The Secret History of Weird Business
Part II: Blackbird
I cut my editorial teeth at Blackbird Comics. Odds are good that you have never heard of
them. It was definitely a third string outfit, but it did afford me the opportunity and time
to learn how to edit.1 The best thing about Blackbird is that I discovered how to
motivate artists and writers without using money. Money is the best carrot, but certainly not
the only one. I, also, developed professional/personal relationships that endure to this
day.2 Things were a bit different then. We were all young and went to any convention
that would let us in. There were plenty of six-guys-to-a-room nights. When Shannon Wheeler was
nominated for the Harvey for Best New Talent, fourteen of us shared his free room! I'll never
do that again, but that kind of stuff was wonderful for networking and the contacts developed
at those cons have served me well ever since.
Things soured at Blackbird Comics thanks mostly to publisher John Nordland II. Nordland was a
fun guy, a so-so artist, a talented writer, a marvelous printer, and crazy as loon. He owned a
printing press so was able to print books affordably. Since the only real printing cost was
paper, we could sell much smaller print runs and still make a profit.3 The problem
was that Nordland had this bad habit of lying. He would keep saying "the book is going to
press tomorrow" and I would routinely discover that the book was still sitting in his
garage. After years of missed deadlines, the last straw was Bill Fountain's The Sound
of Coming Darkness. I had discovered Bill at Dallas Fantasy Fair4 years
before when he showed me the completed graphic novel. A sequel to Poe's classic "The
Cask of Amontillado," the book was actually created as part of Fountain's Masters in
Humanities. It was exquisitely drawn, deftly written, and used a graphic storytelling
technique that I have yet to see replicated. The last four pages of the story are
printed on clear plastic sheets. As you turn the pages, the character slowly disappears,
leaving nothing but the background. It was a powerful ending to a very good story.
Art: Bill D. Fountain
Nordland claimed that the ending posed no problem on the printing end. Two years after
the scheduled release date, we still didn't have a book. When the book finally did come
out, most of the copies were so poorly bound that they fell apart after one
reading. That was it. I pulled the two completed books that I was supposed to do
with him. Wings5 will probably
stay on the shelf, while Creature Features
turned out to be the first Mojo Press book.
My relationship with Blackbird began with a pitch to produce a semi-regular series
of thematic perfect bound6 anthologies under the banner of
Omnibus. ( I'm not sure what I was thinking when I came up with that
title.) Not surprisingly thanks to my lack of experience, only one of the books came
out. Modern Perversity celebrated its ten year anniversary in March, 2002. Two
of the others eventually came out under the Mojo Press banner as Creature
Features and The Wild West Show. Inspired by my love for B-monster
movies, Creature Features was a collection of six stories, one of which was
an original by Joe R. Lansdale, with a cover and design by Darrin LeBlanc. Ben Ostrander
and I decided to publish this book first for two reasons: 1) to test out a press
in nearby San Antonio and 2) to see if we wanted LeBlanc to be the art director
for Weird Business. Since Weird Business was art directed by
LeBlanc and printed in Canada, you can probably figure the results.
Art: Carlos Kastro
Now everything was in place. We had a publisher, an art director, and some confirmed
talent. Now came the hard part: the actual putting together of the book.
To be continued in Part III: The Hard Part
I never trained as an editor. For years, pretty much until my third or fourth Mojo book, I
figured someone was gonna call my bluff and the gig would be up. Obviously, I figured it out,
at least enough to edit seventeen books and the fiction for RevolutionSF.
Art: Shannon Wheeler
The best man at my second wedding, Martin Thomas, is a Blackbird alum, as was Bill Fountain
who drew the third Mojo Press book The Tell-Tale Heart. The first book I edited
was Too Much Coffee Man creator Shannon Wheeler's Children With Glue for Blackbird.
Just to be clear, Blackbird was around for about five years before I joined up. Nordland
was producing his own successful title: Heroes.
The Dallas Fantasy Fair use to be a twice yearly comics/science fiction convention. Sadly,
it died soon after Weird Business came out.
A rare Klaw-written fiction project, the first issue of Wings actually came out from MU Press.
At the time most comics were stapled and had no spines. Anything with a spine (like
a traditional book) is considered perfect bound.