Ten Essential October Comics: ‘Taboo’

This next Essential October Comic was a ground-breaking anthology title that didn’t just seek to blur the lines of acceptability, but to obliterate them.

6. Taboo edited by Steve Bissette, John Totleben and others

Taboo grew directly out of the frustrations of Steve Bissette and John Totleben, two creators known for their horrific work who saw a decided lack of good horror in the comics being published at the time. This was in the mid-’80s, when Swamp Thing was the only pure horror title being done by a major American publisher; horror afficianodos had too explore the underground and overseas comics markets to get their fix. Bissette and Totleben were approached by Dave Sim, self-publisher and creator/artist/writer of the series Cerebus, who told them he would help them publish anything they wanted. And Taboo was born.

From the very first issue (and these were not the 32-page floppies like most issues – these were big, stuffed squarebound trade paperbacks), Taboo established a reputation as a take-no-prisoners publication. Artists were given free reign to explore their darkest impulses, and names big and soon-to-be-big jumped at the opportunity. Neil Gaiman and Michael Zulli contributed a chapbook intoduction to their Sweeney Todd series to one issue; Alan Moore began two major works within its pages – From Hell, his epic examination of the Jack the Ripper story with Eddie Campbell, and Lost Girls, his erotic take on various fictional female characters; and Jeff Nicholson began his critically-acclaimed series Through the Habitrails in Taboo.

The series itself drew praise and criticism throughout its short history; it won and Eisner Award for “Best Anthology” in 1993, but only mustered enough market support to last nine issues before stopping publication for good. The books are difficult to track down today, but well worth the hunt. Taboo was the kind of no-compromises book that horror fans crave, providing material ranging from merely unsettling to flat-out disgusting, and it was produced by some of the best artists working in comics then and now. If you can find ’em, get ’em – you won’t be disappointed.

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