The inner demons and visions of Basil Wolverton

There’s nothing quite like the weird world of Basil Wolverton.

One of the great cartoonists of the 20th century, Wolverton’s distinctive vision is pretty unique. He could be silly and he could be scary, but most of all, his whole aesthetic vibe was vaguely disturbing. The New York Times called him “the Van Gogh of the gross-out.”

Wolverton did slapstick surreal humour and gritty, unsettling horror, as well as his oddball series of “heads” – staggeringly ugly, creepy little portraits that were like David Cronenberg nightmares. Some of them famously ended up on the covers of MAD and Plop

Yet this strange, exotic draftsman was actually a pretty conventional person in real life, quite religious and married to his high school sweetheart. It’s almost as if he was exorcising some hidden inner demons with some of his most distorted work.

Whether it was sci-fi, horror or humour comics, you’d never mistake a Basil Wolverton comic for someone else’s work. A couple of marvellous thick coffee table books by Greg Sadowski a few years back looked at Wolverton’s career and reprinted lots of his rare comics.

He was never “typical.” Even his earliest work like the Buck Rogers-esque Spacehawk felt like outsider art. On the surface they’re pretty standard 1940s spaceman adventures, but there’s a visceral weight to the drawings that makes them feel truly alien. A lot of golden age comics were hastily drawn, rough work, but Spacehawk still shines with its gruff leading man facing a never-ending horde of endlessly imaginative, goopy monsters. 

Wolverton also spent years doing screwball slapstick comics, packed with groan-worthy puns and wordplay and rubbery hijinks. I recently picked up a old reprint of some of his Powerhouse Pepper stuff, which is fantastic fun. Powerhouse is a kind of kinder, gentler version of Popeye who fumbles his way through a world of bullies and hucksters with an oblivious charm. There’s lots of silly wordplay and a general looseness (I’d love to see more of this rare work reprinted!) but there’s also some of Wolverton’s trademark shock such as this great sequence below (don’t worry, I’m sure that guy was OK). He brings the rubbery antic energy of Tex Avery cartoons to the still comics page. 

Horror comics were overflowing from the newsstands in the ‘50s but Wolverton’s works in the genre still have an in-your-face freaky quality that makes them stand out. On his covers for Weird Tales of the Future, boldly drawn monsters leap off the page with an intimate menace – if I was a kid reading these in 1953, I’d have had nightmares for years. The especially terrifying “Brain Bats of Venus” haunted entire generations of comic readers back then, I imagine. 

Later in his career, Wolverton actually became an ordained minister, and he combined his religious life and his comics life in very idiosyncratic drawings from the Bible which took all the fire and brimstone apocalyptic imagery usually smoothed out of biblical comics and rolls with it for all it’s worth. His portraits of the Book of Revelation and the foretold biblical apocalypse have a terrifying immediacy. 

And his famous “heads” portraits, which are just snarled, twisted and blackly humourous masses of fluid flesh – well, they’re still freaky today, the most deformed almost pornographic somehow, yet weirdly innocent, too. The heads were Wolverton “playing,” making flesh his medium. This mild, churchgoing man could haunt you with his dreams. 

The key to a lot of Wolverton’s visual style is the thick weight of his lines, I think, bold outlines and vivid shadows, combined with a painstakingly intense amount of stippled or speckled details. There’s an almost woodcut quality to his finest work. It doesn’t feel sketched on a page so much as it seems to be forged, raw, from some hidden universe just beneath our own. Wolverton’s distinctive comics DNA is hard to duplicate, although you can see some of his influence in the work of ‘Rat Fink’ Ed Roth, Peter Bagge or John Kricfalusi’s Ren and Stimpy. 

While comics boasted a lot of great artists in the classic era like Jack Kirby and Will Eisner and Steve Ditko, Basil Wolverton is the only one who seemed somehow haunted to me.

These things he drew were in him, rubbery and weird and sometimes holy and sometimes hellish, but he just had to get them out. Decades after his death, there’s still nobody quite like him in comics history. 

