Ink Stains 14: Nimbus 3
Many editors/publishers of fanzines used them as training grounds for what later became their careers. Frank Lovece did this with his art-crammed fanzine, Nimbus. This installment we examine issue 3, the final issue.
Nimbus 3, Sept 1977
Editor/Publisher: Frank Lovece
Frank Lovece, the publisher and editor of Nimbus, is a professional writer nowadays. Like many professional artists and writers, he learned the basics of his craft in the world of fanzines. And also like many aspiring pros, he published his own fanzine, Nimbus.
Lovece told me of his background and what part it played in his love of comics and entry into fandom:
“Although I can’t remember the first fanzine I ever saw, I do remember being a teenager, growing up in a trailer park in West Virginia (I live in Manhattan now, overlooking Central Park…which is much better than ‘Trailer Park’), and anxiously awaiting each issue of The Comic Reader, a sort of TV Guide of comics, to appear in my mailbox. I don’t think it was the first fanzine I saw, but I do remember It. I also remember Don & Maggie Thompson’s Comics Buyer’s Guide, where I’d order back issues of comics with money saved from work (at my parents’ restaurant, at McDonald’s, mowing lawns). It’s funny – in looking up the spelling/punctuation of Comics Buyer’s Guide in Wikipedia just now, I ran across a link to the long-forgotten (by me) Stan’s Weekly Express, a.k.a. WE, and it jarred me into remembering I had a WE Seal of Approval number. I could be wrong, but I think WE may have been the first place where I published anything comics-related.
“Where I grew up, in Morgantown, WV, there really wasn’t a lot of comics fandom, despite it being a university town. I did eventually meet a handful of other fans there – one fellow Mountaineer, Steve Saffel, now also is a longtime New Yorker and remains a friend; he’s a very talented editor who’s worked for Marvel and for Del Rey Books, and is the guy I’d want watching my back in any editorial foxhole.
“And – woweekazowie – this is opening up a flood of memories! Somehow a Canadian fan named Paul Kowtiuk and I got in touch with each other; he published a tabloid-size newsprint fanzine called The Journal. Somehow or other, the idea came up that if I would attend the great Phil Seuling’s 1974 New York Comic Art Convention that I could report on it, supply photographs and be a published writer (in an international publication!). I was 16. God bless my parents for letting me convince them to take a family trip to New York, built around this.”
In the mid 70s, the existing professional artists (and writers) at comic conventions were much more accessible, and fans like Lovece and his compatriots made good use of that accessibility, filling their fanzines with sketches and drawings from the pros. Lovece remembers that, “…back then, believe it or not, pros would often do sketches for free for fans, the way baseball players used to sign baseballs for kids at the ballpark – probably because they knew we’d keep them as personal treasures, not put them up for auction.”
This final issue of Nimbus has work from such highly regarded professionals as Wally Wood, John Buscema, John Romita, Gene Colan, and more. Many of these are inked by Sam De La Rosa and Doug Hazlewood, two of fandom’s inking machines. In fact, editor Lovece told me that it was De La Rosa who was most instrumental in getting much of the professional art to fill the pages of Nimbus 3: “Sam de la Rosa, one of the Nimbus artists with whom I corresponded back in those days of pen-and-paper (well, typewriter-and-paper) letters and lettercols, knew of the material I had been collecting for the next issue, and with a generosity and work ethic that I admire to this day (though we’ve been out of touch) offered to publish it. It came out cover-dated Sept. 1977, with my editorial material (including writers Dean Mullaney, Pete Gillis and Paul Kupperberg, and an interview with Tony Isabella) and some artwork I supplied (including the Mike Zeck back cover), plus a wholllle lot more artwork Sam supplied, including a Pat Boyette cover drawn especially for Nimbus, in generous response to Sam’s request of a fellow San Antonian.”
