Many fanzines were repositories for spot illos and fanboy articles on the latest ‘it’ character. A few, like Woweekazowie, looked to be training grounds for those that truly wanted to make it in professional comics.
Woweekazowie 3 and 4, Summer 1978, Winter 1978
Publisher and Editor: Pete Iro
Very few fanzines were made up primarily of actual sequential stories. And even fewer had stories created by teams of artists and writers, like those in the mainstream comics industry in which these creators yearned to be making their living. The level of work in the stories in Woweekazowie was very close to what was being published in the pros at that time. And although there were spot illos of various mainstream superheros accompanying articles on various established characters, the bulk of the issues were filled with stories featuring the contributors’ characters.
Let’s meet a few of the regulars, shall we?
Publisher and editor Pete Iro was smooth. Not only were his inking skills first rate, but his lettering was one of the primary elements that really set this fanzine apart from its black and white brethren (see below). Iro lettered almost all the stories that appeared in these two issues, and inked several of them as well. I can only assume he also did the logos and mastheads for the various articles as well, and they were all first rate. From remarks made by Kim Thompson via email, the fanzine started by “Dean Mullaney gathering together a group of the most prolific published Marvel Comics letterhacks (contacting us via the addresses published in Marvel letter columns). I happened to be among them because I was writing lots of letters at the time. So we had endless mail correspondence, and eventually Woweekazowie sprang out of it.” Pete Iro took over at a later date, and possibly due to his connections with the fan group Interfan, many other members of that fanzine ‘union’ took part in the content as well. Iro is all over both issues, with inks on stories by Pete Botsis, Larry Houston and John Byrne. Iro also inks illustrations by Gene Day, Tim Corrigan, Carl Taylor, and Jerry Ordway. And as mentioned, he letters almost everything in sight. Iro went on to do lettering and inking for Marvel, with Dave Cockrum’s Giant Size X-men among his many credits.
Probably the other most constant contributor is Willie Blyberg. Issue 3 (which editor Iro says is composed primarily of ‘filler material,’ since production of the zine had gotten away from him as he obtained more professional work) features a short story called Maarz that is related to Blyberg’s superhero/space saga, Victory. Blyberg also contributes a somewhat whimsical single page story called Space Mystery, as well as an Avengers back cover (see above). In issue 4, we see a bigger chunk of the Victory saga, along with several spot illos and a nifty C.C. Beck Captain Marvel color cover (above). Blyberg’s art is sort of a combination of the layouts and hand gestures of Gil Kane with the inking style of Wally Wood.
The late Mark Gruenwald, who wrote and edited a slew of Marvel titles (and even penciled a few), writes and pencils a sardonic spoof of masculine costumed characters with Gay Blade (years before the film of the same name). The layouts are a bit complicated, but it is certainly an enjoyable read, and contains some sly and funny dialogue (left).
The creative team of writer Frank Lovece, penciller Robb Phipps, inking machine Sam De La Rosa, and omnipresent letterer Iro, present a character called Nimbus in a story entitled Broken Silence. Pretty standard stuff, but it is very professionally done, resembling an issue of Herb Trimpe’s Hulk (and again, with flashes of Gil Kane). Crazy coincidence: the only work of mine De La Rosa ever inked is in a fanzine called Nimbus. True story.
Another superhero “battle royale” story is presented by writer/penciller Larry Houston, co-writer Gar Haywood, and, who else, Pete Iro on inks and letters. Called The Omegon, the story appears somewhat formulaic in these jaded times, but back then, it was probably big ol’ fun for the creators and readers alike. Houston’s work is reminiscent of John Buscema and once again, Iro’s skill at lettering stands out. See below right.
Other stories in these two issues are a few pages of Tim Corrigan’s wacky and Kirby-esque Elasticworm character in The Earth Worm Strikes! (Tim is still creating work, see his site here), an ominous Interfan story called Fisheye’s Bed (Interfan founder Steve Clement as writer, Pete Botsis on pencils, and guess who on inks and letters), an adaptation of a Nancy Lybrand story dealing with suicide (by Interfan members Bill Neville on pencils, Sam De La Rosa on inks, and Iro doing the lettering) called Bridge, and a two-page enjoyable and somewhat silly John Byrne story (which is noted as being a rejected Day After Doomsday submission for DC). Spot illos by Bill Neville, Jim Hanley, Jerry Ordway, Fred Hembeck, Mike Machlan, Gene Day, Carl Taylor, Karl Kesel, Iro, and others round out the material. The backcover of issue 4, seen at top, is a beautiful Gil Kane Blackmark vignette (appropriate, since so many of the artists inside the pages of WK seem to count Kane as a big influence).
The articles in issue 4 (none appear in 3) include Marilyn Bethke’s “The Selling of the Publisher” (a pointed but respectful examination of Stan Lee as huckster); Fantagraphics member Kim Thompson’s humorous articulation of Gene Colan’s absence from the ‘fan favorite’ pool called “A Few Thoughts on Values”; Bill Wu’s examination of the depiction of Asian characters in comics in “Perils and Punches”; a comparison of the old “who is more important, the artist or the writer” theme by editor Iro; Gene Phillips’s “Sex and DC’s Puberty”; and an examination by Frank Lovece of singular and “bi-level” communication in comics in “Below Surfaces.” There is also a letters column in both issues…a young Kurt Busiek appears in one of them!
