Genres

February 15, 2010

Ink Stains 12: The Star Slayers

Galactic Heroes! Planet-shattering battles! Epic frontiers! The Star Slayers! All this in a 13 issue series, produced every three weeks, by fanzine kingpin/writer Matt Bucher and multiple artists, including yours truly!

The Star Slayers was, by fanzine standards, a pretty nervy undertaking. Matt Bucher, writer and publisher, decided he wanted to produce a sequential fanzine every three weeks! If you like a big space traveling, Starlin-esque, epic sized series, filled with a George Perez worthy cast of characters, then The Star Slayers could be your cup of tea (or bowl of tribbles).

Matt Bucher was one of a select few ‘fanzine moguls’ back in the 70s/80s, including people like Steve Streeter and Bill Black. These go-getters looked like they had big plans and the chutzpah to see them through. Bill Black had his clean commercial style of art with an eye on the mainstream in zines such as Paragon, while Streeter seemed happy producing fannish and fun tributes to the pop culture of the day in publications such as Paige Comics and The Outer Limits Newsletter. Bucher’s The Star Slayers was preceded by Ultrazine (which later morphed into Omniman), as well as publishing work by contemporaries such as Rick McCollum.

Of his adventures as a fanzine CEO, Bucher humbly says:

“Someone asked me how I appraise today the quality of those old fanzines. In other words: do I cringe? Absolutely! But mostly at the work I did myself — which was astonishing in its mediocrity. This is true of both my stripzines work and my Ultrazine efforts. And sure, some contributions by other fans were disposable as well. But you know what? There’s also much stuff that still holds up, even today. A few pieces are damn near transcendent. So much of the artwork is amazing. I only wish that I’d managed to print the books offset. And some of the writing is very clever — and funny. Plus, it’s hard not to smile at our obvious enthusiasm. God, we were having fun! I don’t care how sappy it sounds: there really was a sense of community in Ultrazine, despite our reliance on snail-mail to bridge our vast geographical differences. (It’s no accident that the letters column portion of Ultrazine doubled in size after it became more of a general-topic forum). As for the quality of our efforts, let’s not forget: we were amateurs, and many of us were kids.”

On the subject of The Star Slayers, Bucher adds:

“It was 1981.  I’d been publishing fanzines for three years. I fancied myself a writer and had dreamt of producing an epic space saga. I hooked up with a young artist named Steve Brooks and we threw some ideas together. Both of us loved Star Wars and Jim Starlin’s cosmic tales for Marvel. Quickly we settled on an ambitious plan: Star Slayers would be a 15 chapter SF novel in comic form, published on a ridiculous every-three-weeks schedule. Everyone said I was nuts. There was no precedent for a fan-based comic book published on such an accelerated schedule. We began working, thrilled at how the early chapters were turning out.

“Several issues in, Steve Brooks pulled out. I panicked. The schedule was so tight, I had to figure out Plan B overnight. Swiftly I assembled a squad of top caliber fan-artists to step in. And to my happy amazement, the book just got better. Willie Peppers penciled many chapters with his dynamic, John Byrne-like art. The brilliant Rick McCollum provided artwork and an uncredited story assist, injecting surrealism and near-poetry into my more conventional story. Ken Meyer Jr. contributed moody, kick-ass covers and back covers. Mark Heike and Steve Addlesee helped out. But the MVP was undeniably Bill Anderson, the fan version of Terry Austin, who worked tirelessly on the book from start to finish, churning out stunning work on a nearly overnight basis (bear in mind, most of us were just kids, doing this for free. By the 1990s, if not sooner, nearly all of these guys were working in the comics industry as professionals).

“Okay, so we missed our original schedule by a few weeks.  So what?

“Halfway through I panicked a second time when I read that Mike Grell had a new book coming out called Starslayer. Yet he ultimately wrote me a very nice personal letter promising not to make a legal stink.

“Ultimately The Star Slayers became my best-selling fanzine after Southland Distributors (a comic subscription service) picked it up and started ordering several hundred copies at a clip.”

