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Forbidden Book #1:Journeys into the Mystic
Renaissance Press

This is the premier edition of a series of square-bound 128 page short story collections, each featuring stories by some of the most respected talents in the comic industry. The theme is magic in all its many forms, and within that realm creators are free to explore where they will. These stories are aimed at the reader looking for entertaining, well-crafted, thought-provoking stories and beautifully rendered artwork.

The eleven stand-alone stories in this issue are a mix of black and white and color, and range in style from traditional fantasy to cutting edge contemporary.

Charles Vess (Stardust, Rose) leads of with an adaptation of an old English ballad about the ugliest witch in the North Country. Dennis Fujitake (Dalgoda, Reteif) spins a surreal yarn about a hapless scribe getting sucked into an enchanted world. The legendary Jeff Jones (Idyll) returns to comics with a lyrical creation myth. Marv (Teen Titans, Blade) Wolfman and artist Craig Taillefer (Wahoo Morris)tell a tale of how magic came to evolve into something far different. Writer Jean-Marc Lofficier (Tongue Lash, Elsewhere Prince) and artist Philip Xavier take us into the world of a wandering African shaman. Colleen Doran (A Distant Soil) spins a yarn about magic, love and revenge in the Virginia backwoods. Mark Sherman (Strange Attractors) and artist Stephen Blue (The Awakening, Red River) tell a modern Lovecraftian tale of a man trying to gain possession of a legendary book. Forbidden Book editor Michael Cohen (Strange Attractors, Mythography) tells a tale of a young girl, a lemur, a mysterious stranger, and the wind spirit that drives them to an odd fate. Mark Sherman and Dave (Starman, Star Trek) Hoover follow a sorceress and her leopard familiar into a lost temple. And newcomer David Gaddis shows why he is soon going to be a significant creative force in the comic world.

We're especially proud to include an entire 20 page unpublished issue of Rick Veitch's late, lamented Rarebit Fiends, done at the height of his creative output on the book. This is a dream/magic story that is unlike anything else that has ever been published in comics.

Square-bound edition
128 pages, 16 in color
Color cover by Michael Cohen
All ages material


The Forbidden Book #2 : In the Uncharted Realm
Renaissance Press

This is the second volume of original short stories, featuring tales of magic by some of the most respected talents in the comic industry. In this issue:

"Astral and the Dragon" by Frank (Dr. Strange) Brunner - Once upon a time in a forbidden forest, the last dragon beheld its destiny. "The End" by Eisner award winner Eric (Age of Bronze) Shanower- A born loser tries to wreak revenge on humanity by summoning Satan, but finds himself trying to save the universe from God-driven doom. "Dragon Fodder" by David (The Hobbit, A Wizard's Tale) Wenzel- Apprentice wizard Narf sets out on a quest that leads him into a contentious encounter with an infamous dragon. "The Longing Garden" , story by Victoria Garcia & Sara Ryan, art by Eisner winner Steve (Whiteout, Melt) Leiber- When Magya loses her family, and later her sanity, she devises a unique strategy to get them back. "The Gold Mask" by John Workman - In the dark world that is our future (or maybe our past) a mysterious stranger tells a group of that time's inhabitants the cautionary tale of the woman in the Gold Mask. "Jhafnyr" by Michael (Strange Attractors) Cohen and Tom (Tarzan, Zorro) Yeates - A desperate sorceress searches for a mysterious tower."When Larry Met Allie" story and pencils by John Workman, inks by the legendary Al Williamson- Revealed at last! The story of the world's greatest magician and exactly how he did such amazing things. Also, stories by Al (The Spiral Cage) Davison, James (Starchild) Owen, Craig (Wahoo Morris) Taillefer and Jim (Spectre of the Black Rose) Lowder & Dennis (Dalgoda) Fujitake.

