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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A HISTORY OF THE WHITE BUFFALO GAZETTE, Pt. 1


The White Buffalo Gazette is long-running, very obscure, underground comics and art zine that's been published intermittently since 1994. I've been corresponding with its founder Max Traffic for many years now, and recently he mentioned that the upcoming new issue would mark 30 years of small-press momentum.

Max wrote:
"I have also spent a lot of thought over the years on the idea of a book that gave a serious overview of the obscuro era of small press comix. I am considering doing a book that chronicles the WBG network of artists. After 16 years, and numerous editors, there have been hundreds of people involved in it. Also, when I started WBG, I took over the mailing list from the City Limits Gazette from Steve Willis.....It was pointed out to me that this new issue of WBG is actually a 30th anniversary issue of the network of artists.
I would have called WBG the City Limits Gazette, but Bruce Chrislip, who started the title in 1980 said that he preferred that I start my own title. Not sure why, perhaps because I was a relative newcomer to the scene, perhaps because in my younger days I was too much of a provocateur. ( I did piss off a few people in my early days ...just too much of a wise ass, when I look back on it. Funny, but it was Jeff Zenick who first clued me into the fact that I was being kind of an asshole....and did so kindly.)"
I hadn't been aware of it before this statement, but the origins of the White Buffalo Gazette lie in the legendary small-press comix publication City Limits Gazette, which had begun publication in 1980, under editor Bruce Chrislip (and was later edited by Steve Willis).

The White Buffalo Gazette itself has gone through several different editors and runs: After Max's original stint as editor, Ed Bolman and Cat Noel took over for a few years, followed by Jeff Zenick, Larned Justin, and then back to Max in the early-2000's.

As I began compiling this information, it occurred to me: let's talk to as many people as possible and get a sense of three decades of small press publishing. So over the past month or so I conducted email interviews with Max Traffic, Bruce Chrislip, Steve Willis, Larned Justin, Jeff Zenick, Edward Bolman, and Cat Noel.

What follows is sort of an "oral history" of the White Buffalo Gazette, Part One (of Three): "City Limits Gazette."

* * *

BRUCE CHRISLIP is the founder and original editor of the City Limits Gazette, an offshoot of his earlier underground publication City Limits Comix.



JOHN PORCELLINO:  You began City Limits Comix in 1979? Where did City Limits Gazette come from? Was CLC more comics, and CLG more networking/news etc? Were they published concurrently?

BRUCE CHRISLIP: To begin before the beginning, I graduated from high school in 1973 and enrolled at Youngstown (Ohio) State University the next fall. I quickly fell in with a group of cartoonists and, before I knew it, we were publishing comix and holding comic book club meetings and putting on comic book conventions. I met cartoonist Topper Helmers and we both saw a minicomic on the YSU campus about October 1973 that fellow student Joe Zabel had produced. (Yes, the same Joe Zabel that later drew many of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comix.) The minicomic was called Tales of the Enemy and on the back cover there was a blurb about how cheap it was to produce a minicomic. Much enthused, we got in touch with Joe and he showed us how to do our own comic.

That Christmas break, Topper and I set to work on Fresh Comix - a semi-underground comic that debuted in the spring of 1974. Fresh Comix was half-legal size and had been drawn in the paper master offset process.* It was great getting our work out in front of other art students. They thought it was a big deal that we had produced our own comic book. Other cartoonists I met over the next few years included Daryll Collins, Rick Magyar and Bud Perkins. Some of them ended up being in City Limits Comix.


City Limits Comix #1 came out in February 1979. It was a digest-size comic and the intent was to publish cartoonists from my local area (Youngstown, Ohio). I moved down to Cincinnati, Ohio before the second issue was published in the spring of 1980 – so it featured Cincinnati artists and cartoonists from around the country. There wasn’t to be another issue of City Limits Comix until #3 came out in November 1989 (ten years after the first issue). I wrote a fairly extensive article about City Limits Comix that can be found on Richard Krauss’ Midnight Fiction website:


The City Limits Gazette came along in November 1980. It was a 4-page digest and was strictly an attempt to promote/publicize my own work and that of a few friends – like Joe Zabel and Michael Roden. I moved from Cincinnati to Seattle right before the second issue was published. (Notice a pattern here of moving between issues?) CLG quickly expanded, issues got bigger, and I was soon covering the underground and newave comix world in more depth.

JP: For how many issues and for how long did you publish CLG?

