As promised (or threatened) in my last post, My Life in Comics, Part 7: The Innocent Bystander Years, here’s the first in a deep dive into the comics themselves. I’m going to try and post some actual pages, so you, dear reader, can have a bit of the Innocent Bystander experience as it happened, over 25 years ago. (Truth be told, I think the only person in the world who is interested in this level of navel-gazing is the author, but let’s not burst his bubble, okay? In his dotage and retirement years, it’s fun to look back at this stuff … and who knew a quarter of a century had already slipped by?)
Innocent Bystander #1 debuted in October 1995. I know this because I have a copy of Comic Shop News from that month, and lo and behold, there it is in the alphabetical listing. Before I get into some actual pages from the momentous first issue (every first issue is momentous, by the way … or ground-breaking, or earth-shattering, or some such similar superlative), I’d like to reproduce what I wrote on the inside front cover of issue #1 for what I called the “Innocent Text Page.”
For me, it all started with Al Williamson. I was reading an interview with him in a comics fanzine called Auction Block, and he said how he started to learn to draw by copying from Alex Raymond. So, I started to learn to draw by copying from Al Williamson. I was 15, a late start for an artist.
I’m 40 now. A late start for a publisher, I guess. Maybe being 40 has something to do with this sudden need to publish this. Innocent Bystander started over 2 years ago with the page “CATS.” That laid around unfinished for a good 6 months, and then I finally dug it out and I thought maybe I have something here. And I finished it and went on to “Atlantic City” and that year’s Christmas Card, which became a page in here, and before I knew it I had 20 pages. So I put together a cute, little ashcan (you know … they were all the rage there for a few months) and took it to San Diego.
And had my eyes opened. Real quick.
It was 1993 … and I only had the opportunity to talk to one publisher, who shall go unnamed, and who was less than enthusiastic about even taking a copy of the ashcan. I left flyers at the con, selling the ashcan for $2.00. I got one response. (Thank you, Jim Korkis.) Everywhere I turned at the Con I saw portfolios. I saw agents with flip phones jockeying for position … talking amongst themselves about this artist and that artist and how hot he (all HEs sadly) was and what he had done and how he was about to just EXPLODE into greatness.
And I got very discouraged.
So I came back home and went back to work at my regular job. And Innocent Bystander became a thing in the closet.
Until recently. I don’t quite know what it is … but I feel the urge to finally do something with this. I’ve added a few new pages, redid the cover, and decided if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it all the way, and not settle for another “ashcan” or a “mini-comic” or have it look like anything other than what it really is: A COMIC BOOK. My comic book, for what it’s worth.
And I guess that’s the thing … it is MINE. It’s autobiographical, certainly not in the sense of autobiographical like Crumb or Joe Matt or Seth. (Christ, I wish!) No, it’s kind of … mundane? Boring?* Slice of life? I dunno … you tell me. I like to think there’s something in here that everyone can relate to, especially those of us near that age of 40 who grew up with all this stuff in a small town. Or it just could be pure vanity.
I guess this is what I started to do back in 1970 when I read that Al Williamson interview. My life has taken a few twists and turns since then. But I never gave up on comics and I never will. This may very well be the first and ONLY issue of Innocent Bystander. You’ll have to tell me that. And I may be carting around the 3,000 copies I had printed for the rest of my life.
Finally, this is for Ginny**, who became a cartoonist even though she had no desire to … and became the best one at that.
*Hopefully not as boring as this text page.
(**Ginny was a young woman I met in art school, who I had a thing for. She met someone else at the same time, went to California with him (where they got married(, and she ended up at Walt Disney Animation, doing clean-up work on some of their biggest 1990s films, including The Lion King and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. She actually took me to the world premiere of The Lion King at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 1994.)
That was written 26 years ago. It’s difficult for me from the vantage—or disadvantage—point of years later to quantify how much this comic book thing meant to me, what a strange bit of personal validation it was. I look at it now and I remember that sense of pride, but I also cringe a bit at how personal it—and subsequent issues—were. Too personal. I don’t remember precisely how the first issue sold … I think I sold 1,000 copies through Diamond, and an additional 300 or so through Capital City, companies that were the biggest distributors then (by the time IB #3 came out, Steve Geppi’s Diamond was the last distribution company standing, having signed exclusives with Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image Comics). And even though the black and white comics boom self-destructed a few years earlier, I credit that 1,000 copies to the amount of comic shops left in 1995 and those that were still looking for the next big black-and-white book, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It was hard to tell what a comic would actually be like months in advance from a one-paragraph description and a cover image in a distributor catalog.
And a word about the cover, which graces the top to this post: The idea was stolen from a comic that remained a seminal book for a lot of readers of that era: Superman Annual #1 from 1960. That cover format, with one large central image and three smaller ones on either side (plus the 25-cent cover price) promised something very different for the comics reader. Also, it’s summer release date signified long, school-free days. It’s a cover design burned into the mind of every superhero comics fan.
But enough. As the great Steve Ditko always insisted, let’s let the work speak for itself. Here are some pages and two complete stories from Innocent Bystander #1. I hope you enjoy them.
Click on the images to see them larger on your screen.