|Country of origin||United States of America|
|Headquarters location||San Diego, California|
|Key people||Herb Shapiro, Jay Allen Sanford|
|Publication types||Comic books|
|Nonfiction topics||Music, Biography|
Revolutionary Comics (1989–1994) was a U.S. comic book publisher best known for the series Rock 'N' Roll Comics, launched in 1989. Founded by publisher Todd Loren, the line featured unlicensed biographies of rock stars, told in comic book form but geared for adults, often with very adult situations (nudity, drug use, violence, etc.). Some musicians featured in the comics, like Frank Zappa and Kiss, were supportive; while others like the New Kids on the Block considered Revolutionary’s comics akin to bootlegs and sued.
Loren claimed the First Amendment protected the journalistic rights of his "illustrated articles" and he took the matter to the U.S. District Court in California, who agreed. Loren’s win against the New Kids established, among other things, that comic book biographies were entitled to the same protections as other unauthorized biographies.
Loren hired Hey Boss artist Larry Nadolsky to draw the first issue of Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics, profiling Guns N' Roses. On the comic’s release, Guns N' Roses lawyer Peter Paterno sent Revolutionary a cease and desist order. This was reported in a Rolling Stone story that directly resulted in the entire 10,000 copy print run selling out in two weeks, thanks to buyers who thought Guns N' Roses would sue the comic out of existence. No lawsuits actually happened, and the comic went into multiple new printings eventually totaling over 150,000 copies.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics #3 and #4, on Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe, respectively, did result in lawsuits. The bands had exclusive merchandising deals with Great Southern/Winterland Productions, which threatened comic distributors over carrying the issues and got a court injunction prohibiting Revolutionary from distributing either comic. This forced Revolutionary to build its own distribution network outside traditional comic shops, eventually getting them into music and gift retail outlets which had never carried comics before. This independence from the comic book marketplace served the company well, as sales continued to rise from issue to issue, with their Metallica comic going into multiple print runs totaling over 75,000 copies.
Early Revolutionary Comics contained straight biographies in comic form and Mad magazine-styled parodies. The parodies were later dropped. Revolutionary’s bio comics also sported a cover logo reading "Unauthorized And Proud Of It," possibly in hopes of staving off further lawsuits. By the early nineties, Revolutionary Comics was among the top three selling independent comic companies in the U.S.
Loren hired his father, Herb Shapiro, to be vice president of the growing company, while Jay Allen Sanford (who’d worked for Loren’s Musicade and was writing for Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics as of its second issue) became the line’s head writer. New music titles were launched like Hard Rock Comics, the Pink Floyd Experience, the Led Zeppelin Experience and a five-issue Pink Floyd series that the band liked well enough to include in their official Shine On box CD set.
After Loren's murder in June 1992, The company continued for two more years, under Loren’s father and with Sanford serving as managing editor. During those years, Kiss participated in a three issue bio series called Kiss Pre-History and other new music titles were launched, such as British Invasion and Alternative Comics.
The company closed its doors in 1994, having put out around 300 comic books. Sanford took the Carnal Comics imprint with him (flagship title: True Stories of Adult Film Stars), a successful adults-only line still being published today. Under the banner Re-Visionary Press, he later oversaw reprints of Revolutionary titles in digital editions and graphic novels licensed in the U.S. and overseas, including a 2014 Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics series licensed to Croatian publishers.
Rock 'N' Roll Comics revival
In September 2009, biographical comic book publisher Bluewater Productions - best known for its Political Power comic bios - announced it would be reprinting Revolutionary's Rock 'N' Roll Comics in ten monthly volumes, averaging 250 pages each. The first collections were The Beatles Experience and Hard Rock Heroes, released in early 2010.
Many of Revolutionary's original creators participated updating and modernizing the contents of the musical comic bios. The reprints and updates are being supervised by original Rock 'N' Roll Comics co-creator Jay Allen Sanford, who later went on to create the long-running weekly comic strip Overheard in San Diego, which debuted in the San Diego Reader in 1995. Sanford is also the writer and artist for a second weekly comic strip for the Reader newspaper chain, Famous Former Neighbors.
Bluewater's Rock 'N' Roll Comics collections include the Pink Floyd Experience (5 issues), followed by a color 32-page comic, Joan Jett and the Runaways, the Led Zeppelin Experience (5 issues), the Elvis Presley Experience (7 issues), Rock 'N' Roll Cartoon History: The '60s, and Rock 'N' Roll Cartoon History: The '70s. The company also reprinted Revolutionary's comic biography of former Marvel Comics figurehead Stan Lee.