BC: The City Limits Gazette was published from November 1980 to 1986. There were fifteen issues. I published about three more City Limits Gazette newsletters in the next few years but they were all 4-page digests – sort of going back to where I had started. Unfortunately, I never managed to produce another full-size issue of CLG. So there was a gap before Steve Willis started publishing his version of the City Limits Gazette.


JP: Can you describe what you were doing with CLG, what it was like? Did you intend it to serve kind of the same purpose that Factsheet Five later did? As a resource/connecting place for those making/interested in self-published comics?

BC: I’ll answer your last two questions first. Yes, it was a resource/connecting place for comix/minicomix. It was similar to the later Factsheet Five in that we reviewed and listed a lot of comix but we also featured news, interviews, letter columns and articles about the comix world.

What I was trying to do with the City Limits Gazette was express myself and my interests in comix. I liked Harvey Pekar’s work – so I interviewed him in CLG #7 way back in the spring of 1983. Other interview subjects included Wayne Gibson, Gary Larson (“The Far Side”), Jim Valentino and Joe Zabel.

What was the City Limits Gazette like? It was sort of like Artie Romero’s Cascade Comix Monthly except that I interviewed minicomix artists in addition to underground cartoonists and generally gave as much (or more) space to the small press as I did to underground comix. Before and after Jay Kennedy’s The Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide came out in the summer of 1982, I published letters from Jay discussing the Guide. Other readers and cartoonists also offered their insights.

Cartoonists would send me their new comix for review and send along news about their upcoming projects. It all went into the City Limits Gazette. When Peter Bagge moved to Seattle in 1984, I met him a few weeks later and interviewed him for CLG on the same day. (I remember asking for permission to print a news item about his then-upcoming comic book Neat Stuff.) People like Denis Kitchen and Jay Lynch would send me letters and news items. I sent copies to R. Crumb, too. It was all great fun and for a while it felt like I was at the center of the comix network.

JP: How would you describe the evolution from the classic UG comics of the 60's-70's to what you and your peers were doing in the late 70's early 80's?

BC: It was all part of the same thing, more of a continuation than an evolution. George Erling, Grass Green, Doug Hansen and Jim Valentino all appeared in underground comix. Robert Crumb, Howard Cruse, Denis Kitchen, Jay Lynch, Bil Stout, John Thompson and many other underground cartoonists had art in our minicomix and digest comix. Later on in the 1980s, there was a similar cross-pollination in the pages of Weirdo – underground comix people and newave comix people all mixed in together. Artie Romero published a nice line of minicomix and he also published underground comix like Animal Bite.

We were doing all those minicomix because there wasn’t much of an underground comix scene left to break into after about 1973. Most of us were trying to “break into” undergrounds at the time. We were later surprised to find out that nobody ever made much money in underground comix. Beginning in the early 1970s, most of the underground cartoonists were trying to break out into bigger markets – like mass circulation magazines. So at the same time us minicomix guys were trying to break in, they were trying to break out!


JP: Can you name some of the artists involved in CLC/CLG?

BC: We’ll start with City Limits Comix. Joe Zabel drew the covers for the first two issues. As mentioned, Joe later spent a ten-year stint working with Harvey Pekar as one of the American Splendor artists. The cover to City Limits Comix #2 was pencilled by Joe and inked by his friend, the great William Messner-Loebs. It’s a beautiful drawing and I still have the original art. Others who contributed to City Limits Comix included the late Jamie Alder (Tales Too Tough for TV), Daryll Collins (nowadays a very busy advertising cartoonist), the late Grass Green, Rick McCollum (who went on to draw the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Dave Patterson, Bud Perkins, Jim Valentino (one of the founders of Image Comics), Bob Vojtko (great gag cartoonist and minicomix guy, too) and Gary Wray.

Artists who contributed to City Limits Gazette include most of the people I already named plus Chester Brown, Don Donahue, George Erling, Matt Feazell, Brad Foster, Wayne Gibson, Brian Horst, Tom Holtkamp, Jack Jaxon, Jeff Kipper, Steve Lafler, George Metzger, David Miller, Clifford Neal, the late (and great) Michael Roden, Alan Rose, Mike Streff, J.R. Williams and Steve Willis.

JP: What made you decide to hand over the reins to Steve Willis in 1991?

BC: It was Steve’s idea. Actually, it was a zine exchange program. I had taken over the Outside In mini series from Edd Vick in 1990. There had been a series of revolving editors/publishers of Outside In since Steve had originated the title back in 1983. Outside In was this great self-portrait gallery in minicomix form. Most of the contributors were newave minicomix people but there were also underground cartoonists, other artists, poets, writers, bon vivants.

