The Comics Journal, often abbreviated TCJ, is an American magazine of news and criticism pertaining to comic books, comic strips and graphic novels. Known for its lengthy interviews with comic creators, pointed editorials and scathing reviews of the products of the mainstream comics industry, the magazine promotes the view that comics are a fine art meriting broader cultural respect, and thus should be evaluated with higher critical standards.
|The Comics Journal|
Jay Lynch self-portrait for The Comics Journal No. 114 (February 1987)
|Editor-in-chief||Gary Groth (since 1977)|
|Categories||comics, criticism, history, interviews|
|Frequency||Twice a year|
|Based in||Seattle, Washington|
In 1976, Gary Groth and Michael Catron acquired The Nostalgia Journal, a small competitor of the newspaper adzine The Buyer's Guide for Comics Fandom. At the time, Groth and Catron were already publishing Sounds Fine, a similarly formatted adzine for record collectors that they had started after producing Rock 'N Roll Expo '75, held during the July 4 weekend in 1975 in Washington, D.C.
The publication was relaunched as The New Nostalgia Journal with issue No. 27 (July 1976), and with issue No. 32 (January 1977), it became The Comics Journal ("a quality publication for the serious comics fan"). Issue No. 37 (December 1977) adopted a magazine format. With issue #45 (March 1979), the magazine moved to a monthly schedule; at that point it had a circulation of 10,000.
In addition to lengthy interviews with comics industry figures, the Journal has always published criticism—and received it in turn. Starting in the early 2000s, the Journal published a series of annual specials combining its usual critical format with extended samples of comics from specially selected contributors.
With issue No. 300 (November 2009), The Comics Journal ceased its semi-monthly print publication. TCJ shifted from an eight-times a year publishing schedule to a larger, more elaborate, semi-annual format supported by a new website. This format lasted until 2013 with issue #302. The print magazine then went on hiatus, returning to a magazine format in 2019 with issue #303.
Over the years The Journal has been involved in a handful of lawsuits. Artist Rich Buckler attempted legal action for a review that called him a plagiarist while printing his panels next to earlier and quite similar Jack Kirby art. A Groth interview with science fiction writer Harlan Ellison sparked a lawsuit by writer Michael Fleisher, over an informal discussion of Fleisher's work and temperament. Co-defendants Groth and Ellison won the case, but emerged from the suit estranged.
Ellison later became a plaintiff against The Comics Journal, filing suit in part to enjoin The Comics Journal Library: The Writers, a 2006 Fantagraphics book that reprinted the Ellison interview, and which used a cover blurb calling Ellison a "Famous Comics Dilettante." That case was ultimately settled, with Fantagraphics agreeing to omit both the blurb and the interview from any future printings of the book, Ellison agreeing to post a Groth rebuttal statement on Ellison's webpage, and both sides agreeing to avoid future "ad hominem attacks."
The Journal has on occasion published, as cover features, lengthy court transcripts of comics-related civil suits. Notable instances include the Fleisher suit and Marv Wolfman's failed suit against Marvel Comics over ownership of the character Blade.
The Journal features critical essays, articles on comics history and lengthy interviews, conducted by Gary Groth and others. Noteworthy interviews include Gil Kane in No. 38, Steve Gerber in No. 41, Harlan Ellison in No. 53, Dennis O'Neil in No. 64, Robert Crumb in No. 113, and Charles M. Schulz in #200.
The Journal's combination of forthright news coverage and critical analysis – although the norm for traditional journalistic enterprises – was in sharp contrast to the affectionate and promotional methods of publications like Comics Buyer's Guide and (later) Wizard. In 1995, publisher Gary Groth joked that his magazine occupied "a niche that nobody wants."
