1987: Alien Fire

Alien Fire (1987) #1-3,
Alien Fire: Pass in Thunder (1995) by Anthony F. Smith and Eric Vincent

I had the first three of these comics as a teenager, and I remember really liking them. The only thing I can remember of them now, though, is that they had a kinda elegiac mood going on… and that the story wasn’t finished. So let’s read the comics.

So we start with a couple of quotes from Jack Kerouac and Ambrose Bierce, as one does, and then mysterious post-apocalyptic images, including a schlubby guy with schlubby nerdy 70s glasses and hairdo….

And then it’s all about growing up on a farm and being helped by… er… somebody? This isn’t what I (didn’t) remember!

Tee hee. It was just a fake out — it turns out the people helping those farmers on Earth were these lemur like people, and they apparently fighting off… dinosaur… pirates or something.

I’m totally on board, even if the cutesy lettering and spelling to indicate various species is tiresome.

The artwork, by late-era underground artist Eric Vincent looks quite pleasing — it’s got that vibe where all these different creatures look quite natural inhabiting the same space.

I think this is supposed to be a meet cute — it turns out that the bespectacled nerd and the tattooed woman are the only humans in space (or something). But man, does it make the nerdy guy look like a creep? Or what? First stare at her crotch, then her boobs, and finally her face.

It turns out that American 50s pop culture memorabilia is all the rage all over the universe, because… er… because… a plastic statuette of Popeye is intrinsically interesting and… er… uhm…

Or could it be because this is the thinnest layered Mary Sue thing in the history of comics? Could Anthony F. Smith be a man from the US, in the same general age range as this nerd, and be a nerd himself that’s really into 50s US pop culture memorabilia?

I’m asking because I have absolutely no idea. Googling him doesn’t turn up anything much.

But at least they poke fun at the schlub. (On the other hand, perhaps this is supposed to be poignant.)

Things get a lot more interesting and weird in the second issue — it turns out that an alien hive species had visited Earth and stolen a gumball machine. This turned out be the most exciting thing this species had ever seen, and just coming into contact with it warped their minds and made them into freewheeling individuals. Who must then be stamped out, which the queen does: She has them all killed.

Except for one worker that escapes, and then she wants to eradicate Earth because of the gumball machine’s pernicious influence, and it ties up with the crew of the nerd and.

What I’m saying is is that this is quite entertaining. It’s got loopy, funny ideas, and uses them as serious plot points, and wraps it all up in a 50s Ray Bradbury tone of storytelling — a bit ponderous, very sentimental, but interesting.

Nerd guy drinks some alien ayahuasca and goes on a spirit trip, as one does.

But, man, the verbiage… They spend so much time on the (totally trivial and uninteresting) backstory of the nerd that the plot doesn’t move forward much. I feel like they had already started losing interest in the series by the third issue?

But they keep introducing new and interesting characters…

There hadn’t really been anything contextualising the story in the first two issues — it had been nothing but story pages. But in the third and final issue, we get the first “next issue…” blurb, which was the traditional way in 80s indie comics to announce that the series had been cancelled.

Kitchen says:

This highly praised science fiction comic came out of the chute strong (#1 sold over 30,000 copies) and showed tremendous promise, but the complex plot, bizarre array of aliens and relative dearth of humans evidently proved too challenging to the average comics buyer. Sales on Alien Fire dropped precipitously and the series was cancelled by publisher Kitchen Sink Press after the 3rd issue when Vincent had to chose between finishing the 12-issue series or retaining a girlfriend who wanted to eat and pay the landlord.

It’s also possible that the Black And White Bust just decimated the series along with basically everything else.

So almost a decade later we get this book. I think it’s the first book in this blog series from the era after Kitchen Sink “bought” Tundra?

We get an introduction that extols the schlubby point-of-view character…

… but then it turns out that the rest of the book doesn’t really have anything much to do with what went on in the first three issues. It’s a prequel, and the story is about that 50s car, and how the nerd came to sell it. It’s a very oddly structured story — I like not knowing where things are going, but it felt abstruse at points.

But it’s traditional in other ways. And as there’s a death in the car, I though “I betcha there’s gonna be a birth in the car later” and sure enough: The story ends with an alien frog queen giving birth to a prince in the car.

It’s the circle of life.

But again, I guess this means that they really did lose interest in the storyline about the hive destroying Earth because of the gumball machine, because here’s a 64 page book where they could have done something with that story, and they didn’t.

