Saturday, June 24, 2017

0028: Ta-booted

Collectors like their anniversaries, that's for sure. Tenths, Hundredths, Fiftieths; any excuse for a nostalgia party is as good as any other. So, while I was digging through some anthologies looking for more bits of Mr. X appearances to blog about, I found an item that would be experiencing its 25th Anniversary this year-- would be, except for the fact that it never happened.

From 1988 to 1992 Stephen R. Bissette published eight issues of TABOO through SpiderBaby Grafix & Publications. TABOO was an anthology devoted to horror that was unlike anything else at the time. Each issue was a trade paperback running over 100 pages with painted covers, no ads, mostly in black and white, but with some sections in color and occasionally changing paper stock if that was appropriate for the story. It launched Jeff Nicholson's "Through the Habitrails" (after a brief preview in Dave Sim's "Cerebus") and Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's "From Hell". Moore one wrote about "From Hell" that "without the existence of TABOO it would not have been written." It was where Charles Burns' "Contagious", the original version of his "Teen Plague" story which in turn was expanded into the series "Black Hole", was originally published. So, it seemed an ideal place for Neil Gaiman (writer of "Sandman") and Michael Zulli (artist of "Puma Blues") to serialize an adaptation of "Sweeney Todd".

Michael Zulli's contributions to TABOO:
in #2 (1989) "Mercy" 6pp
in #3 (1989) cover, "We Are All Flesh", oil on panel board
in #4 (1990) "Babycakes" w/Neil Gaiman, 4pp
in #5 (1991) "Again" (with Ramsey Campbell, 27pp
and back cover "My Only Love", watercolor and pastel
in #6 (1992) "Holly's Story" with five-year-old Holly Gaiman, 6pp
in #8 (06/95) back cover, "Night Gaunt"
[not in #1,9 or the 1991 Especial]

Also in #6 is Neil Gaiman's 4-page "Blood Monster", drawn by Nancy J. O'Connor.

On the left is the first page of a coverless 16-page pamphlet included loose (under shrinkwrap) with issue #6. Below is the pack page. Although known as a 'preview' of the serial, there are no completed pages. There are a handful of portrait sketches by Zulli but even more public domain period illustrations and mostly text quoting from 19th Century versions of the story with
historical context by Gaiman interspersed throughout. There are some databases that list this as "Penny Dreadful", the name given on the inside on p.2.

In issue #7 (1992), the serial starts with a Prologue in which Zulli draws himself and Gaiman scouting locations so that the period architecture could be drawn accurately once the actual story begins. At least one key structure had been relocated since the events on which the stories were based happened and some of the dialogue involves explaining how and why that was, and how the London of their adaptation will look different from the London of today. The Prologue is 26 pages, not including the text introductory page which gives a capsule take on the 16-page preview and pocket resum├ęs for Gaiman and Zulli.

And that was it. There was a color 24"X35" poster for the serial advertised in the back of issue #7, $12.95@ or, for one of 500 signed copies, $19.95. Despite assistance from Kevin Eastman and Tundra, TABOO was cancelled. Three years later, after Tundra merged with Kitchen Sink, TABOO was revived for issues #8 and 9. Some of the contributors from the SpiderBaby days returned, but "Sweeney Todd" did not play out.

About five years ago, Bissette unearthed a case or bundle of the "Penny Dreadful" pamphlet and began including them free with back catalog orders for various things he had published over the years, such as "Tyrant". Putting that many mint copies into circulation downgraded it from "ultra rare" to "still pretty friggin' rare", especially when compared to the print runs of virtually any other Gaiman project. So, if somebody is selling it for more than you'd spend on comics in a month, caveat emptor. It's definitely unique text and a fascinating, if brief, read about how durable a good murder story is. But if they're selling it as though it were a rare comics story, give them the skunk eye and walk away. They don't know their own product.

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