Gary Groth’s Comics Pages

Posted on November 9, 2011

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When Gary Groth cofounded Fantagraphics Books, Inc. in 1976, it was a beacon of the alternative comics scene, publishing work by artists like Robert Crumb and Daniel Clowes. For the press’s flagship publication, Groth purchased The Nostalgia Journal and transformed it into The Comics Journal (TCJ), a magazine devoted to comics criticism written in a formal, almost academic style. For much of Fantagraphics’s history, it has been an outsider among comics publishers, interested more in the Xeroxed fanzines of the 1980s and 1990s than the capes-and-tights stories of the bigger companies. So there is some irony that it was saved from financial disaster in 2004 when Groth secured the rights to publish, in chronological order, that old standard of the newspaper funny page, Peanuts.

But what drove Gary Groth to that point? How had Fantagraphics and The Comics Journal gone from outsiders to something respectable? The short answer is that, in the small alternative comics circles, Fantagraphics has always been respected; only with its relatively more recent focus on vintage comic strips has Groth’s brand of meticulously-designed publishing reached a wider audience.

Gary Groth in his youth was drifting and anxious; by the time he was twenty-two and founded Fantagraphics Books, he had self-published a fanzine called Fantastic Fanzine, been offered a job at Marvel Comics, worked for the magazine Mediascene, dropped out of four colleges, published Sounds Fine, a music magazine, and run a failed rock and roll convention. It’s clear that Groth knew he wanted people to hear what he had to say, but also that — until he cofounded Fantagraphics — he didn’t know the best way to get his voice out there.

In the vein of innovators like Steve Jobs, Gary Groth’s vision is the one to which his company conforms in every aspect and his voice is the guiding one simply because of Groth’s belief that he knows better than his competitors. In fact, TCJ was formed partly due to Groth’s distain for Alan Light, publisher of The Buyer’s Guide. Groth’s dedication to publishing what he thinks are the best comics while owning and editing a review outlet like TCJ has resulted in some claims that the Journal is little more than a mouthpiece for the publishing company; such as when it printed a list of the “Top 100 Comics of the Century,” of which twenty-nine were Fantagraphics titles.

Regardless of the controversies surrounding his work, Groth has continued unabated (perhaps this should have been part of the reference)in his quest to make the best comics available to as wide of an audience as possible.

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