Square-bound edition
120 pages, 16 in color
Color cover by Michael Cohen
All ages material

Forbidden Book #1 Review

Fifteen comics artists and writers contributed eleven stories to this anthology of fantasy stories, "all connected by that spider web strand we call magic." The stories are quite varied: "Alison Gross" (Charles Vess) is an illustrated poem about a man who pays a penalty for refusing to kiss an ugly old witch. "Mutter the Scribe" (Dennis Fujitake) hosts a wizard unexpectedly and decides to see if the wealthy old fellow would be interested in a neatly transcribed copy of his notes on magic. But muttering out loud while you transcribe notes on magic is a bad idea.... "I Bled the Sea" (Jeffrey Jones) is a two-page illustrated poem about the origin of a sea. "Three Black Hearts" (Colleen Doran) beat in the breasts of three nasty Northerners who control the lives of three Southern witches after the war. "Generations" (Marv Wolfman and Craig Taillefer) is a tale about how wizards took steps to prevent their magic from being abused by royalty. "The Parchment of Her Flesh" (Michael Cohen, Mark Sherman, and Dave Hoover), narrated by a jaguar, concerns a warrior woman and her search for an ancient book of magic. "The Clay Dog" (Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier and Philip Xavier), set in an African mythos, deals with a wandering wiseman/ wizard/ lawgiver who investigates the murder of a village wizard. "Pilgrim Shadows" (David Gaddis) takes place in the far future, where a corrective agent and a biographer seek a missing author whose derangement is spilling over into reality. "Subtleman" (Rick Veitch) is a dream sequence that explores some of the meanings found in dreams. "Book Bound in Human Skin" (Mark Sherman and Stephen Blue) is the tale of a medium who carries a strange book and exudes a foul odor, and the mentor/rival who schemes to take that book from her. "Kara, Kali, and the Wind" (Michael Cohen) is a fable about a girl who angers the wind when she gives shelter to a wandering Vaya (wizard/thief/trickster). The book also includes an introduction by Cohen and a list of the participants' websites for "further explorations."

Fantasy anthologies such as this are fairly rare in comics (Weird Business springs to mind, but that's mostly horror), and I'm pleased to report that this one is first-rate. The stories show more variation in theme and tone than in most text-only collections. They're all very professionally done, both in story and art, and are easily up to their text-only counterparts. Of course, as you will have noted while reading the list up there, most of the participants in this project are long-time comics pros, so the general quality of the book shouldn't come as a surprise.

I have a couple of nit-picking comments. "The Clay Dog" is a little awkwardly paced at times--at first I thought there was a page out of sequence--and it isn't made clear that the supposed murderer had been locked in the closet (a key point) when the victim's widow found him; it's just said that the closet was "closed." I could have done without the "superhero-style" emphasis ( i.e., the pointless emphasis of unexpected words) in the lettering in "Three Black Hearts" and "Book Bound in Human Skin." And
"Pilgrim Shadows" (which is Gaddis's first published work) has an incomplete air about it, as if Gaddis had much more to say about the world he created but didn't have the space.

The art is uniformly wonderful and also quite varied--it would make a good overview of some of the best comics work being done today. Most of it is black-and-white, but "Three Black Hearts" and "Pilgrim Shadows" are in full color. No matter the artist, the black-and-white art tends to be very clean-lined, even when it's complicated, so it's easy to follow.

A second volume is promised, with an equally exciting lineup of creators; may there be many more. Most highly recommended for fantasy readers and library collections, and for anyone interested in high-quality black-and-white comics art. Be aware that this is the kind of book that can be overlooked by casual readers in favor of glitzier four-color titles; it deserves a far better fate than that.

Wizardworld Interview With Forbidden Book Editor Michael Cohen

copyright 2001 Bill Baker

How do you intend to market the Forbidden Book?

