From Turtles to Topatoco: A Brief History of Comic Book Production in the Pioneer Valley

Ryan Cadrette

Introduction: A Place of Historical Significance

On January 22, 2012, The Comics Journal published a short web article titled “Northampton, MA Scene Report.” The piece was written by Colin Panetta, a resident of the area as well as the author self-published minicomics like Dead Man Holiday. In painting a picture of the Northampton comics scene, Panetta offered the following account:

Most comics people probably know Northampton for its historical significance. Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird moved here and started Mirage Studios shortly after Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 was released. in the ensuing years, the tidal wave of activity that followed their unprecedented levels of success in the comics world and beyond caused a number of historic events to occur here... There aren’t many public facing remnants of that time left in town ... but the shadow of the Turtles still looms large in the area’s consciousness. (Panetta 2012)

R. Cadrette (H)

University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA, USA

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 97

C. Brienza, P. Johnston (eds.), Cultures of Comics Work,

Palgrave Studies in Comics and Graphic Novels,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-55090-3_7

Panetta goes on to outline an impressive constellation of activity related to comics, ranging from traditional comics presses, to a surprising concentration of retail outlets, to a growing network of web cartoonists. For him and many others who grew up reading comics in the 1990s, much of this story is old news. “I was 10 in 1993, so the Ninja Turtles were huge. I think if you’re anywhere within a 200 mile radius of here, especially back then, you were aware that this stuff was happening” (Panetta 2014).

The sort of language used by Panetta signals a certain tacit disconnect between comics fans and academic historians. For many of the former, the historical significance of the “Northampton scene” can be taken as a given, assumed without being spoken. For those in the latter population, however, such a history has yet to be narrated. The people, institutions, and events mentioned by Panetta provide a rich archive of cultural activity waiting to be sifted through. This is a preliminary gesture toward such historiographic work, outlining a number of significant moments in the culture of comics production in and around Western Massachusetts.

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