The comic book business was once again facing a period of change as the 1960s drew to a close. The super hero fad that had driven sales for most of the decade was winding down, and there was a sense that, as the marketplaces where comic books had been traditionally sold began to dry up and vanish, the entire field might collapse and vanish at any time. There was also the beginnings of the recognition of the plight of the creators who had long toiled in the field. Notably, at National Comics/DC, when a number of their most prolific writers attempted to organize and unionize as a way of guaranteeing themselves pensions and reprint money and other such things, the result is that they were put out to pasture and blacklisted, replaced by young newcomers.
At the same time, other creators were chafing against the constraints of the business in other ways. It had become apparent to many that the writer and artists were doing the work, and the publishers were the ones who were getting rich. So there was a growing desire for creators to own their own material. At the same time, the restrictive Comics Code was just as antediluvian as ever, and prohibited any sorts of material that might allow comics to grow beyond being an art form directed primarily at children to encompass subject matters and styles that would be of interest to older readers. People were looking for a way out, the big break that would propel them and their work into the big time and get them out from under the weight of being page-rate wage-slaves.
One of those who had aspirations towards producing something greater was artist Gil Kane. Best known in those days for having created teh visual style for DC’s Green Lantern and the Atom, Kane felt stifled by the “house look” that DC forced him then to operate within, and the bloodless manner in which the stories he would illustrate were told. A devotee of Jack Kirby, Kane wanted to bring more punch to the page. As an intellectual, Kane was also interested in producing work that would have more depth and sophistication to it than most of what the world of comic books had been offering. In 1968, he seized his moment and took a stab at achieving his dreams.
On is own, Kane set up a publishing imprint for himself, Adventure House Press. His first publication was a full-length black and white comics-style magazine. The larger size and format was intended to bypass the Comics Code, as Kane knew that he wanted to be able to depict violence and intimate situations beyond the confines of that august body. Riding on the last crest of the spy craze set off by James Bond, Kane envisioned his leading character as a globe-trotting trouble-shooter prone to murder and violence. Accordingly, he named the character Savage (no first name is ever given.) Kane based him visually on actor Lee Marvin, who had made a splash in the film Point Blank, a broad adaptation of one of Donald Westlake’s Parker novels. The cover painting by Robert Foster made this connection even more overt than the interiors, as Foster pretty much painted Marvin directly.
Kane plotted, penciled and inked the 41 page story himself, reportedly in 30 days. He chose to typeset all of the copy in the story, both balloons and captions, to give the production a more dignified air than that of a comic book. As scripter, Kane brought Archie Goodwin on board. Goodwin was one of the finest writers and editors in the business, and was then working for Jim Warren on his line of black and white magazines, including CREEPY and EERIE. In order to conceal his involvement from his employer, Archie produced the script under the pseudonym Robert Franklin. Kane’s friend artist Manny Stallman helped him to make contact with printers and distributors who might print and distribute the proposed magazine. It was Kable News who ultimately took the project on, bankrolling the printing and distribution but advancing Kane noting for the art and editorial costs–that was Kane’s responsibility.
Unfortunately, printing and distribution was where the trouble lay. Kane contracted with a string of printers, each of whom agreed to take on the job, only to turn it back a day or two later under mysterious circumstances. Kane believed that the owners of DC/National were putting the squeeze on his new venture, seeing it as a potential threat. According to Kane, while the first issue was eventually printed, only about ten percent of its 200,000 copy print run reached the newsstands, meaning that even if teh book was a complete sell-out, there was no way to make money on it. The three-book deal collapsed, and Kane eventually published his second concept, BLACKMARK, through Bantam’s paperback book line a few years later.
Years later, Fantagraphics reprinted HIS NAME IS…SAVAGE under the title GIL KANE’S SAVAGE. Kane and Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth had become good friend by that point. The painted cover was discarded as representing too much of a legal risk, and a new action-oriented piece by Kane was used in its place. Kane also wrote and drew a new short story featuring Savage for ANYTHING GOES!, an anthology series produced on a pro bono basis to help finance Fantagraphics’ legal defense against a couple of lawsuits.
Kane was hopeful that HIS NAME IS…SAVAGE would be his ticket out of the coal mine that was the grind to produce pages for a page rate, but things didn’t quite work out as he had hoped. While he made other attempts to liberate himself and to produce material that was more aesthetically pleasing to him, he was forced by circumstances to continue toiling in the mainstream comic book fields until his passing in 2000.