We also get a reprint of an Alien Fire story printed a couple years before.

There’s a huge article about Alien Fire in Amazing Heroes #121, page 25:

Ed is more than just the sole
human aboard the Wooden Bird.
He is also one of the few humans
that figure in the outer space
sequences of the book. To some
extent, that is a key raison d’etre
of Alien Fire. “One of the intrigu-
ing things about aliens is that they
are.. .alien.” Anthony said,
tongue firmly implanted in cheek.
Actually, Ed in the book, in point
of fact, is the real alien character.
Here in outer space everyone has
their hor;nes, cultures and fellow
members of their species still ac-
cessible. Ed is very alone. “We’ve
taken the one human character and
stuck him in a bunch of alien situa-
tions with a bunch of people that
he cah’t relate to. That feeling of
confusion, that feeling of loss, that
feeling of.. .alienation is intend-
ed to be there,” Anthony said. We
see and experience much through
Ed’s perspective; the story in
effect, mirrors Ed’s confusion.
Anthony speculated, “I’m afraid
readers are going to assume it
indicates a lack of control in the
storytelling, when in fact we’re do-
ing exactly what we intend.”
The first issue ends with Ed, as
he has many times before, retir-
ing to one of the ships’s holds and
dancing to old Fifties Earth music
and drinking himself into stupor.
The song is “Jailhouse Rock,”
which isneant to be kind of an
ironic reference…when he says,
“Earth’s national anthem,” refer-
ing to its pariah status.
“Our story, in a large part, deals
with loneliness and suffering,
what it is and how it tempers the
soul, what it does to the individual
in making him mature.”

The Comics Journal #117, page 60:

Alkn Fire is still in an embryonic Stage,
but it’s shaping up as a memorable
achievement in science fiction storytelling
in comics. Artist Eric Vincent, whose
work has appeared in a variety of alter-
native comics, has toiled for the past
several years without much recognition.
And Anthony F. Smith, who collaborates
with Vincent in writing Alien Fire, has
had an active hand in a number of pub-
lishing ventures, including Paper Cuts.
Working together, they have created a
complex, futuristic epic that is both
absorbing and intelligent. I base these
comments on the first two issues, and I
eagerly await subsequent installments.


I predict Alien Fire will garner Vin-
cent and Smith a following. Kitchen Sink
again warrants praise for supporting a new
title that aims to bring a new intelligence
and level of sophistication to science fic-
tion in comics.

Chester Brown is interviewed in The Comics Journal #135, page 92:

GRAMMEL: boking through your issues, at one point
you said this was a good time to support the black-and-
whites, and you mentioned Alien Fire. Did it scare you
that a book that good could die ? I don ‘t know about you,
but I thought Alien Fire was very, very impressive.
BROWN: Yeah, I agree. [Pause] Yeah, it was scary,
because Alien Fire wasn’t the only comic book that was
doing poorly at the time. Everything was. All the black-
and-whites were suffering. And, yeah, it was very
GRAMMEL: I had said, ‘ ‘so what?” to most Ofthe Com-
ics that had ended because Of the glut, but I was amazed
that Alien Fire didn ‘t continue. ‘found the second issue
to be one of the most moving comics I’ve ever read.
BROWN: I know. Wasn’t it great?

This is the eighty-seventh post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1986: Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book

Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book (1986) by Harvey Kurtzman

As Art Spiegelman explains in the introduction, this book was originally published in 1959 by Ballantines as a pocket book — so about half the size of this book and on normal paperback stock.

And Kurtzman drew the thing on blue-lined paper that was supposed to not be picked up by the repro camera… but it was, giving the entire thing a rather messy look.

This is, of course, another book of Kurtzman-style parodies (and satires). The first story is a parody of the Peter Gunn TV series, which I’ve never seen, so I have absolutely no idea whether this is on point or not. I’m pretty sure it’s not actually that funny, though.

However, the artwork sure is nice.

The second story is much more successful — it’s a poisonous look at the magazine publishing history, so here Kurtzman gets to vent on his own behalf.

It turns out that publishers are venal, petty creatures. Who knew?

The cowboy parody has more gags, and this thing, where a psychologist teases out why the sheriff feels the need to have shootouts where he can see whether he can draw the gun faster than anybody else… it’s pretty ingenious.

Finally, Kurtzman takes a look at Texas, and determines that Texans are all morons. It seems pretty accurate and is drawn from his time there.

