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It didn't feel like a corporation, however -- running the company had become a family affair, with the duo's father, Steven E. Schanes, hired in 1982 as financial vice president and mother Christine Marra serving as office manager. Bill and Steve's older brother Paul (everyone called him Pablo) quit his job as a welder to work in the financial records department, and sister Chris, an L.A.-based attorney, provided counsel on legal affairs. The pay was good (I started at $6.50 an hour), and it was a more than pleasant workplace atmosphere, and not just because of the endless supply of reading material.

Underground comic icon Robert Crumb once spent a day in the back warehouse with us, autographing plates in an art portfolio containing prints by him and various other artists. The creator of Mr. Natural and Fritz the Cat and the cofounder of the original Zap Comix stubbornly insisted on signing with a pencil rather than a pen, causing many of his plates to get smudged and discarded. "I didn't even want to do this, but it's the only way I can get paid," he told us. "I hate my fans, I hate autograph collectors, and I hope every one of my signatures rubs off later." I was starstruck. Meeting the wizened little guy in the wrinkled suit was like meeting a comic character -- he looked just the way he drew himself in his strips. Not only that, he smelled the way you'd expect Robert Crumb to smell. His personal aroma was a mixture of moldy paper, crotch sweat, dusty old 78 rpm record jackets, decaying food, and powerful four-alarm head-to-toe B.O., surely adopted to shun interaction with other human beings, the bulk of whom he despised.

It was even more exciting to meet mainstream comic artist Neal Adams. His influential art style -- realistic, fluid, and dynamic, whether depicting subtleties such as facial expressions or exaggeratedly violent action sequences -- is credited with rejuvenating DC comics like Batman and Green Lantern/Green Arrow. Adams came to Pacific's office with an art portfolio he'd published himself in 1979, "The New Heroes," containing a drawing of an ecologically correct superhero he was calling Ms. Mystic, which Pacific agreed to publish as a series. The first ad in Captain Victory #2 read, "Against all the forces that set to despoil all that is good in nature stands...Ms. Mystic!" The series was originally announced for release "sometime in 1982." Artwork dribbled in a few pages per quarter, and the comic finally came out in September '82. It would be the end of 1983 before Adams would finish enough pages to publish a second issue.

One afternoon during this period while visiting the office, underground cartoonist Dan O'Neill agreed to step out to the railroad tracks behind the warehouse with several staffers to get high. After the five of us passed around a hastily rolled joint, O'Neill pulled out a candlestick-sized metal box from his pants pocket and removed his own superdoobie, a joint of heroic proportions, in keeping with the larger-than-life four-color characters he illustrated. The thing was like a roll of tarpaper with an ash on the end. You practically needed fireplace tongs for the roach clip. After eschewing oxygen for the ten minutes it took to toast the monster joint, we all stumbled back into the building, squinting and giggling and reeking like Tommy Chong's beard. To my amazement, O'Neill made at least four more trips to the tracks that afternoon, though only one staffer to my knowledge managed to accompany him every time and apparently keep up with his prodigious intake. I was so zoned I could barely tell Robotech from Battletech from Star Trek.

The editorials for Pacific's comics were written by a shaggy, bearded, and bespectacled guy in the front office named David Scroggy. If you knew him back then, you won't be surprised to learn that he was the staffer who made it to the railroad tracks all five times with Dan O'Neill.

Scroggy had been working in comics since 1975 as a retailer and had been general manager in the late '70s of Pacific's four San Diego stores (at SDSU, and in P.B., Clairemont, and Oceanside). He proved to be a great go-between in working with often temperamental and almost always ego-fragile creators, helping to bring to Pacific one of comicdom's most reclusive artists, Steve Ditko, cocreator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange. "He has created an entirely original, decidedly different character for your enjoyment: The Missing Man," Scroggy announced in a July '82 editorial. "We will preview The Missing Man in the next issue of Captain Victory...after his debut in Captain Victory #6, The Missing Man will be featured in a new title: Pacific Presents. This will be a 'three-shot' mini-series...so our line is growing, slowly but surely. We have some outstanding projects in the works, featuring some of the greatest talents in the world of comics. Stick with us for an exciting and surprise-filled year."

Steve Ditko ranks among the most talented comic creators ever, and this Missing Man was a surprise, if not very exciting. Like Kirby's '80s work, Ditko's offering wasn't "retro" enough to be quaint, and yet it was far too removed from his classic Marvel work two decades earlier to appeal to fans expecting that sort of minimalist superhero adventuring. Missing Man was ostensibly a private detective, drawn as a mostly transparent character -- nothing but hair, ears, arms, legs, and a set of glasses hanging suspended in midair where his face ought to be. The script, by Mark Evanier, had people standing around a lot with dopey "Wot the..." expressions, saying things to each other like "He's here and yet he's not here. I don't know where to stab!" Subsequent Missing Man stories in Pacific Presents were increasingly incoherent, and the series disappeared after issue #3.

1983 -- The Year in Comics: With the success of the direct market, new publishers emerge. Canadian artist Dave Sim, creator of Cerebus the Aardvark, begins his own publishing imprint, Aardvark-Vanaheim, to present comics by indie artists, such as Neil the Horse by Arn Saba and Flaming Carrot by Bob Burden. The motion picture Superman III, featuring Richard Pryor, marks the rapid descent of DC/Warners film franchise into camp and mediocrity.

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