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May 1, 2011
 

Ink Stains 30: 1981 Fandom Spectacular

It’s serious business, folks! Ominous lettering! Massive power beams! Geometric headgear! Waist crunching logo belts!

We must be in superhero land!

Fan Spectacular 1981

Publisher: Matt Bucher

There were a few young go getters who saw themselves as the new Stan Lees of fandom. Precocious publishers who proceeded to pulverize the paltry printing…ok, you get the idea, they printed a lot of stuff! Matt Bucher was one of these select few, using his flagship title, Ultrazine, to launch several other fanzines and careers. In addition to Ultrazine, Bucher published or had a hand in Superhero Terror, Rage, Omniman, New Wave Heroes, The Star Slayers, ……….

In 1980, 17-year-old Bucher, already a veteran of the fan publishing scene, got a vision to write the longest story he would ever write and publish the biggest fanzine he would ever publish. Here are the seeds in his words:

Chalk this one up to a dizzy overabundance of youthful enthusiasm.

It was a heady time for me. I was 17, and thrilled to pieces with the way my fledgling Omniman series was going. I’d always dreamed of writing superhero comic books, and now I had stellar contributions by such talented folks as Fran Mao, Bill Anderson, Steve Brooks, Jerry Foley, Jeff Roberts, Ken McFarlane, and others.

Recently I’d begun collaborating with the brilliant Cincinnati artist Rick McCollum (of Horde fame) on a story that teamed Omniman with a violent hero we’d created named Rage. Meanwhile Rick was discussing a potential team-up of Omniman with Rick’s own character, Slaughter. In addition, I’d recently introduced Argon, the Space Warrior, in one of my Omniman stories. Also, I’d been discussing future Omniman team-ups with other fan heroes, such as Steve Hahn’s Sky-Lark (on a story which was never finished, but which featured some truly stunning artwork by Max Giguere and Mark Heike), Starflame and City-God (the former created by Mat and Jim Kramer, the latter by Nick Alenikov), Herman J. Winkle (by Clayton Park), and several others that never came to pass. Suddenly the notion occurred to me to do a massive team-up of as many fan heroes as possible in a monster-sized epic. Sort of like a “Justice League of Fandom” annual extravaganza.

Immediately I began contacting other fan creators to put together the cast. Omniman, Rage (in his debut appearance), and Argon were all my own characters, as well as Velocity (who appeared here and never again). City-God, created by Nick Alenikov, had appeared in his own series. Starflame, by Mat and Jim Kramer, had also appeared in his own title. Captain Cosmos, by Easton Davy Jr., had appeared in David Heath Jr.’s No Sex fanzine. Nightshadow, by Jerry Foley, had appeared in his own title. Sky-Lark and Blue Streak were both created by Steve Hahn, but only the former had previously appeared. Phazor, from Eric Scalzi, had appeared in Dynazine. The Power Pack team (Warhawk, Elf, Windsprite, Sabre Tooth, and Witch Doctor) were created by Joey Manley, and appeared regularly in Joey’s weekly Comics Trips. Captain Gizmo was a humorous superhero created by fan cartoonist David Patterson. The Seeker, created by John Zupkow, had previously appeared only in prose stories, in Fantasia.

You can see from the wraparound cover below that Matt and the artists had their work cut out for them. Rivaling pro books by artists such as George Perez, the 1981 Fan Spectacular had 24 different heroes for penciller Willie Peppers to juggle. Now, even in 44 pages, you are not going to get much character development with that many characters. But then again, books like this are not about superheroes going through lengthy periods of angst and worry over their predicaments and responsibilities. It’s time fer some supervillain fightin’! It’s time for power blasts and universe shaking battles! Keep in mind, the printing quality of these fanzines can sometimes not be magazine quality. This one suffers particularly highly in the loss of deep blacks. But, I tried to clean them up in the scanning process and later in photoshop as best I could.

The basic storyline of the fanzine features a scientist’s experiment gone awry, which creates the super-being Ultron. For “reasons of my own,” Ultron creates some “Demigods” and forces this large group of heroes to fight them, and gain four clues along the way. If they don’t succeed, their planet will be destroyed! Of course, what else?!! Do the heroes succeed? Will our planet be saved and its inhabitants be safe to consume mass quantities of junk food and watch the invention of MTV? Read for yourself and see!

Bucher talks a bit more below about some of the characters, who created them, and where they appeared.

For other characters, this was their first and only appearance: Xenogama and the Intruder, created by Troy Waters. Shotgun, by Bill Anderson. The Ankh and Black Mercy, by Ken Meyer Jr. Also, under the clever alias of Bart Chumet, I included some more of my own characters named Wizard Warrior, Renegade, and the Dynamic Dynamo. (Once you read the story, you’ll understand why they were included.)

To this day, I still regret all the characters who didn’t make it for one reason or another, including the wonderful heroes created by Steve Streeter (The Astounding Xyloman, the Weevil, and others), Full Circle Comix (Captain Head, the Whip, and others), Darrell Goza (the Professionals, the Destiny Squad), Klaus Haisch (Firefly), and many others.