Everything we do with The Forbidden Book is done with an eye on long term growth, and by that I mean growth beyond the North American comic market. We'd like this book to reach across as many barriers as possible; to reach that vast potential reading audience who would never venture into a comic shop. It will look more like a book than a comic, it will have no obvious issue numbers, and it will be all self-contained stories. These factors hopefully will make it accessible to folks who might find the whole comic milieu far too confusing. So the plan is to first establish a solid footing in the direct sales market, then to branch out into book and specialty stores. We're also hoping to make some inroads into the gaming store market. I'm hoping that the quality of the art and the intriguing subject matter will also open some doors in the European market, though translated editions are something were not currently considering. Our initial goal though, is to establish ourselves with readers and retailers as a company to look towards for dependable, on time high quality product.

What factors are you looking for in a story for Forbidden Book?

Our number one criteria is that the stories should be accessible to readers who are not familiar with the comic medium. We want storytelling, design and layout to be fairly straightforward. While not negating the artistic value of innovative approaches to storytelling, we encourage the creators to consider the newer readers who may not have the patience to decipher confusing plots, artwork or layout. We believe that artistic solutions can be found that can clarify as well as challenge.

It is also our policy that all stories be self-contained. Part of the difficulty of finding a new readership for comics, is that one has to assimilate an enormous amount of cross-referenced information to understand most comics on the stands today. We would like all our stories to be thoroughly comprehensible and to clearly attain some sense of resolution by the end.

We're also trying to find a middle ground between the freedom to tell thought-provoking stories and the need not to limit potential readership by featuring nudity, foul language or excessive graphic violence in our stories. We feel that there are artistically satisfying ways to deal with mature subjects without restricting the works access to a large potential audience.

We're looking for stories that keep the focus on the characters. We're less interested in totally plot-driven stories about archetypical fantasy-genre characters, than in studies of unique individuals somehow involved in a conflict involving magic or magical devices.

What criteria are you using to select creators?

Obviously my personal taste is going to enter into it, and I've always been a huge fan of the Al Williamson/Barry Windsor Smith/ Mark Schultz school of beautifully detailed, tightly rendered artwork. That's why we're so excited to be getting new stories from Frank Brunner and John Workman, who are capable of doing exquisite work, but who have only rarely done any continuity in recent years. I would say that one hallmark of this book will be the consistent high quality of the artwork. I also want creators who are interested in delving into some thought provoking concepts, but in a way that would be accessible to a wide range of readers.

What do you see for the future of the book?

My hope is that after a few issues, the word will get out that there's a creator friendly, dependable company who is looking for top quality work; and that will lead to submissions by some creators who might not be initially interested in working for a small untested company. I think that it's such a shame that so many great comic artists and writers have withdrawn from the scene, or who feel that it is no longer worth their while to do their best work. I'd love to see The Forbidden Book as a repository for great comic stories that otherwise would never have been published.

What's your background in comics?

From being a fanatical collector going back to the early 60's, I, like hordes of other comic fans, started obsessively drawing my favorite characters. It wasn't until the early 90's that I made any serious effort to actually finish something and get it out into the real world. The result was a self-published comic called Strange Attractors, done in collaboration with my friend Mark Sherman, which ran for 17 issues. I then went on to create a fantasy anthology called Mythography which ran for 8 issues. Incidentally, way back in 1965, my friend Tom Horsky and I compiled what is now acknowledged as the first ever comic book price guide, the "Argosy Price Guide".

How do you see your role as editor?

My philosophy as an editor is that my job is to round up the best creative talent I can, give them some broad guidelines, and then stand back and see what comes out. My initial inclination was to try and impose more of a personal vision to the book. When we came up with the idea of an anthology devoted to magic stories, I thought right away that the influences should be Tolkien, Jack Vance and even Harry Potter. When story ideas came in from the creators I initially contacted, I realized that the world of "magic" encompasses such an incredible spectrum of story possibilities in every genre and style, that it would be foolish of me to rein in the creative outpouring I saw coming my way. I guess I feel more like a shepherd, trying to get this flock of creative talent into the pen; on time, well fed and happy.