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Top 10 Alternative Comic Book Series

A column article, Top Ten by: Thom Young

Superheroes have dominated the American comic book industry for the past 40 years. In fact, there have been periods during the last four decades when DC’s and Marvel’s publications were more than 90 percent superheroes. Of course, 50, 60, and 70 years ago there was a great deal more diversity in mainstream comic books, as superheroes were sometimes in the minority amid humor comics, romance comics, western comics, science fiction comics, war comics, and probably a few other forms that I’m forgetting. 

However, by the late 1960s the industry had grown so small that there were essentially just seven major US comic book companies in operation in 1968:

    1. Archie

 

    1. Charlton

 

    1. DC

 

    1. Dell (which had separated from Western Publishing in 1962)

 

    1. Gold Key and Whitman (Western Publishing's imprints after separating from Dell)

 

    1. Harvey

 

  1. Marvel

There were, of course, other companies attempting to publish “above ground” (or mainstream) comic books in 1968, notably Mad Magazine (all that was left of the once great EC line), Tower, and Warren, but most of the publishers outside the big seven were underground companies--such as Kitchen Sink Press, Apex Novelties, and Print Mint. 

By 1986, Charlton, Dell, Gold Key/Whitman, and Harvey had all ceased publication—leaving only Archie, DC, and Marvel as the large major publishers. Of course, the 1970s and early 1980s saw a rise in new companies that attempted to be mainstream publishers--such as Atlas-Seaboard, Byron Preiss, and Skywald (joined in the early 1980s by Pacific and First)--but most of them either faded after a few years or never rose to the level of mainstream publisher (Byron Preiss Publishing ceased publication in 2006 after the death of Byron Preiss himself, but the company’s significant comic books all came out in 1976). 

The 70s also saw the rise of companies like Power Comics, which published “alternative superheroes” in black and white with inexpensive production values (at some point I plan to write a retrospective review of Power Comics, which published a total of six comic books in 1977). Additionally, comic books like Nexus(initially from Capital City Comics before moving to First Comics) may have offered an alternative to DC and Marvel, but Nexus was still essentially a superhero.

Meanwhile, as various longtime mainstream companies perished and ambitious start-up companies failed to take off, the undeground comix scene emerged (and gave rise to what was known for a time as “ground-level” comic books, which weren’t as subversive as underground comix nor as orthodox as mainstream comics

Both Apex and Print Mint were underground comic book publishers operating out of San Francisco, and they seem to have shared titles and talent for several years. For instance, Apex published Zap Comix #0-2, and Print Mint picked up the title with #3. Both stayed in business until the late 1970s. Kitchen Sink transitioned from underground to a ground-level, and then to above ground publications until ceasing operations in 1999.

Similarly, Eclipse Comics began as a ground-level publisher and then attempted (and briefly succeeded) in being an above ground or mainstream publisher. Other ground-level companies that started up in the 1970s included Star*Reach, Aardvark-Vanaheim, and Fantagraphics--the latter two continuing to this day (though A-V is actually a Canadian company rather than a US publisher). 

There are, of course, once a variety of comic book companies that publish comic books in dozens of sub-genres. Still, superheroes seem to dominate the American comics industry (though manga is supposedly selling well in national bookstore chains like Barnes & Noble as well as online through Amazon).

However, for a span of about 20 years (from the late 1960s to the late 1980s) the only true alternatives to mainstream superheroes (or even ground-level superheroes like Nexus) were either European mainstream comics or the handful of underground and ground-level publishers operating during the “Golden Age” of alternative comics. Below are my picks for the top ten alternative American comics during that roughly 20-year period, chosen for a variety of historical, cultural, and/or literary reasons.

10. The First Kingdom (1974-86)

Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom is a series that most comic book fans have never heard of, and most of those who have heard of it (or who will suddenly recall hearing of it now that I’ve mentioned it) have probably never read it. In fact, I have never read this series--but I want to, and I plan to someday.

So why is this series that most people haven’t heard of and that I’ve never read one of the Top Ten alternative comic book series of all time? Because it was seminal in the true meaning of the word; it’s an original and influential work in that it was one of the seeds from which the alternative comics industry grew.

