Friday, May 1, 2009

Black And White Boom: KZ Comics

KZ Comics was a short-lived, Texas-based independent publisher which popped up during the post-TMNT/Cerebus funny animal and black&white indy publishing boom of the 1980s.

KZ publisher Tom Zjaba has put the entirety of the KZ Comics catalog online in a barebones HTML format for the perusal of any interested parties (He also links to poker and blackjack games, enjoy those).

Besides the company's flagship character, Colt the Armadillo, or their other offerings such as the Dungeons&Dragons-inspired Unicorns Kings, the time-travelling Terminator clone The Eliminator, and naturally - since it was the 80s - The Middle Aged Government Tested Atom Splitting Radioactive Democratic Lefthanded Freelance Green Beret Koala Bears, you can see Zjaba's current efforts with a much more skilled collaborator - but, unfortunately, a still-stunted writer's toolbox - on the webcomic Tabloid.

Of greater interest is Tom Zjaba's "Untold Stories" behind each and every issue, where he examines in fascinating and inexplicably minute detail the decisions, reactions and realities of each and every issue which passed through the KZ Comics catalog. The stories he tells are the same stories of other amateur publishers taking advantage of the sudden and, in retrospect, seemingly inexplicable popularity comics enjoyed in the 1980s not only as potentially serious literature but additionally as sound financial investments. Fledgling artists and writers whose skills were inarguably ill-prepared for the spotlight suddenly found themselves the proud poppas of pop culture phenomena and kiddie books selling for double and triple figures in the immediate aftermarket.

As they said of the lions parading around Niagara, pride goeth before a fall. Yet these indy guys in the heyday of the brief renaissance of the Reagan years only ever developed a sense of pride because they were granted a certain level of comfort - comfort which failed them when the printers, distributors and comics shops began to close their doors in droves, and the sustainability of a comics-based economy proved to be a tetch short-sighted.

I feel for these Tom Zjaba, and I'm touched and impressed by the sincerity of his big hopes and the simplicity of his aspirations. It takes a lot of courage to talk about one's failures, and it takes something additionally ... different ... to talk in exhaustive detail about the minutae of the pedestrian process of making a comic book. He represents a certain sympathetic pathology in many small-press publishers, I recommend spending some time to read the greek tragedy of his company's short-lived flight.

For anyone who cares, here is the history of KZ Comics, a company that came and went with the black and white implosion. But unlike many other companies of that era, it was conceived years before. It was just a matter of luck that it came out during that time.

KZ Comics stands for Karolczyk and Zjaba. It was started back in grade school by myself, Tom Zjaba and a friend of mine, Dave Karolczyk. This was back in the 1970's. Later, my cousin Dave and myself formed the company as Dave Karolczyk lost interest in creating comic books. My cousin and I would write and draw stories and give them to each other to critique. It was done more for fun than anything else.

After I was out of high school, I found a comic book called Swords of Cerebus. I bought a few of them at a comic book show and loved the stories. They were collected versions of the Cerebus the Aardvark series and it inspired me to create a similar character. I had toyed around with the idea of doing a western comic book, as I was tiring of doing strictly super heroes. So I went to work on creating a western hero who was not human. At first, I thought about having him be a cow. But it just seemed silly. I even toyed with a human cactus among other ideas.

Then I went to my handy collection of animal cards for inspiration. They were a collection of animal cards that I ordered from a magazine and they sent more every month. As I looked through there, I came across an armadillo. It was a western animal, it had the hard shell and it made for a good animal. I had the animal, now all I needed was a name. I started thinking about what would be a good name. For some reason, the Colt 45 gun came to mind and I liked it. Colt the Armadillo was born!

I then went to work on a story of Colt. It was nearly identical to what later became issue #1. For some reason, when I finished it, I really liked the story and thought it had potential.

It's the confidence you have to love.


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