However, all things considered, I’m just amazed the book got finished at all. Because for nearly a year, the project seemed doomed.

And, when you think about it, a project this size, produced by fans…well, you have to be amazed it came together at all! Bucher had the usual youthful enthusiasm that came with the territory, but he needed a partner with an equal amount of enthusiasm and professionalism to be the workhorse of the project. That man was Willie Peppers (now Will Peppers…he done growed up!). Bucher talks about his decision to enlist the talents of Peppers below.

From the first moment I conceived the book, I knew I’d only go through with it if I could convince Willie Peppers to pencil it. Willie Peppers was a famous name in fan circles back then, and his reputation as a dynamic, top-notch penciller was completely deserved — sort of like a fan version of John Byrne (during his glory days), or George Perez. If anyone could handle this monster-sized book with two dozen fan heroes, it was Willie. Bottom line, his artwork kicks ass – it did then, and it still does today. Plus, at a time when we were all just geeky teenagers, doing these home-grown comic books after school for zero pay, Willie’s consummate professionalism was inspiring.

Somehow I managed to persuade Willie to climb on board (I suppose my teen enthusiasm was infectious). So I got cracking on the story. But almost immediately I struggled – the magnitude and complexity of the story made the writing go slowly. Plus, it took longer to finalize the cast of heroes (and to properly familiarize myself with their powers and personalities) than I’d expected. So by the time I got the first chunk of script to Willie, he had several other commitments he had to wrap up first.

For a website set up by Willie himself, showing tons of his energy packed art, go here. At that site, Willie talks about his interest in comic art and how he got started.

I became interested in comics and art at the age of 5. My first experience with being published was my long and much loved stint in the world of fanzines (aka small press) which lasted from the mid 70s to the 80s. I came to make many friends during that time. Among them were George Lane, Bob Thistleton, Steve Addlesee, Jeff Cooke, Gary Barker, Jerry Foley, James Kirtley, Matt Bucher, Steve Streeter, Darrell Goza, Deon Nuckols and a host of others. All ardent comics fans, writers, artists and the like. Many of them were quite inspirational and influential.

I also was lucky enough for Will to answer a few questions via email about that period of his life.

The Fan Spectacular 1981 is one massive piece of work…for a pro, much less someone who was still a ‘fan artist.’ How difficult was it for you to do that large a project?

Not really that difficult at all. Back then, before I got my first paying gig as a comic artist, I worked at it like there was no tomorrow. It was typical for me to work as much as 10 hours straight on a project. Passionate or crazy…I don’t know which. Then again, is there really a difference?

About how old were you at this time? How old were you when you had your first work printed (and do you remember what and where it was printed)?

1981…That would’ve put me at about 20 or so. Holy Crap! As for when I was first printed, I would say it must’ve been early to mid 70s, and, although I’m not certain, it would’ve been a CBG cover or something for Steve Streeter’s Paige Comics.

Did you have any other work going on at this time? Did you have a ‘regular job’ while you were doing it?

Did a little bit of everything. Worked at a comics shop doing inventory and local subscription organizing, did freelance business card, flyer and logo designs, and worked with my brother as a DJ as well as helping out at the tech repair shop he worked at.

I see a little Sal and John Buscema in your work back then. Were they both big influences? If not, who was your biggest influence at that time?

John Buscema definitely. Not so much Sal. Back then, my faves and inspiration were Romita, Sr., Neal Adams, Perez, and of course, the King himself. And we all know who that was.

Do you recall any specific hurdles that were hard to overcome? If so, how did you handle them?

One thing that I found difficult at the time was the overabundance of people pushing and encouraging me and telling me that I was ready to go pro, and me knowing deep inside that I really wasn’t ready. And, if I was, I didn’t yet have the inner confidence to really push for it as hard as I could.

How did you feel about the variety of inkers working on the book? Any characters you specifically liked to draw?

I liked the majority of them, but I particularly had fun drawing Nightshadow, Blue Streak, Space Warrior and Omniman. As for the variety of inkers, I absolutely loved it. Where else would I get a chance to see what my worked looked like inked by so many different styles in one place. Totally awesome. I hope to have such an experience again someday.

What were some of your biggest accomplishments following this book, both in fandom and in art in general?

From a fandom point of view, it not only put me in touch with so much amazing talent (and people that I can call friends), but it became a milestone in my fandom career, and a booster shot to that sense of confidence I was somewhat lacking as to my being ready to go forward. Really wanting to do it was one thing. But, I was beginning to realize that I could do it.

What kind of work are you doing now?

Right now, I work for a publishing company as a graphic designer on book covers and interior layout as well as typesetting and ad design. Of course, I still freelance as a comic artist, and am looking at the possibility of hooking back up with a past publisher I worked with on some exciting stuff.

