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.
Pacific was releasing more than just monthly four-color comics. The company also published a magazine-sized black-and-white reprint of Rog 2000 stories that superstar Marvel artist John Byrne had done in the '70s for long-gone Charlton Comics. Under its parent company name, Blue Dolphin Enterprises, Pacific Comics published a 108-page sword-and-sorcery graphic novel called Ghita of Alizarr (1983) by Red Sonja artist Frank Thorne and a comic-strip reprint booklet Famous Movie Stars of the '30s (1984). Schanes & Schanes was the firm behind dozens of art portfolios and autographed prints. All were designed and distributed out of the Production Avenue office-warehouse.
As word got around the industry about Pacific's sales momentum, more talents came over from the Big Two. Bruce Jones was a fairly established comics scribe who'd written Conan and Red Sonja comics for Marvel, as well as short horror tales for Creepy and Eerie. "I got a call from Steve Schanes at Pacific Comics offering me just about carte blanche on my own line of books and the opportunity to move to sunny California," he says. "It was too much to resist." Jones moved to Coronado and brainstormed and wrote two titles for Pacific: Twisted Tales and Alien Worlds, anthology comics designed in the old Tales From the Crypt/Weird Science vein, with three or more self-contained "mature readers" stories in each issue.
Jones's third Pacific series, Somerset Holmes, was a noir crime drama concerning a woman who wakes up one day unable to remember her own identity. Instantly embroiled in dangerous, life-threatening situations, she must solve the mystery of who she is while trying to stay alive. The suspenseful soap opera, cocreated with wife April Campbell and artist Brent Anderson (later of Astro City), was unusual fare for comics, both dramatic and cinematic. "I was terribly manic about the production details, rushing around to printers and typesetters and moving logos and color schemes all over the covers to get them just right, redesigning this, tinkering with that."
Jones reflects, "It was very rewarding creatively...we were breaking new ground at every turn back then with technical things -- the coloring, the glossy stock, the painted covers, the whole darker, adult feel. It was a very kinetic, very experimental, and fun time. And scary. We had no idea how this stuff was going to finally look or how it might be received. But it was exhilarating. I had total autonomy on my books. I was the packager, PC was the publisher, and Steve and Bill Schanes just left me alone to run things my way. I doubt I'll ever see that kind of unbridled freedom again. I'm not sure anybody should have that much carte blanche; it's too easy to abuse it."
Groo the Wanderer was a funny spoof of sword-and-sorcery comics drawn by popular Mad magazine doodler Sergio Aragonés and written by Mark Evanier. The character had first appeared in a 1981 comic, Destroyer Duck, from the independent publisher Eclipse. In his "POV" column for the trade magazine Comics Buyer's Guide (December 2, 1994), Evanier recalled that he and Aragonés originally considered forming their own company. "We talked for much of an afternoon, finally deciding that creating this new comic plus founding a firm to publish it equaled at least one task too many for the two of us...I suggested we offer the Schanes brothers the chance to publish Groo. We did, they agreed...and Pacific published Groo the Wanderer #1 in late 1982, after first previewing the little monster in the Starslayer comic then being done for them by Mike Grell." Other than Mad magazine, humor titles had long suffered a poor track record in comic shops, but initial orders for Groo mirrored those of contemporary Pacific titles Alien Worlds and Kirby's Silver Star.
1984 -- The Year in Comics: Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird self-publish 3000 copies of a new humor comic called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Supergirl film fails to set any box office records. Most newsstand comics from Marvel and DC cost 60 cents -- Pacific's direct-market titles, printed on upgraded Baxter bond paper, cost $1.00.
In 1984, Steve announced his plan to bring 3-D back to comics, a fad that had flared briefly in the '50s, when printing techniques precluded satisfactory three-dimensional art separation. He'd been in contact with Ray Zone, whose production house, 3-D Zone, refined a way of reconstructing line artwork into three-dimensional images. "I did a 3-D conversion job with Jack Kirby for Honeycomb cereal," remembers Zone. "Jack drew great images of a kid on a skateboard, a baseball player, and a scene with a BMX bicycle. I sent down a proposal to Bill and Steve Schanes at Pacific with copies of the Honeycomb 3-D sports action posters and a specific proposal for a 3-D comic that had all the prices I was charging, including the glasses that could bind into the book. They got back to me in late 1983 and said they wanted to do a book [Alien Worlds 3-D]. Early in 1984, the art started coming in, and again, I was just thrilled and amazed to see incredible art by John Bolton, Bill Wray, Dave Stevens, Rand Holmes, and Art Adams. That was Art Adams's first published work, by the way." Adams later gained fame doing Longshot and various X-Men titles for Marvel.
Unfortunately, sales on Alien Worlds 3-D were disappointing, and there were mountains of unsold, expensively printed 3-D comics taking up half a warehouse row. Sales on many Pacific titles were dropping, and one-shots like Darklon the Mystic (1983, by Captain Marvel artist Jim Starlin) and Demon Dreams (1984, horror stories by Arthur Suydam) became more common. Ms Mystic was running later and later; Neal Adams always promised "more soon," but a year passed and only a handful of finished pages had arrived. Adams did manage to turn in a one-shot comic in 1983 called Skateman, a tale of a roller-skating superhero that made Marvel's Dazzler seem like Proust by comparison. Several palletloads of unsold Skateman comics gathered dust, and no amount of salesmanship could unload them on accounts who were by now too savvy to believe that a "marquee name" on a comic cover guaranteed sales. We did moderate numbers with a six-part series called Elric of Melniboné (1984), featuring characters created by Michael Moorcock. But then First Comics acquired the rights to Elric, and Pacific, which had spent a lot of money to market and introduce Elric to comic shops, was put in the position of distributing it for a rival publisher.