The Middle Ground #9: How Would I Know, Why Should I Care?

One of the truly heartbreaking things about comics that aren’t published by The Big Two is the number of amazing books, series or sometimes even careers that just seem to… well, disappear, really. There’s no one reason behind it - books can go out of print because of low sales, rights can lapse, publishers can fold, whatever – and, unless creators are dogged, determined and/or very lucky (I’d claim that Eddie Campbell is the former two, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he claimed an element of the latter, as well, in the continual presence of his Alec series in bookstores throughout the years and various publishers, whether they be Escape, Acme, self-published or Top Shelf), really great books can disappear in the process.

(This isn't to suggest that books don't disappear at those two massive publishers, but I'd argue that the situation is different because, for the most part, (a) you know who to complain to to try and get said books back into print, because they're generally owned by said publisher, and (b) if you wait long enough, it'll probably end up getting an Essential/Showcase edition before too long anyway.)

This thought occurred to me when thinking about Dark Horse’s bringing Dave McKean’s Pictures That Tick and Cages back into print the other day. Both are wonderful, bold and visually stunning books from one of comics’ greatest artists, and one with what has to be great name recognition, considering his Sandman work throughout the 1990s, but somehow, both books ended up not only out of print, but homeless (Cages was initially published by Tundra, now sadly gone, and collected in hardcover by NBM for what seemed like only one printing, which continues to floor me, simply because it’s such a good book, even if you’re just looking at things from a process point of view; technically, it’s amazing, aside from whether or not you appreciate the writing). As grateful as I am for Dark Horse to rescue them from relative obscurity, part of me is left with a feeling of “How did it get that way in the first place?”

One of my favorite comics ever made is Nick Abadzis’ Hugo Tate… which, I’m guessing, a lot of you (most, maybe?) have probably never heard of. It ran alongside Tank Girl and early work by Philip Bond (Wired World, another sadly lost classic; as great as Bond’s art is, he was a really fun writer, as well. Hey, Dark Horse, fancy collecting his Cheeky Wee Budgie Boy strip in a one-shot someday?) in the dearly departed Deadline, a British anthology that ran in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and was this freeform series about an everyday guy called Hugo, and his friends. There was no massive overarching narrative to the series, no agenda it was trying to put forward or anything like that, but there was something about the way that Abadzis created the series that was… I’m at a loss to explain it properly: Lyrical, maybe? Honest? Sincere, at the very least; you could see him grow as the series progressed, but the heart and sincerity stayed as true no matter how far he explored his craft. It culminated in a series of stories where (the British) Hugo traveled across America with the wrong road trip buddy, and those stories were so unlike anything I’d read before then that my mind was blown by the potential of comics in an entirely different direction to everything I’d been reading beforehand (Genre stuff, mostly, through things like 2000AD and superhero books from America). Of course, Hugo is lost to the ages; Deadline folded after the failure of the Tank Girl movie, Tundra (which published a collection of the American road trip stories) folded even before then, and Abadzis pretty much disappeared from the comic scene until First Second put out his (heartbreakingly good) Laika a few years ago.

I’ve often thought, in my stupider moments, that I’d love to preside over a publisher that reprinted lost classics like that; something that would bring Hugo Tate back into print, or Grant Morrison and Steve Yeowell’s social satire The New Adventures of Hitler (Complete with Morrissey cameo! That’s how you get “the kids” to read your comics!), or John Smith and Sean Philips’ Straitgate or or or…! And then, of course, I calm down and realize that, not only do I not work in publishing, but that, if I headed up a line like this, I’d quickly find myself fired for losing my employees all manner of money. But a boy can dream, right…?

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