The Lost World Of Small Press, Part IV: The Storytellers

Small press comics! Where no story is too small to tell, hence the name! Here’s part four of my ongoing occasional look at The Lost World Of Small Press and obscure and famous zines, comics and mimeographed gems from the 1990s. 

One of the most popular forms of small press comics is the autobiographical comic – stories, big or small, about ordinary lives. The late great Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor was the godfather to this genre, and it’s in some ways one of the easiest ways to get going on a comic – just tell your story. Sure, there’s a hundred mediocre autobio comics for every good one, but there’s a lot of greatness in this genre. Here’s random samples from my collection of five creators who excelled at it!

King-Cat Comics and Stories #70, 2009, John Porcellino – Porcellino is another legend in small press and autobio comics – he’s been running his series King-Cat Comics since 1989 and still going strong. He has a simple, spare yet amiable style, slowly polished to perfection over the years. Like the best autobio comics, he doesn’t do sprawling epics, but instead picks up on the little beauties of life.

This sample issue from a few years back tells about getting his wisdom teeth out and the hunt for a local folk artist in brief comic stories, but it also includes some of Porcellino’s gentle abstract “tone poems” which are barely stories at all – just moments, glimpsed in memory, turned into a few vivid words and drawings and yet somehow, encapsulating a little bit of everything. (Porcellino’s early zines have also been collected in some hefty books which are worth seeking out.) 

Dishwasher #12, 1994, Pete Jordan – I’ve written about Dishwasher Pete before, and his quixotic quest to wash dishes in all 50 states and publishing zines about it along the way. There’s something so totally ‘90s about Pete’s semi-slacker lifestyle, and becoming a bit of a cult hero along the way with his erratic zine with dishwashing stories, cartoons and more. This is the only issue of the zine I ever picked up and one of the final ones, but packed with fun stuff. It’s a great mix of Pete’s journal style entries of gigs in Mississippi and Arkansas, an excerpt from a 1930s dishwasher’s account, tips for proper dishwashing and amusing cartoon anecdotes and letters from other dishwashers. These days, shudder to think, Pete would probably have to be some kind of TikTok dish influencer to get noticed, but back then, a handmade zine felt, well, just more real, man. Fortunately for Dishwasher Pete fans, after hanging up his scrubs he later wrote a very entertaining memoir of his “dish dog” days that’s worth seeking out. 

Southern Fried #3, 1998, Jerry Smith – Jerry drew a series of chilled-out autobio comics about life and growing up in the South that had a lot of heart and debunked a lot of the lazier broad stereotypes about the South, even as he’s writing about hunting turtles or the local good ol’ boys. In this sample issue, he also drew some quietly devastating work about his relationship with his dad or the memories of his grandmother. Jerry’s work always felt to me the epitome of the “everyone’s got a story inside them” mantra – and everyone’s life is just as interesting as your own, examined the right way. I always liked Jerry’s art in these comics, a kind of rubbery realism which kind of skirts right at the line of being “ugly art” – that’s not a putdown, but there’s a kind of intense texture which makes his characters feel very lived-in. He’s still out there doing comics and art which is worth hunting for. 

Destined #3, 1997, Jeff Zenick – Back before you followed people on social media, you might follow their lives through zines. Jeff Zenick put out a lot of whimsical, candid “travel journal” type zines of his bicycle wanderings around the U.S. back in the day and I’ve always enjoyed their insightful, gentle charms. This issue of Destined tells of Jeff’s adventures in Oregon in a series of diary entries, illustrated with these finely detailed little landscape pen and ink drawings. There’s no real “plot” here, only a guy wandering around, visiting diners and coffee joints, taking on odd jobs and simply enjoying the pleasure of being, in a way that feels utterly present now – perhaps that’s just the nostalgia talking. (The only down side I find about some of these old zines when I re-read them now is that the sometimes tiny handwritten text is way harder to read for these ageing eyes.) These days Zenick does a lot of great portraits and art which can be sought out online too.

