Fantagraphics and PictureBox

Fantagraphics is the greatest comics publisher of all time. No company, in any field, has made products that mean more to me than Fantagraphics’. Their co-publisher Kim Thompson died too young and took a lot of counted-on revenue with him, so they launched a Kickstarter that’s in its final hours right now. The rewards are almost parodically plentiful, varied, and worthwhile; I’ll be getting a customized pair of Chuck Taylors, naturally. I urge you to give if you haven’t already — it’s basically shopping, not giving, but either way, the company that basically created alternative comics could use your help.

PictureBox is the greatest comics publisher of the 21st century. Any one of several projects published or edited by publisher Dan Nadel would make him and PBox a publisher for the ages: the work of Japanese experimentalist Yuichi Yokoyama or prescient Providence art-comics collective Paper Rad, editing the canon-disrupting classic-comics collection Art Out of Time or the paradigm-shifting magazine of alt/genre comics criticism Comics Comics. PBox also did a huge service for alt/art comics by situating them in the larger context of visual culture — in publishing collections by everyone from Richard Kern to Hipgnosis to the Hairy Who to Destroy All Monsters in addition to the best-ever books by, say, Brian Chippendale and Renee French, Nadel was making a case for commonalities that might otherwise have gone un-remarked upon. Now Dan’s closing up shop to take a more stable full-time job in the book world, so PictureBox is having an inventory-liquidating 50% off sale on everything it sells. I put together a quick list of some of the publisher’s more narratively straightforward works for a friend who was looking for recommendations along those lines.

POWR MASTRS: I suspect this seminal CF series is destined to be forever unfinished, at least in terms of its original conception as an eight-volume epic or something, but it’s basically an NC-17 Adventure Time.

COLD HEAT: Another Unfinished Symphony, though much less dramatically so; in fact you’re better off skipping the final double issue, which makes this weird huge tonal shift away from the rest of it, the rest of it being “What if someone transformed Loveless by My Bloody Valentine into a young-adult fantasy?” Co-creators Frank Santoro and Ben Jones were tentpole PictureBox franchises.

KRAMERS ERGOT 8: In some ways this is the least innovative of the super-duper-influential Kramers anthologies edited by Sammy Harkham, even the least successful, but it’s the most straightforward in terms of the emphasis on nice lengthy narratives from the contributors, and the most thought-provoking in terms of trying to suss out what was included and why, and the coolest-looking in terms of that far-out ’70s science-textbook look.

NEGRON: A great little showcase of the comics and pin-ups of the postmillennial Vaughn Bode.

EVERYTHING TOGETHER: This is a collection of all the short stories by Sammy Harkham, an alternative cartoonist in the grand Fanta/D&Q tradition.

GARDEN: There’s no story here, per se — it’s just a bunch of people in strange costumes navigating an enormous manmade amusement-park-like garden complex and discussing what they see. But Yuichi Yokoyama’s art is just super super appealing to me — he makes every movement seem as dynamic as a Jack Kirby spread, and the overall effect is like going on a strange guided tour of a depopulated Super Mario Galaxy.

It’s worth contemplating how the death of Kim Thompson forced Fantagraphics to crowdfund its continued existence, and how a life change on Dan Nadel’s part shuttered PictureBox entirely. The alt/art comics infrastructure depends on the heroic efforts of individuals; lose them and the loss can rarely be weathered, with the recent shift of the Brooklyn convention currently called CAB to an exclusively Gabe Fowler-run enterprise from one he shared with Nadel and Bill Kartalopoulos being a rare counterexample.

That said, altcomix is very good at rising from the ashes. Tom Devlin’s Highwater Books, the most direct aesthetic antecedent for PictureBox in terms of their books’ high-end design flourishes and signal-boosting of the Fort Thunder/Providence scene, spawned any number of publishers after it folded: Secret Acres and Bodega Books were both founded by former Highwater employees, Devlin himself went on to partially Highwaterify Drawn & Quarterly, and so on. Dan keeping the doors open at PBox long enough to place as many of his artists and projects with other publishers as possible tells you an awful lot about the quality of his character as well. So, we shop, and we hope.

6 Responses to Fantagraphics and PictureBox

  1. Rev'd '76 says:

    Oh, shit.

    [/devastation]

    I’ve been attempting to cajole my LCSs into carrying PictureBox books forever but keep hitting the Diamond wall. If Diamond doesn’t promote a thing, my Little Five Points shop claims they can’t order it; I have better luck outside the perimeter with Oxford Comics– they landed me Powr Mastrs 1 –but Diamond remains the main hurdle. Part of that’s my fault for being cautious: I refuse to have a card that can be abused digitally, and don’t do any shopping online unless someone else allows me to use theirs. I’m gonna hafta cave, though, with the trend being what it is. These people deserve my money so much more than a distribution network intent on dragging its feet in favor of franchised-to-death material which has already has films, video games, audio-chipped foam rubber Hulk fists, billboards, co-operative soft drink / car ad campaigns, &cetera working in their favor. Not to say my local comic shops are doing anything wrong– they’re doing what they must to survive –but I feel they’re disserviced by Diamond.

    Diamond was groundbreaking in the nineties: I wouldn’t have had access to Eddie Campbell’s library of work, or Carla Speed McNeil’s, without them. Today, however, they’re a juggernaut with zero interest in small press and less reverence for what the medium of comics represents. They’re a machine for making little sausages. They’re not providing me or the shops I frequent with anything new or particularly nutritious, and that’s a big damned shame.

  2. michael mancini says:

    Devestated. I bought every comic related item Picturebox has ever published. This sucks,

  3. Rev'd '76 says:

    Oh, wow: PictureBox was publishing a Tezuka I’ve never heard of: ‘The Mysterious Underground Men’. It looks wonderful!

    (hat-tip to Caleb for pointing this out)

    http://robot6.comicbookresources.com/2013/12/a-month-of-wednesdays-jla-sabertooth-swordsman-and-more/

  4. [...] not all good news though. Last week we lost Picturebox, in an interesting contrast with Fantagraphics’ crowdfunding success. Robot 6 bid Picturebox farewell, and The Comics Reporter wrote the definitive obituary, so if you [...]

  5. [...] is the U.S.’s most important publisher of indie comics and, in some critics’ estimation, the greatest comics publisher of all time. Since 1976, Fantagraphics has published Dan Clowes, Los Bros Hernandez, Charles Burns, R. Crumb, [...]

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