I first recall seeing ads for Katz’s First Kingdom in the early to mid 1970s when I was a kid. I was reading DC comics exclusively, and I used to see ads for an independently published black and white comic book that looked (to my childish sensibilities) to be crudely drawn. I thought the six-pack abdomens of Katz's characters looked amateurish--as if I could have drawn them. 

Of course, while I might have been able to draw abdomens like Katz, I was oblivious to the quality of his illustrations as a whole--but hey, I only had the single image from those old advertisements to go by.

I had not heard of Jack Katz at the time, but his first name and the initial of his surname made me wonder (as a kid does) if it was Jack Kirby working under a pseudonym--because I also didn’t care for Kirby’s style back then either. 

Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the premise of a long-form science fiction comic book series, and if I had had the money to order it from Bud Plant--a mail-order distributor of underground (or alternative) comic books and art in the 1970s who also published and distributed Katz’s First Kingdom--I would have done so. 

Unfortunately, in the mid 1970s, issues of Katz’s series were being sold through Bud Plant at the outrageous price of $1.75--or $2.00 when you factored in the 25 cents charge for postage and handling. I simply wasn’t going to pay $2.00 for a comic book. 

One issue would have eaten up my weekly allowance; I could buy 10 issues of DC comics in a week or I could buy one issue of The First Kingdom. It wasn’t a difficult choice for a 13-year-old on a tight allowance to make. 

Of course, I didn’t know at the time that Katz’s issues were coming out at a rate of only about two per year. I’m not sure how that information might have altered my decision.

Over the years, I’ve come to regret my choice to not order at least a copy of the first issue. I’ve since come to realize that Katz was actually an incredible comic book illustrator who worked for MLJ, Fawcett, Atlas (Marvel), National (DC), and Skywald from the 1950s to the early 1970s before quitting mainstream comics to work on The First Kingdom. His magnum opus covered 24 issues and took him 12 years to complete from 1974 to 1986 while he was also sculpting and working as a university art instructor.

I can’t comment on the quality of The First Kingdom, though I no longer think the illustrations look as crude as I thought they looked 35 years ago--back when any comic books that weren’t drawn by Neal Adams looked crude to me. However, it’s clear that Katz was ahead of the curve in creating a creator-owned long-form comic book work--something we would nowadays call a “serialized graphic novel.”

The first two volumes reprinting Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom can be ordered through his Web site here:http://www.jackatz.com/pubs.html


9. Eclipse Magazine (aka Eclipse, The Magazine (1981-83)

My first-ever letter to a comic book was published in Eclipse Magazine#3 in 1981, but that’s not why I’ve put this series on my list! It was simply an outstanding black and white magazine that took comic books seriously as an art form. 

Of course, other publishers and publications had already been taking comic books seriously as an art form, but Eclipse (the company) just seemed so literary to me back in the early 1980s when they published Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy’s graphic novelSabre--followed by Detectives, Inc. by McGregor and Marshall Rogers. I loved both of those graphic novels, so when Eclipse started a bimonthly magazine, I was thrilled.

The issues didn’t always come out every two months, but eight issues were published during the 20 months that the magazine was being published. It then converted to a regular-sized comic book in full color and was re-titled Eclipse Monthly--with a new #1, of course. Eclipse was attempting to become a mainstream publisher, and succeeding for a few years until a flood ruined all their back-issue stock and a divorce ruined their company's internal structure. 

The monthly comic book was good, but the magazine had felt special. It was a true alternative to what DC and Marvel were doing, and that aspect thrilled me. I still own all eight issues.

