September 30, 2009

Wacky Comic Wednesday: Zell, Sworddancer #1

zell1Hey there Comic Attackers, welcome to another edition of Wacky Comic Wednesday! Have you ever seen the movie Space Mutiny? No? Well, I don’t blame you. Ok, how about Flesh Gordon Meets the Cosmic Cheerleaders? No. Hmm… uh, Killer Clowns From Outer Space!? Also no… well, I’ve run out of analogies for  you people! The point I’m trying to make is that lots of terrible sci-fi movies were made in the 1980’s, and so were some not-so-great sci-fi comic books. I’m sorry to state that our wacky comic for the week, Zell, Sworddancer #1 falls into this category.

Published in July 1986, Zell has 31 pages of ad-free story printed in glorious black and white. The comic is published by Thoughts & Images, a short lived company that quickly went the way of the dinosaur. Thoughts & Images began in 1983, publishing the sci-fi animal story, Albedo, which lasted 15 issues from 1983-1987. Next came Zell, then The Desert Peach (numbers 1-3) in 1987, which was followed by Xanadu #1-#5 all published in 1988. That’s when the T & I staff hired a really fat lady for a receptionist who wouldn’t stop singing. The company does have one claim to fame, which is the first ever appearance of Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo. The samurai rabbit first appeared in Albedo #2.

The inside cover of Zell is a foreword by the author where he states that Zell started as “a secondary character in another story… in a multi-generational epic sword and sorcery tale.” He goes on to cite some of his previous work (AlbedoCommand Review) and compliment the people who helped make Zell possible. But when the introduction is completed the author leaves no signature, and a writer is not credited anywhere in the comic nor is there a splash page or any credits to be found. Oh, the dysfunctional 80’s how we don’t miss you! So I had to do some intense internet searches to find the name of Zell’s writer, as any site that has the book listed is also lacking creative information.

Well, the writer’s name is Steven A. Gallacci who was born in 1955 and spent 6 years in the Air Force as a graphics specialist, including serving a tour in Germany. His wife recently died in 2007 which makes me feel kind of bad for the review I’m about to give this comic. Sorry dude, I’m just the messenger. Steve Adams (Megaton Holiday SpecialBig Bang Comics) is the man behind Zell’s pencils, layouts, and inks, and his name is mentioned only in the forward. Like Gallacci, he’s a tough guy to find information about on the ‘net, and he could be this guy, but I’m just not sure. At the end of the main story, we are uh, ‘treated’ to a ‘special’ (and I use that in the helmet wearing sense of the word) two page story about a centaur by Donna Barr (The Dreamery). Barr, who was much easier to find information on than the two gentleman, provides both the words and pencils in the story and seems to be the only creative name on Zell whose career survived the decade.   

Now onto the comic!

Zell, Sworddancer #1 begins with a metal manufacturing complex orbiting the planet DeAtutia as ‘the wave of death,’ which has been sweeping across the galaxy, has suddenly killed the crew. At this point I was excited for the coming story, but we never hear about this ‘wave of death’ again, nor does the scene return to space. Instead, the story appears to jump ahead a few generations (or more, it’s difficult to tell), where we are brought to the surface of DeAtutia (I think- Again, I’m not sure, it could be a different planet). DeAtutia is all desert, and the action begins when a group of caravanners who are guiding a group of merchants are suddenly ambushed by raiders. One of the raiders is named Jewhan, which I found to be ridiculous. The people fight with primitive weapons like swords and pikes, but sorcery is also used by some. The raiders kill everyone except for a sword wielding woman, but once the men have her surrounded she kneels then commits suicide with her own knife. Apparently seppuku (look it up) is unheard of on DeAtuita and is generally taken as a bad omen in combat.

The raiders travel on dinosaurs that resemble a horse sized version of a brontosaurus, and for some reason (which went over my head), Jinko the raider leader is abandoned by his men. The woman who committed seppuku is later found by a group of traveling robed witches who dissipate her unmoved body from the battle the day before. I have absolutely no idea what these opening scenes have to do with the plot.

Enter Zell, a simple minded teenage girl who lives with her poor father, making their way to the town hub of DeAtuita. The stable boy Tasak wants to win Zell’s favor, but his brother advises against it because she’s poor (even though he cleans stables), tries to be a dancer, and is a ‘wielder’ (again, whatever that means). Apparently poor dancers aren’t good enough for poor stable boys on DeAtuita. Zell, ever the curious one,  goes off on her own to look for one of her girlfriends when she is suddenly jumped by a group of guys that are working for the robed witches mentioned earlier. She kicks their asses with a staff, but magic from a witch subdues her. We are never told why she was attacked or what the witches want with her.

Tasak knew Zell was in town but is unable to sense her (apparently people can do this). He discovers that her father was killed by the witches and travels West to look for her. If you were unsure before, Tasak proves that he’s a moron because after the first night of searching for Zell, the narration reads, “That night, he reviewed his plans – especially the part when Zell, grateful for her rescue, agrees to marry him.” Uh, shouldn’t the ‘hero’ be more focused on finding the damsel in distress first, reviewing the battle plans as opposed to daydreaming about marriage? Yeeeah. Anyway, Tasak ends up joining a caravan to travel with while he searches for his love, and within this group he spots a woman who looks like- you guessed it – Zell! That is where the issue ends. What a cliffhanger! 

