This essay is based on a presentation the author made at THATCamp 2013: Forging Digital Frontiers, at Boise State. Comic books are yet another medium that is undergoing the rocky, sensational transition from print to digital. In this essay, Asker reviews Idaho’s place in comic book history and captures the diversity of the current comics scene in Boise. (With correction appended to Edgar Rice Burroughs section on 3/31/14.)
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The Leader, a nemesis of The Incredible Hulk, was Samuel Sterns of Boise, Idaho before a mishap with gamma radiation. Batman and his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, are listed, ironically, in an old Sun Valley/Ketchum/Hailey phonebook. And in another strange, ancillary connection between the comic book world and the State of Idaho, there is the queer and curious tale of the Ernest Hemingway-Batman continuum. Fans of Hemingway have often wondered what happened to the gun with which Papa committed suicide.
According to Roger Sanger in Hemingway’s Guns: The Sporting Arms of Ernest Hemingway, the Hemingway family had the gun sliced up by a welder in Ketchum and the remnants buried in an Idaho field in 1961. Those gun pieces are probably still there, lying beneath the home of Adam West, television’s Batman.
While New York City is the headquarters for The Big Two in the comic book biz: DC Comics and Marvel Comics, two of the bigger publishers outside of the Big Apple are located in Northwest: Fantagraphics in Seattle and Dark Horse Comics in Portland, Oregon. Idaho artists have influenced sequential art and illustration since at least the late 19th Century, when Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs spent time here, through the 1960s, when Moscow and Boise were briefly home to an underground “comix” scene to the graphic novel renaissance of today, led in part by public libraries.
BURROUGHS OUT WEST
Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of the Tarzan and John Carter of Mars characters, is perhaps the best known and certainly the earliest Idaho connection to sequential art. He lived in Idaho on three separate occasions in his life. Like his Tarzan in the jungle, Burroughs adapted to his surroundings in Idaho, far from “civilization,” became a man and used his experiences and new skills to his advantage in his later storytelling.
Editor’s note appended (2/25/14); correction appended to the remainder of this section 3/31/14 to clarify and broaden sources.It can be argued that Idaho, more than any other place that Burroughs lived, had the biggest impact on his writing. The horsemanship skills that he learned during his time in the wild west of Idaho were fertile material for the Western novels that he wrote. Also, during one of his stints in Eastern Idaho, Burroughs received a blow to the back of the head with a billy club in a bar fight that, according to his biographer, Irwin Porges, left him with nightmares and hallucinations that he dealt with for the remainder of his life. While some may attribute the boundless imagination displayed in Edgar’s later work to that head injury, at a minimum, David Arthur Adams argued, it helps explain the frequent head injuries to which Tarzan was subjected. Comparatively, his Chicago-based character, The Mucker, has been largely forgotten by history.
Burroughs first visited the Gem State in 1891 when his parents sent him away from Chicago to avoid a flu epidemic that was ravaging the city at the time, according to his official biography on Tarzan.org. His older brothers, George and Harry, were already in Cassia County convalescing from lung damage they incurred from inhaling fumes while working that their father’s battery factory. Burroughs was 15 years old at the time.
Burroughs worked at his brothers’ ranch near the confluence of the Raft and Snake Rivers making daily trips to American Falls for mail and supplies. When school started up again his parents sent him to a boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts.
According to his biographers, Burroughs later graduated from a military boarding school in Michigan and his brothers asked Idaho Congressman Willis Sweet, the first United States Representative elected from Idaho following statehood in 1890, to nominate him for West Point. When he was not chosen for West Point, Burroughs enlisted in the U. S. Cavalry and was later honorably discharged for a heart condition that made it difficult for him to perform his duties.
Burroughs returned to Idaho again in 1898 during the spring roundup at his brothers’ Bar-Y Ranch (for Yale). He briefly owned a photo/stationary business at 233 West Center Street in Pocatello, according to another article on the ERB Zine site. Burroughs also received that famous head injury in a bar fight during this second stint in Idaho.