The first issue featured a painted cover by Gulacy, and the contents of the eight-issue run featured work by a “Who’s Who” of the top comic book creators of the late 1970s and early 1980s:

    • Englehart and Rogers (in all eight issues)

 

    • Jim Starlin

 

    • Howard Cruse

 

    • P. Craig Russell

 

    • Trina Robbins (including her adaptation of Sax Rohmer’s novel Dope

 

    • Max Allan Collins (who was writing the “Dick Tracy” newspaper strip at the time)

 

    • Steve Gerber and Val Mayerick

 

    • Charles Vess

 

    • Don McGregor and Gene Colan

 

    • Rick Geary

 

    • Hunt Emerson

 

    • Michael Kaluta

 

    • Harvey Pekar (who I didn’t realize was published in Eclipse until I was writing this entry, as I did not become a fan of his American Splendor until about a year after his work in Eclipse #6 came out)

 

    • Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith’s longtime guitarist) whose lyrics to “Luke the Drifter” were illustrated by Gulacy in issue #6)

 

    • Tom Sutton (illustrating one of the several stories McGregor wrote for the magazine)

 

  • And several other lesser-known names whose work was of equal caliber.

When the announcement came in Dean Mulaney’s editorial in the eighth issue that the magazine was ending so that the series could move into an all-color regular-sized format, I was slightly disappointed. 

The magazine was special. It felt different from reading a traditional comic book. Marvel’s Epic Illustratedmagazine, which began before Eclipse, would continue for another three years. However, Eclipse Magazinewas the alternative, and I have always favored the alternative over the mainstream institutions.


8. Zap Comix (1968-?)

Zap Comix hit the streets in 1968, coming out of San Francisco with close ties to the Beats and the Haight-Ashbury scene. It was started by Robert Crumb, and the first issue was actually the second he had created. However, the initial issue was lost when the originally intended publisher left the country with Crumb’s work. Thus, Crumb used his second issue as Zap #1 and used photocopies of his first issue as Zap #0 after the publication of issue #2 (it was, perhaps, the first use of the #0 numbering concept in comic books—and a far more legitimate reason for a #0 issue than the marketing tactic that other companies now follow).

With my academic interest in the Beats, the first five or six issues ofZap are books that I should own, but I don’t. However, I once bought a reprint of the #0 issue at a head shop in the early 1980s. 

Head shops were about the only place you could buy true underground comix in the late 70s and early 80s, and I only visited that one head shop that one time.

Crumb didn’t maintain editorial control of the series for very long, but he started the title and he brought in a number of creators who became big names in the underground comix scene--such as S. Clay Wilson, Robert Williams, Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, and Paul Maverides. However, aside from those noted creators, my impression of the other work from Zap that I’ve seen over the years is that a great deal of it was amateurish.

Nevertheless, it’s a historically significant comic book series as it essentially initiated the true underground comic book movement (Wood’s Witzend started two years earlier, but it’s not accurate to call the material that appeared in Wood’s anthology “underground”).


7. Yummy Fur (1983/85-1993/94)

From July 1983 to September 1985, Chester Brown self-published seven issues of his “mini-comic” titled Yummy Fur. Beginning in 1986, Vortex Comics then reprinted those seven mini-comics as the first three issues of a regular-sized Yummy Fur series. Those initial mini-comics were interesting and quirky, but the series really became an exciting experience when Brown began producing new material in Vortex's third issue.

The initial mini-comics were only eight pages each (counting the covers), and the stories were usually just three- to four-page vignettes that had a sort of absurdist or surreal aspect to them. They were just Brown’s random, quirky, and ironic takes on life--like extraterrestrials in flying saucers accidentally dropping a walrus carcass on the owner of an Arctic Cuisine restaurant who didn't have any blubber in stock--or rolls of toilet paper that rebelled against their unseemly purpose in life by killing all humans only to discover that they have no purpose in life without people needing to use them.

It was bizarre and extremely entertaining, but seemingly random--until Brown began to produce new material and started tying almost all of his quirky vignettes together in the story of "Ed, the Happy Clown." 

Brown’s ability to connect these random bits together was brilliant, and I remain convinced that he originally wrote them as random vignettes that were not meant to ever connect up.

In the end, we were given a parallel universe that was accessed through the anus of a man who never stood up from his toilet seat because . . . well, because he couldn’t stop . . . you know . . . he was “The Man Who Couldn’t Stop”--and there was a very good reason for why he couldn’t stop; it had to do with the fact that his anus was the portal to a parallel universe.

