As the company evolved, I wanted to try out an equation whereby we’d offer a lower cover price to see if the orders would increase sufficiently to keep a good profit margin. I thought this would be a way to increase our fan base. I tried this on Jim Starlin’s The Price and it succeeded. RA: Detectives, Inc., in particular, had an unusually strong sexual approach (for the times), dealing with lesbianism. Do you know if it was the first mainstream comics treatment of that topic?
DM: I don’t know if Detectives, Inc. was the first “mainstream” book to deal with lesbianism. I don’t even know if it was “mainstream”. I think we called our books “ground level” at the time, to differentiate us from underground and overground comics. It’s a delineation that thankfully did not catch on (!). I thought Don’s story was incredibly strong (still do); whether dealing with the young boys at the beginning of the book, or the theme of losing a lover, the story has all the warmth of emotion and pathos that Don does better than anyone else. The story is not about sex, anymore that Sabre is about sex, although each book contains a sex scene. Rather, the stories are about love and how it drives each of us to attempt great heights or to desperate measures, depending on the circumstances. We were also very fortunate to interest Marshall in drawing the book. I spent countless days and nights with Marshall and can personally attest to the incredible amount of talent and energy he put into the art. He and Steve Englehart were hot at the time, just having completed their Batman cycle in Detective Comics. Marshall could have had his pick of anything. RA: Eclipse Magazine seemed to be a direct descendent of Mike Friedrich’s Star*Reach prozines of the 1970s. Was that deliberate? How did the magazine come about?
DM: Eclipse Magazine was not a deliberate descendent of Star*Reach. I was (and am) a great fan of Star*Reach and believe that everyone in comics today owes Mike a debt. He was a true pioneer. While there were other great mags, such as witzend, Mike was the first to start an entire publishing company based on the principles of creator rights and freedoms. (You can call Star*Reach a “prozine”—I haven’t heard THAT in a while. It belongs in the same dustbin of other dumb, interim names for what we were all trying to do such as “ground level” mentioned above.)
The only real similarity between Star*Reach and Eclipse Magazine was that both Mike and I have eclectic tastes. You should see my iPod: songs by Hendrix, Blossom Dearie, Woody Guthrie, Hoagy Carmichael, Adam Clayton Powell, Sarah Vaughan, Al Dexter, Bix Beiderbecke, Mahalia Jackson, Chet Baker, Flaco Jimenez, and Mel Torme, among thousands of others. In trying to find a printer for Eclipse Magazine, I called Mike Friedrich and Denis Kitchen to get some recommendations on printers. They both gave me suggestions. I used Port Publications, where Denis had his work done, but was unhappy with their print job on #2, so called my friend Deni Loubert, who got me in touch with her printer in Windsor, Ontario. They printed #3-8. There was such a collegiality among all of us at the time. We didn’t consider each other competitors. We were all on our own individualistic mission to make good comics. By the way, if you look at the early issues, you’ll note that my old pal Rich Bruning worked with me as art director. Rich is an incredible designer and we had a lot of fun putting that first issue together. RA: Was the Steve Englehart/Marshall Rogers story, ‘Coyote’, originally intended as a stand-alone graphic novella?
DM: No. As far as I recall, it was planned as a serial, with the advance knowledge that it would be collected. RA: Eclipse Magazine launched several good 1980s series, such as Ms. Tree, The Masked Man and Coyote and debuted Don McGregor & Gene Colon’s excellent ‘Ragamuffins’. Did Max Allan Collins do any comics work before Ms. Tree’s debut in Eclipse Magazine #1?
DM: Max and Terry Beatty did ‘Mike Mist Minute Mist-eries’ which Alan Light ran in The Comic-Buyer’s Guide. I collected the one-pagers as a B&W comic-book sized collection. I still keep a copy in the bathroom at my design fire. It’s GREAT bathroom reading: just enough time to try to figure out who did it! And, of course, Max was writing the Dick Tracy newspaper strip at the time, with art by Dick Locher.
Ms. Tree is a great series. Max and Terry put their hearts into that series, and I’m very proud to have published it. RA: How did ‘Ragamuffins’ come about?
