In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993’s flip book of He Said She Said Comics Presents: The Amy Fisher/Joey Buttafuoco Story…
He Said She Said Comics Presents: The Amy Fisher/Joey Buttafuoco Story (published 1993) – for Fisher’s side, story by Algernon Charles Swinburne and artwork by Michael Apice. For Buttafuoco’s side, story and art by Eddie Cornbury
I’m getting a bit myopic in my Gimmick or Good? choice this time around. As a teenager living on Long Island during the early 1990s, no story was more salacious than the Amy Fisher/Joey Buttafuoco scandal. So when I was recently sifting through an old box of comics and stumbled upon this gimmicked gem from independent publisher First Amendment – a flip book format where, true to the comic’s name, each cover presents a different account of the court case, Buttafuoco’s side and Fisher’s side – I couldn’t resist the challenge of crafting a somewhat serious critique about this issue.
But what about inside the comic?
For those of you who are either too young to remember or successfully blocked this whole thing out of your minds (and now you’re being forced to relive it again), in 1992, Fisher, then a 17-year-old living on Long Island, shot and seriously injured Buttafuoco’s then-wife Mary Jo. After being arrested, Fisher accused Buttafucoco of statutory rape, earning her the nickname, the “Long Island Lolita.” Fisher was eventually sent to jail for the attack on Mary Jo, while Buttafuoco later pleaded guilty to the rape and did prison time himself. The story became a national sensation, and was the topic of many talk shows and made-for-TV movies (including one starring Alyssa Milano as Fisher). Buttafuoco’s photo was ripped in half on Saturday Night Live by Madonna, a send-up of something Sinead O’Connor had done to Pope John Paul II’s photo on a previous episode. One of my personal favorite satires was a 1994 episode of The Simpsons, “Homer Badman,” where Homer is accused of sexually harassing a babysitter after grabbing a gummy candy off her posterior (“sweet can”).
Given that this was the early 1990s, it was only a matter of time before the comic book industry sounded off on the event. He Said She Said was the byproduct of the rise a number of independent publishers that produced titles based on TV shows, movies and video game adaptations. The bulk of these publishers flamed out when the comic book industry crashed in the mid-1990s, including First Amendment. Still, the Fisher/Buttafuoco story, was an unqualified success, reportedly selling out all 70,000 copies of the first printing. And before folding, First Amendment would go publish five more issues of He Said She Said, focusing on such celebrity scandals as OJ Simpson, Tonya Harding and Woody Allen, marking a revival of sorts of “true crime” comic books that were first in vogue during the “Golden Age” of comics in the 1940s and 50s.
Meanwhile, I actually think the whole “he said/she said” model for a true crime comic book has some actual merit to it, but in the case of First Amendment and Buttafuoco/Fisher, its lacks any kind of sophistication in its execution. This comic book clearly just rehashes information first published in tabloids like the New York Post and the Enquirer or interviews from television and doesn’t offer any new insights about the case or the personalities involved. Obviously, this comic book doesn’t even hide the fact that it’s a cash grab, but even if the writers had included a failed attempt to interview Buttafuoco or Fisher, or even their attornies, the whole thing would maybe have just the tiniest bit of integrity behind it.
Instead, the reader is treated to a Fisher “pin-up” centerfold in full color – the “Long Island Lolita” brandishing her pistol and striking a seductive pose in a tight t-shirt (with perky nipple indications to boot) and short-shorts.
For what it’s worth, the issue’s art budget was clearly dedicated to the centerfold as the rest of the interior illustrations are a sketchy mess. Poor Mary Jo Buttafuoco, whose face was disfigured from the nerve damage she sustained after being shot, looks like she was drawn by my 18-month old. And this drawing was meant to depict Mary Jo BEFORE her injury.
In one illustration in the Fisher section, which depicts the teenager falling on top of Mary Jo and “accidentally” shooting her during the ensuing scuffle, you can’t find Buttafuoco’s head in the panel.
In another illustration, what is supposed to be a silhouette of Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco embracing, looks like a black amorphous blob, which is only given context by the “Freeport Motor Inn” sign in the panel (I imagine they charge by the hour).
Obviously, the verdict isn’t in doubt here, but I was still ecstatic on a personal level to find this comic book and relive its infamy because I think it serves as an important part of 90s industry history. The publication and initial sales success of frivolous, cash-grab motivated titles like He Said She Said played a key role in the eventual crash of the comic book industry. Publishers and retailers were either ignorant to or ignored signs that the revenues these titles generated were not going to be sustainable over the long haul. By failing so spectacularly, it made the industry as a whole more skittish to try new and experimental things in the future.
As I said earlier, maybe a he said/she said format could work if the artwork is good and the comic’s story actually adds something to the national discourse about the topic, but I doubt we’ll ever see something like this again and if we did, we definitely won’t see it being sold by major retailers around the country like we did with the Fisher/Buttafuoco story.