Lost No More: Dover Publications REALLY are treating us – Puma Blues to return in 2015
Well, Dover Publications continue to impress with their trawling of the 80s archives for works I had planned to include at some point in the Lost Works series. I’m certainly not complaining though, anything taken out of the Lost Works library and given back to the public in general and me in particular is a fine thing.
First there was Sam Glanzman’s A Soldier’s Story (which I have to admit to never reading at the time, but may pick up now purely to see if Dover can score a hat trick in their first three releases), then The Bozz Chronicles (written about here).
And now, the third and most exciting of the trio of re-releases. Dover will publish a complete version of Stephen Murphy and Michael Zulli’s The Puma Blues.
Some of you are impressed and remembering something wonderful.
But I imagine most of you have no idea what I’m talking about.
You might, at a push, recognise Zulli’s name from his art on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Taboo, Sandman, Alice Cooper: The Last Temptation, The Facts In The Case Of The Departure Of Miss Finch and more. He’s not the most prolific, but he is one of those immediately recognisable artists.
Here, look at this. His Turtles:
Yep, this was late 80s when Turtle mania was at it’s height. So Michael Zulli delivers this spiritual tale with monstrous leads. You can see the fruits of his labours in the collection Souls Winter.
But we’re not talking Turtles, we’re here talking Puma Blues.
From 1986 to 1989, Murphy and Zulli published 23 issues (and a 1/2th issue mini comic), garnered tremendous critical acclaim and became embroiled in a fight between their publisher and distributor before eventually creative differences meant writer and artist never finished the tale.
And what a tale, an environmental sci-fi thing, drenched in wildlife art so breathtaking and a strange narrative sense. Initially something of a hackneyed eco-fable thing, telling of a wildlife warden’s job in a post nuke incident USA populated with incredible new mutations, most visual of the lot being the fabulous Manta Rays, it transformed into something far more experimental and fascinatingly beautiful very quickly.
Set in 2000 (hey, that was the near future back then), it all hangs around Gavia Immer, working for the government, living out of a Massachusetts cabin deep in the wood ‘displacing’ the various animutes to some US-Sino lab in China. The animutes might have come about from the radiation fallout following a white supremacist terrorist/kidnap action. Much of North America is still recovering from the nuke that removed the Bronx. How much it’s recovering we rarely see, at least in the first two thirds of the series, this is very much a comic that focuses tight on the lead and only shifts focus to look around, particularly to let Zulli go wild with the scenery and the wildlife, real and imagined. The Manta Rays and the Puma just sit majestically on the page.
You take it all in, especially later on in the series where Murphy’s loose narrative breaks down further until it becomes something of a mood poem, an environmental meander where Zulli’s art increasingly dominates. It’s a weird series, it’s a strange series, it’s a difficult read. But despite being perplexed and bemused by it when I first read it in my late teens I was hooked on the overarching environmental ideas and with the beauty of Zulli’s artwork. Every so often I’ll go back and read the only collections (two books, collecting issues 1-19) and each time I get something different depending on my mood, but the fascination and appreciation continues. Sadly there’s no collection of the remaining issues, in fact publication ceased with issue 23, just 3 issues before the planned conclusion with issue 26. Creative differences are a bitch that way.
However, the great news is that Dover are collecting the lot. INCLUDING the conclusion, which Murphy and Zulli are getting together to finish for this collection. At last, two and a bit decades late, but here at last. The news came out from the Dave Sim / Moment Of Cerebus website:
“Got a phone message “out of the blue” (nyuck nyuck nyuck) from Dover Publishing saying that Michael Zulli and Stephen Murphy have gotten together to finish THE PUMA BLUES (they were within pages of being done when they ended up going separate directions) and they wanted to know if I would write an introduction. Which I said I would. ….…..Anyway, they’re paying me a VERY generous fee for the introduction (which they’ve also agreed to make the introduction RECIPROCALLY OWNED by Michael and Stephen — that is, EITHER Michael or Stephen can use it whatever way they want if they go their separate ways at some point — as opposed to JOINTLY OWNED. I’m hoping that Michael and Stephen would see THE PUMA BLUES the same way, but that’s up to them) so it should be a number of pages long — it will be nice to read the Entire Book in one sitting and to be one of the first to do so! “
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the connection with Sim comes from his being their publisher for a lot of the comic’s run. Although it caused various economic and distribution headaches for Murphy & Zulli when Diamond Distributors decided to punish Sim’s refusal to send the new fangled Cerebus phonebooks through Diamnond by refusing to carry Puma Blues. Oh, the comics biz, it’s always been fun.
No idea when the collection will be out. I’d guess no chance it will be here before end of 2015, probably later. But the news that it’s coming is good enough right now.
Ok then, now to give you some idea of the art and story in question. Consider this a tempter. You want to get the book. You will get the book. Don’t worry about remebering though, we’ll remind you nearer the time.
Firstly the very raw, but very promising beginning, the first few pages of issue 1:
And from later in the series: Issue 15. To say there’s been a shift in the artwork is something of an understatement. Zulli had come into his own by now, the beauty of his artwork that we saw in raw form earlier on now far more developed. He created breathtaking scenes of nature through the latter part of the run. Here’s just a little idea …