DM: ‘Ragamuffins’ remains my favorite of everything I ever published. The art from the cover is the only piece of comic book art that I own. It has hung on my bedroom wall (where I see it every night before going to sleep) since Tom Palmer so graciously gave it to me. These stories, along with the slice-of-life ones in Eclipse Magazine, are Don at his best. Gene was also at the height of his artistic maturity. No one had reproduced pencils like this before. I was inventing a way to do it, and believe it got better with each installment, culminating in the method I came up with for the color version, which still has not been duplicated. When Don and Gene did ‘Nathaniel Dusk’ at DC, they asked me to advise on the production. I gave them a step-by-step of how it was done, but Risk still didn’t print as well as on Ragamuffins. Maybe DC was too “proud” to take my advice.
BC Boyer came to us with The Masked Man as an unsolicited submission. His work had an incredible amount of energy, and he’s one of the sweetest and enthusiastic and genuine people I’d ever met. This is the advantage of an anthology magazine—we could give him a try-out in Eclipse Magazine, whereas we could not afford to risk giving him his own title out of the box. BC (Bruce) had his own janitorial business and when we asked him where his art talent came from, he told us that his father, Charles Boyer (not the actor), was the head artist at Disneyland, drawing and overseeing most of the art in the park. His father also drew the famous “self-portrait” of Walt Disney that was a parody of a Norman Rockwell painting.
RA: You published the first mainstream appearance of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor strips outside of his own underground magazine. How did that association come about?
DM: I love Harvey’s work. He was not making any money publishing American Splendor, and just wanted to get some money to keep his artists going. I was thrilled to publish his stories and I paid his artists the same rate I paid everyone else. I got great stuff for my magazine, and was able to help support Harvey’s efforts. You can’t get better than that! RA: In its short run, Eclipse Magazine ran quite a lot of different stories, from the slice of life tales of Pekar & McGregor, to the quasi-superhero material of Englehart/Rogers to literary adaptations like Trina Robbins’ ‘Dope’ to mysteries to underground material by the likes of Hunt Emerson, Howard Cruse & Larry Rippee. It was an approach to an anthology that I quite like. Most comic anthologies focus on a single genre—horror, mostly. Yet a magazine where you never quite know what the next story’s going to be about seems a much more logical and interesting approach. Why don’t more comic anthologies take that approach?
DM: Ask anyone in publishing why they don’t take the eclectic approach to anthologies and they’ll all tell you the same thing: bad sales. Most readers want something predictable, something pigeonholed. But that shouldn’t be the entire reason for publishing. Eclipse Magazine sold well; not great, but well enough.
I still enjoy what appeared in Eclipse by Englehart, Rogers, Starlin, et al, and I wanted to introduce our readers to the work of Larry Rippee, Hunt Emerson (one of the most underappreciated cartoonists of our time), Howard Cruse, and others. Everyone got paid the same, whether they were big stars or not. I guess it was the lefty in me, wanting to create a magazine where everyone was equal. Some of the artists, such as Kaz, came to me from Art Spiegleman. Whenever Art had an artist whose work he liked but that he couldn’t fit in RAW, he’d give me a call and I’d find a couple of pages. There were friends like Peter Kuper, who were trying survive while starting their own comics. I would give them a little work because I liked their art and wanted to get them some money. And then there were people like Kent Williams and George Pratt. These two young guys came up to Marshall Rogers and me at a store appearance and showed us some artwork. We were both impressed with their potential. This is another advantage of an anthology: it’s a place for new artists, a place they can get exposure and have a published story to show around. I printed a one-pager by Kent & George, and then gave them some spot art to do later. Not long thereafter, they each made it big.
Editing Eclipse Magazine was a challenge, but one with great rewards. I had a very distinct balance of stories I wanted to include: serials, slice-of-life, experimental, artistic…all while delicately managing the pace with longer stories followed by short ones or one-pagers. It was an incredible amount of work, but well, well worth it. RA: What was Jan Mullaney’s role in the company?
Jan provided the initial funding, but pretty much stayed out of it until Eclipse got so big that I couldn’t handle the financial end of it any more. Jan took over running the business so I could concentrate on publishing and editing. RA: Did cat yronwode have a role in the early days of your company?
DM: Not in the early days, but she was intimately involved starting around 1983. RA: The Paul Gulacy cover that appeared on #2 also graced a European cover of Creepy. Do you happen to know which came first?