Bucher’s promising newcomer, artist Steve Brooks, had a Starlin-esque style that fit the science fiction/space saga feel of the series perfectly. Many fan artists and writers were young…most were in college, some in high school…but the eighth grade??? Yes, unbelievably, Steve Brooks was only 13 years old when he started penciling The Star Slayers. I can tell you from being in the sequential program at The Savannah College of Art and Design that there were college students who were not as good as this youngster was way back then. Brooks confirms his precocious beginnings with, “I believe I was thirteen when I first started working with Matt. I penciled an Omniman story and then I penciled and inked an Argon, the Space Warrior story for Ultrazine. At the time I was talking to Matt about writing and drawing a series of stories featuring his character Argon. I had the idea of doing it in serialized installments. There were a few things that really influenced me – the serials of the thirties and forties (I had a big book on all the serials), the Strange Tales issues featuring Dr. Strange by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and Nick Fury stories by Steranko . I just loved the idea of an epic adventure story told in eight or ten page chapters over a period of 12 to 15 episodes. The more we talked about it the bigger the idea became. I had the character of Damien Blackstar and wanted to include him in the stories. Matt had some ideas and pretty soon we had decided to make it a limited series. I had the idea of putting a synopsis page with the credits in each issue and making the back cover a preview of the up coming issue. And I came up with the title The Star Slayers [as a title] not realizing that Mike Grell had the same title. As far as who came up with the other characters itʼs difficult to remember. I would send designs to Matt and he would send ideas back. I only ended up doing five issues. Probably because I was so young and it became a much bigger project than Iʼd anticipated. Although at the time I thought we should have completed all of the issues before we started publishing it since it was a tight publishing schedule but neither one of us was that disciplined.”

Brooks acknowledges his influences freely, admitting that, “yeah, Starlin was a big influence. I was also a big fan of Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and Starlin (at that time) seemed to pull both of those styles together in a modern way. Plus his stuff was very cosmic and out there which I really liked. Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart were two writers I appreciated. The list of artists is endless – Steranko, John Buscema, John Bryne, Gil Kane, Joe Kurbert, George Perez, Wally Wood, Gene Colan, Marshall Rogers, Walt Simonson, etc. I stole from anybody and everybody.” Brooks’s accelerated level of skill in one so young indicated that he would go on to work in the world of mainstream comics, but “then I got involved in filmmaking and playing guitar and comics fell by the wayside.” Steve Brooks has left the comic world behind, choosing instead to be a filmmaker. He asserts that “Iʼve written a number of screenplays which have won some awards. Iʼve directed a few short films and a no-budget feature. Currently Iʼm working on raising the money to make a feature film in 2010.” Though initially enthusiastic about The Star Slayers, Brooks would later succumb to the workload after a few issues and instigate a parade of fill-in artists. Mark Heike, Rick McCollum, Steve Addlesee and Bill Anderson all penciled issues, with Anderson’s inks many times maintaining a “house look” of sorts.

Bill Anderson also started working in fanzines very young, with his first contributions being done at the age of 16. Bill elaborates on his introduction to fandom with, “I actually don’t remember the name of the first [fanzine], because I did the drawing as a commission for someone, not with the intention of having it published in a fanzine. I put an ad in CBG for artwork commissions and got a few responses, and one very frequent repeat customer. He later asked if he could submit one of the pieces I drew for him to a friend’s fanzine. It was very exciting, and even more so when I was published in ‘zines that I directly submitted to.” When asked about his reasons for getting involved in fandom in the first place, Anderson says, “Like most of us, I wanted people to look at my work, and it seemed like an accessible way to have that happen with folks who shared interests with me. That was crucial to me, because there wasn’t much of a comics (or any type of art) community where I grew up, so fanzines  were a way for me to get better feedback about my work.” Anderson did not start out wanting to be an inker per se, but Bucher asked him to ink a few illustrations and he was then on his way to what would become his primary discipline within the comics world.

When I asked him about his Star Slayers experience and his job as the “glue” of the book, Bill says that, “It was actually good practice for much of my later professional work. It brought together a lot of different artists, with wildly varying styles, and attempted to use them in the service of a single, coherent storyline. Was it successful? I think so, on its own terms. Certainly nobody’s going to publish the remastered oversize slipcase hardcover reprint collection, but considering that we were all completely inexperienced, and were working on a volunteer basis, I think we did alright.” Anderson’s experience with fandom helped him on his path towards professional comics, and he wasted no time blazing that path. “I started inking professionally right out of high school (’81). Sporadic gigs for Marvel and DC, but mostly for smaller companies like Comico, Innovation and (it seems like) a million others. Then, in the early ’90s, it flipped around and I was working mostly for Marvel and DC with a few gigs here and there for smaller publishers. I’ve worked on Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, Green Lantern, Silver Surfer, too many titles to list.”

