|Home Comix Reviews Blog About Shows Shop Interviews History Links|
City Limits Comix by Bruce Chrislip
Dateline: Youngstown, Ohio. I graduated from college in 1978 with a newly-minted Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a burning desire to become a professional cartoonist. Step one was to get my work in print so that an audience could read it. The easiest way to achieve that goal, it seemed to me, was to publish my own comix in small print runs and build from there.
So I published 200 copies of City Limits Comix #1 in early 1979 while I was working at my first post-college job as Public Relations Director with the local chapter of the American Red Cross. I did a fair amount of writing in my day job, so it had its creative element. But I was quickly bored with it and City Limits Comix provided the perfect artistic project to sink my teeth into. Enlisting the help of local cartoonists Daryll Collins, Bud Perkins and Joe Zabel, my 12-page digest-size offset comix creation took form. Daryll and Joe had been with me in our Youngstown State University comic book club. I met Bud at a comic book convention.
City Limits Comix was our attempt to promote ourselves – a bunch of young, hopeful cartoonists from Youngstown, Ohio. There was a definite underground comix influence to some of the material. Joe and I were both interested in undergrounds and they seemed to offer a greater opportunity to be published than the Marvel-D.C. Comics offered. What we didn’t know was how poorly underground comix paid.
I was over at Joe Zabel’s apartment studio and he showed me a wonderful pen & ink drawing with plentiful zipatone shading of a man and a woman marooned on a floating asteroid. This impressive piece of art became the front cover. The City Limits logo was designed by Bud Perkins. (It was used on all three issues of City Limits Comix and all 15 issues of my later publication – the City Limits Gazette.)
Joe also supplied a well-drawn 3-page strip called “Relics.” Unfortunately, Joe gave me zipatone-embellished photocopies instead of the original art and it printed a little light. Fine lines faded away and background details were indistinct. On the other hand, the photocopies imparted a wonderfully ambiguous, otherworldly quality to the art. It made one question whether they were really seeing what they thought they were seeing. Appropriately, the story depicts a young man and woman exploring an alien planet.
The inside front cover of City Limits Comix #1 featured a Bud Perkins illo of a strange, muscular guy standing in a graveyard which graced an introduction page entitled “What Is All This?” which I now will quote in full:
At this late date, I’m not sure who the selected “outsiders” were supposed to be. That didn’t happen until the second issue a year later. Following the introduction, I produced two pages of funny comix. The first page, titled “Here We Are In 1979!” was a lampoon of still-current trends like disco music. The other page contained a couple of short pieces called “Stuff You Remember” focusing on twisted Youngstown nostalgia. Daryll Collins drew two short newspaper-style gag strips and two well-designed full-page illustrations – including a crazed vaudevillian wolf-type character for the back cover.
I had a hand in the back of the book features – a full-page collage strip called “Rough on Rats Rides Again” and a half-page jam strip called “Jam.” The full-pager was my attempt to put my B.F.A. degree to good use with a collage strip that echoed of dada art. I’d read about German artists like Kurt Schwitters who used found art in collages and it sounded like a great idea so I tried it on this page.
My brother Jim gave me some old magazines (circa 1917-1920) and I was fascinated by ads for something called Rough On Rats so that suggested part of my title. I rescued the rat poison name from the mists of obscurity, so it seemed a natural to add the phrase “Rides Again.” Other imagery came from old woodcuts, movie posters, a couple of comic book panels and several hand-drawn elements. “Rough on Rats Rides Again” was also inspired by some of Art Spiegelman’s experiments in comix storytelling.
A photograph of the original artwork for Rough on Rats Rides Again, from City Limits Comix #1
Looking for some feedback, I soon sent a copy of City Limits Comix #1 to Spiegelman himself. He responded with an encouraging note and a minicomic of his own called Work and Turn.
Joe Zabel, Bud Perkins and I got together on the half-page “Jam.” It was funny because Bud was mystified by the improvisational nature of comix jams. Brought up in a world of DC Comics titles like House of Mystery and Swamp Thing, Bud kept asking us, “How do we do this? Where’s the script?” Joe and I knew better. We modeled our activity on the Zap Comix jams and had a lot of fun drawing it. “Jam” doesn’t make much sense now in the re-reading but we sure enjoyed jamming.
A comix jam from Zap #3
I took the art from the first City Limits Comix to an offset print shop my father had told me about. This was a few years before the Xerox-type copy shop became ubiquitous. It was somewhere on the south side of Youngstown and the front of the shop contained a big open space that was completely bare save for the small rectangular “hole” cut into the far wall where I handed the artwork to an employee and got a receipt. (So you could literally say that I went to some hole-in-the-wall printer with that first issue.)