The book reads well, overall — it’s fun to look at Kurtzman’s characters and line work. However, most of the gags are pretty weak, but I can see myself thinking it was pretty clever when I was, like 14.

Dale Luciano writes in The Comics Journal #117, page 51:

Three remarkable new publications, each
preserving significant work from an
acknowledged comics master for posterity,
have appeared from Kitchen Sink Press
during the past six months. Each is a
cultural treasure, and Kitchen Sink merits
praise for investing the time, effort, and
expense to make available what are, I sus-
pect, only marginally profitable projects.
The first is a hardcover reprint edition
Of Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle Book.
Jungle Book has historical significance as
the fißt mass-market paperback to consist
of entirely original comic material. (Bal•
lantine Books commissioned the book in
1959 as competition for the popular line
of MAD paperback reprints.) Mostly, it
is the stunning show of a gifted satirist—
perhaps the most subservise talent ever
to have worked in comics—performing at
the peak of his skills.


The book’s second piece, “The Organ-
ization Man,” is a genuine classic, repre-
senting a certain mode of satire that
Kurtzman pioneered during the 1950s. It
is a venomously funny black satire on the
corrupting effects of greed in the New
York publishing world. (The title derives
from three influential books written about
the business world during the 1950s, so
the story has its origins in parody as well;
Man in the Grey Flannel Suit and Exec-
ulive Suite were hugely popular film
adaptations of best-selling novels.) Kurtz-
man kicks off the story by having Good-
man Beaver arrive for his first day on the
job at “Shlock Publications.” During the
corpus, Kurtzman traces the perversion
Of Beaver’s innocence. Not only is the
story ruthlessly funny, it is a kind of
autobiographical document attesting to
the surreal excesses Of the publishing
industry as Kurtzman experienced them.
(Early in his career, Kurtzman edited
paperback crossword puzzle editions, as
Goodman Beaver does in the story.) Al-
though this kind of satire has been wide-
ly imitated since the ’50s, “The Organi-
zation Man” holds up beautifully. It has
real bite as an indictment of the exploi-
tative mentality Of those who produce our
mass culture


And, as Art Spiegelman correctly
points out in his introduction, the words
also have a wonderful comic rhythm
unique to Kurtzman. They form an in-
tegral part Of the visual progression.
The second distinctive Kurtzman qual-
ity is the wonderfully loose, fluid sketch-
iness that imparts such an immediate
sence of the artist’s absolute immersion
in the act of cartooning.

It was #26 on the Journals Best 100 Comics of all time in The Comics Journal #210, page 75:

At 140 brilliant pages, theJungle
Book is certainly Kurtzman’s most
substantial graphic achievement.
The vigor and immediacy of the
brushwork, the bold use of tones,
the hypnotic pattern Of sustained
and broken visual rhythms from
panel to panel and page to page,
make it one of the most formally
inventive comic books ever pub-
lished. And Kurtzman’s mordant
wit, freed from the constraint of
shorter magazine pieces, would
never again display as pitiless a bite.
That last Frontline Combat story,
a meditation on fate, Was called
“The Big ‘If.” Harvey Kurtzman’s
Jungle Book provides the biggest “if’
the romantic travails ofits namesake
lead. The strip later became a kind of
adventure-comedy, as Tubbs, and
soon enough, too-similar pal Gozy
Gallup, practiced hijinks and farcical
comedy in a number Of locations
across the world. Things finally fell
into place with the arrival ofsoldier
Of fortune (in typical Crane
fashion, he made his debut by break-
ing down a door). With Easy
providing the muscle and a sense Of
in comics’ history: What if it had
been a success? What if Kurtzman,
instead of being forced to leapfrog
from more failed anthologies to the
compromised Little Annie Fanny to
teaching and illustration jobs, had
been able to recreate himself as a
one-man satirical storyteller — writ-
ing and drawing for magazines and
books? What ifhe had succeeded in
carving a niche in the mainstream
publishing world, into which the
whole next generation of cartoon-
isb could have poured — short
Story writers, essayisß, and novelists
who just happened to work in the
comics form?
Harvey Kurtzman’s Jungle
Book remains one Of the artform’s
most stunning successes, and one
of the field’s most heartbreaking

I think that’s Kim Thompson writing…

Kurtzman also had the #64 and #63 spots in the list (with Goodman Beaver and Hey! Look, and probably more). That’s a … list of its time, eh?