Gary Groth has been the Journal's publisher and nominal editor for almost all of its existence. Staff members and regular contributors have included Kim Thompson, Greg Stump, Eric Millikin, Eric Reynolds, Ng Suat Tong, R. Fiore, R.C. Harvey, Kenneth Smith, Don Phelps, Robert Boyd, Tom Heintjes, Michael Dean, Tom Spurgeon, Robert Rodi, Gene Phillips, Marilyn Bethke, Cat Yronwode, Heidi MacDonald, Lee Wochner, Bhob Stewart, Arn Saba, Ted White, Bob Levin, Carter Scholz, and Noah Berlatsky. Guest contributors have included Dave Sim and Trina Robbins.
The Journal published a 20th-century comics canon in its 210th issue (February 1999). To compile the list, eight contributors and editors made eight separate top 100 (or fewer than 100 for some) lists of American works. These eight lists were then informally combined, and tweaked into an ordered list. Krazy Kat topped the list, followed by Peanuts, Pogo, and Art Spiegelman's Maus. Harvey Kurtzman had the most entries of any creator, five: his original run on Mad (#8), his "New Trend" EC war comics (#12), the 1959 Jungle Book graphic novel (#26), his Hey Look! gag cartoons (#63), and the Goodman Beaver stories (#64).
The Village Voice cited the survey's ad hoc criteria:
Among the controversial omissions to the Top 100 was Dave Sim's Cerebus series. Sim and the Journal had periodically found themselves at odds in the years preceding the list's formulation. Issue No. 213 included eight pages of responses to, and defenses of the list; Journal columnist R. Fiore wrote "Dave Sim must now think you have a personal vendetta against him," and co-publisher Kim Thompson conceded, "If I had to do it over again, I'd squash together the Hernandez material into two entries [and] put Cerebus and two other things in the vacant spots." Twelve years later, the omission was still being acknowledged by the Journal, which noted that Dave Sim's Cerebus "was conspicuously excluded."
Less surprisingly, given the magazine's longstanding editorial standards and preferences, the list was also light on the dominant genre of superhero comics. Editor and survey participant Tom Spurgeon wrote, "I voted for most of the men-in-spandex titles that made the list – Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Plastic Man – despite the sheer lousiness of some of those works' contributing elements." Ultimately, the Top 100 included six superhero works, including the deconstructionist Watchmen. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns was one well-regarded mainstream superhero project that was considered but ultimately not chosen, according to co-publisher Kim Thompson.
|1990||Harvey Award||Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation||Won|
|1996||Eisner Award||Best Comics-Related Periodical/Publication||Won|
|1997||Best Comics-Related Periodical/Publication||Won|
|Harvey Award||Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation||Won|
|1998||Eisner Award||Best Comics-Related Periodical/Publication||Won|
|Harvey Award||Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation||Won|
|1999||Eisner Award||Best Comics-Related Periodical/Publication||Won|
|Harvey Award||Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation||Won|
Comics Journal Summer Special 2002
|2005||Eagle Award||Favourite Magazine About Comics||Won|
|2006||Harvey Award||Best Biographical, Historical, or Journalistic Presentation||Won|
|2009||Eisner Award||Best Comics-Related Periodical/Journalism||Nominated|
Amazing Heroes was a magazine about the comic book medium published by American company Fantagraphics Books from 1981 to 1992. Unlike its companion title, The Comics Journal, Amazing Heroes was a hobbyist magazine rather than an analytical journal.Blackthorne Publishing
Blackthorne Publishing, Inc. was a comic book publisher that flourished from 1986–1989. They were notable for the Blackthorne 3-D Series, their reprint titles of classic comic strips like Dick Tracy, and their licensed products. Blackthorne achieved its greatest sales and financial success with their licensed 3-D comics adaptations of the California Raisins, but the financial loss suffered by the failure of their 3-D adaptation of the Michael Jackson film Moonwalker was a major contributor to the publisher's downfall.Creator ownership in comics
Creator ownership in comics is an arrangement in which the comic book creator retains full ownership of the material, regardless of whether the work is self-published or published by a corporate publisher.