After it was printed, I placed ads in zines like Clay Geerdes’ Comix World and The Buyer’s Guide for Comics Fandom. In a matter of months, over half the 200-copy print run had been sold through mail order. That was enough encouragement to plan the second issue. I was well tuned into the small press comix network by then. In City Limits Comix #2, there was another Joe Zabel cover. There was also work by many other cartoonists active in minicomix and living all over the country.
That second issue featured a whole slew of future “pros”: Joe Zabel, Bill Loebs, Jim Valentino and Rick McCollum as well as Richard “Grass” Green (who already had some Charlton Comics and underground comix credits to his name.) The other guys went on to bigger and better things as well. (See “The Rest of the Story” at the end of this article for more details.)
Another big change between the first and second issues of City Limits Comix was the mailing address. By the summer of 1979, I had moved to Cincinnati from Youngstown, Ohio. I was no longer working for the American Red Cross and I was determined to devote more time to my cartooning. I started contributing to lots of other people’s minicomix, including those published by Clay Geerdes (Babyfat) and Everyman Studios (Pep Comix, Space Junk Comix and my solo title – Riffs).
Cincinnati was where City Limits Comix #2 was planned and published in the spring of 1980. Money was so tight that I published it in sections – one double-sided sheet at a time (which when folded became 4 digest-sized pages). Even at that, my brother David had to give me a small “artist’s grant” before I could finish the printing. Like the first issue, it was printed via photo offset (this time at a Postal Instant Press store in Cincinnati).
The front cover was kind of a four-way collaboration. The City Limits title was
The inside front cover featured my one-page strip “The City Limits Story” - sort of an editorial in comix form that explained who I was and how I came to be. I recounted the demise of Youngstown’s steel mills (with the demise of the local economy in the process) and my decision to move to Cincinnati for better artistic opportunities and 3-way chili.
Next came Jim Valentino’s strip featuring Hurricane Bob in “No Place to Go” (based on a true person/real incident). The same one-pager (as drawn by Gary Whitney) appeared in the Valentino/Whitney tandem comic Joint Effort. Comparing the two versions is fun because much of the staging in the individual panels is similar but it’s a kick to see how the two different cartoonists handled the same story.
It was a great page, but there’s two things I’ll always remember about it. Valentino sent the original art and I was really impressed by his brushwork on the large-size bristol board sheet. The other thing was the frantic note that I got from Valentino about a week or so after the art came in the mail. He asked me to send it back right away because he wanted to put it in a portfolio to impress a prestigious client. At some expense, I immediately shipped it off by Federal Express Overnight Mail (something that was not yet commonplace back in 1980.) When he got the art back so quickly, Valentino expressed amazement and said something along the lines of, “I didn’t need the art back that fast!”
Page three featured “Two Jams” done in conjunction with Ken Fletcher at the 1979 Minneapolis Comicon. (Actually, he drew a few sketches for me and I added my part later after getting back to Ohio.) Ken Fletcher was a member of the funny animal apa Vootie and was a fixture of the Minneapolis science fiction/comix scene. Then as now, I really admired his cartooning style. The 1979 Minneapolis Comicon itself was memorable because I was got to meet Captain Marvel creator C.C. Beck and fabled Warner Brothers cartoon director Bob Clampett at a hotel room party hosted by convention organizer and fanzine editor David Mruz.
A photograph of the original art from City Limits Comix #2
The major feature in the issue was Rick McCollum’s “Strange Teenage Fantasies” – a six-page excursion into weirdness using the University of Cincinnati dormitory Sander Hall as a backdrop. A trip in the dorm elevator leads to a trip through outer space and to our protagonist being cast adrift on an “arid and foreboding world.” Years later, the real Sander Hall was imploded (and McCollum’s hero is probably still wandering that barren planet). This story was reminiscent of something from the old Heavy Metal magazines. It was also superior to 75% of the comix that were published there, in my humble (if not subtle) opinion.
My most memorable contribution to City Limits Comix #2 was a page called “Steel Mill Rock” detailing local Youngstown, Ohio rock ‘n’ roll history. Believe it or not - Alan Freed (the disc jockey who coined the term rock and roll), “Rama Lama Ding Dong,” and the Human Beinz (who scored a top ten hit with “Nobody But Me”) were all from the Steel Valley (as Youngstown was once known).