Tales From The Petro-Canada Man #4, 1994, Jason Marcy – Jay and I became pals back in the 1990s and we’re still pals today, so I’m biased as heck about him, but he is one of the great unsung autobiographical cartoonists around, doing brutally honest work for more than 30 (!) years now. He started out with his superhero parody “Powerwus,” but really found his calling with a series of tales about his life and work. The six-part Tales From The Petro-Canada Man comic, loosely organised around his late-night job at a petrol station and meeting the woman he’d go on to marry, are still fantastic work, scrappy and raw but sincere. Jay’s one, two or three-page strips were heavily influenced by the cartoonist Joe Matt (who was big in the 1990s, but Jay has actually gone on to be far more productive than Joe ever was). He’s unafraid to reveal all, from his mental health struggles to his, um, bodily functions (I still have nightmares about a few of his toilet strips) but there’s always a real humility and openness to his work that keeps it from ever feeling too exhibitionistic. A lot of autobio comics also tend to get whiny and maudlin but Jay’s work is often side-splittingly funny. Jay has gone on to do graphic novels and web toons and is still doing great autobio comics today, check out his Patreon!

Also in this series:

The Lost World Of Small Press, Part III: Mysterious minicomics

The Lost World of Small Press Part II: Minicomics maestros

The Lost World of Small Press, Part I: Bruce Chrislip makes history

Black Goliath – The big hero who never quite measured up

Black Goliath, ironically, may not have been the biggest superhero of all time, but he’s always one I’ve been weirdly fond of.

Yet this C-list Marvel superhero, who has only made a token appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in his civilian identity to date, always seemed to get the short end of the stick. His solo series died before it even got going, his character changed names a lot, and ended up being pointlessly killed in a mega-hero crossover event to give it some weak dramatic heft. 

Back in the day, I found a single issue of Black Goliath in a pile of ‘70s comics I was trading with a friend. I’d never even heard of this hero, so I was intrigued. I liked the very ‘70s goofy costume design, all bright blue and yellows, bizarre bare midriff and his towering swagger. 

Black Goliath was Bill Foster – described as “a child of the ghetto who has pulled himself out of the Los Angeles slums to become director of one of the nation’s most prestigious research labs” and who could now turn himself into a 15-foot-giant. He first appeared in a few Avengers issues as a civilian back in the 1960s before turning up with super-growing powers in a few issues of Luke Cage, Power Man. 

But his hyped 1976 solo comic lasted a mere five issues, failing to ever get out of first gear. He fought nondescript villains like “Atom Smasher” and “Vulcan” (plus the towering Stilt-Man, which was actually a pretty clever match-up) and plotlines were teased but never fully explored. 

Black Goliath never quite got a chance. After his series was cut short, Black Goliath briefly popped up as a member of second-tier superhero team The Champions before they too got cancelled. 

Years later, Foster turned up as a supporting character in Marvel Two-In-One starring The Thing, where he was slowly dying from radiation poisoning and eventually cured. It was at this point he changed his hero name from Black Goliath to plain Giant-Man, at the Thing’s suggestion. “I mean, it’s pretty obvious that you’re black – and if I remember my Sunday school lessons, Goliath was a bad guy,” he noted. 

He moped around for a while, but Black Goliath/Giant-Man’s defining characteristic in his appearances always seemed to be that he never made the ‘big time.’ He tended to lose fights a lot. Too much of the time he appeared, his major defining characteristic was an inferiority complex, which was a bummer – as a successful Black biochemist in that era, Bill Foster could have been written a bit more uplifting (literally and figuratively). 

Kind of like another favourite obscure 1970s hero fave of mine, Omega The Unknown, Black Goliath is kind of a failure at the job. 

Worst of all, Black Goliath was killed off as random cannon fodder in Marvel’s overwrought Civil War comic years ago, murdered by a clone of Thor (!) and dismissively bid farewell in a cringey panel showing his giant-sized body was too big to properly bury. In an added bit of debasement his corpse was dug up in an issue of Mighty Avengers so bad guys could attempt to steal his powers. Black Goliath, Giant Man, whatever you wanted to call him, deserved better.