Lovece goes on to describe the beginnings of the fanzine itself with: “Paul Kowtiuk liked what I did, and for reasons I wish I could remember today asked if I would like to be the editor of a fanzine he wanted to publish. This wound up being the first of three issues of Nimbus. The name came from Eugene Burdick’s 1961 book about South Pacific culture, The Blue of Capricorn. I might have been reading it for school. I vividly remember a passage about nimbus clouds being particular to the region, and something about that imagery and the neat, clipped yet sibilant sound of the word just got to me. I know I must still have an issue of Nimbus #1 somewhere, though not readily at hand. I wish I could remember the contents. I do know it had a moody Frank Cirocco cover of the western Ghost Rider and a couple of other Western characters, and that Paul had been very understanding and patient with me when I asked him to up the $50 allotted for cover art in order to pay Cirocco his requested $75 – the difference being a lot of money in those days, when the minimum wage was about $1.65.
“I’m sure, like virtually every fanzine, it returned no profit, but it was a nice product and something Paul and I could show with pride. Editing a relatively professional-looking product at 16 (I think I turned 17 before it actually came out) wasn’t a bad bit of self-education; despite my lifelong desire to write fiction (which I did eventually for Marvel, Dark Horse, Harris Comics and others), I would up making my living primarily as a journalist.
“I don’t remember the exact circumstances, but I published the second issue of Nimbus myself, when I was 17 and 18, funding the printing costs with some grant money from a federal program for low-income students. (Not crying about it – just saying where the money came from. My parents worked hard in a hot kitchen six days a week, and my brother and I always found work, and I never once in my life felt poor or anything like that, but we had to watch our pennies. That my folks indulged my editorial and entrepreneurial zeal rather than make me sock away that portion of the grant for a rainy day says a lot about their love, support and trust). I remember for that second issue I interviewed Charlton Comics editor Nicola Cuti for an article I wrote about E-Man (who was the coolest new superhero around; I collected Marvel, but always had a soft sport for Charlton); did a long Q&A with Don McGregor (who remains a close friend, and who more and more seems to be getting his deserved recognition as possibly the most innovative and literary comic-book writer of the 1970s); and had contributions from a host of talented young fans, many of whom went on to become pros.”
There are several illustrations sprinkled throughout Nimbus 3 from these young fans who were either just barely pros or had yet to enter those ranks, including Craig Russell, Mike Zeck, Jerry Ordway, Steve Leioloha, and Klaus Janson.
An interesting bit of trivia concerning this fanzine is the inside back cover ad for one of the very first graphic novels: “The back-cover ad for McGregor and Paul Gulacy’s pioneering graphic novel Sabre – eventually published August 1978, two months before Will Eisner’s A Contract with God – wasn’t a paid spot. Dean had promised me an article if I would publish a piece of Paul Gulacy art to promote this upcoming project. Publish a piece of Paul Gulacy art?! The virtuoso of Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu? Are you kidding? Of course I said sure! So, OK, I open up the mail sometime later to see that the Gulacy art was actually part of an ad. I had to laugh…and to this day I admire Dean, someone for whom I have great respect and affection, for having what I have since came to know as the word ‘chutzpah!’ Seeing that ad there now, published a year before Sabre came out, I feel a very wee bit part of the history of the graphic novel – or as the ad put it: ‘The kind of comic novel you’d choose … if they gave you a choice!’”
I want to be sure to not give short shrift to the writers and their contributions to this fanzine. Indeed, the content of the art revolves primarily around the subject matter of the articles. In fact, the original idea for the issue’s content was to revolve around war and its depiction in comics, and much of the content of the articles does involve war in some respect. Lovece himself writes an article centered around Marvel’s Sgt. Fury comic, discussing the characters, the creators, and the general aesthetic of the comic and the changes that aesthetic went though as the Vietnam War became more and more a part of our lives. If you look closely at the pdf, you will see a small illustration by me, inked by the incredibly clean line of Sam De La Rosa, by the way. Following the Lovece article is a treatise on death and how it is depicted in comics by Peter B. Gillis, and it is surprisingly deep and thoughtful for an article in a comic fanzine. After that is “One More Article on Howard the Duck” by Gene Kehoe, and then “Martial Law” by Chris Negri, the latter a critical examination of how martial arts are depicted in the pages of comics. The next article is Woweekazowie editor Dean Mullaney’s “A Comic Writer’s Fan Club.” This argues against the age-old premise that the artist is the most important element in the success of any given comic book. Following that somewhat lighter material, the content veers back into the war theme with Paul Kupperberg’s “War and Anti-War, That is the Question…” A very good interview with writer Tony Isabella follows and starts off with a bang up caricature illustration by Bill Neville and, who else, Sam De La Rosa. Around the time of the interview, Isabella and Chris Claremont created the Marvel series War is Hell, and much of the content of the interview deals with the title and what part death plays in it. The last article, “Protean Thoughts” by Dave Fryxell, continues the theme, writing a short history on the depiction of war in comics.