The book has been reprinted by Dark Horse:

I’d read this in the Ballantine paperback, muddy art and all, but the material looks much better here and the introductory material helps put it in the context of Kurtzman’s career. Unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree with Crumb’s assessment in the the afterward/interview that closes the volume. Kurtzman isn’t very funny here and the material feels considerably less sharp than his work for Mad and Trump. There is an air of weary desperation about some of it and time has rendered even the edgy bits a little pale.

Spiegelman says in his introduction to this edition that he was only offered the job because Crumb turned it down. But they got Crumb to do the introduction to a later edition. Heh heh.

Most people seem kinda unimpressed but don’t want to say so:

And in the end I’ll say, you should read it. Or something by Kurtzman. He was an important figure in American comic, and has influenced countless creators. Many of whom have gone on to call him a genius. He was a visionary and something quite rare: a truly funny cartoonist.

Or something:

Kurtzman has a very readable visual style, combined with an excellent ear for dialogue. But these strips feel a little throwaway, and, indeed, were originally published as a small pulpy paperback – the posh hardback edition feels like it’s trying too hard. Still, it’s a fun and clever read.

This is the eighty-sixth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1986: Omaha the Cat Dancer

Omaha the Cat Dancer (1986) #1-21,
Images of Omaha (1992) #1-2 by Reed Waller and Kate Worley

I wrote about Omaha in the Fantagraphics blog series, so I’m not going to repeat myself here. But since I covered these mostly-Kitchen Sink comics in the Fantagraphics series, so why not talk about the NBM volume of The Complete Omaha in the Kitchen Sink blog series?

You know it makes sense, eh? Eh?

I ended my previous blog post about Omaha doubting whether I’d ever read this book, but I guess I changed my mind at some point, even though I have no recollection of doing so. I found this book while looking for Kitchen Sink books on my shelves, and my eyebrow went all *hmmmm*. Nothing about it seems familiar — I may even have bought it before I did that blog post, but then decided not to read it until after I’ve re-read the rest of the series, and by the time I did that, I’d forgotten I’d bought it.

I know! Fascinating stuff.

Anyway, Omaha the Cat Dancer stopped in 1995 because Reed and Worley had broken up, and Worley had married James Vance. A decade later Reed and Worley patched things up and started talking about finishing the series… and then Worley got cancer. Reading Vance’s introduction here, it seems like Worley wrote a bunch of scenes, and a general overview of how the book was going to go, but then she died.

So Vance took over the scripting, and then Reed Waller drew the whopping 160 page book, and then NBM finally published it in 2012.

And I was really surprised that they went for it this way. Many other uncompleted comics have gotten a new final chapter to make it possible to publish a collected edition, but they usually feel pretty tacked on, and try to get to the end in as few pages as possible.

The Omaha series had glacial plotting, though, so anything less than 160 pages would have felt like a jarring transition.

This book opens, after a one-page recap (because that’s pretty much all you need, even after all those years of… not that much happening), right into where we left off, with a minor character, of course. Not really pandering to new readers.

And then the next two pages are Omaha and whatisface having sex. It’s just like the olden times! I’m impressed!

And Waller’s artwork is as attractive as ever. Perhaps a bit simplified? But nothing really jarringly different.

They do pack in a lot of plot here without us even much noticing. Something like the above would have taken 35 issues to be resolved in the olden days.

Time is strange in Omaha. The series started in the late 70s, and the entire plot unfolds within less than a year, I think? Perhaps just a couple of months, even. But they keep the era vague — but Omaha has an answering machine, so they’re not trying to pretend that it’s taking place in 2012.

I was surprised at how much time they spent with characters that I barely could remember at all, like Omaha’s ex husband.

The storytelling is really crystal clear, though. No scorecard needed.

So — is it any good? I don’t think people that were really into Omaha would be disappointed. I think it’s fine, and it manages to do something pretty incredible: Give a satisfying ending to all the main plot threads, without making things overly tidy, either.

Good job.

But wait, there’s more:

Reed Waller got cancer in the early 90s, and couldn’t pay his hospital bills. So Kitchen Sink arranged this benefit series, to pay (some of) his medical costs.

The first issue is excellent. You’ve got some pretty big names contributing, like Harlan Ellison.

It’s mostly one to three page pieces, and about half opt for doing pin-ups, while the rest do comics.

Some are pretty funny.

And people seem to be, in general, not just dashing off something they had lying around, but creating thoughtful, interesting things, like Howard Cruse here, riffing on Krazy Kat.