Edgar returned to Chicago in 1899 and married his childhood sweetheart. They returned to Idaho together in 1903 to help his brother George with one of his gold dredges in the Stanley Basin on the Salmon River. The Historic Preservation Commission in Rupert displays a large commemorative sign that mentions the Burroughs gold dredges. The young couple later moved to Parma on the Snake River, joining another family dredging operation. During his time in Parma, Burroughs ran for the position of city alderman and won.
It was also around this time that Burroughs wrote a short piece of fiction called Minidoka. He wrote it by hand on the backs of bills and old stationary that he had accrued from his failed stationary shop. The book was published over 100 years later as Minidoka: 937th Earl of One Mile by Dark Horse Comics. The Minidoka book, drawn by Michael W. Kaluta and Peet Janes, was written eight years before Burroughs hit it big with Tarzan.
In 1904, Burroughs left Idaho for the final time after the unsuccessful mining company folded, according to ERB Zine.
Edgar’s first published work under his own name, Tarzan of the Apes, was serialized in the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine in October 1912. Pulp magazines were early precursors to comic books and many adventure heroes, like Tarzan, Zorro, The Shadow, Buck Rogers and Conan the Barbarian, got their start there before moving on to comic books. For more information on Edgar Rice Burroughs, including his time in Idaho, see ERBzine.com and Coeur d’Alene Press.
The serialized Tarzan story was later released as a novel in 1914. Other artists adapted Tarzan of the Apes as a newspaper comic strip in 1929 and the character made his first comic book appearance in 1947. Dark Horse Comics still publishes Tarzan comic books to this day. Additionally, Dynamite Entertainment currently publishes John Carter and Dejah Thoris (Carter’s future girlfriend/wife) comic books The Warlord of Mars and The Warlord of Mars: Dejah Thoris. Although Burroughs was primarily a writer, and not an illustrator, his creation of the Tarzan character cemented his place in the annals of Idaho sequential art history.
IDAHO, THE COMIC BOOK
It was not until the 1960s that Idaho provided fodder for another comic book series.
In 1963, on the centennial of President Abraham Lincoln establishing the Idaho Territory, Dell Comics of New York City published a comic book called Idaho about a hard riding cowboy hero. According to Hollywood television writer and comic book historian Mark Evanier, these comic books were written by Carl Memling, penciled by Maurice Whitman and inked by frequent Jack Kirby collaborator Vince Colletta. Idaho ran for eight issues and ceased publication in 1965.
The Idaho comic book featured relatively generic cowboy adventure stories; none of the gentlemen who worked on this comic book were actually from Idaho.
DAVE STEVENS’ THE ROCKETEER
In the 1980s, Dave Stevens, creator of The Rocketeer, who reignited interest in 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page, lived in Boise for a few years. The Rocketeer was the first masked super-hero created by an Idahoan.
The Rocketeer was about a stunt airplane pilot named Cliff Secord who lived in 1938 Hollywood and stumbled upon a mysterious jet pack that allowed him to fly. It is a Hitchcockian tale of a man in the wrong place at the wrong time, pursued by both the U.S. government and Nazi spies. The Rocketeer was heavily influenced by the “Rocket Man” character of the Republic Studios movie serials from the ‘40s and ‘50s.
Dave was an amazing artist; one of the best in the history of the comic book medium. Before starting his work on The Rocketeer, Stevens inked Russ Manning’s artwork for the Tarzan comic strip and he was the storyboard artist for Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark movie and Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video. Sadly, he passed away in 2008 from hairy cell leukemia just a few months before Bettie Page, with whom he had become good friends, also died.
BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY’S 3-D COMIC BOOK
A year after the first Rocketeer stories were published, a second super hero from Idaho made his first appearance: V-Man!
In 1984, Boise State University English Professor Tom Trusky wanted to include something singularly unique in his award-winning college literary magazine, Cold-Drill. Boise State’s Cold-Drill magazine was known for its unusual format. Instead of a standard magazine style, Cold-Drill was packaged as loose leaf literature in a box and it included all sorts of out of the ordinary items such as The Hot Thrill, a pulp magazine within a magazine written by Trusky’s Boise State English students. Another edition featured an insert called Vanity Fair in which students wrote the longest poem they could muster in 30 seconds. The resulting poems were then sent to vanity presses asking for honest appraisals. The worst poems were published side-by-side with their corresponding cloying letters of praise.