I recognise the whiff of exploitation that hangs around those early ‘70s Black superheroes like Black Goliath, Black Lightning and Luke Cage – mostly written entirely by white guys, most of them were rage-filled angry Black men stereotypes in a lot of ways. And yet – they were also representation for a group who were roundly ignored in mainstream comics before then.

Superman debuted in 1939 but the first major Black superhero, the Black Panther, didn’t debut until 1966. (There were earlier Black heroes, but they were pretty obscure.) Nearly 50 years ago, having a Black genius biochemist – or an African king – be a superhero felt a bit revolutionary, despite some of the more cliched acts of their portrayals. 

Laurence Fishburne played scientist Bill Foster in a small role in 2018’s Ant Man and the Wasp, but we were denied the glory of ever watching him Goliath up himself. 

Though he’s not likely to end up the next big MCU superstar anytime soon, I still like Black Goliath. Perhaps it’s because he is kind of an underdog superhero, and I always liked those. 

Sometimes you gotta stick up for the little (but really actually very big) guy. 

Amoeba Adventures 32 – the print edition – is here and now shipping!

It’s here! It’s shiny and tangible! Slightly delayed by flooding and chaos, the strictly limited print edition of AMOEBA ADVENTURES 32 is available for a mere US$7.50 shipped from New Zealand to anywhere in the known world!

And of course, the comic itself is also still here as a 100% free PDF download that you can read right this second by clicking here! Don’t miss what I humbly think is the wildest Amoeba Adventures story in years.

Plus, still available are limited print copies of Amoeba Adventures 30, Amoeba Adventures 31 and the special anniversary reprint of 1998’s Amoeba Adventures 27. Order all four comics together for a mere US$25 postpaid or single issues for $7.50 each. Order by sending funds to PayPal care of or contact me directly! Thanks as always for reading.

Presenting the world premiere of Amoeba Adventures #32!

My brand new comic book is now available as a digital release. It’s the 32nd issue of Amoeba Adventures, which I’ve been writing/drawing in some form or another on and off since 1990 (urk)!

I’m a biased fellow, but this might just be my favourite issue yet, and it’s turned out to be the longest comic I’ve written and drawn in many years. It’s an epic adventure full of shocking returns of beloved characters and a roller-coaster of emotion in a tale I just had to call “Seedling.” Ninja Ant, Prometheus, Dawn and Spif face a challenge spawned from the darkest days of the All-Spongy Squadron’s past.  Download the digital edition PDF for free right now by clicking on the link below to view on the computing device of your choice. Enjoy!

Download Amoeba Adventures #32!

Or, take a look at the first three pages for free right here!

As always, a strictly limited-edition print version is being published too, because hey, I like physical media! It’s a mere US$7.50 to ship anywhere in the whole wide world to you from glamorous New Zealand in just a few weeks’ time. Send your money via PayPal to me at and sit back and wait at your mailbox.

STILL AVAILABLE:  Plus, there are still a handful of copies left of the print editions of Amoeba Adventures #30 and Amoeba Adventures #31, and the special 25th anniversary reprint of Amoeba Adventures #27, now with eight pages of bonus art and interviews! When these are gone, these are gone, so if you want a print copy grab one – Amoeba Adventures #28 and #29 are all now SOLD OUT! 

Thanks again as always for your support in my never-ending quest to draw weird comics in my free time. If you like it I’d love some feedback, and if you haven’t liked/followed the Amoeba Adventures by Nik Dirga page on Facebook yet, please do – besides my comics work, it also features regular links to my other writing, journalism, reviews and more! Cheers, pals!

The Lost World Of Small Press, Part III: Mysterious minicomics

Minicomics! We love them, and there’s millions of them! I’m back for part three of my ongoing look at The Lost World Of Small Press and the random gems and curiosities from my small press comics collection of the 1990s.

Last time we talked about folks like Matt Feazell and Steve Willis, small press legends who have even achieved a fair bit of ‘fame’ in this little subculture. But there’s a thousand other small press comics out there that maybe only a few people remember or even ever actually read. Let’s take a turn to more mysterious and forgotten comics of the era: 

The thing about all of these ones is that they’re either obscure, or unfinished, or both. They’re comics that caught my attention but the creators just sort of faded from the scene entirely and I have no idea where they are today – you can’t even Google most of these comics. But I still have ‘em and remember them, and well, decades on their creativity is worth remembering, even if only in a blog post. 

