Early fandom artist Vicky Wyman passes away
I'm sorry to report that Vicky Wyman passed away on August 3, 2018. According to a post by Defenbaugh on Fur Affinity, she'd recently found out that she had a very bad case of intestinal cancer. After an attempted surgery failed to improve her prospects, she made the choice to let go. She was in her 60s.
I'm not really qualified to write an obituary about Vicky Wyman, so if there are details and memories you'd like to share, please post a comment! I can update this article as necessary. What follows is some history with personal reflections.
Vicky Wyman is best known in furry fandom for her 1988 comic book series, Xanadu. In the second half of the 1980s, furry fandom was coming together. The first furry convention hadn't happened yet, but there were room parties at several science-fiction conventions. The fandom was largely art-based at this point, and keen to generate its own content, so there were a lot of self-published photocopied zines, APAs, and small art folios circulating around.
The late 1980s was also a period that was very good for comic book publishing. Following the success of the well-marketed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles indie comic, collectors descended on comic book stores hoping to find the next big title, whose issues might become valuable. Supply rose to meet demand, and this was known as the "black-and-white explosion" - lots of people were publishing new comics, hoping to get noticed. In retrospect, it wasn't so much an explosion as a glut. And Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crud) was definitely in effect.
The bright side of this glut was that it emboldened comic book writers to write about things other than superheroes. Underground comics - usually devoted to counter-cultural satire and shock with sex, drugs and violence - had been fading. Readers were now more inclined towards "alternative comics", interesting stories aimed at a higher age level. Some of these had emerged before the black-and-white explosion, like ElfQuest. The explosion also allowed writers to experiment with the superhero genre itself, as with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.
Furry creators took advantage of this publishing opportunity. Probably the most well-known furry comic from this period is Steve Gallacci's Albedo (1983), as well as Omaha the Cat Dancer (1984), Critters (1986), The Dreamery (1986), Fusion (1987), and Usagi Yojimbo (1987). And once these comics were sent out into the wild, more people found out about the fandom, quite often from reading the fan letters at the back of the comics, and following those leads to find more material. There was a sudden increase in furry fans - people who weren't drawing or writing stuff to add to the fandom - but they were eager consumers!
So that brings us to Vicky Wyman's 1988 comic Xanadu (five black-and-white issues, plus one color special). I had found out about furry fandom in late 1991, and in 1992 I started looking through comic book stores for older comics. The collapse of the explosion around 1987-1988 had led to lots of stores closing down, so there were back issues galore. Xanadu's story was very cliché, but what made it stand out for me were three things. First, it was fully and unabashedly in the fantasy genre, much more so than any of the other titles I've mentioned. Secondly, it had a fully realized furry universe, no human-like people or aliens. Thirdly, the artwork was great. I mean, lots of the comics had good artwork, but in comparison to what you'd find in a typical furry zine at the time, it really stood out, without being too cartoony.
Xanadu is a romance sword-and-sorcery fantasy comic that takes place in a medieval kingdom. There's a caste system in place. At the top are the Nobility, based on creatures from mythology. The middle class below them are the Freeborn, based on wild animals. At the lowest rank are the Domestique, based on domesticated animals. I don't think the whole world is like this? There's a kingdom of dragons, very Japanese in style with a strong sense of honor, but we don't find out much about them.
The main character is Tabbe Le Fauve, a feline thief and good-natured scallywag. He repeatedly breaks into the imperial castle (whose architecture keeps magically changing) to pursue a romantic relationship with Fatima, a vixen who's a close servant of Empress Alicia, a unicorn. The empress is a good sort, fairly new to the job, extremely flirtatious and prone to skinny-dipping in her royal pool - and she's also quite shrewd and not to be trifled with. When Tabbe gets on the bad side of the captain of the guard, a griffin named Reginald Plume, Alicia correctly senses that treachery might soon be coming into play.
MU Press later reprinted the five-issue series as a trade paperback in 1993, called Xanadu: Thief of Hearts. The back cover looks like this:
Finding Vicky Wyman's artwork is one of the first things I randomly discovered after I joined furry fandom. It's a very personal, happy memory from those days. A few months after finding the comic, I was browsing through the file section of a local computer bulletin board, and I found an image named "PHELIA.GIF". It's one of the oldest images on my hard drive.
Within a year, I'd tracked down where it came from. It was a separate story - a cautionary tale told by a grumpy Octavius about the dangers of love. Still, basically the same content. Romance and cliché court intrigue. But now in color!
Years later, I got to meet Vicky Wyman briefly, I think at Anthrocon 2000. I thanked her for her comics and artwork, and also got a small sketch from her. When I delved back into my hard drive today to find images for this article, I had completely forgotten what she'd scribbled for me. Empress Alicia, crying a little. It's sadly appropriate.
Thanks for the memories, Vicky. Rest in peace.