At the time, there hadn’t been a 3-D comic book printed in the industry for about 13 years. The Adventures of Joe Hero, Alias V-Man by Marie Guise, was so unique that Trusky decided to sell the item by itself in addition to the copies that would appear within that year’s edition of Cold-Drill. Copies were sold, complete with a set of 3-D glasses, at the Boise State University bookstore and through the mail as Trusky took out ads in comic book trade magazines. Orders for the comic book poured in from all over the country.
The Adventures of Joe Hero, Alias V-Man was a satire of Boise Police Department raids on massage parlors in the early 1980s. The gist of the story was that the crackdown on these establishments by the vice squad merely succeeded in moving these businesses outside of Boise city limits to nearby Kuna, Melba and Star.
In 1985, Marie Guise won a Gold Circle Award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for her work on The Adventures of Joe Hero, Alias V-Man. She won second place in the humor division.
Even though 500 copies of Cold-Drill were printed and more copies of The Adventures of Joe Hero, Alias V-Man appeared, it is exceedingly difficult to get ahold of this rare Idaho gem.
THE 90s BOOM
In the 1990s, there was a boom in the comic book industry. The issue of creators’ rights over those of corporations prompted favorite writers and artists to leave the Big Two and strike out on their own. New comics companies created greater demand in the marketplace as speculators bought up multiple issues with variant covers hoping to find the next comic book sensation and strike gold.
A few comic book creators with Idaho connections made the scene as well. The first was Andy Garcia. Andy was originally from El Paso, Texas and worked at the New Mythology Comic Book Shop on Broadway Avenue in Boise while he wrote and drew Oblivion City and Seth Throb: Underground Artist for Slave Labor Graphics in San Jose, California. These stories were semi-autobiographical, funny, science fiction stories of Garcia’s doppelganger, Seth Throb, and his life as an artist in a town remarkably similar to Boise.
Idaho natives Scott Pentzer, Jason Hill and Kevin Hill founded Bishop Press in Boise in 1995. Andy Garcia also assisted this company by inking Scott Pentzer’s penciling. The Hill brothers used to own the 1,000,000 Comix comic book shop on Overland in the 90s. It was from that location that they published Rose & Gunn and Sade.
Rose & Gunn was about a private investigation firm run by a female bodybuilder/MMA fighter and her partner, an expert hunter/tracker. Sade was a story about a young woman who takes revenge on those who sexually abused her in the past. Sade was quite a bit like Stieg Larrson’s Lisbeth Salander character from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
These were the only comic books published in the state of Idaho to be featured in the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. Later, London Night Studios of Hickory, North Carolina absorbed Bishop Press.
THE GRANDFATHER OF IDAHO UNDERGROUND COMICS
Dennis P. Eichhorn is considered the grandfather of Idaho underground comics. He produced the very first comic books published in the state of Idaho when he put out Heavystreet Comikx No. 1 in 1969 and later The Moscow Duck Review No. 1 in 1974. These comics were heavily influenced by Robert Crumb’s counter-culture classic, Zap Comics. Like most underground “comix” of the time, these comic books supported pot legalization, free love and were critical of the Vietnam War and “authority” figures.
In the 1990s, Eichhorn wrote Real Stuff for Fantagraphics in Seattle. He has so many larger than life tales that many people think that he writes fiction rather than the autobiographical stories for which his Real Stuff comic books are known. Some of the experiences that Eichhorn has documented in his comic book series include seeing a man nearly die while parachuting into Boise State’s Bronco Stadium with a game ball after his parachute malfunctioned, corresponding with Charles Bukowski who sent him an original poem that he published in Real Stuff, No. 2 and getting a ride from Senator Frank Church and his wife from Lewiston back to Moscow after a night of tripping out on acid and nearly getting shot.
Eichhorn graduated from Borah High School in 1963. He was offered a football scholarship by the grandfather of Bronco football, Boise Junior College Head Coach Lyle Smith, but turned it down to take an illegal, under-the-table scholarship from a four-year school: Whitman College in Walla Walla. While at Whitman he pledged the same fraternity as future Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick and played football with future Hollywood actor Dirk Benedict (who played Starbuck in “Battlestar Galactica” and Lieutenant Templeton “Faceman” Peck in “The A-Team”). He would later say that he regretted not accepting Smith’s scholarship offer as things didn’t work out for him at Whitman and he later transferred to Boise Junior College anyway, graduating in 1966.