While the art by Steve Adams shows potential, most of the time it’s nothing more than lightly detailed sketches, and maybe given a larger budget it could have been something really wonderful. It’s very clean, but simple, and the dinosaur horse things look way cool. I want one. I hate to say it, but Steven Gallacci’s writing is pretty bad. Not to mention there are typos galore: “caravaneers”, “boods” (instead of broods), “broght”, and “maybe” is used in the wrong context as it should have read ‘may be.’ There were also two people editing the book- Gallacci and some woman named Bev… probably the aforementioned singing secretary. After reading up on Steven’s history, it came as no surprise that he was a military guy trying his hand at writing comics. 

Donna Barr’s two page short story, Stinz, isn’t very exhilarating either. The plot is about a family of centaurs who have a rebellious kid named Steinheld (‘Stinz’ for short) which means ‘Champion of the Beer Mug.’ Stinz likes to take off his clothes, disobey his parents, and straddle sheep. Sounds cool right? Well, it isn’t. One of the opening lines pretty much sums up the story, “They went to church every Sunday, peacefully bought milk and leather from their two-legged neighbors, and behaved themselves in every way as self-respecting land-owning farmers should.” Ugh. Stinz reads like an Amish Bible tale told by parents to their kids at bed time. 

Gallacci provides an afterword (also unsigned, like the foreword), stating that “Next time, this will be the letters page, but for now, it’s the apology page.” Please sir, apologize away for enticing me to purchase this comic! I won’t stop you! Oh, who am I kidding… He doesn’t care. What Steven was really apologizing for was Zell’s tardy release date. He states that the full fledged Zell series won’t begin until 1987, making me wonder why this issue was published in 1986. The answer doesn’t really matter though, because (surprisingly) this was the only issue of Zell’s career. The sole redeeming factor of this comic is a one page story about Yusagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai on the back cover. Now for some quotes:

“I don’t want a husband – not yet. I want to be a dancer! You know that!” – Zell

“A bitch with a blade.” – Jewhan

“Oh, come on Arsak! You sound like an old Worry Woman!” – Tasak

“Passage to the west. I can work the tack – or pay in good fingers.” – Tasak  (I have no clue what this means but it sounds dirty.)

Zell, Sworddancer #1 reads like it wishes to be Dune or Dinotopia, but ended up like Space Mutiny, and looks like a low budget Jim Henson film. Steven Gallacchi and Thoughts & Images have a website, but it hasn’t been updated sine 2007. I suppose if I were him, I probably would have left my name off of this comic too.

Andy Liegl



  1. Thats sounds dreadful Andy, I’m sorry you subjected yourself to that.

  2. billy

    You should wash your eyes out with bleach right now.

  3. macsnafu

    Okay, Zell wasn’t Steven’s best stuff. But I thought Command Review was quite good. A bit heavy on the militaristic side, but well-thought out.

  4. Steve Adams is actually my dad, so I can confirm that the link you have is not at all for the same guy. He had a website up awhile ago, but I think he let it lapse a little bit ago. His Facebook, though not very public, has a small selection of his art and can be found here: If you want to see what he looks like, the fifth painting in his photos section actually features (from left to right) himself, his wife Elizabeth (my stepmom), and his twin brother Stacey (RIP 2007). He did a lot of work with Gary Carlson in the ’80s and ’90s, including that Vanguard story in the Megaton Christmas Special, but probably his longest-running series as a penciller was the 6 issue run of Berserker for Gary Carlson’s Gauntlet Comics in 1993-94. The note on the inside cover of Zell about him working with Marvel and DC doesn’t ring true to me. I know he applied at both companies, but I don’t remember him ever working on any Marvel or DC publications. (I’ll ask him and update you if it turns out I’m wrong there.)

    I remember him being pretty frustrated that he had to basically copy Gallacci’s art style verbatim for the comic, preferring to draw in his own style; though I don’t know if that had anything to do with the delay in getting it published. He was also holding down a full-time job designing t-shirts in downtown Seattle at the time, as well as raising my brother and I, so that might have had something to do with it. That’s about the extent of my memories around Zell since I was only 6 years old at the time and was way more interested in the Usagi Yojimbo stories in the issues of Albedo he brought home for study. (An obsession that continues to this day.)

    I last saw Steve Gallacci around 10 years ago at Norwescon in SeaTac when he and his wife invited my dad, stepmom, and I out to dinner at the hotel restaurant. I was sorry to read here that Beverly passed away—I always remembered her being really nice.

  5. Cralls

    While I won’t really make any objections to the above summary or opinions, for some reason I liked it. I got it in an ‘old-comics-no-one-actually-wants-but-we-have-so-we’ll-sell-them-anyway box’. I read the first few pages and quit cause it looked awful. I then read this review and had no desire to pick it up again. Well I gave it a shot this weekend and was pleasantly surprised.

    I don’t know what the beginning space part nor the suicidal part had to do with the story, but I’m pretty sure it would have been revealed had the comic continued. I can’t tell you what I enjoyed about it and I wouldn’t recommend it cause I couldn’t tell you a positive part about it (except the sweet dinosaur horses), but I felt I should post that at least ONE person did enjoy it.

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