After 32 issues of Yummy Fur, and a change of publishers from Vortex to Drawn & Quarterly, Brown ended the series. He went on to do at least two other series for Drawn & Quarterly, but Yummy Fur is his masterpiece. It deserves an Absolute edition that will archive it for future generations.


6. Star*Reach (1974-79)

At the same time that Jack Katz and Bud Plant began publishing The First Kingdom, Mike Friedrich began publishing Star*Reach--a series that was clearly influenced by Wally Wood and Bill Pearson’sWitzend (which you will find at #5 in this list). 

I recall Star*Reach quickly becoming a favorite among critics as a legitimate ground-level publication that could compete with DC and Marvel for top talent (as opposed to Witzend, which was primarily a series in which Wood and Pearson published the work of their friends--though they had some very talented friends, of course).

Friedrich had started working for DC in 1968 (actually selling his first script, a Robin story, to Julius Schwartz in 1967 that eventually appeared as a back-up tale in Batman #202). While at DC, Friedrich worked with a number of the company’s top illustrators on several of the top titles. His first published script was a 25-page Spectre story that was illustrated by Neal Adams--not bad for a beginning writer. Of course, Adams had only been working in comics for a year himself at the time, and that Spectre story was only his 19th published work in the field.

Before starting Star*Reach, Friedrich worked closely with Schwartz at DC and briefly became the lead writer on such series as The Phantom StrangerGreen Lantern (for two issues just before Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams took over that series), and Justice League of America. He also wrote back-up stories that appeared regularly in Batmanand The Flash.

I have fond memories of all of Friedrich’s DC scripts from 1971 and 1972 (his work from 1968-71 was before my time), and I was sorry to see him leave. I didn’t know where he went when his work stopped appearing in 1972 (he was at Marvel from 1972-75), but I was glad to see his name again in 1974 when he became the editor and publisher of Star*Reach.

Once I began going to my first comic book store in 1977, Star*Reach became the only non-DC title I bought (well, except for the aforementioned Power Comics). That year was when Friedrich attempted to publish the series as a regular bimonthly comic book--and he nearly succeed, as five issues came out that year (#7 to #11). 

I no longer have those issues from 33 years ago, but I do own a copy of the first issue along with a few others--including at least one issue of Star*Reach’s sister series, Imagine (six issues in 1978 and 79), and P. Craig Russell’s Parsifal one-shot that was published through Star*Reach Productions.

Star*Reach opened up my view of what comics could be. It was the first non-mainstream title I ever read, and the series gave me my first exposure to the works of P. Craig Russell and Howard Chaykin. The list of creators who were published in Star*Reach includes:

    • Neal Adams

 

    • Frank Brunner

 

    • Gene Day

 

    • Steve Englehart

 

    • Michael T. Gilbert

 

    • Dick Giordano

 

    • Lee Marrs

 

    • Al Milgrom

 

    • Gray Morrow

 

    • Dean Motter

 

    • Michael Netzer (Nasser)

 

    • Dave Sim

 

    • Walt Simonson

 

    • Steve Skeates

 

    • Ken Steacy

 

    • Jim Starlin

 

    • Joe Staton

 

    • Mike Vosburg

 

    • Len Wein

 

    • Barry Windsor-Smith

 

    • John Workman (who was an incredible penciler in 1970s even though he was mostly known as a letterer)

 

  • And famed science fiction author Roger Zelazny

I recall in the months following the DC Implosion of 1978 that one of the steps DC was going to take to generate revenue was to license their characters to other publishers. 

I know, it seems very odd, doesn’t it? I thought so at the time, too. 

However, the only licensing arrangement DC supposedly made was for Friedrich’s Star*Reach Productions to publish a mature-readers Batman comic that was to be written by Englehart and illustrated by Marshall Rogers.

The idea was for Englehart and Rogers to be able to tell the type of mature Batman stories that DC wasn’t set up to publish in 1978. Alas, Friedrich’s company ceased publication in 1979, and I never heard of any work that had been done on that proposed Batman book. 

