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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Interview with indie artist and self-publisher Corey Corcoran

One of the really fun, and seldom spoken about, perks of self-publishing a comic book fanzine is meeting other like-minded individuals and discovering new fanzines. Corey Corcoran's been a fan of Baxter Stock since we released our first issue way back in 2017, and he's also pretty active in several online comic book appreciation communities and, lo and behold, he's a very talented illustrator who also self-publishes a black & white zine called SKREE.

We were super-stoked to finally get our hands on a few copies:

First of all, these things are THICK -- like, 50+ pages per zine! You're getting a lot of value for your money here. Edited and written by Corey, every issue of the SKREE zine has a different thematic focus but still contains regular features such as "You Just Have To See It", "On My Nightstand" and "So Much Stuff, So Little Time". The first issue is dedicated to Jim DavisGarfield, the second issue discusses Psychotronic films, the third issue is a celebration of the DUNE sci-fi franchise, and the fourth issue is about Glenn Danzig (best known as the lead vocalist of horror punk rock band The Misfits). . 

Corey excels at emulating the DIY-aesthetic of the 80s fanzine. The content is very diverse with a mix of articles, interviews. pin-ups, recommendations, recipes, playlists, comic strips, and extra stuff (ex: the DANZIG issue even has a step-by-step guide on how to make your own DANZIG patch). The contributors are just as impassioned about the subject matter as Corey is -- it's a celebration of fandom, really. I've never been much of a DUNE guy [it was always STAR WARS or STAR TREK amongst my elementary/high school friends and I], but my interest in DUNE has now been piqued by Corey's zine and I'm going to track down the 1984 DUNE film and re-watch it for the first time in 30 years.

The grainy black and white photos of Siskel & Ebert discussing the DUNE film are a really nice touch adding to the authenticity factor of SKREE.

While all the zines are interesting/entertaining and can stand on their own merit, my favorite issue so far has been the PSYCHOTRONIC issue since it's jam-packed with articles, interviews and recommendations about a film genre I've been a little curious about but never had the time to deep-dive into.

I can't stress enough about the visual layout of Corey's SKREE zines. If you told me this was something originally created in the 80s, I'd believe it [the references to twitter and instagram would give it away, however].  As the editor, he takes great care to keep the content interesting and varied; you're not just reading a 50+ page text-only manifesto on a topic -- there's art, there's humor, the interviews are extremely interesting to read and I'll be surprised if you don't leave the zine without new books/movies/comics to look up.  

Why does this feel so authentic? Probably because Corey assembles his SKREE zines the old fashioned way: scissors, tape and (presumably) a photocopier.

Not only does Corey put together an amazing zine, but he also illustrates and knows good comics, music and books. Talking about 80s and early 90s comics is my kryptonite (especially DC comics), so I couldn't resist interviewing Corey about this:

Justin: I love the SKREE zines, these totally kick ass. You've been on my radar for a while now -- I saw the covers and a few interiors, but to finally hold it in my hands and flip through it -- I'm blown away. I can really feel the energy in these. They make me long for my days of listening to my punk mixtapes and clumsily attempting to ollie off a curb on my suburban sidewalk. More on that in a minute... tell us all about you:

Corey: Dude, what a compliment! Thanks a bunch for grabbing some issues of SKREE and I’m totally flattered you asked to interview me. It warms my heart that you enjoyed them. SKREE is a real labor of love and I’m always excited to hear that people are digging it. I’m just a stereotypical Caucasian male gen-xer living in Austin TX with my wife of 17 years, my tween son, and my awesome dog, Freddie Boom Boom Washington..

Justin: So, what era did you grow up in?

Corey: I was born in 1972, so that means I’m really into collecting all sorts of stuff like comics, books, DVDs (used to be VHS), and records, as well as being obsessed with popular culture, references, irony, sarcasm… ugh. The middle-aged hipster.

Justin: Where did you grow up?

