Category Archives: 90s Indy

Daniel Clowes’ “Eightball” — A Personal Reminiscence : Part One


Hey, friends, concurrent with the long-awaited release of Fantagraphics Books’ astonishing The Complete Eightball Issue Numbers 1-18 super-deluxe hardcover slipcase boxed set — which you really need to go out and buy as soon as your budget can possibly accommodate its admittedly heavy $119.99 cover price (thank God for online discount retailers, am I right?)—Dean graciously invited me to take a breather from my usual hangouts ( , , , and is where most of my shit can be found if you’re interested) to stop by here and share my thoughts on this, my all-time favorite comics series.

Does that mean it’s the “best” comic ever? Hell no — although a strong case could probably be made in its favor — it simply means that Eightball was my “go-to book,” for all intents and purposes, for its entire 15-year, 23-issue run, and that in a very real sense I grew up right along with it, and matured at a rate vaguely approximate to that of series creator’s Dan Clowes’ evolution as an artist.

Yeah, sure, he’s a good number of years older than I am — and he’s certainly done a heck of a lot more with his life — but it’s truly uncanny how the trajectory of his his “career arc” seemed to hit just the right notes, at just the right times, in relation to “where my head was at” whenever any given new issue would hit the stands (which was usually a bit of mystery in these pre-Diamond Previews days — the book started out, in theory at any rate, on a thrice-yearly scedule, but delays weren’t just common, they became flat-out expected in fairly short order). The series debuted in August of 1989, when I was still in high school, and breathed its last in June of 2004, when I had just returned from spending nearly two years bumming around various parts of the world. Needless to say, a lot happened — both with the comic and myself — in the years in between, and as I sat down to start writing about it, I realized that my own personal memories were so inextricably linked to the material itself that there was pretty much no point trying to separate one from the other and fake some kind of “objective, dispassionate distance.” If that’s the sort of criticism you’re into, more power to ya, but you just ain’t gonna find it here. Eightball is too fucking personal to me. It means too much.


And so, what started out as a simple run-down /recap/appraisal of the series has morphed into a multi-part semi-monstrosity that I hope at least some of you good readers out there will find worth your time. Shit, maybe you’ll even be able to relate to parts of it. I realize that the subject matter is pretty far removed from this site’s unofficial remit of finding something at least semi-worthwhile in the Image, Marvel, etc. steroid-pumped superhero fare that was utterly ubiquitous in the 1990s (and that remains nearly as ubiquitous in the bargain boxes of comics shops today  — those that survived the implosion the onslaught of those titles brought on, that is), but what the hell. Eightball was — and still is — proof that there were, in fact, good comics coming out during that decade,  as well.

What do I mean, exactly, by “good”? Now there’s a question that you probably only need to consider on a site devoted to ’90s comics! As a semi-useful (I hope, at any rate) shorthand definition let’s just say that I mean books that possessed actual artistic merit that was obvious at the time, as opposed to, let’s face it, the absolute glut of material whose sole worth lies in its nostalgic value (although Clowes’ series certainly has plenty of that going for it when viewed from our present 2015 vantage point). Books that were more concerned with growing up than offering ever-flashier, but ever-more-creatively-stagnant, versions of the same sort of post-modern hyper-mythology that, let’s face it, has been getting bigger,louder, and more brash ever since Jack Kirby invented it, but with increasingly diminishing returns as the years go by absent the heart, humanity, and soul that The King imbued all of his works with. Books that were about real people dealing with real situations in real ways.tumblr_inline_nk2y3zR42O1s2tgut

Not that Clowes’ subject matter was primarily autobiographical in the same way that Harvey Pekar’s, Chester Brown’s, Joe Matt’s, and Seth’s (to name just a few) was. Granted, there’s a superb autobio piece called “Blue Italian Shit” in Eightball #13, but there’s also a wickedly precise deconstruction of the genre (“Just Another Day”) in issue five.  If that seems a bit scattershot or incongruous, rest assured that it is — and that’s one of the very best things about this series. Eightball, you see, is that now-rarest of beasts — the single-creator anthology comic. Adrian Tomine’s still got Optic Nerve going (occasionally) for D+Q, sure, but on the whole, let’s be honest — this is pretty much a dead format. And the  comics medium in general is desperately more impoverished for its passing from the scene.

