Witzend – groundbreaking 1960s indy comic with art by Wallace Wood, Art Spiegelman, and Frank Frazetta

Wally Wood (1927–1981) is regarded as one of the world's best comic book artists, and I agree. His science fiction stories for Weird Science and Weird Fantasy, which featured complex spaceship interiors, ruggedly handsome male astronauts, curvy female astronauts, repugnant monsters, and richly detailed alien landscapes, made him an instant and enduring hit with comic book readers in the 1950s.

But by the mid-1960s, the comic book industry had reduced Wood to a frustrated burn-out, albeit one who was still an order of magnitude better than most working cartoonists. Desperate to escape the onerous regulations and work-for-hire policies of comic book publishers, Wood launched his own comic book, witzend (it was spelled lowercase), which like the underground comic books of the era, took a liberal attitude towards sex, drugs, violence, and other subjects banned by the Comics Code Authority.

witzend featured many of Wood's talented cartoonist friends: Frank Frazetta, Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, Ralph Reese, Archie Goodwin, Angelo Torres, Steve Ditko, Harvey Kurtzman, Bill Elder, Art Spiegelman, Don Martin, Vaughn Bodé, Jim Steranko, Jeff Jones, Howard Chaykin, Trina Robbins, and Bernie Wrightson. They took advantage of the freedom to cut loose, and their uninhibited work was what you'd expect from uncorking the ids of pent-up cartoonists. Some of the stories were juvenile and gratuitous, but most made good use of witzend's footloose editorial guidelines. Unlike other comic publishers, Wood respected the rights of the contributors and allowed them to retain full ownership of their intellectual property.

Alas, the stellar line-up of talent was not enough to sustain the zine-like witzend, which folded after 13 issues. In 2003, Rick Spanier wrote that witzend's "salient point, that comic artists were entitled to more control and ownership of their own work, would eventually be recognized by the publishers of comic books, but it is hard to argue that witzend itself was a key factor in that development. Like so many other visionary endeavors, it may simply have been ahead of its time."

Fantagraphics' two-volume box set of witzend is a wonderful tribute to this rare labor of love.


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