Corey: Born up in Lynn MA and moved to San Antonio TX with my mom around elementary school age. I graduated high school in 1990 at age 17 and moved to Austin as fast as I could. SA was fine but Austin was (and possibly still is) way cooler.

Justin: What were you watching, reading, and listening to as a youth growing up?

Corey: I was an only child of a single mom so I spent a lot of time reading, watching TV, going to the movies, listening to music, and drawing.

One of my uncles had an amazing comic book collection I was allowed to look through when visiting my grandparents. It was mostly 60s Marvel stuff and 70s DC books along with an influential random issue of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers (which might have belonged to one of my other uncles). All the heavy hitters were there: Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Spider-Man, The X-Men, Superman, Batman, Flash. They were all great and I didn’t care which company put out which book. I loved comics so much -- one of my strongest memories is of my dad coming out of a drug store or gas station with a coffee and a couple of packs of cigarettes for him and a random comic and a couple of packs of KISS or STAR WARS trading cards for me.

I used to hit up a 7-11 on my walk home from elementary school to play Donkey Kong Jr and read EPIC ILLUSTRATED off the magazine shelves. That’s where I discovered Rick Veitch’s work like ABRAXAS AND THE EARTHMAN and that one story where that guy has a messed up space STD ["Love Doesn't Last Forever" EPIC ILLUSTRATED #34 -Justin]. The covers to EPIC ILLUSTRATED are so great it was impossible not to pick them up. Thinking about Veitch has me realizing how he’s stuck with me for most of my life. That EPIC ILLUSTRATED stuff, THE ONE limited series, SWAMP THING, BRAT PACK, MAXIMORTAL, RARE BIT FIENDS, GREYSHIRT…. finding a copy of TWO FISTED ZOMBIE TALES in a head shop in the early 90s was so wild. I mean, he's just the greatest and I can revisit his work all the time.

Around the same time, ELFQUEST by Richard and Wendy Pini was my very first direct-by-mail subscription. Those old B&W fantasy books were the coolest. I was playing some D&D and into sword and sorcery stuff so ELFQUEST was perfect for 9 or 10 year old me.

When I started "collecting" comics "for real" (meaning buying from a comic book store, bagging and boarding everything, buying every new #1, snatching up every issue of every crossover…all that exhausting stuff that can ruin reading comics) in the 80s I was heavy into Marvel stuff, but not exclusively. X-MEN, G. I. JOE, ALPHA FLIGHT, HULK, DAREDEVIL and AVENGERS were some of my favorites and then things got real with Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and Alan Moore’s WATCHMEN. And then things got real-er with DC’s pre-VERTIGO and eventual VERTIGO books like SWAMP THING and HELLBLAZER and Grant Morrison blowing my mind wide open with THE INVISIBLES. Oh and I can’t forget how important the stuff from the LEGEND imprint through DARK HORSE was to me. Those early HELLBOY books, amirite?!

I will use any excuse to post an Invisibles comic book cover.
The Invisibles v2 #3 (1997). Cover art by Brian Bolland.

Justin: I'm totally curious here... You were a teen in the 80s and tuned in to all the cool counter-cultural stuff as opposed to a kid who, say, might've been raised on Super Friends and PG-rated films who lived a pretty sheltered suburban life. Other than Dark Knight Returns, Moore-era Swamp Thing and Watchmen, were any other DC titles on anyone's radar during this time period? Like anything else that would've been considered 'counter-culturally cool'? Did you sense there was a big divide between Marvel and DC comics during the 80s -- as in, Marvel was the 'hip' thing to read whereas DC was 'stuffy' and 'corporate' (with the exception of the aforementioned titles)?

Corey: Well, I did grow up on The Super Friends, Thundarr the Barbarian, Dynomutt the Dog Wonder (and Blue Falcon), Mighty Man and Yuck... I loved all the superhero cartoons -- even weird stuff like The Mighty Heroes, The Super Globetrotters, and The Robonic (not Robotic?!) Stooges. I couldn't get enough. Later there was a fun Fantastic Four cartoon with Herbie the robot -- I think he replaced Johnny Storm so kids wouldn’t get the crazy idea to set themselves on fire to be like The Human Torch... or at least that’s the rumor I remember. Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends was another favorite, oh and don’t get me started on the greatest cartoon of the 80s: G. I. Joe!

