Fantagraphics at 40: History on Our Side

APRIL 28, 2016: SEATTLE, WA — This summer marks the 40th anniversary of Fantagraphics Books, and the publisher will celebrate the occasion with a series of events throughout the rest of 2016. Founded in 1976 by Gary Groth and Mike Catron (soon to be followed by Kim Thompson), the company published over 5,000 comic books and graphic novels over the next four decades, confirming its reputation as the publisher of the world’s greatest cartoonists, and as a champion for cartoonists who don’t fit within the commercial confines of traditional corporate publishing.

The highlight of the anniversary celebrations will be the long awaited release of We Told You So: Comics As Art, an irreverent, 600-page oral history of Fantagraphics edited by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean, as told through interviews with virtually every key player in the company’s history – as well as a few of its adversaries –and copiously illustrated with hundreds of photos, comics, drawings, and rare ephemera from the Fantagraphics vaults.


Throughout the summer and fall, Fantagraphics will also celebrate its anniversary at various comics festivals. Comic-Con International in San Diego, the Small Press Expo (SPX) in Bethesda, MD and the Columbus Crossroads Festival (CXC) will each sponsor events and programming and host special guests spanning Fantagraphics’ provocative and pioneering history, with details for each to be rolled out over the comings weeks. Additionally, Fantagraphics will close out the year with a birthday bash back home in Seattle for our staff, cartoonists, and fans. Slated for Dec. 10th, the event will also mark the tenth anniversary of Seattle’s beloved Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery.

Fantagraphics began its activist agenda by publishing The Comics Journal in 1976, which, over nearly 300 issues and over 5,000 pages, fought for the economic and creative rights of three generations of cartoonists and militantly insisted that comic art was as capable of the same heights of expression as the greatest accomplishments in every other popular form. “In the mid-to-late-1970s, underground comix were in their death throes and another generation of cartoonists who would take up their mantle of independence and creative freedom had not yet been envisioned,” recalls co-founder and President Gary Groth. “The mainstream comics industry looked as if it were on its last legs creatively and commercially — a low point in a low industry. It may have been exactly the right moment in comics history to begin publishing a magazine of criticism and investigative journalism and help foment a revolution in the form.”


The editorial standards of The Comics Journal led Groth and company to soon put its money where its mouth was, and beginning with Jack Jackson’s Los Tejanos in 1981, followed the next year with its flagship title, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s Love & Rockets, the floodgates opened and introduced readers to a murderer’s row of new talent throughout the ’80s. “I could never have anticipated as a kid collecting comics and publishing fanzines that I would go on to publish artists like Carl Barks, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Gil Kane, the EC guys, Jules Feiffer, Charles Schulz, or Robert Crumb,” added Groth. “And much less that I’d publish a new generation of artists whose existence I couldn’t even have imagined or foresaw, like Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez, Dan Clowes, Jim Woodring, Peter Bagge, Joe Sacco, Carol Tyler, Tony Millionaire, Stan Sakai, Linda Medley, and Chris Ware.”

Fantagraphics’ devotion to the past, present, and future of comics remains undiminished, and recent years have seen the rise of a new generation of cartoonists that represent the depth and diversity of the form that Fantagraphics stands for, including Ed Piskor, Eleanor Davis, Dash Shaw, Simon Hanselmann, Lucy Knisley, Olivier Schrauwen, Jason, Ulli Lust, Johnny Ryan, Cathy Malkasian, Lilli Carré, Leah Hayes, Josh Simmons, Noah Van Sciver, Liz Suburbia, and so many others.


Forty years ago, comic books were seen as little more than mindless, adolescent escapism, shunned by literate adults and ignored by the wider culture. Changing the perception —and the fact— has been hard fought, and, 40 years strong, Fantagraphics remains committed to the belief that comics is art, and continues to elevate the form by publishing the most encompassing range of contemporary, cutting-edge cartooning, collections of the seminal underground artists, classic and gag cartoonists, international cartoonists in translation, and library-quality editions of classic newspaper strips and comic books that showcase the form as an artistically sophisticated medium of expression.

“Fantagraphics… has published and championed many of the finest cartoonists working today.” – John Hodgman, The New York Times

“[Fantagraphics] have consistently published America’s most important comix artists…” – TIME Magazine 

“It’d be difficult to find more challenging and entertaining rabble-rousers amid the panorama of popular culture.” – The Village Voice

“These guys know what the hell they’re doing.” – Salon

“FANTAGRAPHICS BOOKS has been what City Lights was to the ’50s and ’60s: the premiere gathering place, publisher and promoter of the era’s most exciting and multi-faceted form of literature.” Utne Reader

“Fantagraphics publishes the best comics in the world.” — Wired

“Fantagraphics can absolutely claim a critically important and enduring influence over
the growth of literary comics. And this influence goes beyond just being a publisher of
thoughtful, nuanced comics work.” — Publishers Weekly

“I’m just grateful that Fantagraphics exists.” — Neil Gaiman

“Their nurturing of certain cartoonists, like Dan Clowes and the Hernandez Brothers, helped me appreciate those cartoonists.” — Art Spiegelman

“On November 14th, 2004, the word ‘zeitgeist’ appeared on my Learn-A-Word-A-Day desk calendar, and I’ve been straining at the leash to use it ever since. I think I’ve found my moment.” — Dana Gould

“When the undergrounds had lost their fire, I looked in vain for new sparks. Then
Fantagraphics emerged like that proverbial Phoenix or Eagle or Swallow or whatever and its anthologies, journals, and original books gave new hope to those of us wandering in the wilderness. Of course, to my surprise graphic novels are now a major industry – so many books so little time. But I always make time for the Fantagraphics productions. They are the chronicler of a vintage age of comics and the beacon, too.”
— Steven Heller, New York Times

“A book ought to be idiosyncratic and reflect a distinctive personality. And piss off all the right people.” — Gary Groth