Earlier this year I wrote about my first self-published comics, a fan-fiction series of Firestorm comics I created with my friend Robert Macke 30 years ago. Inspired by how good inked comics copied in multiples looked, over the following summer I inked the first issue of my solo title Armen Hammer, a thinly veiled Thor knockoff merged with an animated Arm & Hammer baking soda commercial ca. 1980. Over the previous couple of years I had created a fair number of comics with this character (probably 10 or 12) in pencil on notebook paper, jumping around to different points (and “issue numbers”) in the character’s history. But in the summer of 1982 I finally inked the first one into a finished form with a #1 that I copied and distributed once school started up again that August; my first solo comic was pretty popular among my cartoonist friends who read it at the time … and now you can read it in all its spelling-error riddled glory as a downloadable .pdf e-book.
Even though Armen Hammer was probably the least original concept of those I had created up to that point (including a more standard superhero comic, and a quirky teamup between an opera singer and an inventor), this was the comic that I stuck with and developed more than any others. In hindsight, that turns out to have been a lucky break for me, as I discovered superhero parody was more fun to write than straight superhero action. I quickly moved on from parodying Thor and into more original stories and a general satire of superhero conventions (though early on using the kind of gratuitous foul language typically associated with teenage “creativity”). I published two more full-size issues by the time I graduated high school (while also puttering around but never finishing various comics with my friends and drawing two years of editorial cartoons for my high school paper, the Heights Highlighter). Then, while making copies of a strip I attempted to self-syndicate to high school papers, I met Jon E., a cartoonist working at Kinko’s, who keyed me into small press for the first time (and explaining the concept of the digest comic, to boot)!
That summer I remember staying up all night and finishing Armen Hammer #4, which I published in October of 1985 (as both my first digest comic and the first use of the Smeary Soapbox Press imprint). By the summer of 1986 I had discovered Tim Corrigan’s SPCE, which introduced me to a wider network of other self-publishing cartoonists, and over the next 3 years I kept pretty active publishing Armen Hammer comics (you can see the full list here) along with other titles. Over time I found myself enjoying the incidental characters more than my protagonist, who was tied too directly to his source inspiration for my tastes, and when in 1989 I published Armen Hammer #11, I didn’t realize it would be the end of the road for the character as I’d known him.
But it turns out he wouldn’t stay out of the picture for long. More on that next time …