Gary Groth

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From Comix to Comics to Graphic Novels:
A First Person History of Independent Comics Over the Last Half Century

Gary Groth became an activist-publisher when he co-founded The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics Books in 1976 . A long-time comic book reader and former fanzine publisher, Groth wanted to create a magazine that addressed comics from a serious critical and artistic point of view, and to apply real-world journalistic practice to the comic book industry.

Groth concluded that if comics were going to stake its claim as an art form, it would be

Love & Rockets, published by Fantagraphics

The Comics Journal Special Anniversary Issue

through the publication of highly personal artistic visions. The Comics Journal quickly became a magnet for controversy, acquiring a reputation within the comics profession as anomalous, elitist, persnickety, and muckraking. The magazine was devoted to a) positing lofty standards that few comics readers thought were attainable or even desirable, b) verbally whipsawing anyone who didn’t agree with those standards, and c) and championing the rights of comics creators who had traditionally been treated like scum by an autocratic industry.

By 1982, Fantagraphics found itself publishing the kinds of comics it had championed, beginning with Jack Jackson’s Los Tejanos, a graphic novel about the Texas-Mexican war, and Love & Rockets, an anthology comic by two young cartooning brothers, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez. Under the stewardship of Groth and his partner Kim Thompson, Fantagraphics went on to publish not just contemporary graphic novels, but a vast repertoire of comics by the greatest cartoonists in the 20th century.

The Complete Crumb, published by Fantagraphics

The Life and Death of Fritz the Cat, published by Fantagraphics

Groth narrates the coming-of-age story of the comics form from the underground comix revolution of the late 1960s to the rise of alternative comics in the ‘80s to today’s graphic novel renaissance from his unique perspective as a keen observer and active participant. He weaves together his own personal journey, the history of The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics and the maturation of comics as an art form over the last 50 years. His talk is accompanied by over 100 images illustrating significant events, formative moments, great artists, the occasional mediocrity, controversies, lawsuits, and manifestos, vividly chronicling a 35 year campaign to push comics kicking and screaming into an art form. It is filled with references to, anecdotes about, and cameos by artists like R. Crumb, Jules Feiffer, Justin Green, Gilbert Shelton, Art Spiegelman, Jack Kirby, Peter Bagge, Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring, Chris Ware, Bill Maudlin, Gahan Wilson, Joe Sacco, Harvey Kurtzman, Todd McFarlane, Kevin Eastman, Neil Gaiman, and many others.

Seasoned comics readers will be entertained by new and vivid insights, and casual observers will discover a rollicking and witty tutorial on the recent history of a distinctively American art form.

The Response

“Originally I asked Gary to prepare a “Focus on Fantagraphics” for the inaugural Graphic Festival in 2011. I anticipated Gary to talk about his roster of titles and artists he works with, but what he came back with was way more than I could have anticipated or hoped for. Gary prepared a 75 minute audio visual presentation detailing the history of alternative comics and some of it’s key creators and moments. Fantagraphics is of course part of this tale as one of the key publishing houses involved but Gary’s talk is by no means a self exploitative endeavour, rather a detailed, humorous and personal chronicle of the life and times of “comix” and his interactions through this world.

Gary Groth has at his disposal 30+ years of experience in the business of publishing comics. He has worked with the worlds most creative, uniquely gifted visual storytellers and his presentation draws on this wealth of imagery, his knowledge of the field and some very entertaining tales from the trenches. You don’t have to know or love comics to enjoy this presentation, but if you do it’s a dream come true to experience. Gary’s a/v presentation kept a packed theatre at Sydney Opera House spellbound from beginning to end. His passion and devotion to the field of comics shines throughout the show and will doubtless provide new audiences with a completely unique comic driven tale not be found anywhere else.”

Jordan Verzar
Co-curator, Graphic @ Sydney Opera House


“I was looking for a speaker to fill a unique spot in our 2008 curriculum at the University of Denver Publishing Institute and happened upon the name of Gary Groth through happy chance and the recommendation by a publishing colleague.  Singing his praises as a clear, entertaining and straight shooting presenter, she assured me that he would be well received by our class of 95 bright, recent college graduates, most of whom were determined to land a job in traditional publishing upon completion of our intense four week course.

Gary won them over immediately and has been invited back as a visiting lecturer every summer since then. He tells the story of Fantagraphics brilliantly. Refreshing and engaging, his presentations are also thought-provoking and historically fascinating.  His passion for this art form fuels student imaginations to expand in new directions well beyond the traditional. And his entrepreneurial spirit pokes the latent creative genies within them to action in finding opportunity. A natural teacher – an excellent presenter.”

Joyce Meskis
Publishing Institute at the University of Denver

“Asking someone to speak before any group is always an act of faith: not just that the speaker be interesting and entertaining, but that he actually seem enthusiastic about the subject at hand, and fervent in his desire to be there. Whenever I’ve heard Gary Groth address a crowd, whatever the venue or occasion, he’s been both. He’s clear and erudite and funny, irreverent and passionate. He never sounds jaded or bored. He loves what he does; he loves talking about it; he’s fabulously knowledgeable discussing art, literature, comics, whatever his given topic for the occasion. He’s the smartest person I’ve ever met in publishing and is genuinely intrigued by the written word or the clever pen line. No one who invites Gary Groth to speak will be disappointed after hearing him on the podium.”

Monte Schulz
owner of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference

News & Updates

  • 11/21/2013 Fantagraphics crowdfunding makes a big splash

    Fantagraphics discovers friends online

    When Seattle-based comic-book and graphic-novel publisher Fantagraphics Books took to Kickstarter earlier this month asking for a $150,000, co-founder Gary Groth saw it as a way to help boost the company’s sagging funds for the spring-summer publishing season of 2014.