I spent most of my early life wanting to write comics, and when I met my pal and sometimes artist Doug Lumley in high school, it looked like it might finally happen. We tossed ideas back and forth, and eventually decided to self-publish an anthology of our own creations, such sure-hits as "Tushy LaFlaire, Crimebusting Prostitute" and an anthropomorphized mallard living in a Melvin Van Peebles world known as "Ducklips Badass." We were all ready to take the comics world by storm, making our mark on sequential art like no one else had, until...we saw how much it cost to print a full-sized indy comic (and this was around 1984, when it was particularly pricey).
So the idea languished for years. In the interim, I spent my time having a series of bad to mediocre relationships (the story of my ex-fiancee writing on the wall in her own feces alone is worth the price of admission, but that's a story for another day), and working on my BA and eventual MA.
By 1991, however, I'd become much more aware of the alternative comics scene, and found myself pulled into the network of mini-comic publishers. Seeing what folks were doing out there with just a photocopier and a few bucks, I was sure the time was right to try self-publishing again, albeit on a considerably smaller scale. Doug and I decided on digest-sized comics (5 1/2"x 8 1/2"), found a relatively inexpensive mom & pop print shop, and cranked out our first two creations simultaneously.
Yoyo the Dieting Clown was the sardonic story of a bulimic funnyman, based very loosely on my own weight issues (though I've only mastered the bingeing, not the purging). Made-Up Stuff is Stranger Than Fiction was a series of one-panel gags, with a tone I've often referred to as "what Ripley's Believe It or Not would be like if written by George Carlin."
As I recall, we copied one of them on blue paper and one on pink, so we probably looked the part of proud new parents as we lugged a box of them into the Artists Alley area of the Chicago Comicon in summer, 1991. We sat up our table next to other mini-comics publishers, including my pals Pam Bliss (Sparky the Dog, B-36) and Nik Dirga (Amoeba Adventures).
For the next three days, we manned our table and paid the kind of dues that only mini-comics publishing can bring. If you've never sat at a big convention with nothing but a crude black & white, photocopied comic in front of you, with tens of thousands of elitist, opinionated fanboys walking by, I'd highly recommend it. It's good for the soul, and certainly for the humility. Eventually, you might even gain a bit of callousness to the "small press glance," the contemptuous look that passers-by give your rinky-dink vanity project as they make their way to "real" comics (careful not to pass close enough that they might actually have to talk to you). Holden Caulfield may have felt his essay was handled like a turd, but God damn it, he got off easy.
Over the next few years, though, it became easier, and a great deal of fun. We published several more comics, including two more issues of Yoyo, and a Made-Up Stuff Annual. We also turned out three issues of the critically-acclaimed Tales of the Pathetic Club (about people with OCD, again loosely based on my own troubled cranium), and a spin-off, Twilight Guardian. I was especially proud of the Pathetic Club stuff, and it garnered me a lot of awards and such in the small press community (and a letter of praise from Harvey Pekar, whose work had somewhat inspired the series; I still cherish that note today).
After three years, though, Avernus Comic (our imprint) still hadn't published a superhero comic (strange, given what capes-and-tights fans Doug and I both were). That changed in 1994, however, when I came up with an idea for a donut shop that catered to superheroes and villains, a shop called Holey Crullers. It was a move that would change my life, albeit nearly nine years later, but that's a story for next time.
Next: It's So Stupid, It Just Might Work!