The PopCult Bookshelf

The Pacific Comics Companion
by Stephan Friedt, edited with additional writing by Jon B. Cooke
TwoMorrows Publishing
ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1605491219

The early 1980s was a great time to be a comic book fan. Although mainstream comics were disappearing from newsstands, as companies like Gold Key, Charlton and Harvey struggled through their final years, the rise of stores devoted to comic books and the direct market created a demand for more sophisticated storytelling and more creator-friendly contracts for the hottest artists and writers who’d sprung up in the previous decade.

The first company to meet that demand with independently-produced four-color comics in the traditional format was Pacific Comics. The Schanes Brothers, Bill and Steve (along with their eventual editorial director, Dave Scroggy), had been running a successful chain of comic shops and a distributor for the direct market, handling DC and Marvel as well as underground comix and “ground level” publishers like Star Reach and Eclipse, decided to take the plunge into publishing and make their own comic books.

They began by seeking out top-name talent who’d left comics for greener pastures. Their first book published was Captain Victory by Jack Kirby, who had famously been screwed out of full credit and fair pay for essentially creating most of Marvel Comics’ characters. The first artist signed, but the second published was Starslayer by Mike Grell, who had created the successful Warlord for DC, and who had become a fan favorite, but who had moved on to the Tarzan comic strip because the pay was better. By offering contracts where the creators retained ownership of their characters and received a more equitable split of the profits, Pacific Comics changed the way comics publishers did business.

Pacific was a huge success, and following their lead, Eclipse jumped into color comics, as did Capitol Distribution, First Comics and eventually Comico, Malibu, Dark Horse and dozens of other smaller publishers. Sadly, Pacific Comics expanding too rapidly while trying to compete with all the new companies and with Marvel and DC who became much more aggressive in the direct market, and after only a few years of publishing some of the most interesting comics around, Pacific went belly-up. The Schanes Brothers and Scroggy remained in the industry as key players at Diamond Comics Distribution, Dark Horse Comics and other companies.

But those four years worth of Pacific Comics’ books are phenomenal. Not only did Pacific commission and publish Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer, but they also published early work by Peter Milligan and Brendon McCarthy, Mike Baron and Steve Rude, David Lloyd, Dave Campiti and others who would become legends in the field, they also hooked up with established creators besides Kirby and Grell, like Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Jim Starlin, Sergio Aragones, Bernie Wrightson, P.Craig Russell, Roy Thomas, Al Williamson and more.

They also contracted with Warren, DC and Marvel veteran, Bruce Jones, who packaged titles for them that featured amazing writing and some of the best art in comics from the likes of Rich Corben, Nester Redondo, Ken Steacy, Bo Hampton, Roy Krenkel, George Pérez, Bret Blevins, Rand Holmes and so many more that I could devote a whole post to just listing the talent roster.

The Pacific Comics Companion is a comprehensive oral history of what went right and what went wrong with this maverick publisher. Stephen Friedt, with fresh interviews and quotes from contemporaneous interviews with the key players tells the entire story of the meteoric rise (and crater-inducing fall) of this pioneering comic book company which was the first successful publisher of the direct market comics era. Written with the editorial assist of Eisner Award-winning historian Jon B. Cooke, this book is a vital examination of a key publisher in the development of the creator’s rights movement.

Aside from the historical import, The Pacific Comics Companion is also a nostalgic goldmine for those of us who were lucky enough to live through those times. DC and Marvel were struggling to stay afloat on newsstands and had yet to fully take advantage of the direct market for comics. Creators were still leaving the industry in droves due to the lousy contracts, low pay and editorial interference. It was only due to the success of Pacific and other new publishers that DC and Marvel reformed their contacts and began to pay royalties, return original art and offer more flexible creator contracts.

I still remember the excitement of buying the first issues of Captain Victory and Starslayer, and I recall having my mind blown at the awesome artwork of Dave Stevens on The Rocketeer. The Bruce Jones’ books (Alien Worlds and Twisted Tales) remain among the finest anthology comics ever assembled and it’s nice to be reminded that for four brief years, there was one comic book company who was consistently entertaining. Even their missteps were worth looking at. I recommend The Pacific Comics Companion for any comics fan who lived through that era, and any younger fans who want to find out what they missed, and how much of a debt they owe to this company. It’s possible that, without Pacific Comics, we might be stuck with just Marvel, DC and Archie Comics today.

Available from TwoMorrows Pubishing, or from any bookseller by using the ISBN Code.