to give permission.

Fred Hembeck tells me that Peter Sanderson, whose FantaCo interview of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson, appears in the book, was given a copy of the book, according to Sanderson’s Quick Stop column. Fred, whose illustration accompanies that interview, is still waiting for his copy. You’d have to ask John Byrne and George Perez whether their Daredevil drawings earned them a copy, or something more.

Incidentally, at least one “independent comics” publisher loathed the DDC, because of the emphasis on Miller and Janson, to the exclusion of the rest of the canon (Wally Wood, e g.). I won’t tell you who he is, but you know when the sun or moon temporarily disappears?

I asked Mitch about all of this. He wondered about the copyright issue too when I first mentioned the project to him. I agree with him that would depend on how the copyright was done, which he recalls was all FantaCo except for trademarks owned by Marvel. While he notes that Tom Skulan (the FantaCo owner) might have a case against Marvel, we both would think Marvel would have run it past their legal department before committing to do it. “It’s not like they needed that stuff in there,” Mitch opined.

You should know that the subsequent Avengers Chronicles, which Mitch edited, and the Spider-Man Chronicles, which was my baby, no longer had the Marvel Comic Group strip. That’s because of something that happened, a decision I made, that caused Marvel editor Jim Shooter to call with a profanity-laden tirade that poor Mitch got to hear. But that’s a story for another day.

ROG