If Bill Anderson was the Most Valuable Player of The Star Slayers team, then I would submit Willie Peppers as the Clean-Up Batter. OK, I don’t watch much baseball, but you get my point. Peppers, with his aforementioned and very professional John Byrne-like style, coupled with his ability to handle large groups of characters (which you will also see in a later installment of Ink Stains featuring Bucher’s Omniman Spectacular), was a perfect fit for the fanzine, as the saga became more populated with heroes and littered with huge battle scenes. Willie was a fanzine veteran by this time, having had work in many zines, including earlier column subject, David Heath Jr.’s No Sex, admittedly Peppers’s favorite zine to work on. You could see Peppers’s enthusiasm for his subject (primarily super heroes) and the medium of comics as a whole wherever his work appeared. Of his time then, Peppers happily says, “I was happy to be drawing. In all the things I had done, I had never felt such a sense of family as I did with my fanzine compadres. We were always sending work back and forth, helping out each other. A lot of us became the best of friends without ever actually meeting. I still have some strong friendships from those days and wouldn’t change it for the world.”

You could also tell that Peppers had strong desires to be in the mainstream, which he asserts with, “Since the age of about 5 or so (when I decided I wanted to be a comics artist) I wanted to be a penciler at Marvel. The amount of work I sent them was staggering. Back then, when you got a rejection letter, it wasn’t a form letter. It was typed and signed. That’s how I got the actual signatures of such greats as Stan Lee and John Romita, Sr. They were encouraging, but still telling me that I wasn’t quite ready. It hurt, but, looking back on it, they were right. I just appreciate that they didn’t just shoot me down, but said keep trying, you’ll get there.”  His published work recently has included “…a freelance contract with Atlantis Studios. I’d done several projects with them until we had a falling out this past year. Right now, I’ve joined a local group of creators called The Pantheon. It’s a non-profit corporation consisting of writers and artists. I have been working on some projects of my own that I hope to shop around sometime soon. I just need to find some collaborators because writing, penciling, inking, lettering and coloring is just too blasted much for one person, I don’t care who you are!” Peppers actually did almost all of those tasks on The Star Slayers, including pencils on several issues, as well as lettering many others. Though Peppers has not, as yet, achieved his dream of working for Marvel, I am certainly pulling for him. If enthusiasm and a capability for handling a prodigious workload were enough, I think he would be in the ranks today.

Matt Bucher works as a CPA these days. Steve Brooks, as stated earlier, is a burgeoning filmmaker. Willie Peppers, Mark Heike, and Bill Anderson continue to produce art, some in comics, some not. You can see more of Mark Heike online here. More on Mark below.

Other contributors played parts in making The Star Slayers the fun read that it is. Rick McCollum stepped in and helped to save Bucher’s bacon several times, penciling a few issues, as well as inking and lettering a few, and as Bucher said earlier, adding his cosmic take on a few story arcs. Mark Heike penciled and inked an issue, and did a few covers as well. Steve Addlesee also penciled an issue. Almost all the creators played a part in the final issue, with groups of pages done by different teams. I myself inked and lettered a few issues as well as a few covers in my bumbling efforts to find a style I could claim as my own. I think I am still doing that today.

Sidebar: Mark Heike

Back in the Star Slayers days, Heike was still struggling to get work published, and in fact, is not happy with his Star Slayers work. He says “I was honored to be invited to participate, but when the time came, I was pretty uninspired. I did NOT consider it good work, and have always been disappointed in what I did on the story. There may be several reasons why- one being, I was inking my own pencils, which I always HATE to do. I enjoy both penciling and inking, but I’d rather it be a collaborative effort with another artist, whether I’m doing one or the other. I know that’s contrary to the way MOST artists feel, but that’s me. Also- though I didn’t really realize it at THAT time, but I don’t really enjoy drawing SF material that much- I’m not that big a fan of the genre. Funny, as once I got the chance to draw comics professionally, I kept getting jobs working on SF properties: Nexus, Star Wars, Star Trek, Aliens vs. Predator, etc. Go figure.”

As to how he got into fandom, Heike states that he “saw ads for the RBCC in the Marvel books around 1971, and sent away for a subscription. I would’ve been 12 or 13.” It was about 5 years later that Heike had his first published work, admittedly a Burne Hogarth swipe for a fanzine called Verse. And he says he actually got paid five bucks for it! I remember Mark as someone who was very good at drawing the female figure (a skill that obviously comes in handy for doing a comic called FemForce), and also as someone who seemed to get a fair amount of TBG covers! Mark attests that the practice in fanzines did help him along, saying that working for the zines “…motivated me to produce artwork. Some artists can fill up piles of sketchbooks doing drawings for their own amusement, but not me. I always needed more motivation than that. If someone wanted art for publication enough to contact me and ask for it, that was enough, so those demands kept me drawing.”

