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Thursday, August 28, 2008

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

2 comments:

Nik said...

Wow, I would have loved a Freak Bros Chronicles. The Spidey one was always my favorite too, and I loved Byrne's cover myself.

Steve Webb said...

Interesting site and insights, Rog. Two things. One, The Spider-Man edition, to me, was clearly the best of the five regular Chronicles editions. Read well, scanned well, and frankly I was happier with my contributions that I'd been before.

Two, I liked and uniformely enjoyed dealing with everyone at Fantaco, either as a customer or as a contract writer.