Fantagraphics Books both looked to the future and celebrated its history in the “Fantagraphics Forward” panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego. Moderator Gary Groth — the company’s founder and publisher — was joined by associate publisher Eric Reynolds, editor Kristy Valenti, “How to Be Happy” creator Eleanor Davis, “Uncle Scrooge” and “Donald Duck” cartoonist Don Rosa, “Heroes of the Comics” artist Drew Friedman, and “Sock Monkey” creator Tony Millionaire. Groth noted that the cartoonists on the panel were “radically different from one another,” reflecting the breadth of work represented at Fantagraphics.
Fantagraphics has been publishing “The Comics Journal” since 1976 and has comics since 1981. Rosa was one of the first cartoonists published by Fantagraphics: The publisher collected his “Petrwillaby Papers” into two saddle-stitched editions in 1983. Reflecting on his history with the publisher, Rosa declared there is “no better publisher in the country.”
Groth discussed “The Complete ZAP Comix,” due out in November. Collected into a five-volume hardcover boxed set, with an introduction by Robert Crumb, the first four volumes will contain all 16 issues of the underground series while the fifth will include a history of the magazine and biographies of the artists, as well as rare images and photographs. The books will be oversized in a 9 x 12 format. Wraparound covers will be included as foldouts to preserve their original dimensions; in addition, the collection will include 17 loose prints of the individual issues’ covers. The interior art has been scanned from negatives provided by Victor Moscoso. “It’s probably the biggest project I’ve ever worked on,” said Groth, referring to both its scope and physical size — a dummy of the set weighed in at 22 pounds.
“ZAP” is not the only retrospective coming from Fantagraphics this year, as “Pirates in the Heartland: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Volume 1” was released in June. Valenti said readers can expect two more volumes chronicling the life and career of Wilson. An underground cartoonist, Wilson was a contributor to “ZAP Comix” and an influence on R. Crumb’s work. Valenti described the set as both “a biography and collection of all of his comics.”
Groth said that what sets Fantagraphics apart from other comics publishers is the fact that “almost everything we publish is written and drawn by the same person,” an approach which has contributed to defining the Fantagraphics aesthetic. “There’s something about great cartooning, where it’s a single unified thing that expresses the sensibility of the singular artist.” Reynolds added that Fantagraphics has a “certain, for lack of a better way to put it, a kind of punk rock attitude of recognizing and wanting to champion work that you know is good, but you know might meet some resistance in the marketplace. There’s a certain defiance of wanting to prove that it’s good.”
In addition to its focus on publishing collections and histories, Fantagraphics also works to stay current and find new artists that will take the publisher into the future. “It’s essential to stay vital,” explained Groth. “I don’t want to be comfortable; I want to find young cartoonists who are doing work of a high caliber.”
Friedman emphasized Fantagraphics’ focus on quality and artistic vision by explaining his decision not to publish “Heroes of the Comics,” due out September 7, with a mainstream publisher. “It was going to be compromised,” he said, “meaning they wanted to put it in a small format. They wanted me to include a lot of comic book legends that I didn’t find to be legends; they wanted another writer to do the writing and I wanted to do my own writing — just completely compromised. So I walked away from that — a big chunk of money, too — and brought it to Fantagraphics and got exactly the book that I wanted.” Reynolds explained that Fantagraphics is committed to working closely with creators to reproduce their vision: “If you’re not happy with your own book, then there’s really no point to doing it.”