Gary Reed passed away this weekend.
The vast majority of you just went “gee, that’s too bad…I have no idea who that is.”
Gary Reed was the man behind Caliber Comics.
“Oooh…gee, that’s too bad.”
Yeah, I don’t expect the same reaction as if Stan lee had died. But to many people, he was Stan Lee.
Let me take you into the ole way back machine for a trip into the history of independent publishing…to a time before facebook, a time before even the internet itself, to a time even before Image comics…
At time called…the late 80’s to late 90’s.
As I said, there was no internet, no social media to use, no websites, no web comics, nothing downloadable. If you wanted to call yourself a publisher, you had to actually publish something. If you wanted people to know about it, you had to spend actual money on actual ads in actual magazines. You couldn’t just scan something, pay a few bucks for a website, blast off posts on social media and declare yourself a publisher for as long as you were able to lie to yourself. That’s all pretty glib, but there isn’t much other way to point to the difference between then and now. Try to wrap your head around the idea of promoting a book…in a world where there is NO INTERNET. How would you even do it? Gary figured out how.
If you wanted to be a pro and had an idea, a story, some talent, you could either invest/risk thousands of dollars on it, or send your portfolio out to every publisher you could find. And there weren’t many. There was the big two, and Dark Horse and maybe a dozen others after that of rapidly diminishing consequence.
Getting picked up by Marvel DC or Dark Horse, was a pipe dream and probably not worth the stamp ( you’ll probably have to google “stamp”). After those three it was a crap shoot of a bunch of companies fighting for survival, occasional putting out a book that more than a couple hundred people gave a crap about. Or so it would have seemed. It’s a marathon not a sprint. If you look at fifty yards or so of the race, Caliber Comics and Gary were just another publisher of the time putting out a handful of titles. If you look at the entire race though…you get an dramatically different picture.
Caliber Comics published the first appearance of The Crow, and Madman. It also helped launch the careers of Brian Bendis, David Mack, Vince Locke, Guy Davis, Michael Lark, Patrick Zircher, Jim Calafiore, Ed Brubaker, Michael Gaydos, James O’Barr, and Mike Carey. That’s just the short list of talent and titles we can thank Gary for.
That…is one hell of a contribution to the talent pool of this industry. And in the time Caliber was at it’s peak, giving anyone a voice took a hell of a lot of money and effort. And that list of talent Caliber boasted is not luck. That is an eye for talent, that is knowing when to capitalize on something, that is knowing who is worthwhile and is worthy of a voice. This would be a very different industry if not for Gary…an industry much more lacking in talent and diversity of styles. Caliber gave these people credibility and these people gave Caliber credibility. That’s how it’s supposed to work. It doesn’t usually shake out that way. Usually ego’s and pettiness and pretentiousness win the day and neither the publisher or pros amount to much or get any traction. It’s safe to say Gary steered clear of that type stuff for a reason.
It could just be because it wasn’t in his DNA. I didn’t know Gary well, I sent a submission to Caliber when I was starting out, just before I said ‘ F it, I’ll do it myself”. Caliber, like a dozen others turned me down. I don’t remember what the letter said other than “no”, but I remember I did get a letter. A letter was written and folded and put into an envelope and a stamp was attached for the sake of acknowledging my efforts. For the time, that was pretty damn professional. I mention all that to say, I did not get my start thanks to Gary. I don’t owe him anything, he didn’t owe me anything. I can say with no pretense, I liked Gary, he was a good guy. We saw each other pretty often at comic book conventions. He’d always stop by my table and say hello, we’d yak a little bit. he was one of the few “pros” I didn’t dread seeing approach my table. He was a stand up guy, no ego, no pretentiousness, no bullsh*t. We never talked about anything important, just surveyed the playing field and had a few laughs.
About 90% of the time when a pro comes up to say hello, they either want something or want to blather on about how great they want you to think things are going for them. Gary just wanted to say hello and see how I was doing. I don’t think I can convey how rare that is in my profession. Make no mistake, I’m not saying those other reasons are inherently bad. Time is short at conventions, you need to conduct business, you need to boost your ego for the long days in between anyone giving a sh*t who you are. It’s the nature of things.
But Gary was just interested in having a normal conversation. It was a honest break in between doing his job. If any number of other pros had been partially responsible for Brian Bendis having a career…THAT would have been the focus of every conversation I would have with them….they’d been even more insufferable if they had that laundry list of talent they helped discover.
Gary had just relaunched Caliber Comics and was building it’s stable of talent again. I never worked for him, he never asked. For all I know , he though I’d be too thought to deal with, or though I sucked, or just never got around to it. I don’t know. I’m sorry now that I never brought it up myself. Because looking back now on what he determined true talent to be, the the quality of what he put out…and likely would have begun to publish. It would have been an honor.
Gary Reed, quietly, professionally, and without pretension contributed a hell of a lot to our industry and did so at a time when it was very very difficult. He should be a legend…let me rephrase that…He is a legend, and we should all remember that.
Dig around in these links, if not in memory of the man, than to learn what is possible when you focus on the work and not the praise that might come from it.
When Douglas is not complaining, he and his work can be found at www.arseniclullaby.com