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Cracking into the comic business (and How!)

“Perfectionists are their own devils.” – Jack Kirby

The first professional comic book creator I ever met was Steve Bissette. I worked at a small specialty shop in Massachusetts from ages 12 to 17, and he visited that shop from time to time. We had a couple of published pages from Saga of the Swamp Thing for sale on consignment in that shop, one of which became the first piece of art I ever purchased. It took me an entire winter (which north of Boston can be a pretty long time), to pay it off with store credit that I got for working there. It was my prized possession for the better part of a decade. It started the ball rolling on my art collecting and drove home a point that my high school guidance councilor had tried to advise, but failed to convince me: that a career in drawing comics was probably not an option. Not for the reasons touched upon during my monthly appointments with Mr. Coleman (“Who’s going to pay you to draw funny books, Kennedy?”), but because I’d never be able to pencil work that good as fast as it would need to be done in order to sustain a monthly title. If you’re not reading Steve’s incredible daily blog, Myrant, you are doing yourself a great disservice. More than a mere blog, it’s like a correspondence course for aspiring comic book artists.

Corner Book Shop (later relocated as Comics, Legends & Lore) was, among all of my life’s environments, the single greatest sphere of influence upon the person I would become for the rest of my life. The business’ original owner, Tim Cole, had been a folk hero for the generation preceding my own. He was more of a friend than a mentor to me, and he seemed to have a copy of just about every comic book ever printed, able to tell a story like few people I’ve met before or since. The kids that he had mentored, Tom Sniegoski (who became a professional writer of comics and much more), Paul Marcure (now the owner of Eeldrytch Armouree), and Paul Glavin (music history wizard and one of the best, natural illustrators I’ve ever known) helped to shape who I am today. But the brief interactions I had with Steve Bissette as an impressionable young lad obsessed with obscure horror films, strange comedy albums, and comic books published almost thirty years before I was born, were also important and far reaching.

I doubt that he remembers this, but one weekend afternoon at Endicott Plaza in Danvers, MA (just outside the Liberty Tree Mall), back in the summer of 1985, he and his (then) wife took pity on two 14 year old boys and helped them gain access into the R-rated Fright Night, by purchasing the tickets -even though (if memory serves me) they were seeing another movie. Back then ticket takers wouldn’t sell tickets to teenagers for restricted movies, but it was ok for parents or guardians to purchase the tickets on their behalf. Steve and Nancy (now Marlene) were guardians for a day, and that’s the story of how Matt Kennedy and Todd Harvey got to see the best vampire movie of the 80s. Thanks, Steve!

More than just allowing us access to the forbidden fruit of our choice, Bissette vindicated for us, the horror film as a genre; as acceptable entertainment. Here was an adult who didn’t see anything wrong with a couple of teenagers seeing a horror film that had no nudity or sexually explicit material, and which didn’t glorify violence, but exhibited special effects (sometimes very gory ones) of a fantastical and exceptionally sophisticated nature. By the time Day of the Dead and ReAnimator made it to our little corner of the northeast, both bore the newly christened NC-17 rating, and we had to literally sneak into those films by buying tickets for other PG rated films. Ironically, as an adult I would be part of the DVD production team on these titles during my stint at Anchor Bay via Blue Underground.

I’ve recently contacted Steve when I realized that he was on facebook (and we had dozens of mutual friends), and his blog has become necessary daily reading. If he’s checking his web stats, he’ll probably see that the average time spent on his blog is upwards of 8 minutes per click, which is better than 85% of all websites. While he may not be competing with vendor sites like Amazon.com or social networks like the aforementioned Facebook, he’s carved out a great little niche which has become involuntary or those of us illuminated to it. I’d wager that most of this site’s subscribers would benefit greatly from the sage secrets revealed by one of the great self-publishers to emerge from the 80s indie publishing boom. He’s always been kind with his advice, unselfish with his knowledge, and unencumbered by an ego that would be perfectly natural to have in view of his many accomplishments. But that’s not Steve. He’s incredibly talented, extraordinarily unselfish, and habitually humble –and his students at CCS (the Center for Cartoon Studies) are damned lucky to have him.
Makes me wish I lived in Vermont, damn it!

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