In some fields of publishing, such as fiction writing, creator ownership has historically been standard. In other fields—such as comics, recorded music, or motion pictures—creator ownership has traditionally been uncommon, with either work for hire or publisher purchase of the material being standard practice. This article traces the changing standards of the comic book industry.Dave Sim
Dave Sim (born 17 May 1956) is a Canadian cartoonist and publisher, best known for his comic book Cerebus, his artistic experimentation, his advocacy of self-publishing and creator's rights, and his controversial political, philosophical and religious beliefs.
Sim rose to prominence with Cerebus, which began in December 1977. Sim initially conceived it as a parody of Conan the Barbarian and other sword and sorcery comics, but after two years began to consider the series a self-contained work that would run for 300 issues and be subdivided into "novels". By the time the 6000-page work was completed in March 2004, Sim had delved into politics, theology, metaphysics, and a controversial examination of feminism and gender, while becoming progressively more sophisticated and experimental in his storytelling and artwork. Sim worked on Cerebus Archives afterward, and produced the comic books Glamourpuss, which examines the history of photorealistic comics, and Judenhass, about the Holocaust.
Sim co-founded the small press publisher Aardvark-Vanaheim with his wife-to-be, Deni Loubert, in 1977. Most of the titles it published moved to Loubert's Renegade Press after the couple's divorce in the mid-1980s. The publishing company later was co-owned by Sim's creative partner, Gerhard, who dissolved their partnership and sold his stake in the company to Sim in 2007.
Sim helped create the Creator's Bill of Rights in 1988. He has criticized the use of copyright to restrict creators, and has arranged for his body of work to fall into the public domain following his death.Diamond Comic Distributors
Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. (often called Diamond Comics, DCD, or casually Diamond) is a comic book distributor serving retailers in North America and worldwide. They transport comic books and graphic novels from both big and small comic book publishers, or suppliers, to retailers, as well as other pop-culture products such as toys, games, and apparel. Diamond distributes to the direct market in the United States, and has an exclusive distribution arrangements with most major U.S. comic book publishers, including Dark Horse Comics, DC Comics, IDW Publishing, Image Comics, Marvel Comics, and more.
Diamond is also the parent company of Alliance Game Distributors, Diamond Book Distributors, Diamond UK, Diamond Select Toys, Gemstone Publishing, E. Gerber Products, Diamond International Galleries, Hake's Americana & Collectibles, Morphy's Auctions, the Geppi's Entertainment Museum, and Baltimore magazine,
Diamond is the publisher of Previews, a monthly catalog/magazine showcasing upcoming comic books, graphic novels, toys, and other pop-culture merchandise available at comic book specialty shops. The publication is available to both comic shop retailers and consumers.Direct market
The direct market is the dominant distribution and retail network for American comic books. The concept of the direct market was created in the 1970s by Phil Seuling. It currently consists of one dominant distributor (Diamond Comic Distributors) and the majority of comics specialty stores, as well as other retailers of comic books and related merchandise.
The name is no longer a fully accurate description of the model by which it operates, but derives from its original implementation: retailers bypassing existing distributors to make "direct" purchases from publishers. The defining characteristic of the direct market however is non-returnability: unlike book store and news stand distribution, which operate on a sale-or-return model, direct market distribution prohibits distributors and retailers from returning their unsold merchandise for refunds. In exchange for more favorable ordering terms, retailers and distributors must gamble that they can accurately predict their customers' demand for products. Each month's surplus inventory, meanwhile, could be archived and sold later, driving the development of an organized market for "back issues."