Daryll Collins contributed a haunting full-page illustration of a grimacing soldier wearing an ornate helmet. The inside front cover featured Grass Green’s one-page comic “Mars II.” The god of war was tired of Aphrodite’s “bitching” and decided to hang out on earth for a while. “Mars II ” was the splash page to a comic book story that Green never finished. I felt the splash page was strong enough to stand on its own as a one-pager. It was an editorial decision that didn’t cause too much of an uproar. (Although a couple of readers asked me “where’s the rest of it?”)
Jamie Alder supplied the back cover “Cobweb Blues” – perhaps the greatest strip he ever did. “Inspiration waits on tables at Howard Johnson’s.” This one-pager was so popular that it was reprinted in other comix. Unlike the rest of us, Jamie (Bill Shut) had the integrity to resist any temptations to “go pro.”
Nine years passed before there was another issue of City Limits Comix. Issue #3 was billed as the “10th Anniversary Issue” and indeed it was. In the intervening years, I had moved from Cincinnati to Seattle, Washington. I published fifteen issues of my underground/newave comix zine – the City Limits Gazette – and had published lots of minicomix and met lots of cartoonists (minicomix and otherwise). From 1986-1987, I had also helped Michael Dowers publish some actual comic books under the Starhead Comix imprint.
When I published issue #3 in November 1989, I had access to a nice Kodak photocopier at my day job. The cover was every bit as sharp as those on the photo offset earlier issues had been. Unlike the earlier issues, City Limits Comix #3 was mostly a showcase for my own work. The only other artists in the issue were those that contributed to some jam drawings I had originated: David Patterson, Bob Vojtko, Steve Willis and Gary Wray.
Besides the four jam drawings, the 16 pages were filled out by a collection of one-page humorous comix pages I had drawn. Some like “It’s Fun to Draw” and “Overheard in My Subconscious” had already seen print in Dave Sim’s series of Cerebus reprint comics (Cerebus Bi-Weekly, etc.). Other pages were obscure originals. But I had already broken into the professional ranks of comic book cartooning as an artist and as a publisher before City Limits Comix #3 was created. I was staring to look at minicomix in a different way.
Strangely, even though I was able to print issue #3 for free on weekends at my day job, it had a very small print run – maybe 30 to 50 copies. Maybe I was just feeling guilty indulging in this exercise of “contraband” printing. By 1989, things had changed in the minicomix world. Ten years earlier, a relatively small group of people were drawing minis. Now there were hundreds of people drawing them—and thousands of minicomix. In 1979, I could sell the first hundred copies of City Limits Comix in a few months. Even though City Limits Comix #3 was printed in a small run, it took months to sell ten copies. Times had changed.
The Rest of the Story
I’m very proud to say that the various contributors to the three issues of City Limits Comix have gone on to impressive careers in small press and professional comics over the years. Here’s an annotated guide to some of that work.
Richard “Grass" Green
The first issue of Bud Perkins Comics was published in April 1979, just two months after City Limits Comix #1 had appeared. I also published a digest-sized horror comic by Bud called Grue-Toons. It was a 16-page digest comic that was published in September of 1979 (“just in time for Halloween,” as I promoted it in ads). The cover illustration showed a horrified young woman encountering a skeletal figure in a forlorn graveyard beneath a fantastic dripping letter logo that spelled out the title “GRUE-TOONS.”
Soon, Bud was making trips to the D.C. Comics offices in New York to get feedback on his portfolio. He was serious about breaking into the comic book business but the editors felt he wasn’t ready.
Bud did place a comics story, “The Mothman,” in Charlton’s Scary Tales #37 (March 1983). The two-pager was based on a story idea by Joe Zabel. It was exciting to see his work in print in a real comic book after all these years, but a career as a full-time comic book artist was not to be. Bud’s father was a professional sign painter of some note around Youngstown and Bud ended up following in his father’s footsteps. He opened his own sign business and made a great success of it.
After a stint as publisher of Image Comics, in recent years Valentino has returned to his minicomix roots with not only humor comics titles like Drawing From Life but also contributions to Dan Taylor’s minicomix title Time Warp Comix.
Special Note: I have recently printed a limited 30th anniversary edition of City Limits Comix #2. Limited to just ten copies, each one is signed and numbered at a price of $20.00 each postpaid. Interested parties can contact me, Bruce Chrislip, via email. Mention City Limits Comix #2 in the subject line.
Many thanks to Bruce for allowing me to host his article and to his wife Joan for the photography. Article is copyright Bruce Chrislip. Artwork is copyright by the individual artists.
Cartoonist Cartoonist Interviews
Original content Copyright © 2009 Richard Krauss.
All other copyrights belong to their respective owners.