The other day, I received a nice e-mail from Rob Dale at AmDale Media, the fellow who puts together the Comic Fanzine Price Guide. Through a bit of clever detective work, Rob discovered that, back in the late 1980s, I used to write for a Batman-related fanzine called The Midnight Conference (TMC), and would I mind providing a little insight about the ‘zine?
Well, sure. In those heady days before Batman was ever a money-printing movie franchise, there was The Midnight Conference, a fanzine produced by a pleasant fellow from Canada named Martin R. Noreau, who printed and distributed the mag mostly out of affection for a character he loved. I doubt the thing ever made a nickel, but Martin diligently put out the mag for a couple of years, typing up each issue and pasting in drawings, then photocopying, binding and mailing the thing. This was in the days before computers made things like formatting and typesetting as simple as changing a setting in the template or selecting a different typeface, and while it wasn’t exactly bearskins and buck knives, it was pretty close.
Eventually the production got large enough that Martin needed a bit of help, so he tapped the pseudonymous lettercol phenom T.M. Maple — who seemed to have a thoughtful letter in nearly every comic book published in the 1980s — to act as his assistant editor. TMC lasted until the late 1980s, when Warner was preparing to put out the first Batman movie — you know, the one with Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton, which we all groaned about until we actually saw it and decided it was pretty darn cool — and, allegedly, the Powers That Be at Warner issued poor Martin a cease and desist letter in the name of protecting their copyright. That was pretty much it for TMC. It folded after thirteen issues. (Meanwhile, T.M. Maple — whose real name was Jim Burke — died of a heart attack shortly thereafter at age 38. He was a thoughtful guy who genuinely loved comics and couldn’t understand why they didn’t have a more mainstream acceptance. I wonder what he would think about the medium and characters he loved now.)
I was the regular reviewer for the Batman comic for seven issues of TMC. It’s not work I’m particularly proud of — I was still in college, still feeling my way with voice, and when I go back and re-read those pieces now, they bury the needle when it comes to the cringe factor. Yet, I did take the job seriously, banging out what I thought were really thoughtful critiques of Jim Starlin’s take on the character, or discussing whether the art in a particular sequence was helping the narrative. Mostly, though, I was just trying too hard.
Still, from time to time, I scored a coup or two. For one issue, I managed to nab an interview with writer Steve Englehart, who wrote what many — myself included — still consider one of the finest story arcs in the character’s eighty year history. Another time, I collared MAD magazine artist Sergio Aragones and paid him twenty bucks to produce a drawing of the Dynamic Duo to use as the cover on what turned out to be TMC’s final issue in late 1988. Wanna see? Here you go:
I still have the original black-and-white drawing on the bookshelf in my office. And let me add that Sergio was — and is — a super nice guy with a great sense of humor. He’s still going strong today at age 73. And for the record, this marks the only time I have ever appeared in anything with a great Aragones cover.
That is so cool, I had totally forgotten about the Aragones cover.
The C&D incident was interesting in part because copyright and intellectual property have become a huge consideration in the age of the internet. I remember the reactions when Warner shut down TMC:
It’s exactly what people who maintain fan websites often are faced with.