At this point, I sometimes wonder if the announcement of a Star*Reach Batman title was made on April 1, and that I was a fool who believed it was true. In any event, I’m not fooling now when I say thatStar*Reach was great and changed my view of what comics could be.


5. Witzend (1966-82)

Of course, before Eclipse, The Magazine and before Jack Katz’s The First Kingdom, Wally Wood had started his own self-published series in 1966. Witzend set the precedent for allowing mainstream comic book artists an outlet for creating their own stories in their own ways free from editorial interference and the formulas they had to follow at the large comic book companies--as Wood indicated in his “Statement of NO Policy” introduction to the first issue:

Other publications are burdened with an Editorial Policy, a Format, or a special Readership to cater to. We have no such problem, and have, therefore, come up with a product that is rather difficult to define.

Wood also asserted that comic book artists are their own best editors, and he concluded by noting that “witzend is published at his convenience by Wallace Wood.” In other words, there was no policy regarding a publication schedule either. Overall, though,Witzend was an anthology that was published annually (more-or-less) until 1982; two issues came out in 1967, but there were other years when no issues were released.

Wood only published the first four issues himself before selling the publication to his friend Bill Pearson for the sum of $1.00. Pearson, who was working as an editor at Charlton Comics during the years he was also publishing Witzend, produced issues that maintained the “no policy” concept that Wood initiated. The only policy was in getting some of the top comic book talent of the time to work on their own stories in their own way.

Among the 36 editorial pages (plus covers and a pull-out poster), the first issue includes Al Williamson’s “Savage World! (8 pages) and Wood’s “Animan” (7 pages). The back cover is a portrait of Buster Crabbe by Frank Frazetta, and there is an interior pinup page by Reed Crandall.

I believe Crandall's illustration is a scene from one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s John Carter of Mars stories, but I’m not certain; regardless, it’s a beautiful piece.

Issues 2-12 maintained the impressive lineup of top talent:

    • Gray Morrow

 

    • Harvey Kurtzman

 

    • Bill Elder

 

    • Steve Ditko (including his first Mr. A stories)

 

    • Vaughn Bode

 

    • Will Eisner

 

    • Jeff Jones

 

    • Bernie Wrightson

 

    • More pinup pages by Crandall and Frazetta

 

    • A story that was originally intended for EC’s New Direction line that was illustrated by Frazetta and rewritten by Pearson

 

  • And, of course, more work by Wood himself.

I don’t fully agree with Wood’s theory that “an artist is his own best editor.” I have seen plenty of comic books--both in writing and illustrations--that have needed an editorial hand in correcting errors in logic and storytelling. However, I recently acquired all 12 issues of Witzend, and I can attest that in the case of the illustrations none of these artists required an editor to tell them how to draw effective pictures. 

I cannot yet speak to the quality of the writing or the internal logic of the stories, but after inspecting the drawings I can say that if the quality of the writing is anywhere near as good then this series must be considered one of the greatest of all time in both alternative and mainstream comics--which means, of course, that it might actually deserve to be placed at #1 on my list rather than at #5. 

However, I would also argue that my entire list from here on down could be re-arranged in any order as all five of the titles could lay claim to the #1 position as well. The rest of the list is merely how I felt like arranging these comic books today; tomorrow it could change.


4. American Splendor (1976-2008)

Harvey Pekar passed away about three weeks ago, and he will be sorely missed by an industry who didn’t always pay attention to his work but that will be poorer for no longer having new Pekar stories in it. His work meant a great deal to me--paricularly from American Splendor #8 (1983) to #17 (1992), which is when I left Boise and started missing issues after I moved to Lafayette, Louisiana and couldn’t find a comic book shop down there in which the clerks had even heard of American Splendor.

While I started my collection with #8, I found issues 2-7 as back issues. However, I never was able to get the first issue--though I should have had one if not for a situation that seemed like something Pekar would have included in an issue of his comic book.

I had hooked the owner of my comics shop in Boise on American Splendor after I started ordering it following a review of the series inThe Comics Journal. We were probably the only two people in Boise (probably in the entire state of Idaho) who were reading American Splendor at the time, and Paul, the comic store owner, subsequently met Pekar at a convention where he (Pekar) was selling copies of all of his back issues including issue #1--at cover price!

