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Lost Treasures :
The Black and White Bust of 1987

1987 was one of the best years in the history of the comics medium. Classic comics such as Watchmen, Dark Knight and Maus were released to resounding acclaim both inside and outside the comics industry. DC launched new versions of their oldest characters as Crisis on Infinite Earths ended. New publishers seemed to arrive every month with interesting new titles. And the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, born as a parody of Frank Miller's mini-series Ronin, was a smash hit that made its creators rich.

Unfortunately, sometimes in great success lie the seeds of great destruction. 1987 was a year of great success, a boom year in the comics market. As often happens, a terrible bust followed the boom.

By 1989 the dozens of publishers who appeared overnight to ride the wave of success of the Turtles disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Some of the comics that disappeared with the companies were wastes of trees, but lost at the same time were some wonderful comics that deserve to be remembered.

In '87 there seemed to be new publishers every month. There was Harrier Comics, who were British, and Amazing Comics, who did some color books; Fandom House, who came from fanzine roots, and A.C.E., who mainly reprinted Golden Age comics. There were Aries Publications and Vortex; Arrow, Big Fun, Excalibur and Mad Dog; Lubert, Strawberry Jam, Silverwolf, Planet X, Wonder, Entertainment and the notorious Solson, a veritable flood of b&w publishers that it impossible to keep up with.

How could any fan tell the good from the bad? The simple answer is that most readers couldn't. Anyone could tell that Fat Ninja and G.I. Jackrabbits would be unreadable, but there had to be some good comics, right? The happy news is that there were many great comics published in that era, comics that are now relatively easy to find very cheap. It's unfortunate. Here are six comics of the era that are well worth hunting for on eBay or at your next local convention.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Yes, the book that started the boom/bust cycle has to be mentioned in any list. The earliest dozen issues of TMNT, eight issues of TMNT itself and individual "micro-series" of each Turtle, are written and drawn by the original creative team of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird.

It's surprising how much of an underground feel those issues contain. Before becoming a million-dollar merchandising property, the Turtles were rough around the edges. They drank and took glee at cutting their opponents to shreds. TMNT was a funny comic aimed for adults looking for a break from the ultra-serious comics of Frank Miller, the hottest creator in the industry at the time. Growing from parodying Ronin, it became a fun lampoon of heroic hero comics. Issue 8 guest-stars Cerebus, at that time the biggest character in b&w comics, in a hilarious romp. TMNT wasn't a great comic, but it was tremendous fun and is well worth seeking out.

night life: Perhaps the most obscure comic on this list is also the one with the most surprises. night life is the odd story of a neighborhood called The Kingdom in a large North American city. In The Kingdom lived knights and trolls, witches and warriors, and also coffee shops and subways.

It's a neighborhood where one night you might stumble into your local bar and happen to catch the Beatles playing; where the next night you might see wolves ravage an evil man. Written by Derek McCulloch and illustrated by Simon Tristam, this comic is filled with lost potential. The characters were interesting and three-dimensional, and the plots were intriguing.

Stig's Inferno: When it comes to inspired fun and lunacy this comic is one of the all time classics. The comic is basically a shaggy dog story about a very strange guy named Stig who gets killed by his very strange piano, and through a series of misadventures ends up wandering through Hell. In the hands of writer/artist Ty Templeton, who drew the hysterical Bigg Time for DC/Vertigo in 2002, this comic is one of the most inspired, lunatic rides in comics history. Fortunately, you can read the first four issues (out of seven) of this series online at this site .

Deadface and Bacchus: Two series for British publisher Harrier Comics, written and illustrated by Eddie Campbell, the artist behind From Hell. Anyone who's read any of Campbell's mythology-based stories in either the old Dark Horse Presents or Campbell's self-published Bacchus is familiar with the artist's loose and charming style. However, readers may be surprised by the serious and intense feel Campbell gives these ten comics (eight of Deadface, two of the spinoff Bacchus).

Produced at a time when Campbell may have been feeling some youthful angst, these comics tell a dramatic and exciting tale of war amongst gods and immortals. These aren't light, historical mythological romps; instead, people are killed and maimed in these stories, where battles are real wars and innocents are caught in the middle. Campbell would do some outstanding Bacchus stories later on, but these stories have a primal power and energy that is unique. And no matter how many times you see him, the Eyeball Kid is a shocking character (pun intended).

Retief: Science fiction seldom sells in comics, nor do literary adaptations, but this adaptation of Keith Laumer's hilarious science fiction series was one of the classiest and most intelligent comics of the 1980s. Released by Mad Dog Comics, writer Jan Strnad and artist Dennis Fujitake captured all the fun and otherworldliness of the original stories, making this an especially fresh and charming series. Fujitake's art is especially spectacular on this series. His clear line style and inventive images make this comic a real treat.

One warning: stay away from the issues published by Adventure Comics. Those stories are not by the Strnad/Fujitake team and lack the spark of their work.

Reid Fleming, World's Toughest Milkman: In the hands of creator David Boswell, Reid Fleming was the meanest jerk of a milkman who ever lived. He was also one of the most hilarious comics characters of his era.

Full of unexpected twists and turns, Reid Fleming was an over-the-top surrealistic masterpiece. Most back issues are still available at the official site.

It was very hard to narrow this list down to only a half-dozen titles. I had to skip Munoz & Sampayo's brilliant Sinner, Ted McKeever's amazing Eddy Current and Transit, the wonderful Night Streets, Scott Saavedra's hilarious Dr. Radium (due for a revival from Slave Labor Graphics later this year -- editor), Mike Bannon's hysterical To Be Announced, Larry Marder's unique Tales of the Beanworld and many more titles of the era.

Do yourself a favor next time you're at your local comics shop and dig deep into the quarter bins. You might find one of these lost treasures.

Jason Sacks

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