Sorry -- you were asking about edgier comics not kiddie cartoons. I didn’t feel too much of a difference between some of the cooler comics coming out of DC compared Marvel around the mid-80s. They were both firing on all cylinders! So, Marvel had the Epic line but those didn’t totally feel like Marvel books, minus ELEKTRA: ASSASSIN. Books like ALIEN LEGION, THE ONE, and even the reprints of AKIRA just weren’t Marvel titles to me, but they had lots of cool stuff going on with all those mutants and Simonson’s THOR. For a long time, DC was bright and bold, and even more kid friendly compared to some of the Marvel titles… but by the mid-80s things got a bit different right? My hero at the time, John Byrne, came over to SUPERMAN -- I had never bought any Superman comics before but I was all in with Byrne taking over not 1 but 2 Superman titles! That all happened post-CRISIS -- let’s not forget how adult CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS felt to 13-year-old me. Earlier than CRISIS, THE OMEGA MEN was a super-cool series that had a ton of new characters and some more mature themes than say THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES. OMEGA MEN really became a favorite of mine when Shawn McManus was doing art on that series. Oh, and I think Miller’s RONIN came out through DC in 1983. That was one of the coolest comics I had ever seen -- totally awesome Frank and Lynn art! SANDMAN was obviously a big deal and me and my friends were all about it. I was aware of the independent b&w boom happening and was picking up random issues of TMNT, CEREBUS, LOVE & ROCKETS, TROLL LORDS, RADIOACTIVE BLACKBELT HAMSTERS, and some other titles I’m struggling to remember but my heart belonged to the BIG TWO. I was BATMAN crazy at this point and DC was a total feeder: YEAR ONE, THE CULT, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (I called to have that little turd, Jason Todd, bumped off), THE KILLING JOKE, ARKHAM ASYLUM, and GOTHAM BY GASLIGHT by Mignola… it was a great time to be a Bat-fan. Speaking of Mignola, it was near the end of the 80s when one of my top 3 minis came out: COSMIC ODYSSEY! Mike’s artwork on these books was just the coolest thing I had ever seen done with the DC heavy hitters….and THE NEW GODS were in it.

Panel from 1990's Batman: Gotham by Gaslight.
Pencilled by Mike Mignola, inked by P. Craig Russell

Justin: So you've been a serious comic collector since the 80s?

Corey: I went through lots of phases of heavy collecting and was drowning in longboxes…it was ridiculous. Did I really need all those Dixon/Grummet ROBIN issues?! I sold off a ton of books dirt cheap in the early 2000s and completely changed my approach to enjoying comics. For a number of years I stayed out of the comic shops and stopped buying single issues. I’d pick up trades of newer series or older ones I missed (like Morrison’s DOOM PATROL and ANIMAL MAN) from bookstores and I’d buy old Underground Comix by Shelton, Crumb, and Wilson when picking up tattoo magazines, clove cigarettes and pipes from the local head shops.

Every once in a while something new would come along that would give me that collecting itch again but I usually resisted. I was halfway keeping my finger on the comic pulse through the COMICS ALLIANCE website and I found out about a weird little fan comic called DEATHZONE by some dude named Michel Fiffe. Then I found out he was starting a subscription for an awesome looking self published book known as COPRA. EVER HEARD OF IT? 

Justin: Nope. Never ever. ;)

Corey: I cannot overstate how much COPRA, Fiffe, and the early community around that book changed my life. There’d be no GRUMPUS and no SKREE if it didn’t exist. I can trace every relationship I have with current creators back to Fiffe and my love for COPRA. It's the greatest comic ever created by one of the greatest humans -- no offense to Kirby, Ditko, Simonson, Grunewald and all the Elder Gods that made COPRA possible. There was a closed Facebook group called the COPRA PRESS CLUB (CPC) that Fiffe started and we spent a lot of time recommending all the off the beaten path series, forgotten gems, overlooked masterpieces, wild single issues, and just straight up cool stuff we'd find trolling the dollar (or less) longboxes. It was CARTOONIST KAYFABE (CK) before CARTOONIST KAYFABE started.