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Below, you will see several pages by penciller Willie Peppers and the inkers on board for this 45 page monstrosity (and I mean that in the most complimentary of terms). In order you will see inks by Heike, Anderson, McCollum, and myself. On selecting inkers, Bucher said:

In the meantime, I started lining up inkers. I wisely chose to go with several so that I could utilize all my favorite guys, and to avoid overloading any one person. 44 pages may not sound like a heck of a lot — but trust me, friends, it is. At the time, I only knew of two or three other fan-produced stripzines anywhere near that size.

Mark Heike has done a lot of work in and out of comics since his stint in fanzines. You can see his colorful and fun website here. Mark’s credits are long and impressive, as his site says:

Mark works for other publishers occasionally in addition to his regular position as an Editor at AC Comics, a long running major independent comic book publisher. At Marvel he pencilled X-Men,  inked Magneto, and She-Hulk, at DC he inked Star Trek: The Original Cast, at Dark Horse he inked Star Wars: Golden Age of the Sith, Star Wars: Sith War, Star Wars: Fall of the Sith, Star Wars: Jedi Academy, Leviathan, Spyboy, and Xena: Warrior Princess and pencilled Aliens vs. Predator: War, at Image he inked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, for Malibu he pencilled Mantra, Rhiannon, for Motown he inked Man Against Time, for Antarctic Press he worked on Lilith: Demon Princess, for Eclipse Comics he inked Parts Unknown: Dark Deceptions, and at First Comics he pencilled Nexus and Judah the Hammer. And there is still more!

In any event, I managed to corral a truly first-rate line-up of inkers in Mark Heike,  Bill Anderson, Rick McCollum and Ken Meyer Jr. (All of these talented folks later went on to do professional work.) This is just a partial list of credits. Later, Mark Heike worked for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and AC Comics. Bill Anderson inked for Marvel, DC, and Image. Rick McCollum, ever the maverick, did work for the more independent companies such as Comico, Fantaco, and Tundra. Ken Meyer Jr. did artwork of various types for Marvel, Image, NBM and Caliber (as well as a ton of role playing game work). Willie Peppers worked for Malibu, DAK, and Caliber.

Bill Anderson inked a ton of fanzine work around this time (including The Star Slayers, which was covered in another Ink Stains), and was also only 17 when he inked the art in this fanzine. He told me on Facebook that “I was doing this project around the same time as the first of the stories I inked over Mark Heike that ended up in Charlton Bullseye and Mystifying Excursions.” I did a quick search for some pro Anderson work and found a link to a beautiful page of comic art here, where he managed to secure a gig inking the great John Buscema on none other than the Silver Surfer! Bill says:

For me, Big John Buscema will always be THE artist for The Silver Surfer (yeah, yeah, I know there was that Kirby guy). There is no other artist who etched Surfer into my childhood memories like John Buscema did in the first Silver Surfer series in 1968, especially the first few copies with Sinnott inks. I think I bought every issue of Fantastic Four for the next 5-years hoping to catch every cameo appearance.

Don’t forget, I did a whole Ink Stains column dedicated to the feverish creations of Rick McCollum (one of his inked pages below).

To compare the various styles of inkers, I grabbed four different panels with somewhat similar characters and compositions which you will see below. Upper left is Bill Anderson, upper right are inks by myself, lower right is Rick McCollum, and lower left is Mark Heike. The most individual style is probably McCollum, who I am pretty sure inked with a pen almost exclusively, and had a more ragged style. Anderson is mostly pen as well, but a more controlled pen along the lines of pro Terry Austin. I tended to favor people like Wrightson, so my work is a bit of both, with more brush than pen (and a little sloppy at both, compared to Heike and Anderson at that time, and it’s interesting how Black Mercy is the only one to have a core shadow pattern on his face, huh?). I am pretty sure Heike is almost all brush, with relatively thick strokes and thick outlines. As for the lettering, Bill did most of it, but I did mine on my pages (probably too large), and Rick did his own, with his usual energetic style.

Ruminating on the event of the production of this big package, Bucher said:

Several months flew by. Then some more. The title was altered from Fan Spectacular 1980 to Fan Spectacular 1981.

At times, I feared the book might collapse under the weight of its own ambition. It would be patently unfair for me to blame any of the artists when I had taken so damn long to finish the script. But finally the last pages arrived in the mail and – voila! — it was done. And I was thrilled with the end result. In fact, the feedback from fans was so positive that I considered making such a team-up an annual event, or producing an ongoing title which teamed the heroes (sort of like a “Justice League of Fandom”).

Alas, neither occurred. About a year later, I went off to college and dropped out of the fanzine business altogether. Still, I’ve always retained a soft spot in my heart for Fan Spectacular 1981.

Summing up, if you love the crash bang, galaxies in peril sort of superhero action, then this fanzine is right up your alley. It’s packed with an enthusiastic love of the superhero genre from all parties involved. And, hey, it says it right there in the last panel, “…the most fantastic team-up ever!”

Thanks this time out go to first and foremost, Matt Bucher. Also, Willie (oops, Will) Peppers and Bill Anderson for their input. Get the pdf!

Ken Meyer Jr.
ken@comicattack.net

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