Friday, January 21, 2011

I've Got Art: SWAMP THING By Stephen R. Bissette

I have been collecting original artwork since 1985. Almost every piece has an interesting or personal story connected to it.

But none more personal than the first which happens to be Swamp Thing by Stephen R. Bissette

Bissette drew this piece for me in October of 1985 while doing an in-store appearance at Starship Excalibur (out of business for almost twenty years now) in Providence, Rhode Island.

I had just turned fifteen several days earlier and was loaded with birthday cash. To tell you the truth I was a bit of a Marvel Zombie back then, was only vaguely aware of a comic called Swamp Thing, and had absolutely no clue who Bissette was.

It didn’t matter though; he drew comics, I loved comics, and therefore I loved him!

I bought several issues of Swamp Thing for him to sign and then, not knowing what else he might have drawn, asked him to draw a picture of Swampie for me.

He charged me fifteen dollars for the piece and drew it in about ten minutes.

He used two fat magic markers, one black and one grey, and his hand moved about its work at a speed and sureness only acquired through hundreds of repetitions drawing the same thing over and over again.

I wish I had known more about him then….or that in later years he would draw a very cool dinosaur comic called Tyrant.

No offense to Swampie but I would have asked for a T-Rex drawing instead.

While he was drawing I asked the incredibly stupid question, “Is Swamp Thing just a Man-Thing rip-off?”

I had no idea that Man-Thing was only two months older than Swampie or I wouldn’t have asked. He gave me a short answer for a dumb question….”No”.

After he drew my Swampie he drew a picture of the store owner, Fred, holding a copy of US1 #1 and menacingly asking $100 for it….

A great piece….

Yes, I owned a copy of US1, don’t judge me….Some had gorgeous Michael Golden covers.

See!  A gorgeous Michael Golden cover!
I took home my first piece of original art and promptly left it naked and exposed on top of one of my dozen or so boxes of comics.

It stayed there for about a week until my dog Morgan (I wanted to call him Conan) decided to use it as a scratch pad….literally. He pawed through it in four or five different spots, leaving deep grooves and small puncture marks over the entire piece.

Morgan was the best dog in the world but apparently he was also an angry art critic.

About four years later, when I was working at Starship Excalibur, I got a phone call from my mom that Morgan had been hit and killed by a car. His favorite game had always been “escape the house” and he had been all too good at it.

I think of Morgan every time I look over at the picture of Swamp Thing (now framed) hanging on my wall.

Best dog ever.

Four or five years after he drew Swampie for me, Bissette came into Excalibur while I was working.

He was with a friend who pointed to Bissette and said, “That’s Stephen Bissette, you know.” In a very nonchalant voice I replied, “I know."

What an idiot I was!

What would it have hurt to have let a little of that old fanboy-worship bubble to the surface? I should have told him how great I thought his work was, and that I had a picture of Swamp Thing he had drawn for me hanging on my wall….and that I loved it!

Instead I rang up his comics, said thanks, and spent the rest of the day re-reading the Alan Moore/Stephen Bissette run of Swamp Thing.

Sometime in the mid-nineties, when I owned my own comic book store, and was publishing my friend (and fellow FOG! columnist) Steve Ahlquist’s comic Oz Squad, I attended a small press expo and ran into Bissette one final (to date) time.

I gave him a copy of the new issue of Oz Squad and he told me his lady was a big fan. I didn’t gush, but I was finally able to express my appreciation for his talent, and I thanked him for the Swamp Thing piece he had drawn for me ten or so years earlier.

A stunning Tyrant cover by Bissette
Stephen Bissette was born in 1955. He is an artist, editor, publisher, and is responsible for setting one comic book geek on a lifelong quest to own a piece of artwork by every artist he has ever loved.

Visit Bissette's website, HERE!


  1. Thank you for this. I ran across it looking for information about what happened to Starship Excalibur. I went there a few times as a stunk not having a drivers license and living in Seekonk.

  2. There were two Excalibur stores; one on Hope Street and one in downtown Providence. Steve, did you ever go to Superhero Universe II in the Arcade?