As for Busiek, in an email he surprised me with the news that he and Scott McCloud each did some of their first work together in a Boston area fanzine called X-Mainiacs, when they were both still in their teens. The team also worked together for long running fanzine institution RBCC. Kurt was not actually that involved in fanzines, being much more interested in getting into the actual ranks of the professionals, while writing tons of letters to the letter columns. In fact, it was through those letter columns that he met Jackie Frost, who then directed him towards Woweekazowie. Aside from this ‘zine, Busiek remembers liking The Comic Reader and The Comics Journal (which he later wrote articles for). Busiek enjoyed seeing some of his fan friends Willie Blyberg, Pete Iro, and Doug Hazelwood make it into the pros. In fact, they worked with Busiek on projects such as Astro City and The Liberty Project.
In an email, Pete graciously summed up his fanzine experience, along with some recent history….
“I believe one of the first zines I saw was advertised in a comic book. The name escapes me but I’m sure you’d recognize it as it was well produced with a variety of good quality artists for a zine. I think that it was from Texas and had Don Newton’s version of Batman in an issue. I was probably 10 or 11 years old at the time. I’m 53 now so that was a while ago. [This may be The Comic Reader -Ken]
“The first zine I was in was a collaborative effort with my brother Theo (aka Ted). We did a pencil cover for a young local publisher of a half zine called RBCC. It was Conan holding the reins on a chariot swiped from an Arnold Body building pose. It was pretty exciting but as usual for me the printed version showed all the flaws that I couldn’t see in the original. I was probably 16 at the time since my brother left for college when I turned 17.
“I remember a few artists work that moved me, like Don Newton and Gene Day. I thought Don’s fan work was better than his pro stuff. It had more edge and illustrative qualities that I’m sure they told him to tone down. Gene and I communicated a little right before he passed away. He even sent me a poem to illustrate that I just realized I never did and I wish I had.
“I wasn’t a big zine type of person. Except in the sense that I was amazed there were so many others that wanted to draw and write comics. Most people looked down on them as kid stuff and I always had a sense of embarassment about them. Back then you read them till you were about 11 or 12 years old then people wondered about your maturity or lack thereof.
“I never really wanted to be in fanzines, I always dreamed of being a pro. I just thought of it as a way to get practice and a stepping stone to the big time. I enjoyed reading them and seeing new artists too.
“Over the years I got a lot of encouragement and close to being given an assignment several times. Once an editor even called me at home …. unfortunately just to give me a pat on the back and ‘keep trying’ pep talk.
“The only pro comic work I ever did was for Marvel Comic’s Epic Magazine. It was a 6 page adaptation of a Roger Zelazny story done in pencil that again looked bad when printed on the newsprint section of the magazine.”
“I was a member of Interfan though I’m not sure exactly how I was contacted or got involved. Some of the people I communicated with were Pete Iro from Buffalo (an inker and letterer), Mike Machlan (a super tight penciller), Jerry Ordway a (‘Super’ nice guy), and Sam De La Rosa from Texas. The guy putting it all together was Steve Clement . He was always energtic and very much into trying to make Interfan into something. We spoke on the phone and through mail but I never met him.
“Interfan was a strange endeavour for me. Since I yearned to be pro but knew I lacked the skills, I wanted to partner up with people with the ability to help. Steve offered that with the enticement that he knew people in the business and that collectively we’d be able to assist each other in breaking in. Generally Steve would call, excited about a new story he had written, send it to me to pencil, I might send it to the letterer or inker and see it finished months later if at all. When it did come back I’d love parts of the inking, hate parts of the inking because it wasn’t what was in my head and then realize my pencils were to blame.
“I think fanzines opened a window to others and kept the hope alive since people who I had corresponded and spoken to over the phone and met through Interfan made it. I kept in touch with a few, the biggest was Jerry Ordway who I reconnected with one day when he mentioned Interfan and me in an interview. But now at best it’s just a Christmas Card once a year. Life gets busy.
“Right now I am going through some major changes as I left teaching at a public vocational high school after 27 years. Although I really loved some of the students there was always a lot of conflict and stress as well as boredom with being in the same room for that long. It was killing me!!
“I’m working part time for two local Colleges RIT and Bryant and Stratton teaching design and digital illustration. I also taught an independent workshop this summer on comic and fantasy illustration, just finished a limited edition children’s book for a local non-profit that the writer and I hope to get a NY publisher to pick up. Other than that I am trying to learn to paint and survive.”
See Pete’s work here.
Sidebar 2: Gene Phillips
Gene Phillips is probably most known for his many erudite articles in the The Comics Journal. Gene got into fandom in his late teens, like many of us. The Nostalgia Journal (later to become TCJ) was sent to him as a free mailer, since Gene had been published many times in the comic letter columns. In fact, his first published work was an essay on Thor in TCJ 35 in 1977, when Gene was about 18. Although Gene contributed to many zines, it is his work in TCJ that he is most proud of. Gene thought the magazine “took new strides in the understanding of comics, to use Scott McCloud’s phrase.” Gene also sardonically notes that “I’m the guy who introduced Kim Thompson to The Comics Journal, which might earn me a spot in Harlan Ellison’s circles of hell.” [Kim says Frank Lovece actually deserves the spot in hell, but who am I to say?-Ken] More on Gene and Kim Thompson when I do a column on an issue of The Comics Journal. See Gene’s blog, The Archetypal Archive here.
Woweekazowie (a title Kim Thompson laughingly professes to hate) was sort of an earlier version of the “ground level” comics of Star*Reach, as well as the later black and white boom of the 80s, if geared a little more towards the mainstream superhero content. If you like superheroes and would like a lesson in how to be industrious, check out this fanzine!
Ken Meyer Jr.