September 25, 2004

saved by the beagle

“A year ago, Seattle’s Fantagraphics was on the brink of bankruptcy. Now it’s in the black, thanks to good ol’ Charlie Brown and a pair of dogged believers who turned a cranky fanzine into the most widely respected comics publisher in America.”

“It’s easy to get lost looking for Fantagraphics’ headquarters. Situated just off I-5 on Lake City Way Northeast, it’s neighbored on the left by a, shall we say, imaginatively decorated house: hand-painted signs and bizarre metal tchotchkes leap about the exterior fence like a Dal birdhouse explosion. Visiting for the first time, it’s tempting to mistake that oddball unit for FHQ. Hey maybe comics people really are all nuts!

“That fantasy begins dissipating as soon as you walk up to the 28-year-old publisher’s actual offices next door; go inside and it disperses entirely. For one thing, this office is a two-story house with a basement, an old place with a surprising number of rooms around a surprising number of corners. The kitchen is triangulated by a staffer’s desk, a Xerox machine, and the refrigerator, which itself is a couple steps away from the office of Gary Groth, the company’s president and the majordomo of The Comics Journal, the monthly news and criticism magazine. Groth’s office window overlooks a back porch and the alleyway. The house is not brightly lit the better, one suspects, to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

“‘You should have seen it before,’ says Eric Reynolds, leading me to a basement room full of newly built metal shelves. An affable, sandy-haired, 33-year-old Californian, who began as a Fantagraphics intern over a decade ago and is now publicist and special projects editor (he helms The Complete Crumb Comics, the ongoing series dedicated to the godfather of ‘underground comix,’ Robert Crumb), Reynolds is showing me the company’s extensive, neatly kept library of old comics and research materials. ‘The old shelves were way less efficient,’ he says…”

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