There was a time when First Comics was one of the most innovative, revolutionary and entertaining publishers producing comic books and graphic novels. During their heyday from 1983 to 1991, First published popular ongoing series "Nexus," "Badger," "American Flagg!," "Dreadstar," "Grimjack" and "Jon Sable" (to name a scant few) and boasted a staggering output of graphic novels, in the days before that term was so easily bandied about. In the days before Dark Horse's emergence as a comics powerhouse and Image Comics' prominence as a showplace for creators, First published creator-owned properties, often starring characters that weren't superheroes. Never a comics colossus like Marvel and DC, the publisher was held in high esteem by fans and pros alike as an alternative to the big companies, as well as a reliable source of quality material. Though First quietly ceased active publication away in the early '90s, they never fully closed shop and over the years, there has still been some output with the company's name attached, though it has been infrequent at best.
In advance of their Thursday afternoon panel at Comic-Con International in San Diego, First did not make an announcement of their return so much as a note in the CCI schedule did it for them. There was no intent to trumpet the grand return of the company, simply plans for an panel featuring a discussion of their plans. As such, a full contingent of First Comics principals, including AiT PlanetLar publisher Larry Young, filled the stage to discuss the immediate future with several dozen fans.
Although it was First Comics co-founder and director Ken F. Levin who presided over the events, Young started the panel. With as much enthusiasm as fans in Hall H downstairs have for movies, Young proclaimed his love for First Comics,. When he heard that Levin planned to reopen First and publish books again, he told the audience he asked who he had to kill to get involved. He is now First's director of publication.
Levin then took the microphone, giving a short history of the company as an introduction for the audience, though with the knowledgeable crowd, it was probably more of a refresher. Perhaps ten years ago, he said, there might not have been a need for an entity like First Comics, but in the early '80s, when the market was dominated by comics starring company-owned superheroes, the world of independent comics was a wasteland. First began with everything but superheroes, not to disparage the superhero comics that Marvel and DC were doing, but because there was no sense in doing superhero comics if they were being done so well elsewhere. It was never the intention, Levin said, to compete with other indie comics, but to add more options for creators who were interested in releasing material they owned.
Levin introduced the panel gradually, stating their name and function with the company and letting them speak fully about their upcoming projects and their experience so far with the revitalized publisher. He was often overcome into speechlessness with awe at the assembled talent with him on stage.
The first creator introduced has produced First's most recent and perhaps most visible book, "Necessary Monsters." The book's writer, Daniel Merlin Goodbrey, described the project as featuring classic monsters going on suicide missions, "a spy monster movie."
At this point it was noted that Levin, also an agent to comics creators and an executive producer of a number of Hollywood movies, is developing many of these properties to be made into feature films, including "Necessary Monsters."
Levin went on to introduce perhaps the two biggest names working with the new First, beginning with Bill Willingham, creator and writer of the enormously popular "Fables" for Vertigo. Willingham's very first work was published by First, a Valeria the Insect Queen back-up story that he drew for First's flagship title "Warp." It is this early work that connects Willingham to the new First, as the publisher plans to re-release the material in a collection. Willingham jokingly exclaimed that this was only done to embarrass him, but he has agreed to let the material be released if the profits from the book are given to charity. There have also been discussions about him doing further work for First.Photo by JK Parkin