The second issue, though, is another kettle of… cats. Here you get many pieces that seem totally irrelevant (to the left) among the more fun ones (Scott McCloud to the right).

And what on Earth is Rick Veitch doing here?

At least we have Arn Saba to bring some class to the proceedings.

The Comics Journal #147, page 19:

Reed Waller, creator and artist of Omaha the
Cat Dancer, is fighting for his life. Stricken with
colon cancer and unable to obtain medical in-
surance, Waller has enlisted the comics com-
munity to help out. Omaha’s publisher, Kitchen
Sink Press, is rushing together a benefit in book
to support his living and related expenses while
he undergoes intensive medical treatments.
Also. a Waller Crisis Fund has been established
to help pay his massive medical bills.
The benefit book, Images of Omaha, has
been solicited for a March release at a $3.95
price. Kate Worley, Waller’s life and work part-
ner. is organizing the project, which will include
art donated by at least 30 major creators. As the
title implies, many (though not all) of the il-
lustrations will feature the guest artists’ rendi-
tions of the Omaha characters. Contributions
have been confirmed thus far from Dan Clowes,
Howard cruse, Will Eisner, Phil Foglio, Bill
Fugate, Terry LaBan, Larry Marder, Scott
McCloud, P. S. Mueller, Trina Robbins, Steve
Rude, Arn Saba, Stan Sakai, Mark Schultz,
Donald Simpson, Larry Welz, A1 Williamson
and Kitchen Sink publisher Denis Kitchen (in
his first original cartooning in several years).
“I am managing to get some medical assist-
ance,” Waller, 42, told the Journal on Dec. 4.
He is scheduled to go into surgery in February.
“In the meantime, I’m completely disabled. My
productivity has been restricted. I’m already
in debt from being uninsurable. I’ve had
epilepsy and asthma for about 30 years; that’s
already costly. I’ve had to pay out of my own
pocket for hospitalization and drugs from my
other disabilities; this (cancer) is sort of the last
“So far, the response has been awfully grati-
fying from so many people. There was a benefit
auction last weekend at Loscon (a science fic-
tion convention in Los Angeles), so we’re pay-
ing the rent.” Worley had been the couple’s main
breadwinner in between infrequent Omaha is-
sues, thanks to her regular writing stint for
Disney Comics, but that ended when Disney cut
most of its line this fall.
Waller’s plight underscores the larger issue
of freelance artists and other “contract workers”
in the U.S. health care system, often called one
of the most inefficient and inequitable medical
organizations in the industrialized world. Worley
has said that she hopes to set up a health crisis
fund for other artists with any funds left over
from the Waller fund drive.

This is the eighty-fifth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

1986: Border Worlds

Border Worlds (1986) #1-7,
Border Worlds: Marooned (1990) #1 by Don Simpson

I had these comics as a teenager, and I remember them being really good? But I don’t really remember any specifics. Then again, I was totally into anything that was science fiction, so who knows. Anyway, I’m excited to read this again.

The book starts with a strong hook: “I love in a space suit.”

Which is a bit of a tonal shift from the first five chapters, which ran as backup features in Megaton Man. Those chapters were pretty light-hearted misadventures on a space station, but this seems to be setting a vastly different tone from the first page on.

But then… we get a whole chapter of recaps. It’s not that anything that happened the first five chapters really need explaining — you could just have started them doing some stuff, and then brought in some “Bob, as you know” bits as needed — but not much is needed, really! They have a spaceship! That goes fast! And they need money!

That’s all you need to know.

So if course it goes on and on and on.

But then, the recap chapter is over, and Simpson can start continue the story, and… it’s a very striking shift from the first chapters. The layouts look totally like a Japanese comics, with full bleed printing, and double page spread panels, and things being generally decompressed.

And that’s how the issue ends.

That seventh chapter was very promising — it had a real mood going on, and a feeling that there’s whole world there, and that the characters were going to be interesting. It’s, like, good? Yeah. It’s good.

With the second issue, it becomes clear that Simpson’s approach to the artwork isn’t quite… settled. The first issue had this ultra sharp rendering, and then here we get a few spreads that look quite influenced by Frank Miller’s Ronin.

And some of the characters look way, way more cartooney than the rest.

And then suddenly we’re get a few pages with organic Moebius lines?

But it’s all good! The storytelling is smooth, the mood’s still there, we’re into the characters, and there’s several plot strands that seem likely to be connected in subsequent issues.