Heck, kids today might be flat-out flabbergasted to discover that once there was a time when all of the creators just mentioned a moment ago, as well as the likes of Julie Doucet, Peter Bagge, Dennis Eichhorn, and the guy who started it all, Robert Crumb, had the freedom to just sit down at their drawing board (or typewriter) and crank out whatever kind of stories they wanted and that, miracle of all miracles, somebody would even publish them ! But those of us who are getting a bit longer in the tooth remember those times well indeed, and while none of these admitted labors of love moved  anywhere near the number of copies of Spawn Vs. Youngblood or whatever, they still sold at a clip that most “Big Two” books today would kill for.

Such are the vagaries of time, I guess. There’s no doubt that if Clowes was just getting started today and wanted to attempt something of this sort in the modern marketplace that he’d be confined to the so-called “digital realm,” but goddamnit, I still miss the days when indie creators who were living on the genuine margins still managed to find a way to get this stuff printed.


And has it ever been printed in this new collection! Fantagraphics has gone well and truly “above and beyond” with the physical product here, making exact facsimilie reproductions of each and every issue (no easy task considering that Eightball went through a fair number of format changes during its lifespan) and binding them inside two standard-comic-sized hardcovers that can be fully opened without cracking or damaging the binding in any way. Throw in some new front and back cover on each of the volumes as well as on the slipcase itself, and you’ve got yourself a package that can be looked at and drooled over for hours on end before you even start reading the thing.

It’s all here, folks — not just each and every story and strip, but the letter columns, the product-order pages drawn by Clowes, the whole nine yards. We go from cheap black-and-white newsprint for the first four issues to glossy covers and paper with increased color content in the interior pages to heavy-duty cardstock covers with even better, shinier paper inside. Hell, even the original mistakes are left intact — the most noticeable being when the printer accidentally ran the Ghost World segment in issue 16 in a risible sort of “split pea soup” yellow rather than the “cool blue” of all the other chapters. I hate to name-drop Kirby again in relation to a series that belies almost no influence from him whatsoever, but, as he once famously stated in 1970s DC “house ad” — “Everything is ‘as it was!'”  Yes, right down to the “Modern Cartoonist” pamphlet insert included with issue number 18.


You’re alive? On this planet? And you still haven’t bought this thing yet? What — do your kids need to eat or something? And to think — I’m brow-beating you this mercilessly before I’ve even really started in on examining the actual merits of the comics themselves. Shame on me! Have I no class? No empathy? No basic salesmanship skills?

I’m going to plead the fifth on all of the above, but I’ll tell you what — that’s not a bad spot at all to leave things at for this introductory go-’round, but as for what’s still to come — Eightball went through four distinct creative  phases, each “anchored” by a central work, and when we dive in with part two of our analysis here we’ll break those down and then get into the nitty-gritty of critical dissection. We’re going to pay a little less attention to “phase three” and “phase four” because they’re not included in this collection (and, in fairness, while “phase three” started in 1998,  it concluded in 2000,  and “phase four” — apologies to Saul Bass — was entirely post-millenial, so they sort of fall outside of the loose parameters of this site), but for the sake of completeness even they will be addressed in due course. So buckle up! This is gonna be fun, I promise! As Clowes himself would say — welcome to my house of dreams!

The Great Debate-90’s comics vs. 70’s comics!

Hello, Legions of the Unspoken!  I had the chance to have a great conversation with Paul O’ Connor of Longbox Graveyard about the merits of the 70’s and Bronze Age vs. the 90’s!  Scroll through some cool covers of both decades, and then you’ll find the podcast!  Take a listen and comment with some of your thoughts!  Thanks again Paul!  Transcript coming soon!

Avengers175 - Page 1 WestCoastAvengers #89 - Page 1Iceman Limited Series #1 (of 4) (1984) - Page 1Batman & Punisher - Lake of Fire #425 - Page 1IM128 - Page 1Deathlok #9 - Page 1

Listen by clicking the link below!!!


Tom Mason talks Exiles and Ultraverse!

  1. Based on house ads, Exiles wasn’t intended to be a part of the Ultraverse upon its creation. When and why did that change? Was Steve Gerber involved from the start?

TOM: Exiles was created long before the Ultraverse and had nothing to do with Steve. What happened was that Dave Olbrich, Chris Ulm and I started kicking around ideas for a super-hero team book that would be owned by Malibu Comics. Almost all of the titles that Malibu had published up to that time had been creator-owned and Scott wanted a couple of properties that the company had claim to. We’d thought we’d create one, so every Monday night for many weeks, the three of us would go out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant near the office and just brainstorm, make notes and start writing a script.

We’d kicked stuff around, Chris had point for the first part and would write things up during the week, then we’d get together again, pass around pages and write, tweak and rewrite and brainstorm some more. And eat nachos.