Paul bought a first issue for himself, but did not get one for me. When he came back to the store and told me that he had completed his collection of American Splendor by buying an autographed copy of the first issue from Harvey Pekar himself, I asked him why he didn't buy one for me.

He looked dumbfounded, and then gave me some sort of nonsensical answer--like "I didn't know you would have wanted me to." 

I can picture Pekar writing that scene with illustrations by Robert Crumb, who contributed to many of the initial issues of Pekar’s self-published comic.

Eventually, Pekar allowed other companies to publish American Splendor for him--such as Dark Horse and Vertigo-DC Comics, and I eventually was able to find the title in comic book stores again once those bigger companies started taking an interest in Pekar’s series. However, I think the Golden Age ofAmerican Splendor was the first 16 issues (15 of which Pekar published himself as an annual comic).

As for what the comic book was ultimately about, the following summations by Pekar of his own work describes it perfectly:

It’s an autobiography written as it's happening. The theme is about staying alive. Getting a job, finding a mate, having a place to live, finding a creative outlet. Life is a war of attrition. You have to stay active on all fronts. It's one thing after another. I've tried to control a chaotic universe. And it's a losing battle. But I can't let go. I've tried, but I can't.

---------------------------------------------

It's a series of day-after-day activities that have more influence on a person than any spectacular or traumatic events. It's the 99 percent of life that nobody ever writes about.

Unfortunately, the modern-day master at writing about that 99 percent of life that nobody ever writes about is now dead. A forward-thinking comic book publisher (Vertigo-DC?) should arrange with Pekar’s widow, Joyce Brabner, to produce an archive edition series of American Splendor.


3. Cerebus (1977-2004)

Jack Katz started publishing his long-form comic book story The First Kingdom. three years before Dave Sim began self-publishingCerebus, and it took Katz 12 years to produce 24 issues. In contrast, it took Sim 27 years to produce 300 issues. 

I have only read about half of the collected editions of Cerebus, and I love them all. If it hadn’t been for a financial catastrophe that struck my life when I was actively buying the collected editions as they came out, I would undoubtedly own them all at this point.

Unfortunately, I’ve never gotten around to finishing my collection of collected editions, though I know I will someday because this work is brilliant and an important accomplishment--not just for comic books, but for literature.

The initial chapters (the first volume) did not reveal the brilliance that was to come, as the series was initially a funny animal spoof of Conan, the Barbarian (Cerebus, the Aardvark). Eventually, though, Sim grew significantly as an artist. 

Of the volumes that I’ve read, my favorite is Melmoth, but then I didn’t complete the four volumes of Mothers and Daughters that came immediately after Melmoth. Still, I can’t imagine anything topping the story of Cerebus meeting Oscar Wilde, though I also am eager to finish the series to see if something does top Melmoth.


2. Love and Rockets (1981/82-Present, I guess)

In 1982, Fantagraphics began publishing comic books, and Love and Rockets was their first title. It remains the company’s greatest title as well.

A year earlier, the Hernandez Brothers (Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario) had self-published two issues of Love and Rockets, which Gary Groth, the publisher of The Comics Journal thought so highly of that he decided to publish the series for the Hernandezes. Thus, Fantagraphics was born.

My first issue of Love and Rockets was #3, and I quickly bought the Fantagraphics reprints of the first two issues. While I like those first two self-published comics (or their reprints, actually), the third issue is the one that showcases what amazing talents Gilbert and Jaime are (except for an occasional story every few issues, Mario didn’t make the move to Fantagraphics with his brothers).

The series began as a mostly science fiction-inspired take on the Brothers’ characters, but Gilbert quickly moved his characters into a rural Mexican village free from science fiction trappings in a style that is closely related to the Magical Realism literary movement--as in One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez.

Meanwhile, Jaime maintained the science fiction elements of his story for several more issues as Maggie, Hopey, Race, and the gang lived in a futuristic world of flying cars and hovercraft motorcycles. Eventually, though, Jaime also brought his characters down to Earth by placing them in a central Los Angeles neighborhood and immersing them in the punk subculture that he himself lived at the time. 