Steve published the first fourteen issues of Outside In, then Michael Dowers took over for the next eight issues. Edd Vick and Hal Hargit published nine issues up to #31 and then the title languished for awhile. I took it over in the summer of 1990. So Steve figured that if I was now doing his old zine, maybe he could take over my old zine. The wackiness of the idea appealed to me so I gave him the go ahead and was amazed at how many issues he produced (on a twice a month schedule). There were way more issues in the Steve Willis era of City Limits Gazette (starting in February 1991) than the fifteen I published.

JP: How do you feel about the way the spirit of CLG/WBG has continued on to today?

BC: It’s a joy and a delight. It’s very gratifying to think that I have influenced or inspired the White Buffalo Gazette in any way. I have the greatest respect and admiration for past publishers Jeff Zenick and Ted Bolman. The White Buffalo Gazette kind of combines the best aspects of my City Limits Gazette and the Steve Willis City Limits Gazette while adding a lot of great touches. It’s the place to see some of the finest and most interesting comix art and artists. Current publisher Max Traffic is a great artist as well and I hope I get to finally meet him at SPACE this year. I’m also looking forward to seeing the new issue of White Buffalo Gazette.

JP: Any other thoughts or comments would be great to hear! And again, if this is just annoying, please let me know!

BC: On the contrary, I enjoyed doing this interview and had fun looking back over my stack of old minicomix to put it together.

Everybody reading this, please come to SPACE in Columbus on March 19 and 20! Minicomix are a great medium and this will be your chance to spend an afternoon with a lot of great, creative cartoonists and see lots of great comix, too.

* * *

STEVE WILLIS is an underground comics legend. His iconic Morty the Dog has been a mainstay of the comix world for decades. Steve was also the second editor of City Limits Gazette, the pre-cursor to the White Buffalo Gazette.



JOHN PORCELLINO: Bruce Chrislip founded the City Lights Gazette in 1980, and you took it over in 1991... is that correct? What were the circumstances of you taking over publishing it?

STEVE WILLIS: Bruce had taken over a minicomic series I had started in 1983 called Outside In, I believe he was the 4th and last editor. So I felt he should let me revive his moribund CLG, since I had been bugging him about bringing it back.

Header of CLG # "Mermaid, mermaid, have you ever seen blood? (9/92) by Chad Woody

JP: Can you describe what you were doing with CLG under your tenure? What was a typical issue like? How often and for how long did you publish it?

SW: It was published every two weeks, without fail, from Feb. 1991 to Sept. 29, 1993. I knew it would be one of the last of the networking tools in hardcopy. I wanted to make it a freewheeling place for obscuro comix artists to talk, promote, vent, make deals, argue, pass along the news. Always in folded legal size, the publication grew into a monster, with interviews and feature articles. It was all hammered out on my electric typewriter.

JP: Who were some of the artists involved in CLG during those days?

SW: Contributors included Bruce Chrislip, S. Minstrel, Jay Kennedy, Mark Campos, Dennis Pimple, Lynn Hansen, Wayno, Bruce Sweeney, Jerry Riddle, Randy Scott, Steve Lafler, Dan W. Taylor, Mike Culpepper, Bruce Bolinger, Michael Neno, Ted Bolman, Mel. White, Hank Arakelian, Troy Hickman, Matt Feazell, Jim Danky, Tim Ereneta, Clark Dissmeyer, Jeff Nicholson, Brian Rainville, Jamie Alder, Brad Foster, Maximum Traffic, Jim Ryan, Bob Vojtko, Chad Woody, Bob Richart, Nils Osmar, A.P. McQuiddy, Ted Delorme, Scott Johnson, Ryan Eifert, Randy Reynaldo, David Chrislip, Mike Lee, Ben Adams, Michael Stengl, William Dockery, Tristan Sill, Robin Coder, Jeffrey Kipper, Clay Geerdes, Mary Longo, Michael Dowers, Robert Lewis, Toivo Rovainen, Gary Usher, Jeff Snee, Ricardo Nancy McJacksonstein, Bill Donahue, Jeff Zenick, Edd Vick, Randy H. Crawford, Russell Rose, Bryan Willis, Kel Crum, Andrew Roller, Matt Love, Bruce Semans, Dusty Rhodes, Mary McLaughlin, Dave Szurek, Bob Moulton, Crad Kilodney, Jeremy Pinkham, Maurice Harter, R. Seth Friedman, Spaz, Asa Sparks, Ken Clinger, Greg Stomberg, Jacques Boivin, Peter Pavement, Lance Jacobs, Matthew Kelleigh, Michael Drummond, Sean Wilson, Bil Keane (I'm not kidding), Andrew M. Ford, Sasa Rakezic, Michael Vance, R.A. Jones, Mark Cunningham, David Lasky, Robert DuPree, Tommy Hojager Olesen, Bill Miller, Jonathan Tegnell, Randy Paske, Jenny Zervakis. There were many others, and quite a few print lurkers. The publication was much more text oriented than graphic.


