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Before Strange Tales, before Bizarro, before those pages in Ultimate Marvel Team-Up that Craig Thompson drew, before the past decade’s worth of alternative comics artists taking a crack at the spandex set, there was Coober Skeber 2. Published by Tom Devlin, who would go on to launch the hugely influential (if never quite financially successful) Highwater Books imprint, this anthology’s so-called “Marvel Benefit Issue” contained a galaxy of altcomix stars both famous (that’s a Seth cover above) and obscure taking on the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe.
The book hit an unsuspecting Comic-Con International in 1997, as the ailing comics giant was cape-deep in bankruptcy. And though the “benefit” angle was dubious, since the book was handed out for free, the impact on readers who’d never seen the likes of future underground legends like Mat Brinkman or Ron Regé Jr. before, let alone working with characters like Spider-Man, was substantial.
The good folks at Comics Comics have posted the story behind the book. Here’s a snippet:
Tom Devlin: Joe Chiappetta was giving them away from his table sort of secretly and people knew to go over there. Because I didn’t have a table. I went down with my brother and I stayed at a youth hostel with my brother and Brian Ralph. And we just walked around. I’m not even sure, we must have kept the boxes in my brother’s car or something. Then we’d walk over to the convention center – it was a lot smaller then, it wasn’t where you’d have to walk two miles or something. We’d carry a box or two over and just put them behind Joe’s booth. Then we’d get a handful and walk around and give them to people. People loved it. People went crazy for it. I gave a copy to some guys over at the Marvel booth and one of the guys joked, “I’ll give this to our lawyers.” I think my intro was “I did this to help Marvel out in its time of need.”
That’s an excerpt from an oral history of Highwater assembled by Greg Cook and TD Sidell for the show catalog for “Right Thing The Wrong Way: The Story of Highwater Books,” an art-show tribute to the publisher featuring works by Cook, Regé, Jeff Czekaj, Megan Kelso, Brian Ralph, Marc Bell, Jordan Crane, and Kurt Wolfgang. The show opens on October 1st at Boston’s Fourth Wall Project. Meanwhile, you can check out some of the strips from the Marvel Benefit Issue at Again with the Comics.