These issues are brisk reads, though, even if there’s 32 or 33 story pages per issue.

So Simpson was probably being bombarded with mail saying “I PAID TWO BUCKS FOR THIS AND IT TOOK ME THREE MINUTES TO READ I”M ANGREE”, so he’s saying “but I’m drawing so much shut up” (I’m paraphrasing). Which is fair.

But he seems to capitulate, anyway. Gone are the Japanese-inspired layouts — from here on out, there’s barely a single spread with horizontal panels. But it’s weird — as he’s doing this, and putting in more talking, the story grinds to a halt. We get a lot of talking heads, but no real development of the plotlines.

And the artwork doesn’t feel as exuberant all over, really — it’s more about approaches to filling pages while drawing as little as possible, so there’s entire scenes that are mainly heads floating in oceans of zip-a-tone.

And the layouts get even more traditional.

(Oh, and the bit about living in a space suit? I don’t think we see her in a space suit more than three panels in the entire series.)

Oh, yeah — Kitchen Sink was getting a sort of identity around science fiction/fantasy with artwork in an… Al Williamson? … tradition. These series seemed to be in conversation with each other, somehow — all of them kinda sorta elegiac in tone.

“Corrected Edition”? What’s that about?


Pages 4 and 5 are reversed. A corrected edition was subsequently released.

Well, that’s quite extravagant…

The seventh issue sees another dramatic shift in the artwork. Is this Craftint? (It’s paper with two different types of tone present in the paper, and you can use a brush with two different chemicals to bring it out.) It almost always looks like a total mess when printed, and this is certainly isn’t… pretty.

If it’s not Craftint, Simpson’s spent a lot of time cutting zip-a-tone.

Anyway, the seventh and final issue doesn’t resolve anything, but that’s because they didn’t know that that was the final issue at the time. But I think you can tell by the waffling in the storyline and the phoned-in artwork that Simpson had lost interest. Or, if not lost interest, then perhaps he just had to take up other work because circulation had fallen? This was, after all, during the Black and White Bust.

So three years later…

… we get the issue that was going to be Border Worlds #8, apparently. But they’ve restarted the numbering at #1.

And as with Border Worlds #1, it’s not a very good #1 if you want to draw in new readers.

And the layouts have now gone completely traditional, and there’s not much of interest in the artwork.

Oh, yeah, Simpson would start doing porn comics for Fantagraphics shortly afterwards, I think?

In any case, this issue doesn’t wrap up anything, because the series was supposed to continue. But I’m assuming that sales sucked, once again, and Simpson had to abandon the project again.

So that was the state of affairs for a few decades — one of the many “lost” comics of the 80s: Without an ending, you can’t really collect it.

Dover Books to the rescue! Over a very weird couple of years, they got in touch with creators of these “lost” 80s comics series and had them whip up some endings for the things, and they published them as (cheap) hardcover collections. This didn’t last very long, so either they ran out of these sort of books, or they didn’t sell all that well.

Hm… They did more books than I remembered in the 2009-2016 era.

Simpson manages to tie up a number of the plot lines in the additional pages — certainly much better than the new ending to Puma Blues (which really sucked).

It’s an almost kinda satisfying ending?

But as a book, it’s a mess. It shifts between all these different tones and rendering styles, and it doesn’t really cohere. The chapters that work (approx 7 to 10) are kinda special.

Comics Scene Volume #2, page 41:

At the time, though, Simpson
thought Border Worlds could follow
Megaton Man’s sales history, giving
him a second shot at stardom. “It
seemed like a real safe bet,”
Simpson, “The black-and-white boom
was just starting. Border Worlds #1
sold about 20,000. After that, it
dropped like a rock.”
Simpson blames a plummeting in-
dependent market for the death of his
darling. “In the early ’80s, everyone
was clamoring for diversity of mate-
rial and more mature stories,” he ex-
plains. “We were just coming off
Elfquest and Star *Reach [two pio-
neering independents]. But DC and
Marvel co-opted all that energy, espe-
cially with The Dark Knight Returnsu
Suddenly, everyone wanted to be like
Frank Miller, and do the definitive
Spider-Man or something.”
Kitchen, in turn, says Simpson’s
180-degree turn from satire to straight
science fiction alienated fans, a mis-
take he says has repeatedly hobbled
Simpson’s series-hopping career (five
Kitchen Sink first issues in 1989 and
1990). “Don has always been very
mercurial,” Kitchen says.
“In my
view, he has lost fans each time he
changed books. He’s more concerned
about his own artistic impulses than
about satisfying readers who are
interested in him. I expected that Don
would have been a superstar by now.
“He also did something that was
market poison: He took Border
Worlds, which was an all-ages book,
and made it X-rated midstream.” The
book lived up to its Mature Readers
tag with nudity in its last two issues,
#6 and #7.
There is yet another possible rea-
son for Border Worlds’ failure: It was
just plain slow going, perhaps the
talkiest SF comic ever. Simpson even
had to scrap an action-promising
cover for #1 as too misleading.