The emergence of this lower-risk distribution system is also credited with providing an opportunity for new comics publishers to enter the business, despite the two bigger publishers Marvel and DC Comics still having the largest share. The establishment and growth of independent publishers and self-publishers, beginning in the late 1970s and continuing to the present, was made economically possible by the existence of a system that targets its retail audience, rather than relying on the scattershot approach embodied in the returnable newsstand system.Fantagraphics Books
Fantagraphics Books is an American publisher of alternative comics, classic comic strip anthologies, magazines, graphic novels, and the erotic Eros Comix imprint. Many notable cartoonists publish their work through Fantagraphics, including Jessica Abel, Peter Bagge, Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Mary Fleener, Roberta Gregory, Joe Sacco, Chris Ware, and the Hernandez brothers.First Comics
First Comics was an American comic-book publisher that was active from 1983 to 1991, known for titles like American Flagg!, Grimjack, Nexus, Badger, Dreadstar, and Jon Sable. Along with competitors like Pacific Comics and Eclipse Comics, First took early advantage of the growing direct market, attracting a number of writers and artists from DC and Marvel to produce creator-owned titles, which, as they were not subject to the Comics Code, were free to feature more mature content.Gary Groth
Gary Groth (born September 18, 1954) is an American comic book editor, publisher and critic. He is editor-in-chief of The Comics Journal and a co-founder of Fantagraphics Books.Harvey Comics
Harvey Comics (also known as Harvey World Famous Comics, Harvey Publications, Harvey Comics Entertainment, Harvey Hits, Harvey Illustrated Humor, and Harvey Picture Magazines) was an American comic book publisher, founded in New York City by Alfred Harvey in 1941, after buying out the small publisher Brookwood Publications. His brothers, Robert B. and Leon Harvey, joined shortly after. The company soon got into licensed characters, which by the 1950s, became the bulk of their output. The artist Warren Kremer is closely associated with the publisher.
Harvey's signature mascot is "Joker", a harlequin jack-in-the-box character.Image Comics
Image Comics is an American comic book publisher. It was founded in 1992 by several high-profile illustrators as a venue for creator-owned properties, in which comics creators could publish material of their own creation without giving up the copyrights to those properties, as is normally the case in the work for hire-dominated American comics industry, in which the legal author is a publisher, such as Marvel Comics or DC Comics, and the creator is an employee of that publisher. Image Comics was immediately successful, and remains one of the largest comic book publishers in North America. Its output was originally dominated by superhero and fantasy series from the studios of the founding Image partners, but now includes comics in many genres by numerous independent creators. Its best-known series include The Walking Dead, Spawn, Savage Dragon, Witchblade, The Darkness, Invincible, Saga, Chew, and Bone.Malibu Comics
Malibu Comics Entertainment, Inc. (also known as Malibu Graphics) was an American comic book publisher active in the late 1980s and early 1990s, best known for its Ultraverse line of superhero titles. Notable titles under the Malibu label included The Men in Black, Ultraforce, The Night Man and Exiles.
The company's headquarters was in Calabasas, California. Malibu was initially publisher of record for Image Comics from 1992 to 1993. The company's other imprints included Aircel Comics and Eternity Comics. Malibu also owned a small software development company that designed video games in the early to mid-1990s called Malibu Interactive.National Cartoon Museum
The National Cartoon Museum was an American museum dedicated to the collection, preservation and exhibition of cartoons, comic strips and animation. It was the brainchild of Mort Walker, creator of Beetle Bailey.
The museum opened in 1974, went through several name changes, relocations, and temporary closures, before finally closing for good in 2002. Originally known as the Museum of Cartoon Art in 1974, the name was changed to the National Cartoon Museum when it moved to Boca Raton, Florida in 1992. In 1996, it became the International Museum of Cartoon Art.In June 2008, Walker's collection was merged with the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, affiliated with Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.Rip Off Press
Rip Off Press, Inc. is a mail order retailer and distributor, better known as the former publisher of "adult-themed" series like The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Rip Off Comix, as well as many other seminal publications from the underground comix era. Founded in 1969 in San Francisco by four friends from Austin, Texas — cartoonists Gilbert Shelton and Jack Jackson, and Fred Todd and Dave Moriaty — Rip Off Press is now run out of Auburn, California, by Todd and his wife.
Rip Off Press is also notable for being the original company to publish the fourth edition of the Principia Discordia, a Discordian religious text written by Gregory Hill and Kerry Thornley. It was also an early publisher of the infamous booklet on drug manufacturing, Psychedelic Chemistry.Swipe (comics)
Swipe is a comics term for the intentional copying of a cover, panel, or page from an earlier comic book or graphic novel without crediting the original artist.