Human Unit 12 #1 and #8

What if a clone designed by the government escaped and became well, a kind of hippie? Human Unit 12 was one of the first minicomics I ever “collected,” before it and creator Erik Kaye vanished from the scene, or at least my reckoning of it. These tidy little minis were well produced on slick paper and Kaye’s impressionistic art reminds me some of Bill Sienkiewicz. The design of “Human Unit 12” is particularly innovative – he looks a bit like a Picasso cubist drawing in amongst realistic backgrounds. I really dug HU12 for a while there, which was beautifully drawn yet rambled sort of amiably along without really developing the story too much, as Human Unit wrote poems, worked for Greenpeace and went to parties. The last issue I saw, #8, was a startlingly pornographic sex issue that felt like a mad fever dream, and then, that was it. Like a lot of comics I picked up early in my small press days circa 1990-1993, it just kind of disappeared, unresolved. But while it lasted I dug Human Unit 12’s freedom, and idiosyncratic world. Just starting out to really make my own comics, a book like this reminded me that really, you could create anything

The Adventures of Boiled Man #5

On page one it states this “is a completely silly mini-comic, not intended to be taken even a little seriously.” The great thing about the compact minicomic format is that you can do a single gag and make a comic out of it. This issue of Boiled Man by Bryan K. Ward – the only one I ever saw – is nothing but seven pages of a pot and a wok growling and gurgling at each other as a spider crawls down a web in the background. “Amazing Team-Up! Introducing Wok-Man!” the cover blares. It’s daft and goofy, but darn if it the commitment to the “joke” – dadaist as it is – makes me laugh. I don’t know how many adventures of Boiled Man there were, but this one is a true clash of the titans. 

Creature of the Night #1

Unlike some of the more obscure comics here, Creature of the Night was HOT in the small press scene of 1992, by gosh. Publisher and writer Chris Terry burst onto the scene with a captivating little horror tale that made people realise how good small press could look. It boasted extremely high production values for a minicomic of the time – glossy paper, gorgeous Barry Windsor-Smith-esque art by Bob Hobbs, and a catchy dark and violent yarn about Satan worshippers, monsters and evil curses. At the end of #1, our lead character is transformed into a demonic creature and hurtles off into the night swearing revenge.  Yet while Creature made a very big splash in the minicomics scene of the time, Chris Terry never really equalled it. There was another issue or two of Creature after lengthy delays, equally well produced, but the story spun its wheels I thought and never quite got past first gear. Terry soon exited small press entirely a bit abruptly. (Sure, today’s social media is bad, but the squabbling and ‘feuds’ that regularly went through small press in the 1990s in old-fashioned letters and such was as bad as any Facebook group today.) I got an email from Chris Terry once a few years later asking me to promote a band in the newspaper I worked at. And that’s the last I heard of him. I don’t think the Creature of the Night ever showed its face again. 

Mr. Unique #1

This fellow from Florida, Mark Bratton, put out a handful of minicomics which were noteworthy to me because they were so darned weird, like strange backwoods outsider art filtered through Steve Ditko. The story is kind of incomprehensible and the art is, to be charitable, rough, but there’s still this very odd energy to the handful of Bratton comics I own today, with his rough, thick linework almost hacked out of the page and characters alternately sobbing and screaming through the panels. Although it’s littered with misspellings, the story of a clairvoyant’s adventures has this coiled insistence to it that made me keep the battered copy of Mr. Unique #1 for all these years. It feels a bit like a comic that just came out of the void. It’s amateur and raw and sloppy, but you kind of feel like Bratton, whatever happened to him, meant it. And really, that’s kind of what small press comics are all about. 

