Don Unger is a professor of writing and rhetoric living in the South. He has been a comic fan since he first picked up a couple issues of the Epic reprints of Elfquest from a drug store spinner rack in 1985. He has published zines intermittently since 1991, including Birdcage Liner, Words and Smiles, Sand Box Brats, Odd Fag Out, and Boyfunk. Currently, he’s working on his first minicomic.
Welcome to Indie Creator Explosion (Indie CE)
I’m Don. This website serves two purposes: to showcase my zines, drawings, and minicomics, and to provide a space where I discuss independent comic and zine creators and alternative presses.
On the blog, I focus on creators and their work, detail their creative process, how readers and critics received their work, and delving into how this work influenced others.
Just to give you a sense of why I focus on independent creators, I’ll refer you to a book that I recently picked up: Deathreats: The Life and Times of a Comic Book Rockstar. The book collects all the editorials and letter columns from Drew Hayes’ Poison Elves comic. In his introduction to the book, noted comics reporter Tom Spurgeon addresses how comic fans have always craved to know more about comics creators. Spurgeon argues that this desire led readers to break down the 4th wall during the late 1950s and early 60s, and becoming creators themselves and publishing fanzines like Xero, Comic Art, Alter-Ego, and Sense of Wonder, among myriad others. Spurgeon also posits that this desire to be closer to creators as well as the desire to build stronger bonds with other readers led to the development of comic shops and conventions. Still, most mainstream comic publishers—such as DC and Marvel—gave little attention to the writers and artists who created their comics in the 1950s and 60s.
In the 1960s underground comix, which were published independently or by small presses, freed up creators to pursue stories that they found compelling. It was an important step in bringing comic creators to the foreground. However, it wasn’t until the late 1970s that the relationship between the creator and the comic became inseparable. And, it was self-published comics like Wendy and Richard Pini’s Elfquest and Dave Sim’s Cerebus that proved that this approach could be wildly successful. Their success had a ripple effect that changed comic book publishing and fandom forever.
Today we often ignore this history when we attribute a creators’ success with advancements in technology. We see arguments all the time about how digital technology has made it easier than ever before to create work and release it to the world. While I don’t disagree—changes in technology are certainly important, these arguments put the cart before the horse. Through this series, I hope to recenter people in conversations about artistic creation, changes in independent publishing, and fan participation. Independent writers and artists have always created work by hook or by crook because they had something important to say about their experiences, passions, and beliefs, and these creators knew that corporate comics, newspapers, and magazines would never say these things. In looking at creators from the 1950s through the 1990s, I think that we see that it wasn’t only cheaper and more efficient publishing technologies and distribution methods that led us to where we are today. It was a desire for different sorts of relationships with one another that got us here. A lot of people deserve credit. I want to focus on those folks, and I want to show why their work was more important than what critics might have thought when it first emerged.
If the blog posts intrigue you, then I encourage you to like, share, and subscribe to updates. To get in touch with me, email prof.don.unger(at)gmail(dot)com.
One last comment on the site name: Indie Creator Explosion (Indie CE) is an homage to two publications. In relation to comics, it’s an homage to Tim Corrigan’s Small Press Comics Explosion (later dubbed Small Press Creative Explosion), an ad and review zine published from 1985 until the mid 1990s that focused on small-press and self-published comics published. The zine, and Tim, played an important role in supporting and publicizing indie comics creators, something I hope to do with this website.
Tim will be featured in a future post. He passed away in 2015. Rest in Peace, Tim.
In relation to zines, Indie CE is an homage to Larry-Bob Robert’s Queer Zine Explosion, a review zine from the 1990s and 2000s that reviewed queer punk zines.