I had never been part of an online comic community before so I was definitely spoiled by the CPC. It was a small group with 99% positive vibes. No bullshit, no sniping, no one-upmanship, no one getting put in the corrections corner… a great place to hang out in the ever increasing cesspool that FB was becoming. I learned about so many great books from those folks. That’s where I started my love for Image Comics, believe it or not. Fiffe was getting into doing his BLOODSTRIKE BRUTALISTS mini and everyone was going on and on about these books from the 90s. I was 19 in 1992 so I was way too cool for Image back then and I skipped all that "little kid" crap. I have so many Image comics now it’s crazy. Digging for and then flipping through them has been one of life’s greatest pleasures and I recommend everyone give it a go. 90s Image has a certain something that makes me happy. Unbridled enthusiasm maybe?

Bloodstrike Brutalists.
It's written & illustrated by Michel Fiffe.
It's a love-letter to 90s Image Comics.
Do you NEED any more reasons to check this out?  

Then CK started their YouTube channel and there was another small gathering place for like-minded fans and creators. Those early days of CK were truly magical. The first year was so fun -- the insightful deep dives, the live episodes, the shoot interviews, and the mailbag episodes! Getting to see the boxes and boxes of a bunch of old, wild comics and new indie creator’s books and zines was also very inspirational. I slowly pulled away from CK as their subscription numbers skyrocketed and it seemed like the show was having a negative effect on the pricing and availability of finding cheap books. Once Jim [Rugg] and Ed [Piskor] blew the doors off of buying dollar books, underground/indie/outlaw stuff I got bummed out. I have to be clear though, Jim and Ed are great and what they're doing by expanding the minds and tastes of casual and serious comic fans is wonderful… they can't control what the fans and opportunists do from there. They also have no control in what CK has spawned. I've never been a fan of comic podcasts or YouTube shows but I’ve tried. They're usually filled with too much talk on modern books/creators which isn't my bag and/or "super cool comic guy" negativity. There's a really popular podcast that I’ve tried getting into but I find the hosts so negative it's a real turn off. I may be an aging hipster but just don't have the mental bandwidth to deal with that bullshit.

My recent comic buying habits are fueled by Instagram these days. I've found so many fantastic people putting out so much quality work it's euphoric. Jemma Sharp's books, Mike Ha's HEEL TURN, all of Andrew Buck’s zines, and the Coats BrosDINO BEASTS are just a few of the comics I've been blown away by recently. Everyone probably knows about BUBBLES and STRANGERS, but if you don’t, check them out. Eddie over at STRANGERS is cranking out the books through his distribution arm. There are a lot of impressive titles but they sell out too fast for my liking. It reminds me of the same issues boutique record, cassette, and DVD labels have. I can’t deal with being glued to my keyboard or phone to make sure I’m available to fight to order comics or records. Again, it’s a turn off and it takes the fun out of something that is supposed to be fun for me. I love Eddie though and am so happy for his success! I was honored to contribute to the second issue of STRANGERS' IT CAME FROM THE DOLLAR BIN section a while back and still buy every issue of STRANGERS and BUBBLES when they come out.