The Lost World of Small Press Part II: Minicomics maestros

I’ve been publishing small press comics on and off (mostly off) since the 1990s, but I have to admit I’ve only published a handful of minicomics, preferring the slightly larger digest size. But the minicomic itself is a work of genius – a single sheet of A4 or 8×11 paper folded in half, and folded again, trimmed and stapled, and voila! Highly portable art.

As promised back in Part I of the Lost World of Small Press, here’s a dip into my boxes of small press comics from back in the day, with a look at three of my favourite old minicomics – this time, focusing on small press legends, next time, focusing on small press unknowns

“Legends” is a relative term in a niche field like small press, of course, but there are some names anyone who’s been around for a while gets to know – Matt Feazell, Colin Upton and John MacLeod are right up there among them, each great talents. 

The Death of Antisocialman #1

Anyone can draw a stick figure, but nobody can draw ‘em as well as Matt Feazell, who’s been doing minicomics starring Cynicalman and other stick folk for decades, even appearing in Eclipse Comics’ Zot! back in the 1980s. Matt has put out uncounted mountains of minis, but some of my favourite star the cantankerous, rude Antisocialman, who “died” (not really) in a series of great energy-filled minis circa 1991. Matt’s stick art has ranged from the extremely sketchy to the highly polished, his gags from silly to complex, but he’s always worth reading. 

Famous Bus Rides #3 

There’s a zillion “autobiographical” comix out there, ranging from the sublime to the infantile. Canadian Colin Upton has been around for a long time and done all kinds of interesting work, but something about Famous Bus Rides sums up the tidy, compact pleasures of an autobio minicomic for me, where a single weird encounter on a bus ride can turn into a lightning-quick short story. Like the late great Harvey Pekar, Upton takes a random moment or two from life and makes it into humble comics art. 

The Night I Almost Met Shonen Knife 

John MacLeod is another well known small presser for his amazingly cool low-fi series Dishman. His crisp, clean art always appeals to me, and the 1994 minicomic The Night I Almost Met Shonen Knife is a brisk, funny little anecdote about learning a cool band is a fan of your work and almost – but not quite – meeting them. It’s the kind of yarn that would seem a bit flimsy for a full on comic story, but in a tidy little 16-page mini, it’s just right.

All three of these folks are still in the game producing comics in some form or another – Matt Feazell has his own website with lots of great stuff for sale, while both John MacLeod and Colin Upton’s recent work can be found by seeking out their Facebook pages. 

Next time: From legends to mysterious minicomics outsiders! 

Previously: The Lost World of Small Press Part I: Bruce Chrislip’s history of minicomics

The Lost World of Small Press, Part I: Bruce Chrislip makes history

Most of us learn it when we’re kids – all you really need to make a comic is a pencil and a piece of blank paper. That’s the beauty and the charm of small press comics, wonderfully explained in a brilliant, extremely niche book of comics history I read recently that I highly recommend, The Minicomix Revolution 1969-1989

Bruce Chrislip is one of the foundational members of the small press “scene” of the 1970s and ‘80s and his book is a hefty old tome that captures the beginnings of an essentially ephemeral, ever-changing world. Improved printing technology and the spirit of underground comics led to a world where basically anyone could publish their own comic, even if nobody bought a copy for the 7 cents they were asking.

The Minicomix Revolution is a sweeping, if by its very nature incomplete, history of a creative movement that still animates culture today – after all, what is internet “content” from influencers but yet another way of doing it all yourself, and taking your work directly to the people? 

There’s dozens of names in here, from the notable to the obscure, and Chrislip keeps his narrative from turning into a dry list by bringing them to life with tales of late-night jam sessions, friendships made and always, madcap invention. Chrislip also notes those who started in small press who went on to much bigger things, like Simpsons guru Matt Groening and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles creators Eastman and Laird. 

Chrislip’s book ends just at the time I came into the small press scene circa 1991 or so, but many of the names he covers were familiar to me as press icons such as Matt Feazell and Steve Willis, or the late great artist and “reviewzine” editor Tim Corrigan, who gave me some of my first “real” reviews of my own comic Amoeba Adventures when I started it in 1990.