We finished the first issue’s script, and hired Paul Pelletier to pencil the entire issue. While that was going on, we did a few company-based promotional things – a poster, a promotional postcard, a two-pocket folder, stuff that could be used as presentation pieces for licensing and merchandising. If you’ll notice, a lot of properties shown in the material were not owned by Malibu – Ninja High School is there, Evil Ernie, Dinosaurs For Hire were all creator-owned. The idea was just to make the company look more appealing to other corporate entities. Since Exiles was in the works, and we assumed it would be part of something in the future, we stuck them in there. If someone saw Exiles there, and somehow, magically wanted to develop it as a movie or TV show, then that would’ve spurred actual publication faster.

Exiles #2 - Page 1

Steve Gerber didn’t get involved with Exiles until at least a year after the first issue had already been pencilled and lettered. What happened was we were all sitting around the conference room at the original Ultraverse Founders Conference in Scottsdale in October 1992. On the first day, everyone was pitching around stuff that they’d always wanted to see in comics. Steve threw out that what he’d like to see was to have a character really die and stay dead, and prove it by cancelling his book. And do it all without telling anyone in advance.

By the end of the conference that weekend, Chris, Dave and I decided that we should take Steve’s random thought and match it up with the Exiles that had been sitting on the shelf. Chris sent all the material to Steve once we got back to the office, and the two of them batted around some ideas for how to make it work, and to have Steve rework a few of the existing pages from issue #1 while keeping as much intact as possible, and then develop the story over issues #2-4 so they all could die in the last issue.

The idea only worked because Exiles had never been published as a comic book. If the series had debuted back when we originally wrote it, we would never have suggested bringing it into the Ultraverse. Things would’ve turned out quite differently.

After everyone agreed to graft Steve’s thought to the Exiles, and then killing them off, the trick was just keeping it secret. Back then, as now, books are solicited months in advance and if we stopped soliciting Exiles after #4, everyone would know the book was ending. We didn’t want that. People would start focusing on reasons for the cancellation, and it wouldn’t look right to be cancelling a book so early after the launch of the UV and revealing the truth behind it could spoil the surprise. Also, we didn’t want anyone to know that the characters were going to die. We wanted the shock. We wanted the surprise. We wanted people to see that things about the Ultraverse were different from what they were used to – we’re willing to kill off characters from our launch, cancel their book, and keep them dead.

Of course, the only way to keep it a secret is to lie. Pretend like the book is ongoing, make no mention of the death anywhere for any reason, tell only the people in the office who need to know, and write fake solicitation copy for issues #5 and #6 to keep up the pretense.

It was great fun.

  1. What was Steve Gerber like to work with? Was he a big influence on you and the other Exiles creators before you guys worked in comic books?

TOM: Steve had been recruited as an Ultraverse Founder by Chris Ulm and Dave Olbrich. Both of them (as I had been) were huge fans of Gerber’s work on The Defenders. We wanted a guy who could take the tropes of super-hero comics and spit them out in a new way. Steve had a clever, inventive mind. He’d been around enough to know what DC and Marvel had done in the past, and he was always pushing to acknowledge that and twist it around to make something different. It was remarkable to sit in the same room with him and kick stuff around.

At the Founders Conference, I really pissed him off. Back in his early Marvel years, he had created a character called Doctor Bong in Howard The Duck. And even though he had a bell-shaped head to go with his name, Doctor Bong debuted in the late 1970s. Steve swore to me that the name was not a not-so-subtle drug reference, that it really was a bell reference. And I wouldn’t let it go. I was convinced he was rewriting history so he didn’t get called out by crazy politicians or whatever. I eventually dropped it, and it was all good.

The thing about Steve though is that he just couldn’t keep a schedule. It was always like pulling teeth to get him to turn in a script. He always needed money and we always needed pages and those two forces rarely met on the appropriate day. One time, he was so far behind in writing the dialogue for a pencilled issue of Sludge, but needed money so desperately that we had him come to the office and work with the understanding that at the end of each day he could walk out of the office with a check for each page he completed. We were always advancing him money for work he was promising to deliver. I think by the time Sludge was cancelled, he still owed us a script and we never called in the marker.

  1. Deadeye does not appear in the house ads for Exiles that indicated they would not be part of the Ultraverse. When was he created?

TOM: It’s funny what people take away from what they see. Deadeye was part of the original script that Chris, Dave and I wrote. He was in there from the very beginning and was created by us at the same time as the rest of the characters. He just didn’t make it into the house ad. He was probably left out for space reasons.