DM: I didn’t even know it was printed elsewhere. Paul must have sold it to Europe later. Again, one of the great advantages of creative ownership. RA: Why weren’t the Scorpio Rose & Foozle series ever completed?
DM: Personality conflicts between some of the participants. I’ll leave it at that. If Steve or Marshall want to talk about it, you should ask them. What was Sundancer, a series you announced as come from the Englehart/Rogers team, which never appeared, supposed to be about?
DM: Same as above.
RA: After 8 issues, you transformed Eclipse Magazine into a 32 page color anthology. At the time, that quite disappointed me, as I suspected that a color book wouldn’t last long and that the diversity of the B&W magazine would vanish without the pages to support it, both of which basically came true. What prompted your fullscale move to color books in 1982? Why couldn’t Eclipse Magazine been retained as a flagship/advertising/house organ & preview venue for your color series?
DM: Unlike in later years when I could publish something I loved and lose $25,000 on it, at this early point in Eclipse’s history, survival and growth were more of a factor. However the main reason was that the color comics simply sold better. When we sold 85,000-100,000 copies of Destroyer Duck, it scared the crap out of Marvel and DC. They had so much influence at World Color Press that they immediately found out what we sold. The sales figures on Destroyer Duck convinced me that a tiny company can make a big dent in the field. I recall that when we published the first color issue of Thrilling Detective Adventures with Ms. Tree, World Color Press inadvertently sent me the print order not just for OUR books, but for everything shipping that week. When I saw that Ms. Tree outsold Detective Comics and Wonder Woman, I knew we were on the right track. Artistically, there were also series I wanted to try out in color to see if they could make the jump to their own titles. RA: Unlike many comic companies, Eclipse the company’s initial success seemed to be based more on anthologies than on single hero books. In fact, most of your single hero books had backup stories that had no relationship to the lead story. Do you have any theories a to why you succeeded in the early 1980s when many publishers lasted only a year or two.?
DM: I think Eclipse succeeded because we were willing to work 14-18 hours, 7 days a week, and had a realistic understanding of finances. Most small publishers have no clue as to how to run a business. I figured out that you could run it as a business and still treat creative people with artistic and financial respect. Plus, as the company got larger, I think both cat and I each had (and hopefully still have) a great instinct for what’s good and how to sell it. To give you an example from the trading card “division”: the ‘Saving & Loan Scandal’ trading cards were not (as you can imagine) a big seller in the comics shops. But, comics shop sales gave us a base print order. We advertised in the National Mortgage News and other thrift publications, and sold a shitload of sets to bankers, a hundred sets a pop. We’d get a call from a bank asking if their institution was in the set. When we said no, they’d say, “Great. Give me 50. We want to send them as gifts to our customers so they’ll know we’re not the bad guys.” Again, it’s a matter of figuring out multiple markets and putting them all together to get decent numbers.
RA: What did cause the collapse of Eclipse in 1994?
DM: I’ve never really told anyone why Eclipse folded. It had nothing to do with cat and I getting divorced. First of all, the comics specialty market was in the toilet. Like every other publisher, we were scrambling to sell enough comics to keep things going. We didn’t have the luxury of losing $150 million a year like one of competitors did. We were a small, family-run business. So things were incredibly tight. Eclipse didn’t have bankable continuing monthly series. We often published a wide variety of one-shots, mini-series and graphic novels because we liked them. Comic shops were closing and the remaining shops, for the most part, drastically cut orders on anything not from Marvel or DC.
We saw the comics specialty market alone was not a receptive place for our company’s survival, let alone expansion. My dream, from 1978 when I published Sabre, was to get graphic novels in mainstream bookstores. As the direct market became overcome with greed and milking readers by focusing on comics as investment, multiple covers, etc., I saw the future in the bookstores. We had great success with Ballantine on The Hobbit (75,000 copies in the first half year, not counting the comics shops where we sold 25,000 copies of the collection and over 100,000 each of the three $4.95 issues), and so when the opportunity arose to have a co-publishing deal with one of the world’s largest publishers, I had to go for it. We entered into a co-publishing deal with HarperCollins. Harper published Clive Barker and didn’t want us taking his graphic novels to a competitor. Harper had also bought Unwyn-Hyman, publishers of Tolkien’s work in every country but the US, and again didn’t want a competitor to have the graphic novel. They also realized that we could get the graphic novel rights to books published by other houses and bring them to Harper (this was before graphic novel rights were on the mind of mainstream publishers).