Sanford and Loren's father Herb Shapiro have kept the Revolutionary archive intact, including over 9,000 pages of original interior artwork, around 250 original cover paintings and illustrations, and all of the scripts, production materials, and printer film used to produce the comics. The copyrights and trademarks to all of the titles Revolutionary produced are also maintained, allowing for digital distribution via iTunes, Amazon, Kindle Prime, and other online outlets where the comics continue to be popular with fans of both the subjects and offbeat comic books.
Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics #12 (June 1990), an unauthorized bio of The New Kids on the Block, got Revolutionary sued again by Great Southern/Winterland. Loren set up a 900 number “Nuke the New Kids” to raise money for the company’s defense ($10.00 per call, billed by phone company). In April 1990, U.S. District Judge John S. Rhoades declared that Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics #12 could legally be distributed because it is “part biography and part satire.” His twelve-page ruling also stated that “Bookstores are filled with biographies - both authorized and unauthorized - of public figures. And, while the subjects of such biographies may be offended by the publication of their life stories, they generally have no claim for trademark infringement.”
Rhoades’ ruling also stated “It appears that the First Amendment may trump any claim that the plaintiffs have for trademark infringement.” The resultant order stated that Winterland Concessions Co. failed to show that the case met the standards required to issue a preliminary injunction. This dissolved the temporary restraining order prohibiting distribution. The New Kids responded by filing suit for trademark infringement since their logo appeared in the comic.
A settlement between the New Kids and Revolutionary was reached in August 1990. It permanently enjoined Revolutionary from “advertising, manufacturing, distributing and/or selling or otherwise commercially exploiting any publication displaying the trademark and/or logo of the New Kids on the Block, either as a group or individually.” Loren promptly reprinted the New Kids story in magazine format, without depicting the band’s logo anywhere in the story. Ironically, this and the other lawsuits garnered Revolutionary worldwide press, eventually resulting in record-breaking sales for an indie comic publisher.
In 2005, BulletProof Film released a documentary film titled Unauthorized and Proud Of It: Todd Loren’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics. The film features interviews with Loren's family, surviving Revolutionaries, comic book colleagues, adversaries, supporters and past and present rock 'n' roll stars featured in Revolutionary’s comics. Appearing in the film are Alice Cooper, publishers Gary Groth (Fantagraphics) and Denis Kitchen (Kitchen Sink Press), famed groupie Cynthia Plaster Caster, underground painter and RevCom cover artist Robert Williams (known for his controversial album art for the first Guns N' Roses LP), Jay Allen Sanford, Gene Simmons (audio only), and more.
The film also details the San Diego police department's investigation into the murder; interviews with Loren's coworkers and family members suggest that the police failed to follow up on all available leads. The film was released on DVD in April 2012 by Wild Eye Releasing, under the title Unauthorized: The Story of Rock 'N' Roll Comics. The DVD includes over two hours of bonus footage, interviews, news footage, and art galleries, and liner notes by original RnR Comics creator Jay Allen Sanford.
Creators associated with Revolutionary Comics
- Dick Ayers
- Del Barras
- Robert Bloch
- Rich Buckler
- SS Crompton
- Terry Dodson
- Earl Ferguson
- Lyndal Ferguson
- Greg Fox
- David L. Frink
- Phil Garris
- Rick Geary
- Holly Golightly
- Daerick Gross
- Stuart Immonen
- Scott Jackson
- George Clayton Johnson
- Bill Kieffer
- Len Kirk
- Ken Landgraf
- Todd Loren
- Tom Luth
- Seppo Mäkinen
- Patrick McCray
- Bart Mendoza
- Larry Nadolsky
- Larry Niven
- Spain Rodriguez
- Jay Allen Sanford (San Diego Reader)
- Robert Schnakenberg
- Gene Simmons
- Aaron Sowd
- Robert Williams
- "New Kids VS Revolutionary": Rolling Stone (Apr. 1992).
- Fogel's Underground Comix Price Guide, 2006.
- "NewsWatch: Todd Loren Slain," The Comics Journal #151 (July 1992), p. 11.
- Groth, Gary. "Revolutionary In Financial Disarray," Comics Journal #164 (Dec. 1993).
- Groth, Gary. "Todd Loren - First Amendment Advocate Or Lying Sack Of Shit?" Comics Journal #138 (Oct. 1990).
- "New Kids on the Block vs. Revolutionary Comics," San Diego Reader blog (Sept. 13, 2007).
- Revolutionary Comics at the Grand Comics Database
- Revolutionary Comics at the Comic Book DB
- Brent Frankenhoff, The Standard Catalog of Comic Books, 2002, pg. 333
- Comic Buyers Guide #1621, pg. 87, 2006
- "Remember Todd Loren?": J. Johnson, Comics Buyers Guide, 6-16-06, cbgextra.com
- "Todd Loren's Rock 'N' Roll Comics": Bay Area Reporter, 5-11-06