Artists Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Hergé, and Jim Lee are common targets of swipes, though even those artists may not be above reproach; Kirby was known to have swiped from Hal Foster early in his career. Similarly, many Golden Age artists kept "swipe files" of material to be copied as needed. Certain contemporary artists have become notorious for their swiping, including Rich Buckler (who favors Neal Adams and Jack Kirby), Rob Liefeld (many artists), Keith Giffen (José Antonio Muñoz), and Roger Cruz (Jim Lee and Joe Madureira).
There is a long tradition in comics of using fine art as "inspiration" as well. Most observers do not consider this as objectionable as swiping from another cartoonist's work. Examples include Art Spiegelman swiping an image of the Russian artist M. Mazruho's in Maus, Eddie Campbell swiping Diego Velázquez, and Jill Thompson swiping the work of Arthur Rackham.Cartoonists have also swiped images from mass media and commercial art. Examples include Batman creator Bob Kane repeatedly swiping from early 20th-century illustrator Henry Vallely, Greg Land repeatedly swiping pornography as well as many popular comic book artists, 2000 AD artist Mick Austin swiping an image of Toni Shilleto's from Mayfair: Entertainment for Men, Jon J. Muth swiping a 1940s photograph, and David Chelsea swiping from Spanish pornography. Sometimes the swiping happens "in reverse," as in the example of an illustration from Organic Gardening magazine swiping the iconic Kirby cover for Fantastic Four #1.Swiping brings to mind the amusing conundrum of whether an artist can swipe from himself. One example is two almost-identical Peanuts strips by Charles Schulz done almost ten years apart. Another comic strip-related ethics question was invoked by latter-day Nancy artists Guy & Brad Gilchrist swiping Nancy creator Ernie Bushmiller.Vortex Comics
Vortex Comics is a Canadian independent comic book publisher that operated during the years 1982 to 1994. Under the supervision of president, publisher, and editor Bill Marks, Vortex was known for such titles as Dean Motter's Mister X, Howard Chaykin's Black Kiss, and Chester Brown's Yummy Fur, the last of which was a pioneer of alternative comics. Vortex also earned a reputation for publishing Canadian comic book creators such as Brown, Ty Templeton, Ken Steacy, and Jeffrey Morgan.WaRP Graphics
WaRP Graphics, later Warp Graphics, is an alternative comics publisher best known for creating and being the original publisher of the Elfquest comic book series. It was created and incorporated in 1977 by Wendy and Richard Pini. The company title is an acronym formed from the founding couple's name: Wendy and Richard Pini. (In later years the capitalization was changed from WaRP to Warp, a mostly aesthetic move.)
In addition to Elfquest, Warp also published several other comic book series, including MythAdventures and related titles by Robert Asprin, and Thunder Bunny, created by Martin Greim.
Warp was also the original publisher of A Distant Soil by Colleen Doran, until Doran left under acrimonious circumstances, alleging that WaRP attempted to claim copyright on her work, which WaRP denied. Warp sued licensee publisher Starblaze Graphics for, among other issues, publication of unauthorized Elfquest reprints, inaccurate reporting of royalties, but primarily for tortious interference in Warp's contract with Doran (who was also named in the Donning lawsuit), by attempting to assume the rights to A Distant Soil. Starblaze countersued; the dispute was settled out of court by Donning and Doran in 1988. All rights previously licensed to Donning in Elfquest reverted to Warp; Warp reverted all rights in A Distant Soil to Doran.Warren Publishing
Warren Publishing was an American magazine company founded by James Warren, who published his first magazines in 1957 and continued in the business for decades. Magazines published by Warren include After Hours, Creepy, Eerie, Famous Monsters of Filmland, Help!, and Vampirella.
Initially based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the company moved by 1965 to New York City.
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