You just know Evil Ernie killed everyone on this poster mere moments later.

  1. Amber Hunt goes on to be an integral part of the Ultraverse, as she is the catalyst for the Break-Thru crossover. Was that planned from the start? How did you feel about her character? The creators did a great job making me both love and hate her.
  2. Exiles #4 - Page 28

TOM: My memory bumped me on your question, so I went to Dave Olbrich to see what he remembered. Dave says: “Amber Hunt was a character that was designed to be the center of Exiles. It was through her eyes and her initial storyline experiences that the audience was going to be introduced to the world of the Exiles (as it was designed before the Ultraverse). When we decided to bring Exiles into the UV, Gerber really took a liking to the character and her situation and wanted to expand on her original set-up. Since the characters were going to die and their book was going to be cancelled, that really felt like a marketing surprise. The real trick was how can we take that and make it work as a story, make it impact the UV beyond the shock? So out of that notion – let’s make this death mean something to the arc of the UV overall – she became the catalyst for Break-Thru. It was a story point that developed organically with the editorial team as Break-Thru was being worked out. Having Amber involved in Break-Thru helped tie the title back into the whole of the Ultraverse world.”

  1. How did you feel about creating a team to die? Did it bother you at all?

TOM: Well, they weren’t originally created to die. The timeline is this: Exiles #1 was created and written by Dave Olbrich, Chris Ulm and myself. It was going to be a stand-alone superteam book, not connected to any universe and we assembled the story bible and wrote the first issue’s script sometime in early 1991. And hired Paul Pelletier to pencil it. He completed the pencils for the whole first issue.

Then we got busy with Image, then the Protectors came along, and then the Ultraverse. And all this time that first issue of Exiles just sat on the shelf, waiting for the right time to release it. But it kept looking unlikely that based on the way the market was at the time, a stand-alone super-hero book was the right idea. We shelved it until we could figure out what exactly to do with it.

Exiles #4 - Page 22

  1. What about the portrayal of how hapless these heroes were? Was it hard to go against the grain of heroes generally be really good at everything?

TOM: That goes back to our original concept for the book. At the time we were developing it, Chris, Dave and I knew that the market probably didn’t want, and wouldn’t respond to, an independent super-hero team that was really good at what they did. There were tons of those already. We needed an angle, something different. Far better to go the other way – make them hapless, give them a learning curve and still have it go badly. Steve took that and ran with it, of course.

  1. Exiles #5 was solicited, but you guys knew it would never be made. I am assuming that retailers got their money back, but did any of them give you any flak, anyhow?

TOM: I think both Exiles #5 and #6 were solicited in order to keep the secret from getting out, but there were no refunds because no money changed hands. Retailers don’t pay when they order – they only pay when a book ships. So since neither issue shipped, retailers weren’t out any money, so refunds weren’t necessary.

We caught some flak from the distributors because cancelling books that weren’t going to ship creates extra paperwork that someone has to handle. Most people were cool with it because once you realize what happened, everyone knew it was the only way to pull off a trick like that.

  1. Would Exiles have been part of Malibu’s Genesis Universe if it had not been part of the Ultraverse? Would the Exiles have suffered the same fate?

TOM: The Protectors universe was developed before the Ultraverse, and the Exiles was in development before The Protectors so we had the chance then to add it to the Protectors, but chose not to. The Protectors was really designed to be a reboot of the old public domain heroes from Centaur that originally appeared in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Exiles didn’t fit that narrative.

Had we forced the issue and put Exiles into the Protectors Universe, it’s doubtful they would’ve died because the idea of killing a character and cancelling his book came from Steve Gerber at the initial Ultraverse Founders conference in 1992. Dave, Chris and I were the ones that offered up Exiles at that time.

Exiles #3 - Page 1

  1. The death of the Exiles is one of the more spoken of events in the Ultraverse. Does that surprise you?

TOM: Not really. We knew it would be a big deal, at least we hoped it would. We weren’t just killing off characters, we were making a statement about the UV itself. We were going on record by saying we weren’t bringing them back, and we cancelled their book the second they died, and that if we’re willing to do this with an early launch title, then is anyone in the UV really safe?

It’s a good feeling.

  1. If you bring back Dinosaurs for Hire, you’ll let your buddy Dean know first so we can break it at the only 90’s comic book website out there, right?

TOM: Oh yes. They are coming back. It’s just a question of when.

-Thanks again, Tom for taking some time out of your day to talk 90’s comics, the Ultraverse, and Exiles with us!  Looking forward to the return of Dinosaurs For Hire!