JP: When you were done, you transferred the mailing list to Max, and he began publishing under the new name White Buffalo Gazette... Why did you decide to cease editing it yourself?

SW: I can't remember why I stopped. I think the title had grown to exceed room capacity and it was either invest more time or jump ship. Actually when CLG's final issue rolled out, there was no one waiting to take over. I think there was a bit of a short lag before Max started WBG.

JP: Did you give Max any advice or suggestions as to how to run things, or was it more just you gave him your blessing and let him roll?

SW: I probably told him he was going to have a blast and wished him well. At least I hope I did. Max has enough energy to light a city for a month. WBG was very different than CLG, it was more visual and wild. The fact that Max is totally insane does help.**


Final Willis-edited CLG, Sept. '93
JP: How do you feel about the fact that the CLG/WBG lineage has survived now for 30 years or so?

SW: Actually I saw myself continuing not only Bruce Chrislip's CLG, but also Clay Geerdes' Comix World/Wave, which started in the early 1970s. Yes, Clay was still publishing his newsletter in the early 1990s, but he was already withdrawing from the network. CLG was like a bigger and more interactive version of Clay's great networking publication. I was so happy he came out to play and joined us in CLG. Clay, Bruce, me, Max, we were passing the baton of the same universal desire for promoting a place for free expression, creativity and originality in comic art.

JP: Anything else you'd like to add?
SW: Thanks for the questions, John. Check out my website for more CLG info and Newave history, including the Newave Reader (a history I compiled in the 1990s):

http://www.mortythedog.com/  [Editor's note: this site is the absolute motherload!  Please be sure to spend some time checking it out!]

- - -

*I asked Bruce to explain this "paper master offset process," and here's what he said:

"Here's the paper master offset printing process in a nutshell.  Topper Helmers and I actually drew on the paper printing plates that were used to print Fresh Comix.  It was a waxy surface paper, legal size, and we used litho pencils and a special kind of litho pen to draw with.  Each sheet/plate consisted of two pages of our printed/folded comic book.  Topper drew the first half of the comic and I drew the second - so we drew our two parts on the same sheet.  For example, he drew the front cover on the right half of a sheet and I drew the back cover on the left half.  And so on.  The sheet was perforated and would attach to the printing press that way.

Joe Zabel used the same process on his Tales of the Enemy comics.  He was nice enough to supply us with the paper and put us in touch with his printer."

** Max Traffic responds:  

"Ha!  Imagine Willis calling me insane .  His cartoon dog talks to God, and is killed off by Willis with a clockwork regularity!   He invented floating baby heads with a theme song that borrows from an old Doors tune.   I could fill pages with his obscuro madness."




9 comments:

  1. The psychedelic blue cover at the top is by John Miller, with Jeff Zenick's lettering, I think. John needs to be tracked down.

    Thanks for putting this together. If CLG is sort of a continuation of Comix World, then maybe WBG is sort of 37 years old, as well as sort of 30 and sort of 17. I'm glad somebody noticed it.

    pax tecum, e

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  2. Thanks for this lovely slice of obscuro comix history!

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  3. Oh, man, this brought back so many memories. I remember when I'd get the new CLG and I'd immediately go sit on the porch swing and read it (this, of course, was a hardship during Indiana winters).

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  4. The flare-up between Steve and Max reminds me that WBG was not about comics, or even Obscuro Art, so much as it was about the juxtaposition of a certain set of distinct, often eccentric voices.

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  5. Floating baby heads. Is there a problem?

    Actually I am very normal as evidenced by the fact I have a coffee cup with the word "Norm" on it.

    http://www.mortythedog.com/2010/09/phone-photo-20.html

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  6. Thanks everyone. That is indeed the great John Miller on the cover at the top, from Zenick's big 2000 AD millennial issue, I believe. More to come!

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  7. The WBG cover shown by John Miller was hand-silkscreened, I think the only one that was.
    I sent him a t-shirt with that design on it as
    a sort of lame-ass "payment". John was a kind of genius. I hope he is well, been out of touch for a while.

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  8. Awesome. Thanks for your studiousness. I was rewarded handsomely with spots in the graphics. Just when I thought "Fishy Ribbits Roulette" was lost to the ages!

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