We Told You So

Like most comics devotees of the late 20th century, Gary Groth—co-founder of America's leading publisher of high-quality comics, Fantagraphics Books—started off as a superhero obsessive. But Groth grew out of that passion, and he loved a good fight. So in the mid-'70s he started slamming his aesthetic foes and advocating for smarter, more literary, more adult comics in his pugnacious and brilliant magazine The Comics Journal. By the early 1980s, he was seeking out and publishing such comics despite the total lack of a demonstrated market for such things.

Over the next four decades, Fantagraphics launched or elevated the careers of many of modern comics' most vital and brilliant creators, including Jaime Hernandez, Gilbert Hernandez, Chris Ware, Daniel Clowes, Joe Sacco, Carol Tyler, and Reason's own Peter Bagge. Publications of Robert Crumb, Charles Schulz, and others have established the publishing house as the medium's top archivist and curator as well.

We Told You So: Comics As Art is an excellent oral history of Fantagraphics by Tom Spurgeon and Michael Dean. Histories of artsy young rebels changing the world are too often self-indulgent and unconvincing, or vaguely tawdy and juvenile. We Told You So, though, makes a compelling case for the revolutionary nature of the undertaking while being pleasingly self-aware about the childish absurdity of the flawed humans involved.

Fantagraphics, a portmanteau of fantasy and graphics, turned out to be a marvelously apt name. The notion of comics as a rich, vast literary art was pretty much just Gary Groth's fantasy. Forty years down the line, it's wonderfully real.