Amazing Heroes #147, page 27:

AH: So why have you returned to
Megaton Man ?
SIMPSON: This mini-series started
in January of ’87. I was still working
on Border Worlds then and I wasn’t
sure what format it would take. I was
thinking ofa long story, or a double-
issue, or something like that and
I had no deadline. I was doing it just
as a relief from doing Border Worlds.
The two things are so different that
going from one to the other was a
good break. The only problem of
course is that Border Worlds kept
dropping in sales to the point where
I had to take on freelance work—I did
an issue of the Justice Machine and
inked a Mr. Monster. Then I got roped
into Wastelands at DC. All These
things just tended to take its toll on
Border Worlds in terms of my atten-
tion to it and by the time of issue #7
I just felt that I was being distracted
to the point that I was worried I was
going to hurt the quality of the book.
Actually I think steadily the series
kept getting better. If anything I think
it was getting much stronger and I was
getting deeper into it. That was the
problem: I wanted to be fully
absorbed with it, but out of necessity
I had to juggle different things which
doesn’t make for peace of mind. So
by the time I suspended Border
Worlds everyone told me that by
suspending it I was in effect cancell-
ing it. Of course I had every intention
of returning to it as soon as possible.
I was treating the freelance stuff as
stop-gap measures—stuff to do to get
back on track and,wait for the market
to return.
In the meantime, I was still doing
bits and pieces of the Megaton Man
mini-series and it was growing closer
to being finished.
AH: On Border •Worlds, which you
said you thought was getting better
with every issue, what elements did
you think were improving?
SIMPSON: well, 1 was learning
more about characterization, about
form and pacing … There was a lot
of experimenting with Border Worlds
from the back-up feature in the last
few issues of Megaton Man to the
black-and-white book. I was learning
to draw in black-and-white which is
a lot different from relying on color.
So, I was experimenting with silhouet-
tes, a lot of black… by the 7th issue
Iwas using duoshade/craft-tint which
is probably associated with the
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles more
than anything else. Overall I think I
was getting Border Worlds down.
In the 6th and 7th issues there were
more panels to a page. One of the
complaints I heard a lot was—
especially on the early issues which
had a lot of double-page splashes—it
seemed like when you read an issue,
not a lot had been accomplished. I
think by the later issues things were
beginning to move and pay off.

Amazing Heroes #115, page 80:

6. Border Worlds
This stark, dramatic series
seemed almost to have wormed its
way into my consciousness quite
unexpectedly. I had never read a
single installment of the five open-
ing chapters that appeared in the
back of Megaton Man last year.
Donald Simpson’s striking illustra-
tions compelled me to purchase the
first issue when the strip was given
its own book–three issues of which
have appeared to date. Three—but
after only one I was convinced this
‘would be an outstanding series. I
think time has confirmed the validity
of this particular bit of intuition.


But, perhaps more than any other
book in my Top Ten, it is the sheer
power of the illustrations that car-
ries this title awe,y from the common
Most often, comic book science
fiction seems wedded to Star
Wtzrs–all gloss and glitter. The only
glitter found here is the occasional
ray of light reflecting from the sur-
face of a besmudged helmet. Simp-
son’s space ships don’t look like
special effects—but like blocks of
fully functional machinery. Space
suits are born of practicality. not
designed by Dior. This is a world
of juxtapx)sed light and shadow–
with the shadow seeming always to
hold the advantage. It is a tough
world, beaten down by the harshness
of reality.