I’ve always been a big reader and I started early with more adult books by Stephen King like most of the kids back then. I was way into fantasy and some sci-fi growing up. Anything by Piers Anthony (XANTH, INCARNATIONS OF IMMORTALITY, and THE APPRENTICE ADEPT books especially), the DRAGONLANCE and the SHANNARA books were second only to Tolkien’s HOBBIT and the LORD OF THE RINGS books. I got a box set of the DUNE trilogy right before Lynch’s film came out and fell deep into that world for a while. As I got older I would haunt used bookstores and dig into all types of authors like Vonnegut, Kesey, Amis, Crews, Nin, Leonard, Price, Ellroy, Robbins, LaVey, Crowley…I’m down with lots of genres but especially drawn to darker stuff like GEEK LOVE, NAKED LUNCH, and DR. ADDER. Oh! Did you know David Cronenberg put out a book called CONSUMED in 2014? Dude, it’s old school body horror/tech obsessed Cronenberg.

I’m the same with movies -- the darker, the better. I’ve been a huge horror fan since I was a kid. And being a kid in the 80s means I’m a big gore hound. Splatter films, SOV weirdness, exploitation, art house kink, weirdness for weirdness’ sake -- I’m here for it. Don’t get me wrong, I really love all sorts of films but my bread and butter movies skew to the disturbing. When I was a teen I used to tape my favorite gore scenes off of cable along with my favorite nude scenes… unfortunately they were all mixed together on the same VHS tape! Can you imagine if my mom would have found that tape? Well maybe nothing now that I think of it -- it was the 80s. I was raised by cable TV since I was a latchkey kid so I was exposed to a bunch of different films at a young age and I was obsessed with MTV. Music videos were my life. I’d watch MTV for hours. Not a day goes by where I don’t ask my poor wife if she remembers some video that I expect everyone should have seen a hundred times just like me.

My first favorite bands were KISS and AC/DC as a little kid. I have a cousin that’s a year and a half older than me and he introduced me to so much music. Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates Of Dawn, Alice Cooper, The Ramones’ first album, S.O.D, Mercyful Fate, Kreator…. we were really into heavy metal and later thrash, punk, and hardcore. Of course I took to that stuff like a fish to water. I lived and breathed Slayer, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Anthrax, Misfits, Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies… but there was also Bauhaus, Siouxie and the Banshees, Violent Femmes, Jane’s Addiction, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, The Bad Brains, Samhain, and of course Danzig. San Antonio is a pretty metal city, so no matter what show you went to the crowds would yell out “METALLICA” and “SLAYER”! It was hilarious. I used to go to this all ages club called Club Oasis to see all sorts of hardcore/punk bands in high school. My stepdad would drive us all there and nurse a beer in the corner and shake his head at all the punk kids with their fucked up hair and clothes. I remember having to ask permission to slam dance and stage dive for the first time. It took some convincing but he finally let me get out there with my buddies. Once I moved to Austin it was more diverse and my musical tastes kept expanding. I spent a lot of time at a club called Liberty Lunch and another one called Emos. My very first show in Austin was GWAR on the 1990 Scumdogs of the Universe tour. It was a perfect baptism into the music scene up here.

I have a pretty extensive record collection that I’ve tried to put a cap on since I’m running out of space… well, I should be honest and say “my wife has put a cap on”. I grew up with records and ended up working at a record store for over 10 years so I’ve amassed quite a cool collection. My favorites are my soundtracks and scores. Soundtracks used to be a niche collector thing and you could find used LPs for cheap -- especially horror soundtracks and scores. Sadly that hasn’t been the case in years. Horror soundtracks had a real boom with all the boutique labels like Mondo, Death Waltz and Waxwork starting up around 2010-2013. Just like CK and the cheaper comic books skyrocketing in prices thanks to flippers and opportunists a few years later, the same thing happened in the horror LP market. As you can imagine, I wasn’t happy about it and it tainted my love for record collecting. I will admit to really enjoying and purchasing many of the releases from those labels (and others) and I’m thankful they made so many great titles available that I thought I’d never own.

Justin: When did you start illustrating?

Corey: I started drawing at an early age and definitely took most of my inspiration from comic books. It got really frustrating in the 80s when I realized I could never draw as good as John Byrne or George Perez. I mean, I guess I could have learned but I’ve just never put in the hours to get any better. I like drawing but I don’t think I’m very good. The underground artists and heavy metal/punk album cover artists are where I find myself getting the most jazzed up about drawing these days. I think there's a freedom that I envy in their work that I struggle to achieve. I just discovered this amazing artist's work from the 90s named Russell W. Evans. He did some comics like MOSH, DIXON and DEATHSTORM that are so freakin' wild. I’m currently trying to find out more info on him for an upcoming issue of SKREE.

