Another week ending and another feature beginning! Jon B. Cooke, comics journalist and historian, joins the ranks of 13th Dimension regulars with an every-other-week column in this very spot. It’s called Alternative Fridays. Why? Read on.
Hiya, 13th Dimensioners! First up, welcome to this obligatory introductory column by yours truly, which not only buys me time to prepare real content for the proper first installment, but lets you gentle readers know just who the heck I am…
As squinty-eyed readers of the masthead of this feature can ascertain, you can call me Jon B. Cooke, and I’m currently editor of the magazine Comic Book Creator, the new quarterly magazine published by TwoMorrows Publishing. I used to edit Comic Book Artist, which (if you can suffer my immodesty) received five consecutive Eisner Awards for “Best Comics-Related Periodical,” plus I wrote and co-produced “Will Eisner: Portrait of a Sequential Artist,” the full-length feature film documentary that debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival a few years back. I’ve been in the “mags and books about comics game” since the mid-90s, when I was first associated with TwoMorrows publisher John Morrow’s first publication, The Jack Kirby Collector, though I’ve been a pretty steady collector of funny books since I was 12 or so, when my mind exploded being exposed to Kirby (and, soon thereafter, Kurtzman) comics, which instantly transformed me from a reader to a bona fide fanatic.
Thing is, while super-heroes assuredly lured me into the realm of (ahem) sequential art, it was when I began identifying artist styles that a whole new meaning came to light. As kids, my younger brother, Andy, and I were captivated by certain creators whose abilities were often a step above the facility of the journeymen, or just so blamed idiosyncratic that some could not be ignored. So it wasn’t every single issue of, say, Captain America that held me rapt, but I damned well made sure any issue drawn by The King just had to be purchased. Sometimes the circle expanded to writers but, in general, it was the work of pencilers and inkers who nabbed our dimes and quarters.
I can’t emphasize enough what a special time that was to come into the hobby of comic book collecting. This was the early 1970s, years when not only were mainstream comics stretching the limits of visual storytelling — think Kirby’s Fourth World, Conan the Barbarian by Barry Smith, the work of Neal Adams, and an amazing array of young Turks moving in and up — but underground comix were showing a different path for the form to expand. (Imagine seeing the stories of Robert Crumb and his ZAP Comix cohorts at such a tender age and just being blown away!) Plus reprints of the good old stuff were being released in fast and furious fashion by the Big Two publishers, as well as by fledging fan publishers; books on the history of the art form were hitting the shelves; National Lampoon included a ton of hilarious comics material; fanzines and prozines were in their glory. … And then there were the gatherings.
God knows what my mother was thinking when she allowed her two youngest boys to attend the fabled Phil Seuling Comic Art Conventions in New York City every July Fourth weekend (well, our oldest sister did have an apartment a dozen or two blocks away from the Statler Hilton and Commodore hotels … but still!). But to actually talk with Mr. Kirby, be regaled in the presence of Steranko, watch Neal Adams draw thumbnails, and attend Vaughn Bodé’s slideshows (never mind stand in rapture of Heidi Saha in her Sheena costume). OMG. Just amazing.
I simply fell in love with comic books and it became an abiding passion. For a spell, Andy, older brothers Chris and Richie, and I produced our own fanzine, OCMR: The Omega Comics Magazine Review. It gave me a taste for being in print that would eventually have me hooked, though adolescence and an ill-spent youth often gave comics a backseat to the girls and partying up front … these were the ’70s, after all! I was known as an artist in school, went on to study journalism and history in college, where I edited an alternative campus publication, and eventually became a graphic designer in advertising, learning design and production on the job.
Through it all, I never really gave up comics. I would go for periods not buying them – there were some terrifically fallow periods, lemme tell you! – but there was no growing out of them for me. The year 1986 solidified my intense dedication to them – Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, Los Bros. Hernandez, Frank Miller … good lord! — but it wasn’t until the passing of Jack Kirby (can you tell he’s my favorite?) when I finally got off my ass and decided to Do Something. And that was, on my very first day on the Internet, to discover John Morrow’s astonishing Kirby Collector (which remains today to be a great read). In no time I was contributing two pieces to each issue and, upon pitching my buddy to do “a magazine about the other guys,” Comic Book Artist was born…
The magazine was well received (having a revival of the famed Alter Ego as a flipbook certainly helped! Thanks, Roy Thomas!). CBA blanket-covered certain eras at comics companies, with occasional focuses on individual artists, and it was a pretty solid compilation of interviews with industry participants. John and I had a good run of 25 issues, with books and collections thrown in, and I moved on to produce six issues of CBA Vol. 2 with my buddies Chris Staros and Brett Warnock at Top Shelf Productions. Then I retreated to domestic life, trying to be a decent husband and father to three boys, and focusing on a real day job.
Anyway, I am back. Comic Book Creator’s mission is to make an impact with current writers and artists, and to serve an eclectic and interesting mix to readers, on time and as promised. Honestly, it’s also about friends, those many folks I’ve come to admire and care about in this wacky field, and that leads us all to here and now, Alternative Fridays, my bi-weekly contribution to Cliff and Dan’s laudable and important endeavor, The 13th Dimension.
I’ve been pals with Cliff Galbraith for quite a few years now, and somehow we’ve managed to keep in touch during the years we were laying low, and our friendship endures with its shared love for Jack Kirby, a desire for “real” comic book conventions (y’know the kind, those that used to be about comics!), and, well, we’re buds, okay? Plus he’s married to the most awesomest woman ever (outside of my wife, Beth, natch!), Judie! Anyway, he asked for me to be involved and Dan and I hit it off famously, so here I am ready to commit to a couple of columns every month.
Alternative Fridays will be a mixed bag, but most often not about mainstream comics. I have a particular love of the more outré stuff — read: non-superhero — and I’ve accumulated a wildly diverse backlog of interviews and, well, stuff that doesn’t readily fit into CBC. So I’d like to share it with you here.
I’m also keen on delving into the history of non-mainstream comics, particularly the undergrounds, the alternative publishers of the late ’70s to the mid-80s, and oddball imprints, like Comely Comics and its Captain Canuck, for instance, which haven’t received much notice. It’ll be a potpourri of stuff, sometimes installments of a series, sometimes completely unrelated and totally from left field, sometimes decidedly from traditional creators, but I think you might dig what’s to come.
Please email me if you have any comments or ideas. I hope, too, you might check out Comic Book Creator, the official magazine of Cliff and Rob’s Asbury Park Comic Con.
Thanks, C&D, for this opportunity! I’ll do my best, okay?
Welcome, Jon! Thanks for joining us!