Chrislip includes dozens of comics covers that capture the beautiful anarchy of small press, where a comic can be everything from a goofy superhero riff (cough cough) to highly personal autobiography or a series of self-portraits or just sheer dadaist gags. (The book is available directly from him directly, and you can look him up on Facebook, contact him via email or mail him a check or money order at 2113 Endovalley Dr. Cincinnati, OH 45244 – it’s $45 postpaid, beautifully produced and well worth the cash if you’re into rare comics history.) 

There are brilliant artists working in small press that few comics fans will ever hear about. That’s kind of sad to me, but it’s an artist’s life, too. A few very noble efforts to collect some classic minicomics have been published but it’s a bit like attempting to collect snow – for every mini “superstar” like a Matt Feazell there’s a dozen others who may have only sold 10 copies of their comic, but it’s still grand fun.

I wish there was a way to completely capture the vast breadth of small press – efforts like Ricko Bradford’s Poopsheet Foundation or official archives held by academic institutions help. 

The “zine” scene is still alive and well bubbling beneath our TikTok and Twittified world, and dogged folks like me are still producing unique pieces of comic art that maybe only a few dozen people will read, but hey, it’s the creating that really counts, in my mind. You feel the call to make things, and you’ll never quite stop hearing it. 

In the end, it’s just about the comics, really. My collection has whittled down a bit over the years what with moving around the world and such but I’ve still kept a hardcore pile of the minicomics that mean the most to me over the years. They’re literally irreplaceable, as some creators have vanished from the scene or even died and their comics are totally unavailable today. 

All this lengthy preamble leads up to me starting an occasional blog series here on the “Lost World of Small Press” looking at a handful of these groovy handmade gems hidden in my boxes o’ comix! Look for more rare 1990s small press comics showcased here mighty soon. 

More in this series:

The Lost World of Small Press Part II: Minicomics Maestros

The Lost World of Small Press Part III: Mysterious Minicomics

Marvel’s 70s movies and TV comics: Licensed to thrill 

The older I get, the more weirdly specific my comics-collecting fetish gets, diving into strange corners and alleyways, like weird romance comics and the gut-wrenching final issues of series

Licensed comics based on existing properties are as old as the medium (believe it or not, kids, Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis could once sustain long-running series) and I’ve always had a weird yen for Marvel Comics’ exuberant movie and TV comics franchises of the 1970s. 

Marvel has had a huge run of licensed comics that kicked off with the huge success of Conan the Barbarian although for many in my generation, their excellent Star Wars series was what hooked fans for a lifetime. (I’ve dabbled in the many, many Dark Horse and later Marvel Star Wars comics over the years, but for me, still, the only “real” Star Wars comics are the original 107-issue Marvel run.)

Beginning in the mid- to late 1970s, Marvel licensed comics were EVERYwhere – toy lines like Shogun Warriors and Micronauts and ROM, movies like Planet of the Apes and Battlestar Galactica and Godzilla

The licensed titles were often advertised in the pages of other comics I already read, and I usually hadn’t seen the source material they were based on, so things like the brief seven-issue run of Logan’s Run or the real-life stuntman The Human Fly always intrigued me. Who were these characters side-by-side with Thor and Iron Man? Why was there a comic about them?

The Marvel licensed comics of the 1970s were all over the map, quality-wise, but they also had a sense of freedom. ROM spun an entire epic cosmic war out of its cheap plastic toy inspiration, and Marvel’s Godzilla brought us the immortal image of Godzilla shrunk down to human-size and skulking around Manhattan in a trenchcoat. The licensed comics never felt like they had to be particularly faithful to their sources, so you got things like Star Wars’ immortal, somewhat controversial Jaxxon the rabbit that you can’t imagine Disney/Lucasfilm would ever permit today. 

There were a lot of strange creative chances taken by Marvel in the 1970s when it came to licensing comics – such as Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey being very loosely adapted and expanded upon years after its release by Jack Kirby, (a bizarre combination that shouldn’t have worked but somehow did), or rock star Alice Cooper getting a horror-tinged one-shot comics tryout.

