When comics entrepreneur Marc Arsenault announced almost a year ago that he had bought defunct Alternative Comics in order to relaunch the publisher, a lot of fans (me included) were thrilled. Under founder Jeff Mason, Alternative introduced readers to creators like Graham Annable, Brandon Graham, James Kochalka, Ed Brubaker, Scott Campbell (of Great Movie Showdowns fame), Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. So with Alternative and comiXology announcing today that the publisher’s catalog is becoming available digitally on the app, I was eager to talk to Arsenault about their plans.
Michael May: For those who don’t know you, what’s your background in comics?
Marc Arsenault: Wow. Where to begin? I’ve been a pretty behind-the-scenes guy for most of my time in comics, but this year I’ve hit the quarter century mark for working in them.
I figured out that I wanted to make comics somewhere around eighth grade when I discovered RAW, Warrior and Heavy Metal. When I found out about the comics program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) my path was clear. I didn’t even apply to any other schools. I got to study with Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner, Joe Orlando, David Sandlin, Jerry Moriarity, Marshall Arisman and the very influential Jack Potter.
That experience was very relevant to Alternative Comics’ past and present because it was there that I met Sam Henderson and Tom Hart. I shared a studio space with Tom, and he and Sam had started an off-campus comics anthology called Tuna Casserole. By the fifth issue I became co-editor and we founded the first incarnation of my company Wow Cool. I ended up becoming an illustrator instead of a cartoonist, and did that freelance on and off up until about a decade ago.
Founded by Marc Arsenault and altcomix lifers Tom Hart and Sam Henderson back in 1988, the publisher/record label/mail-order business/what-have-you known as Wow Cool was a mainstay of the 1990s zine scene and has operated on and off in the venn-diagram overlap of comics, zines, and indie music ever since. But now it’s back in a big way, thanks to a spiffy redesigned web store that Arsenault recently launched. The Wow Cool website boasts some of the best books in the alternative and underground comics world, and a lot more besides. From back issues of legendary anthologies like Zap, Weirdo, and Arcade to newer comics by Michael DeForge, Lisa Hanawalt, and Kevin Huizenga, from punk rags like Cometbus and Maximum RockNRoll to comics mags like The Comics Journal and Comic Book Artist, from books to records to beyond, it’s a well-curated collection of comics and cultural ephemera. Heck, even superhero readers scarred by the loss of precious continuity in DC’s New 52 ought to have fun with Arsenault’s “Oh No!!! Retconned Again!!!” t-shirt, available for the insane price of $6.99. The Wow Cool blog is a great read, too — witness this recent post on the artists of Adventure Time. Go ye and browse.