After graduating from Boise, Dennis transferred to the University of Idaho and played on the football team alongside Ray McDonald, a superb athlete who made it to the NFL but was never given a fair shake from the Washington Redskins because he was gay.
Eichhorn made the biggest splash of any Idahoan in the comic book industry to date when he received multiple Eisner Award nominations in 1993. This is the equivalent of being nominated for an Oscar. He was nominated as Best Writer along with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Frank Miller among others. His comic book, Real Stuff, also received nominations that year for Best Continuing Series and Best Anthology and received another nomination the following year for Best Anthology. Dennis contributed a story to a comic book series, The Spirit: The New Adventures, which won a Harvey Award in 1999. More recently, his book, The Legend of Wild Man Fischer, was nominated for an Ignatz Award in 2005. Although these are all very high honors, Eichhorn has said that, “the nicest thing that has ever happened to me as a writer was getting a card from (Charles) Bukowski that simply read ‘Welcome to the club.’”
Recently, some of Eichhorn’s work has been made available online by Boingboing.
THE IDAHO-TORI AMOS-COMIC CONNECTION
In 2009, Lewiston’s Rantz Hoseley won both Eisner and Harvey Awards for his work in comics. Hoseley edited a graphic novel anthology that was a collection of 51 stories based on or inspired by the songs of his good friend, recording artist Tori Amos. This book featured an introduction by Neil Gaiman and won the 2009 Eisner Awards for Best Anthology and Best Publication Design and the 2009 Harvey Award for Best Anthology.
IDAHO COMICS TODAY
There are many more comic book creators from Idaho including Rich Leonardi (who lived briefly in Sun Valley in the 90s and drew The Uncanny X-Men), Ty Wakefield of Lewiston (who created Captain Cancer and passed away in 2001), Allen Gladfelter of Boise (Disney/Pixar’s Cars, Strongman and Occupy Comics), Randall Kirby of Nampa (BOP! Comics and LGBT themed comics), Dame Darcy of Idaho Falls (Meatcake), Jim Sumii of Boise (Tura and Eva), Steve Willhite of Payette (FUBAR), Joëlle Jones of Boise (The Adventures of Superman, Dr. Horrible, 12 Reasons Why I Love Her) and others.
The Idaho comic book scene is more active today than ever before. The Boise Public Library held its first annual Library Comic Con in August 2013 and is assembling a comic book anthology to benefit the Friends of the Boise Public Library. Dennis P. Eichhorn has released a new book from Poochie Press in Seattle called Real Good Stuff.
There is also a new publisher in Boise called Mystery House Comics that has just put out a crime noir book called Shivertown, by Jon Keithley and Shanae LaVelle, about an artist who reluctantly works for her father’s private investigation firm.
Along with the current 10-issue Shivertown story arc that Keithley and LaVelle are working on, the pair wants to organize the would-be comic book creators of Boise into a synergistic community. Shivertown No. 1 is available for purchase at indyplanet and signed copies are at etsy.
“While I was brainstorming the identity and personality of my company,” said Keithley, “and talking about it around town, I was made aware of just how many people there are who have dreamed of doing the same thing and were thwarted by not even knowing where to begin.”
To this end, Keithley organizes “Drink and Draws” at the Spacebar Arcade downtown where people can swap stories and get feedback on projects they are working on, as well as make some professional connections and partnerships. In addition, 10 Barrel Brewing is making a beer named after their comic book to commemorate its second issue. They are also partnering with Josh Shapel and Erica Crockett to put together an anthology of local Boise writers and artists.
Idaho writers and artists continue the heritage of Idaho sequential art inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs and passed down through the generations to Dennis P. Eichhorn, to Dave Stevens, to Joëlle Jones and so on. As we enter our third century of Idaho sequential art, changes in the publishing industry, the explosion of the graphic novel format and trends in the comic book scene pose challenges and opportunities to small-scale comic artists in places like Idaho.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of Boise State University, the Center for Idaho History and Politics, or the School of Public Service.