I suspect I know exactly which issue of Love and Rockets was the transitional issue for Jaime’s characters, and I believe I know how he pulled off the switch in an extremely literary fashion. However, it’s been more than 25 years since I read that issue (the significance of which escaped me at the time), and I will need to re-read my collection (or the first 10-15 issues of it) to see if my theory is correct before I write an essay about the transitional shift of Jaime’s characters.

I loved this series 25 years ago. Once Jaime made the transitional switch in his characters, he was depicting the lives of people who were just like my friends in the Boise punk scene. 

As with American Splendor, I missed several issues of the series when I was living in Louisiana, and I still need to fill the gaps in my Hernandez Brothers collection--which would be a lot easier if Fantagraphics would have just continued to publish the hardcover collections of Love and Rockets instead of abandoning that project in favor of collecting various serialized stories as graphic novels.

Of course, the graphic novel collections are better in terms of sales to the general public, but its become difficult for me to keep track of the various book titles that are coming out from the Hernandezes. I need to get a bibliography and start checking off everything I own so I can see what I still need to buy.

Anything by Gilbert and Jaime is worth owning, and I eventually plan to have everything they have published--and it all began with Love and Rockets.


1. Raw (1980-91)

Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly published the anthology magazine Raw (later a digest-sized book) as an “art comic.” They took the art gallery approach and applied it to comics--but not just any comics. Raw was essentially underground comix raised to the level of high art--as the blurb on the cover of the sixth issue states,Raw was “The Graphix Magazine that Overestimates the Taste of the American Public.”

In addition to Raw providing me with my first glimpses of Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (as he serialized his book as chapters inserted into the magazine), it also gave me my first exposure to the works of Jose Munoz, Jerry Moriarty, Charles Burn, Gary Panter, Josh and Drew Friedman, and numerous other artists whose works I only learned to admire due to their association withRaw.

As I’ve mentioned about other series I’ve listed, someone needs to gather all of the Raw issues and publish them as an archive-quality collected edition in the same large size that they were originally published in.

Additionally, I need to seek out the post-Raw work that most of the artists did. I miss their artistry a great deal, especially when I stop to ponder the quality of the majority of the superhero comics I read in contrast to the quality of all of the alternative comic books I’ve listed above.

There are obviously other series that could have easily made my list, but I had to decide which to include and which to reduce to “honorable mention” status. For instance, Crumb’s Weirdo is probably deserving of a position on the list, but I decided it is sort of a continuation of his first few issues of Zap, so I went with the earlier work even though the entirety of Zap is certainly no Weirdo.

Upon seeing my list of top ten alternative American comics, my editor-in-chief here at Comics Bulletin (Jason Sacks) responded by saying, "What? No Elfquest?" 

To be honest, I had not considered Elfquest--probably because I have never been interested in the series. Cute and sexy elves aren't my preference. However, Elfquest should probably be on the list instead of . . . well, probably instead of Eclipse Magazine I suppose. 

I guess my dislike for cute and sexy elves blinded me to remembering to pay tribute to Elfquest, but I'm happy to have been able to pay tribute to Eclipse instead.

Similarly, other readers might well ask, "What? No Heavy Metal

Heavy Metal was certainly an alternative to mainstream American comics, and it was published in the US byNational Lampoon. Ultimately, I consider it too slick and too European to make my list of alternative American comics. It was essentially the US version of Metal Hurlant, and my impression of the half dozen or so issues of Heavy Metal that I read in the late 70s and early 80s was that the magazine mostly reprinted European comics--which were great. The works of Moebius and Liberatore remain some of my all-time favorites, but they weren't American alternatives; they were European alternatives to American comics.

I also contemplated Eightball by Daniel Clowes and Neat Stuff by Peter Bagge. I think very highly of those works, but I ultimately decided that The First KingdomStar*Reach, and Eclipse Magazine were more significant historically (with the latter two also earning points for being anthologies that featured big-name creators during the heights of their careers).

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