5 out of 5
I was a little tough on Taboo’s ‘Especial‘ issue – which was published between books 5 and 6 – for not feeling like it had a clear agenda, and then not really supporting what its unclear agenda was. And it’s possible I’d be equally tough on the main series of Taboo, if taking it issue by issue: there’re a lot of bits of the horror anthology which I really don’t enjoy reading, and it veered from its horror premise into a more open-ended “whatever is off the beaten path” mentality pretty early – which is fine, just not necessarrily what I would have wanted – as well as including things maybe just ’cause they were from creators from a certain circle. And all of that criticism would be on co-creator and show-runner Steve Bissette, as Taboo was absolutely his baby – though not to diminish the support of John Totleben in co-creation, or Mark Martin’s edits, or Bissette’s wife, Nancy O’Connor’s contributions, or all the people who helped with publishing and financing… But even taking all that in: Taboo was Bissette.
And there’s where the series, as a whole, gains an incredible boost, because it’s incredibly clear, from any issue, how passionate Steve was about the whole thing. Even in the second part of the final two ‘coda’ issues – the codas published after the fact by Kitchen Sink Press – in which Steve doesn’t directly “appear,”a foreword from Dave Sim reminds us how tied to everything Steve was, and a republished article recounting the printing and publishing woes of issue 2 recount the personal (and financial) stakes for the creator. So: I’ve always had mixed feelings about Taboo’s content – in terms of maybe liking less than I’m impartial toward – but I’ve also always been so impressed by how unified it feels, and how it’s one of the few anthologies that truly feels like it’s earning its worth for every page, and every issue, simply by dint of effort.
That article from the coda issue (which appears alongside some words from Alan Moore on premiering ‘From Hell’ within Taboo) is also helpful for setting some perspective: while I think S. Clay Wilson’s work is likely edgy stuff regardless of when it’s published, a lot of Taboo’s material may seem ‘tame’ by today’s standards, with comparable work found in issues of Fantagraphics’ or Top Shelf’s works, and etc. But in the 80s, when Taboo kicked off, even something that seems relatively “dry,” like From Hell, was enough to set people off with judgements who needed to be involved with comic book making – printers, binders, shippers – refusing their services (and causing delays) by objecting to the content. Their right, of course, but often rather ironic given some of the other material they may have worked with, underlining Bissette’s desire to push the comic medium beyond its cloud of “childish” entertainment. This also further justifies the book’s moving away from being horror themed to the way it started to encompass the off-kilter; while that means only a couple issues live up to my dream of an entire book of tales that have the potential to make you turn pages with concern for what’s to follow, I get it, and I do think Taboo certainly maintained its originality by not hemming itself in to one genre, nor – as Alan Moore points out in the ‘From Hell’ article – page counts, which may seem a minor thing, but I’d ask you to think of any other anthology series which allows for single page stories or illustrations or thirty to forty page ones, mish-mashed and varied per issue. It was always clear that Taboo was creators and content first, hammered home by Steve’s dedicated and often researched and well-cited introductions to every story, regardless of that creator having appeared before.
This is the stuff that’s kept Taboo on my shelf, even if I’ll never really get (or appreciate…) Rick Grimes’ contributions, or feel that ‘Throat Sprockets’ never came across as the instant classic Steve built it up to be: the series was and is an accomplishment, and oozes with love and support for its medium. And tame or not in 2020, it still feels Taboo; the covers and its ‘SpiderBaby Grafix’ imprint, and the way Steve speaks to each entry – it’s not “of” a particular time or style. You pick it up and know that it’s different.
A true experience, worth tracking down.