The Comics Journal #117, page 61:

A chief virture of Donald Simpson’s
Border Worlds is that it focuses on the
thoughts and feeliws of Jenny Woodlore,
a novice from Earth who begins a space
shuttle operation on Chrysalis, a magnifi-
cent domed space station in the Arcameon
star system. Throughout the series, Simp•
son anchors his epic tale in human sensi-
bility by intermittently pulling us back to
Jenny’s point of view. For example, the
first issue commences with a monologue
in which Jenny laments the relentless
routine and monotony Of her work. The
drab. banal way Jenny talks about her life
may seem off-putting at first (and Simp-
son uses uninvitingly dense blocks of text
to get things off to a slow start), but Simp-
son wins you over. The first issue sets the
right tone of vaguely disillusioned melan-
choly that permeates Jenny’s life, and
when Jenny relates an instance of sexual
fantasy, that led to “a fleeting moment
of satisfaction,” Simpson has successfully
captured the sense of a human being’s
private longings and disappointments.
Like Alien Fire, Border Worlds aspires
to the texture and complexity of serious
science fiction in comic book form. In this
effort, Simpson is generally successful,
and the series should appeal to fans of
seriously-intended genre work. The ingre-
dients are perhaps too familiar—one plot
line has to do with efforts to prevent the
imminent destruction of Chrysalis as it
drifts out Of orbit, another involves a
fuÉtive brother and sister who are sought
by authorities because they possess the
knowledge necessary to create a “black
hole bomb” —and you sometimes wish
Simpson would get on with it. The
emphasis on mood and atmosphere feels
like dawdling, but the storytelling is never
less than intelligent.
Simpson has settled on an unusual
visual approach for Border Worlds. He
rarely draws more than three panels ner
page, and he occasionally dedicates an
entire page to a single panel. As part of
this scheme, the art has been reproduced
on a scale that is larger than we’re accus-
tomed to seeing in comics—that is, we
see panels that in most mainstream comics
would be reproduced at half the scale
Simpson employs. Though I admire
Simpson’s aspirations, I was put off by
the self-conscious, arty expansiveness of
the first two issues—Simpson’s renderings
of the human face and form has a cer-
tain caricatural quality that is less appeal-
ing than it might be, and a bit more
aesthetic distance seems called for—but
I also appreciate that Simpson wants you
to see these image with absolute clarity.
(Simpson appears to have been influenced
by the freedom of Japanese comics.)

Bruce Canwell writes in Amazing Heroes #181, page 86:


Around here, Sunspot Comics is the
“hot” place to shop, thanks to its
manager, Bing Baxterbook. Bing may
talk like a dockwalloper, but he knows
his comics: three years before DC’s
Crisis he was predicting that Wally
West would take (wer as the Flash, and
he pushed for Hawkeye to lead an
Avengers lineup that was remarkably
similar to what became the original
West Coast team. I don’t agree with
all of Bing’s opinions, but when he
talks, I listen.
Case in point: Bing looked at my
copy of Border Worlds: Marooned #1
and grunted, “Wotta disappointment!”
I was flabbergasted, “Wait a minute.
This comic’s by Don Simpson, right?
The guy you practically lionized for
his work on Megaton Man, Waste-
land, and Alan Moore’s “Pictopia?”
How can it be a bomb?”
“I’ll level with ya,” Bing said.
Making sure no minors were about,
he opened the comic to page 12. “It’s
this sex scene that bothers me.”
I examined the pages in question
and shrugged. “Looks like an honest,
natural depiction of lwemaking to me.
It’s explicit, yeah, but it’s tastefully
“It’s tasteful, awright—is it neces-
sary, though? I don’t need to see
penetration t’ figger out that two
people are makin’ it, not if the creator
is doing his job. It’s like Simpson
tossed this scene in just because he
wanted to, not because it was the best
way to convey what was happening.
To my eye, that’s gratuitous, that’s
what it is.”
“But it says ‘Adults Only’ right on
the cover.”
“Well, when I say, ‘This comics for
adults,’ I like it to be ’cause the plot,
characterizations, and themes are
more subtle than the usual super-doop
punch-’em-ups, not ’cause there’s a
buncha writhing, sweaty bodies
I understand Bing’s point, but my
problems with Border Worlds is less
with its sexual content than with its
cold, claustrophobic feel and perva-
Sive sense of hopelessness. It’s all
sophisticated and well-clone—which is
a tribute to Simpson’s skills as a
cartoonist—but it’s not exactly an
uplifting reading experience.
The bottom line is Border Worlds
is an ambitious but flawed experiment
from an extremely talented writer-

This is the eighty-fourth post in the Entire Kitchen Sink blog series.

An Entirely Ill-Advised Reading of all Comics Published by Kitchen Sink Press