Justin: You sent us a really sweet illustration of the Parademon (the Super Powers Collection version). Was there any particular reason this character resonated with you? Were you collecting Super Powers figs back in the day?

Parademon illustrated by Corey Corcoran

Super Powers Collection Parademon action figure (1985).
Photo source: ebay

Corey: Oh yeah. I was a big action figure kid. My favorites were STAR WARS as a little kid and G. I. JOE as I got older. There were tons of figures before, during, and after as well -- SHOGUN WARRIORS, MICRONAUTS, PLANET OF THE APES, BIG JIM and the P.A.C.K., and of course the SUPER POWERS figures. I was way into these and the SECRET WARS figures from Marvel. Best part was that you could mix and match the two lines and have some epic throwdowns. I love, love, love all the FOURTH WORLD Kirby stuff. The designs on those characters are some the greatest ever done in the history of comics. I’ve never seen a Parademon design I haven't loved but the SUPER POWERS one might be my favorite. I guess I really just wanted to draw one of those lil guys… and was also pandering to my interviewer a bit.

Justin: Ha. Well, you certainly know the way to my heart. Based on how authentic your SKREE zines look, I've got to ask: were you collecting (and/or creating) fanzines back in the 80s?

Corey: You know, I wasn’t. I probably became more aware of fanzines in the 90s. In the 80s I was all about horror movie mags like FANGORIA and GOREZONE. Once I got to Austin I started finding more zine-like movie mags like FILM THREAT, VIDEO WATCHDOG, DEEP RED, and my favorite -- PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO. Michael Weldon’s VIDEO GUIDE magazines and books changed my life. Some other zine-like books that shaped me were the Re-SEARCH BOOKS: INCREDIBLY STRANGE FILMS, INCREDIBLY STRANGE MUSIC V1 AND 2, MODERN PRIMITIVES, FREAKS: WE WHO ARE NOT AS OTHERS, and the various ones on J.G. Ballard, Bob Flanagan, and William Burroughs. Oh, and all the CHURCH OF THE SUBGENIUS publications and the SCHWA WORLD OPERATIONS MANUAL were real mind-melters. There was also MAXIMUM ROCKNROLL of course. Even though I love the format I didn’t frequent any zinefests and I didn’t get around to doing my own zine until recently.

Justin: How long has your GRUMPUS self-publishing imprint been around for?

Corey: Get this... my wife and I created GRUMPUS during the pandemic. So it's a 2020 baby. It’s just a fun side project to put out SKREE and various art zines like MARRA’S WOMEN and the SUICIDAL TENDENCIES TSHIRT ART ZINE, along with some mini comics -- THE DONUT SCAM was a one-shot we did with our son and we have the first issue of our bootleg comic HULKBUSTERS: 2030.

Justin: I'm totally looking forward to your next SKREE zine: the COMPULSION/CREATING/COLLECTING issue. I've seen the sneak peaks on your instagram and it's shaping up to be a pretty solid issue. I'm sure we'll chat again when I send you an order for this masterpiece.

Corey Corcoran doing SKREE packaging up zine on the ever-important zine mail-out day.
Just look at that mischievous smile.

Corey Corcoran has been super-generous with his time for this interview. If you want more of Corey, I'd recommend picking up SKREE (it makes a great gift, just sayin') and/or following Corey on his Instagram. He frequently features GRUMPUS updates on his instagram, as well as other zines he's picked up and recommends. Sometimes he'll go on a comic-bender and deep-dive into some hidden gems (these last 3 weeks it's been Marvel's Micronauts, prior to that it was King/Gerad's Mister Miracle -- I'm telling you, it's super-diverse...and interesting).

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