Bill Messner-Loebs is quite literally my oldest friend in comics. I’ve known him since he was William Francis Loebs Jr. and I’ll still know him if he becomes William Windsor-Smith Loebs, though I’ll likely make fun of him. We met three decades ago at a Phil Seuling Convention when we were introduced by fanzine legend Bill-Dale Marcinko (another frotteur with a hyphen fetish) and we were instant pals. Bill illustrated a number of my poems and stories; we did a quick strip together called “The Streets” for some fanzine; we wrote each other goofy letters. You know. Pals.

So I was sad to see my man hit the skids. Bill’s had a well-publicized string of bad luck that’s led his fans to author a petition on his behalf. At last count, more than 132,000 signatures (rumored to be from the lost tribes of Judea) have been tallied. Now I don’t know if DC or Marvel will sit up and take notice, but I sure did. One hundred and thirty-two thousand, baby. That’s a lot of asses in seats. So I called Bill.

“Let’s do something fun together,” I said.
“Sure,” said Bill. “What can we do?”
“Well?” I said. I tossed the possibilities around for a moment, then, when nothing else came to mind, asked, “Can you sing?”
“A little,” said Bill. He demonstrated. It was the aria in B-minor from La Finta Semplice by Wolfgang Amadeus.
“I didn’t know you knew Italian,” I said.
Abissil,” he said.
“It was a little off key,” I said.
“Everyone’s a critic,” he said.

Of course, we needed one more tenor to round out the mix. So I called Dave Cockrum, my other oldest friend in the business. I’ve known Dave since I was 15. Trust me on this: He can’t sing either. Dave was busy working on Giant-Size X-Men #3, but he’s always up for a challenge. We talked about the book concept a little and agreed that there must be some sexual content. But at our ages, a good bowel movement is more satisfying than sex, so the perspective might be a little skewed.

Our fifth Beatle was Jim Reeber of Aardwolf Publishing. Reeber edited Stranger Kaddish with Harlan Ellison, Peter David, and Neil Gaiman. When Reeber signed on, Aardwolf announced the project this morning as follows:

“Everyone at Aardwolf is singing about The Three Tenors: Off Key — a new bizarre collection of heroic and tragic tales from the unorthodox trio of Dave Cockrum, Clifford Meth and Bill Messner-Loebs. The Three Tenors is Aardwolf’s three-part effort to get Bill Messner-Loebs writing again, get Dave Cockrum drawing again, and get Clifford Meth off our backs. This signed/numbered Limited Edition of just 400 copies are guaranteed to sell out quickly, so order yours now.”

The project, which is being co-sponsored by Silver Bullet Comic Books, is scheduled to ship in late June. A trade paperback (unsigned) will be solicited to Diamond, but the Limited Edition is only available through Aardwolf.

Here’s Jim Reeber on the split: “Loebs gets 75% of the profits after printing/shipping/costs; Cockrum’s stories and art are purchased outright, and Meth gets an ice cream cone.”

I’m going to try to renegotiate. I think I deserve two ice cream cones.

More Reeber: “The bottom line is this is good entertainment?top quality stories that are worth the price of the book. And, as with all Aardwolf books, The Three Tenors: Off Key comes with a full money-back guarantee. Buy it, read it, and if you’re not delighted, return it for a full refund.”

There will be nine stories in all: approximately three from each of us. I can’t give away any plots, but it’s all weird science, weird heroes, and stuff to make your head spin.

Let’s give Loebs the last word. “My gratitude for and fear of this project knows no bounds,” he says. “I used to be a baritone, but for Clifford I’ll be a tenor.”

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© 2004, Clifford Meth

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