Come to think of it, when I was really hardcore into comics back in the early 1980s, I read mostly independents. Sure, I'd grown up on a steady diet of DC and Marvel, but by the time I'd hit junior high, I wanted something more than superheroes and war comics. You couldn't have asked for a better time to have those kinds of yearnings, because Pacific and First Comics put out some incredible titles in those days, on better paper and with more advanced production techniques than either DC or Marvel could offer.
Of course, Pacific and First cost a bit more. But it was worth it. And yeah, a lot of their titles were also superheroes, but they generally had a more sci-fi/fantasy take on the standard tropes. Plus Pacific had Groo the Wanderer, which was as hilarious to me as anything else in my comedy diet at the time-- Eddie Murphy, SCTV, Bill Murray movies and the like. Pacific Comics also offered Jack Kirby's Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers (creator owned!) and Silver Star, Roy Thomas', P. Craig Russell's and Michael T. Gilbert's Elric of Melnibone, Bernie Wrightson Master of the Macabre, Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds and Dave Stevens' The Rocketeer. First Comics put out Nexus, Howard Chaykin's vastly influential American Flagg!, Jon Sable and possibly my favorite of them all, E-Man by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton... and then more Elric.
Elric was everywhere in comics in those days. Why didn't he become a bigger star? Some blame his increasing dependence on narcotics and subsequent work interruptions and stints in both rehab and jail (not to mention the public relations disaster that was his quickie marriage and divorce to Melanie Griffith), but I wonder if it wasn't somehow related to anti-albino bigotry on the part of comic book publishers. Also the alarming incident where he used his magic sword Stormbringer to kill Jim Shooter and absorb his soul at a New York comic convention.
Whatever the reason, Elric's publishers at Pacific and First certainly put out some gorgeous-looking books. And they were fun to read. Not run-of-the-mill. I probably shouldn't have been reading some of them-- American Flagg! I'm looking at you with all your little double entendres and lingerie-clad women-- but read them I did, thanks to the people at Unicorn's Retreat, one of two comic book shops. The owners, as I recall, were a kindly married couple who happily stuck my crappily derivative comic book drawings on the wall and once commissioned me to reproduce a Captain Marvel cover with a Nexus poster signed by Mike Baron and Steve Rude as my payment.
I still have that poster. The amazing thing is, while I admired the Dude's slick art and Nexus' Cyclops-like visor (I was an Uncany X-Men fan at the time, too), I didn't actually read an issue of Nexus until almost ten years later when Dark Horse started publishing the title.
Thinking about these companies makes me want to revisit some of those titles. I still own a number of these books, so I'll start thinking of ways to critique and deconstruct them for your entertainment in this little corner of the comic book blogosphere. It'll beat my nigh-incessant whining about how DC's ruined Cassandra Cain any day of the week!