It was an exclusive deal both ways. In the beginning, it was a fantastic relationship. We did all the production and were invited to give presentations at all their sales meetings in the US and UK. They made fantastic floor and counter displays for bookstores. When they released The Hobbit graphic novel, they sold more copies in the UK alone than Ballantine did in all the US! The problems started when we asked for sales figures on the other books (Miracleman, Clive Barker’s titles, Dragonflight, Dean Koontz’s Trapped, etc.). We never—EVER—received a single sales statement. Therefore, no royalty statements. So there I was, paying advances to creators (bigger than the top rates in the field at the time—hey, we were going to be in bookstores, too!), tying up all my capital. And then nothing from Harper. No statements, no money. Meanwhile, creators were naturally asking for THEIR statements and royalitites. I explained the situation, but still never got anything from Harper. It go to the point that I had no cash left to even carry on normal business because we had laid out everything we had for advances. All that was left to do was sell off every piece of inventory I could get my hands on, pay all the little guys (individual creators and small vendors), and stiff the large ones (printers and freight companies). And declare bankruptcy. I still have no idea how many copies of our graphic novels Harper sold, or what they did with the money owed us and creators.
But my plans for placing graphic novels in bookstores was still a good one. I just picked the wrong publisher and was about ten years too early. If Eclipse were around now, there’s no doubt that we would be the leading graphic novel publisher in mainstream bookstores.
RA: What are you up to today?
DM: Currently, I was just elected to the Board of Directors of The Center for the Study of the Environment, a private not-for-profit organization, providing information, identification, analysis and optimal solutions to environmental problems. CSE projects are conducted on global, regional and local scales. RA: Any final thoughts?
DM: I miss being in the field, but I don’t miss how the business and licensing end have completely taken over. When I started Eclipse and for many years afterwards, there was a freedom, a freewheeling ability to publish a wide variety of material, and to experiment. There was also an amazing collegiality among professionals. This was before comics speculation, before greed, and before people started buying comics to look at the art rather than READ the stories. For me, the story is still paramount. You can have the best art in the world, but if the story sucks, forget about it. Although somewhat off the topic, I must say something about the Alex Toth Zorro books I printed in B&W. I was a Zorro fanatic as a kid, loved the comics (didn’t know who Alex was then), wore the Zorro costume by Marx (later found out the box containing the costume had Toth art on it, too!). As Alex said when I asked him if he would do halftones for the new collections: “Yes! The coloring on the original comics was awful! It ruined my art.” This was a case in which the reprint was far, far superior than the original, color comics. And Alex’s tip-in plate for the signed edition is perhaps the greatest piece of minimalist comics art ever drawn.
I think it’s a testament to the talented people I published that so much of Eclipse’s back catalogue has been reprinted in the past several years. I was looking at the Crossfire collection last week: Mark and Dan’s work on that series is, to me, one of the highlights in modern comics history.
And now I’ve got to let it go. Seventeen years running a publishing company contains a tremendous amount of memories, which sometimes come flitting back only when triggered by another thought. I could probably keep answering your questions forever. RA: Thank you, Mr. Mullaney!
A 2007 Interview With Frank Brunner! RA: Frank Brunner has worked with Warren, Marvel, First and Star*Reach comics and still does the occasional comic work. Mr. Brunner, your professional debut appears to have been in Web Of Horror, but before that you did appear in a number of fanzines and in the movie mag Castle Of Frankenstein with comic stories and pin-ups. How did you manage to break into that market?
FB: I knew Castle Of Frankenstein publisher Calvin Beck. At that time, in the late 1960s, he wanted to do more comics in his mag. He didn’t pay much, but it was a chance to get printed! I met Calvin via our mutual interest in fantasy/sci-fi/horror movies. RA: Judging from those stories, Roy Krenkel and Frank Frazetta were two of your early influences. Who else did you follow for inspiration?
FB: Alex Raymond, his successor Al Williamson, and Wally Wood! Later I met Neal Adams, and my style evolved into something that Marvel Comics (namely editor Roy Thomas) could appreciate. RA: How did you get involved with Web Of Horror?