I would also be very remiss if I did not mention the high quality (and volume) of fan art in this issue. Bill Neville turns in a large amount of very capable spot illustrations, as does Ric Cruz. The latter, inked by Sam De La Rosa, delivers an exceptionally well rendered action shot of Killraven being stalked by some tentacled beast. Carl Taylor delivers his usual dynamic synthesis of Jack Kirby and Gil Kane in several illustrations. And there are also spots by Karl Kesel, Todd Klein (yes, the letterer Todd Klein), Pete Iro, Willie Blyberg, Arvell Jones, and Kerry Gammill.
Frank Lovece has gone on to do a wealth of journalistic work. He tells us that “after stints with an Internet start-up in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley, in the earliest days of the ‘net, I continued being a web editor, first at the publishing house Hachette Filipacchi, then for three years at the Sci-Fi Channel, before leaving to write a book about missing children (no royalties — I did it, with photographer Matthew Jordan Smith, to benefit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children; therefore I can, without conflict of interest or self-interest, point you here where you can get a copy for a measly twenty bucks).
“I also spent five or six of the happiest years of my life writing for Marvel, Epic, Dark Horse and Harris Comics. And if you’ll permit me to geek out for one moment, I’ve interviewed Stan the Man several times, for Entertainment Weekly, the United Media newspaper syndicated, and Newsday.
“Today I cover entertainment for Newsday, and do other freelance writing and web editing; I’ve also written several books. I’m married to the writer Maitland McDonagh, whose updated third edition of Broken Mirrors, Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento comes out in a month or two – which is a good thing for horror fans, since the one used copy on Amazon of the 1991 edition is selling for $125! My older son is graduating from Fordham University this spring, and my younger son from NEST+M High School in Manhattan.”
As I write each installment of this column, I often wonder if my love of fanzines and fandom from those years long ago is only nostalgia for a simpler and more innocent time, or something more profound. In this “get it now” age of the internet, Red Box video, etc., I sometimes feel we are missing something…something that we had back then, such as when you had to wait a few weeks to get your fantasy and/or comic book fix in the mail. Lovece counters this with “that time of fandom long ago…is, of necessity, so alien to the insta-news Webzines of today. The smaller, cozier fandom of my time, which we wished we could share with the world, we now do. What we lost in everyone-knows-everyone intimacy and a less slickly commercial convention environment, we’ve gained in the sheer access and availability of information, and the satisfying way we’ve seen the biggest arenas of pop culture embrace our little hobby of 12-cent newsprint fantasies. We saw then what the rest of the world sees now, and to have been a part of that – well, of all the adventures I’ve had writing for Penthouse, Entertainment Weekly, the Los Angeles Times, and more other places than I can remember, I don’t think anything I’ve done in journalism has ever matched the excitement of holding those first, fresh copies of Nimbus in my hand. OK, that’s not actually true…I’m being nostalgic and sentimental. But it really does amaze me to see that these magazines that I and others produced in our freaking teens still mean something somehow – still resonate.”
Please feel free to download the pdf of Nimbus 3 at your leisure and please, leave comments on the column and the fanzine! For this installment, I owe a huge thank you to editor Frank Lovece, who gave generously of his time, primarily by answering a host of questions via email. To a lesser extent, thanks to Sam De La Rosa as well.
Tune in next time when I delve back into the great Fantastic Fanzine by Gary Groth…issue 12, with Robert Kline, Syd Shores, Dave Cockrum and more!
Ken Meyer Jr.