Phoenix Productions is the name I gave to my small press comics publishing label. But, like all things, there’s a backstory. So bear with me.
In 1986, after my freshman year of high school, my family relocated from the vast fields of sugar beets and soybeans in Central Michigan to a suburb of Worcester (WIS-tah), Massachusetts. One of the side benefits from moving from a town of barely 10,000 to the second largest city in New England was that there was a world-class comic shop, That’s Entertainment, which was operated by Paul Howley.
Since he was a kid, Paul made homemade comics. Specifically, he made comics for his own character, Insect Man. For a kid used to full sized comics like Superman, New Teen Titans, Alpha Flight and the Fantastic Four, the idea of a simple photocopied piece of paper, folded over and stapled to make a book, was a revelation. So was the idea of being able to write and draw your own stories with your own characters.
I eagerly scooped up as many copies of Insect Man’s Weird Tales as I could. I still have 20 digest-sized Insect Man minicomics in my collection (#82-105, with only a few issue gaps), not to mention the full-sized 25th and 30th anniversary issues as well. From the simplest art to the likes of Willie Blyberg and Gene Colan, Insect Man has been drawn in every possible way.
Paul was the best about minicomics. A smart businessman, he recognized that supporting local creators who made minicomics built relationships and customers for his shop! So not only was Insect Man on the shelf next to Spider-Man, but other minicomics were as well. And he regularly stocked Tim Corrigan’s Small Press Comics Explosion (SPCE) magazine, essentially the bible to the small press world while in publication.
One of those minicomics on the shelf at That’s Entertainment was The Helgramites, which was made by another Worcester high schooler, Matt Kanaracus through Matt’s Synapse Comics. Matt was a talented artist (eventually moved into the world of commercial design and now User Interface design for software companies), and Paul knew of my interest in trying my hand at writing. He hooked the two of us up, and we were off and running.
Together, Matt and I created some of the very characters you can see on this site. We made The Light, a vigilante out for revenge. We made Patriot, a Captain America type with a bit of an edge. And I helped him grow his Helgramites universe with a story in his Helgramites Annual and Siphon, not to mention a fun little bit that we did for his Outside In book. I’m pleased to say that this return to comics has resulted in Matt and me reconnecting for the first time in around 30 years. (He’s the same, I think I’m the same, and we both have grayer hair. And kids.)
I also made books of my own without the protective cover of a talented guy like Matt to paper over my many writing faults. I published a straight-up news/review/interview fanzine, Fandom (which, in fairness, Matt made beautiful while I pumped out the copy — I don’t want to make anyone think that Fandom was mine and mine alone — it was a creative partnership). I kept scratching at that spandex hero itch with Heroic, for which small press legend Jim Main kindly let me use his title. These two books expanded my universe of friends and acquaintances around the country…all of us making ‘zines, having fun. And these went out under my Phoenix Productions label, which is the name of this site.
There were a couple more characters percolating during this time. (A review of the lead-in to Tales of the Synapse Universe, available in the Library, reveals that at least some of the characters came from my past experiences playing TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game.) I created Accelerator, a high school girl who gained the power of speed, for Heroic. Laser-Disc, a reinvented hero who never gives up, also showed up in Heroic. (And no, he doesn’t have a sidekick named Betamax.) Hologram, a ghost-like character, popped up in Tim Corrigan’s Ka-Blam!.
In every case of a creative work, I was only the writer. I was fortunate to work with some terrific artists, all of whom had more than enough skill to paper over my many storytelling shortcomings.
It didn’t take long to notice from SPCE that there were a LOT of small pressers in Massachusetts. So I contacted as many as I could find and encouraged them to help form the Mass Press, a co-op of sorts that published a joint magazine called Mass Digest, which was filled with member profiles, stories, etc. We also had a couple (two, I think) gatherings in Boston at local comics shows where we would rent a couple tables, sell our books, meet and greet each other and meet other prospective comics creators. It was a lot of fun…and the Mass Hysteria book came out of that.
Lastly, I was honored to be added to the roster of the United Fanzine Organization, a LONG-running fanzine co-op. This group opened my eyes to the talent in small press, the kindness and supportive nature of the publishers and the skill necessary to make a high quality book. Many of my books are UFO titles, and I’m very proud of that affiliation. And now I’m back in the UFO, 32 years after leaving!
But life took over as college approached, and I dropped out of the small press world in my senior year of 1989. Off to college I went in Indiana, where I met my wife, got a job (had a few, actually, as we chose to follow her career path and not mine), moved in-state, moved out of state to Ohio, had a few kids…
And then – around 2017 – our world flipped upside down. Our society became caustic. Surfing the web and watching TV was enough to give a guy an ulcer. I needed a release, an escape.
I rediscovered comics and found that reprieve from daily life. First the superheroes via Comixology (Digital comics! Madness!), then the local comics shops. I surfed the web and discovered the United Fanzine Organization was still kicking…and then thought maybe I should get back into it…
…and here we are.
My 80’s comics are all out of print, and I only have a single copy of each in my possession. To make them available for all to read/enjoy/cringe over, I have digitized them and made them available through this site via the “Library” tab at the top of the page. [MAY 2022 UPDATE: My 80’s hero comics have been combined into a single “omnibus”, Heroic: Heroes Past, which you can get through the “Order” tab above.]
It’s my goal through Phoenix Productions – a sage choice of a publisher name, seeing as my little venture is reborn after 32 years of dormancy – to take some of my old characters and bring them into the modern day. I also have another idea or two up my sleeve, but we’ll see where things take us.
Thank you for stopping by, and sorry to make you read so much. I hope you enjoy the books, and feel free to drop me a line via the “Contact” tab.
Tom Fellrath – April, 2021