Mark’s career in comics eventually took off. “I began to get jobs freelancing in the comics industry in the early 1980’s, and have been working full-time in the industry since 1990. I’ve freelanced as a penciler or inker on Green Hornet, X-Men, She-Hulk, Man Against Time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, Lady Justice, Mantra, H.A.R.D. Corps, Xena Warrior Princess and lots of others.  My full-time “day job” has been Associate Editor at AC Comics, which as of now is, after DC, Marvel, Archie and Fantagraphics, the fifth-longest-running American comic book publisher in history. Our best-known creation, and the title I am most associated with, is Femforce. We will ship issue #152 in late April; I have been working on the title almost continuously since 1984, when I pencilled the first issue for by boss/publisher/editor-in-chief, the great Bill Black. Check it out on our official website, www.accomics.com, if your local retailer doesn’t carry it. Beyond freelancing & AC, another project I’ve been involved in for over a decade is inking my wife Stephanie’s  creator-owned comic book series, 21st Centurions. It’s a teen-superhero kind of thing with a…you guessed it, SF tinge. Steph (who started out as a freelance penciler for AC Comics- I was her editor, dealing with her over the phone & mail for ten years before we ever met- now we’ve been married for 10 more since then) created, writes, pencils, colors, etc., etc AND publishes the book in full, glorious digital color through her own Centurion Premiere publishing house. (check it out on our personal site, www.markandstephanieheike.com , if your shop doesn’t carry it.)”

Pretty impressive for starting in a fanzine!

So, please, satisfy your need for some space-hopping, super villain bashing, Starlin-swiping, world saving action packed comic nirvana, and download all the issues! Get them all here. I really believe if you like a few of the creators and comics mentioned as inspirations by the various participants, you will like reading these fanzines. You can talk to Steve Brooks, Willie Peppers, Bill Anderson, and Matt Bucher on Facebook. I want to thank Matt, along with Willie Peppers, Steve Brooks, Mark Heike and Bill Anderson for answering questions via email and providing bits of text here and there  The article would not have been nearly as much fun to write (or read) without their input.

Credits for art:

Covers: 1-Brooks, 2-Brooks, 3-Brooks, 4-Brooks/Heike, 5-Brooks/Heike, 6-Brooks/McCollum, 7-Meyer, 8-Meyer, 9-Anderson, 10-Peppers, 11-Peppers, 12-McCollum/Anderson, 13-Peppers/Anderson.

Top banner is by Brooks/Heike, insets are, top to bottom, by Brooks/Meyer, Brooks/Meyer, Peppers/Anderson, and McCollum/Anderson.

Ken Meyer Jr.
ken@comicattack.net

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12 Comments



  1. “Ken Meyer Jr. contributed moody, kick-ass covers and back covers.”

    Where have I heard of that guy before…?

    And Steve Brooks was only 13 when he started drawing for The Star Slayers!? Holy crap man, that’s amazing!!

    It’d be a great story if Willie Peppers achieved his dream of penciling a Marvel book. One would think with all the mini’s and one-shot’s produced nowadays, he has a solid shot still!

    I had no idea AC Comics was the fifth longest standing American comic book publisher. Very cool.



  2. I did not know that about AC comics as well…but I DO remember Bill Black producing a lot of stuff even way back then in the 70’s.


  3. Matt B

    George Lane once said “Willie Peppers was born to draw the Hulk.” I agree. Willie’s done an enormous amount of work to be proud of over the last three decades, but I still wish that a Marvel-drawn comic had been a part of it.

    Good hunting, Ken: it was great to hear an update on Steve Brooks. I’m pretty sure the last word I had from him was in ’81!


  4. billy

    Very Starlin-esque stuff KM. Great job! Really epic, star-spanning type work.



  5. Glad to see the comments…thanks to the originator, Matt Bucher for stopping by. I have Steve’s email, if you want to get in touch!



  6. among all of this it’s kinda cool how Mark met his wife! Thanks for another great column Ken!


  7. Ken Meyer Jr.

    Yeah, speech, his website is pretty spiffy too, you should check it out.



  8. What a great tribute to a zine that meant a lot to me back in the day. You do a terrific job of why the zine was so great and so wacky at the same time when you mention how young we all were art that time. I was in awe of artists like Heike, Peppers and especially the dangerous-seeming Rick McCollum. Thanks for posting the PDFs, that’s very cool!



  9. Glad you liked it, Jason! It was enthusiasm-central at the Ultrazine headquarters, I am sure!


  10. Carr D'Angelo

    Wow. This was after I was in colledge and sort of lost touch with the Ultrazine world. How did I miss all this?

    Was there a character named Argon in this? I seem to recall Matt asking me to write a story about that character at some point but as usual, I missed the deadline.


  11. Matt B

    Now that I think about it I think Carr D’Angelo might have christened the character “Argon.” At first I just called him Space Warrior.


  12. Jon

    Star Slayer is quite good. Do you have #5 scanned? The link labeled 5 actually links to #1.



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