So anyway, this weird completism is why I ended up buying the entire brief seven-issue run of Man From Atlantis for cheap recently, because it’s one of the few ‘70s Marvel licensed series I’d never read. I don’t even LIKE the TV series, really, and honestly Marvel publishing what was always basically a bargain-bin version of their far cooler character Namor the Sub-Mariner seemed weird. But hey, the comic was written by Marvel’s go-to licensed comics guy, the underrated Bill Mantlo, and art by Frank Robbins, whose loose-limbed antic figures appeal to me more now than they once did. The comic is actually fairly fun underwater antics with a far higher budget than the TV series had – and more inventive than its source. 

Licensed comics are still very much about today – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the indefatigable Star Wars, Transformers, Star Trek, GI Joe, Conan and much more carry on telling stories that go far beyond the source material, yet when I pick them up they always seem a bit constrained, somehow. Maybe the big difference is that when those Star Wars and Godzilla comics were on the stands 40 or so years ago, you couldn’t just hop online and watch a Star Wars movie. You had hazy memories of cinema visits, and the tie-in comics provided a valuable map back into the entertainment you dug. Licensed comics allowed you to return to these worlds, again and again, when it wasn’t quite so easy to do so. 

These days, with so much of everything everywhere all the time, a licensed comic seems somewhat less unique than it once did, and more just a part of the flood of content washing over us all. Hey, but that’s cool – I’ve still got quite a few issues of Micronauts to track down. 

It’s another Amoebargain sale and special Amoeba Adventures reprint!

It’s time for the second annual AMOEBARGAIN SALE of rare out-of-print back issues of my comic Amoeba Adventures – plus, a special reprint of one of my favourite issues of the original series, back in print for the first time in years! If you are wanting to pick up handsome physical copies of my comics, including the last few copies I have of some real rarities, now is your chance.

Just released: Amoeba Adventures #27: The 25th Anniversary Edition

It’s the final issue of the original 1990-1998 run of Amoeba Adventures, and one of my favourite comics ever. Somehow or another, 2023 marks 25 years since this bad boy came out. Way back in 1998, I was dead broke and living in a hick town in the middle of nowhere so the original print run of AA #27 was very small and quickly gone. After the carnage of “The Dark Ages,” the All-Spongy Squadron regroups for one last hurrah. Setting up the status quo for the 2020 Amoeba Adventures revival, it features Rambunny, Spif, Ninja Ant, Prometheus and Dawn one last time – and of course, a drunken bar brawl!  This special reprint also includes EIGHT pages of rare art, interviews and behind-the-scenes commentary. A mere US$5.00 – only a small amount have been printed and when they’re gone, they’re gone. 

Plus! Vintage Amoebas! Get ‘em before they go!

There’s still a small handful of vintage 1990s Amoeba Adventures issues I’ve got in storage that it’s time to set free – these are out of print original printings and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever and are going dirt-cheap!

Available are:

Amoeba Adventures #19, 20, 21, 22, 24 – $1.00 each!

Amoeba Adventures #11, 13, 14, 15, 18, 23 Sorry, all sold out!

Recent issues: Plus, if you’ve missed out on the super cool limited print edition of the most recent issues, there are just a few left. Everything must go!

Amoeba Adventures #28 – SOLD OUT!

Amoeba Adventures #29 – ALMOST gone!

Amoeba Adventures #30 – FIVE copies left!

Amoeba Adventures #31 – The most recent issue!

For a limited time, all now available for a mere $5.00 each! 

Finally, work is well underway on Amoeba Adventures #32, the FIFTH new issue – it won’t quite be ready until closer to Christmas, but if you want to pre-order the limited print edition of that now, it’s a mere $US7.50 shipped anywhere in the entire world to you when it’s available. 

Sale ends November 30, so don’t delay! How to order: Postage is $1 for 1-2 books, $5 for 3-6 books, $6 for 7 or more. Send funds via paypal to

Of course, if you’re a child of the modern age and don’t mind digital, a reminder that EVERY one of my comics is available as a free PDF download right here – all 32 issues of Amoeba Adventures, spin-offs, weird side projects, jams and much more. As always, thanks for reading!