FB: As soon as I saw #1, I knew that was where I wanted to be—with all the new talent! So I wrote to editor Terry Bisson and told him I was a new writer/artist. He seemed interested, and I wrote “Santa’s Claws”, which he bought and then gave me the art assignment.
RA: Did you actually meet Terry Bisson or Robert Sproul?
FB: I think I met Terry once face to face but I could be wrong…never met Sproul. RA: Your debut story there, ‘Santa’s Claws”, was the first Christmas-themed horror story to appear since the EC days. Were you aware of that when you were doing the story? Did the EC stories have any influence on you?
FB: Well, being a big EC fan, it was probably in the back of my mind. I wrote that story while I was sitting in a Lower East Side, barely heated apartment in New York. I wrote it all in one evening, and that was on Christmas Eve! I did like the surprise twist endings EC did with almost all their stories…but I was also influenced by the work of Rod Serling and Twilight Zone! RA: Although Web Of Horror only lasted three issues, you did a number of stories for it that appeared elsewhere, including at least one that appeared in Web’s magazine rival Vampirella. Which stories were originally intended for Web?
FB: There were two “leftover” stories—‘Eye of Newt, Toe of Frog’ and ‘Dragonus’, which were scheduled for Web Of Horror #4 & #5. RA: The story goes that you were the fellow who rescued much of the contents of Web Of Horror #4 and #5 when you visited the Major Magazines offices. How did that visit come about and what actually happened?
FB: There has been some dispute over my timeline, but timelines aside, yes I did rescue the art pages. As it became apparent that Sproul had no intention of publishing Web after the departure of Terry Bisson, I went out to the offices of Cracked magazine. Told some secretary I was the “new” editor of Web and that I needed to see the art for future issues. I was led to a small storage type room with metal shelves full of Web art! I was carrying an art portfolio and proceede to recover as much art as was possible in a few minutes! I was worried the receptionist/secretary would come in at any moment and the jib would be up! I didn’t get all the art, for it was just too much to fit into my portfolio. Naturally I wanted my own art—and any other art that was nearby, I took. All of which I gave back to theartists!
They never thanked me, by the way. I guess they just wouldn’t give up hope that Web would be published somehow! And that I sorta made sure that it wouldn’t? If that was what they were indeed thinking, it was sheer nonsense or wishful thinking on their parts! This sort of warped logic and the lack of any sort of appreciation was, I suppose, my first of many realizations that most other comic artists are so unbelieveably self-centered and quite eccentric in their views of reality. So much so that nowadays I hardly associate with them! RA: Why did ‘Dragonus’ appear in the expensive Phase fanzine rather in a Warren magazine?
FB: I showed that story to Warren, who immediately wanted it, but I held off. We were both thinking this story had series potential. Sword-and-sorcery stories in comics were just beginning to take off, and I didn’t want to turn over all the rights to Jim! Later Phase magazine actually offered me more money and the ownership of ‘Dragonus’! RA: Are there any future Dragonus plans?
FB: I wrote and drew a sequel for Star*Reach. If a publisher made the right offer, I might do another story… RA: Any anecdotes about those days you’d care to share?
FB: “Those were the best of times and the worst of times…” I was very young and gullible, full of enthusiasm and energy that made up for my lack of ability at that time. Things have turned around over the last forty years. I’ve got the ability and still have a certain enthusiasm, but the energy is fading! RA: Are there any artists or writers in the comic field (or outside the field, for that matter) that you enjoy today?
FB: Oh, I don’t really keep up with what’s happening in comics any more. I think the Image comics and Dark Horse sorta killed the concept of good solid writing and visual storytelling in comics! Though there are a few exceptions here and there! Writers that I read today are John Varley, Herman Hesse (re-reading the latter) and Kurt Vonnegut, who just passed away. God bless him!
RA: Any final words?
FB: I’d just like to say this—the Impressionist movement is dead, the Pre-Rafaelites likewise, Cubism and Abstract art are finished. The so-called “Fine Arts World” needs to wake up to the sobering fact that “Comic Art” is the major art form of the latter 20th Century! They know it in Europe, but there’s still a long way to go towards world-wide recognition of the facts!
This bibliography is copyright 2003, 2004, 2005 & 2008 Richard J. Arndt.