Al Columbia

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Al Columbia
Area(s)Cartoonist, Writer, Colourist
Orange Sunshine
Jack Lazy
Notable works
The Biologic Show
"I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool"
"The Trumpets They Play!"
Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days

Al Columbia (born 1970) is an American cartoonist.


Big Numbers[edit]

At the age of 18[1] Columbia was hired to assist Bill Sienkiewicz in illustrating Alan Moore's ambitious Big Numbers series. When Sienkiewicz withdrew from the series in 1990 after the release of the first two issues, Moore and his backers at Tundra Publishing asked the young Columbia to become its sole artist. In 1992, with no more issues released, Columbia himself left the project under a cloud of rumors and accusations, including claims that he had destroyed his own artwork for Big Numbers #4.[2][3][4] Columbia declined to address the subject publicly for several years, writing in a 1998 letter to The Comics Journal that "I could easily launch into a tirade about the extensive horror of my Tundra experience, but I much prefer the very entertaining and conflicting accounts already in circulation."[5] In later statements he confirmed that he destroyed his artwork but disputed other claims by the principal figures in the fiasco.[6][7]

In a 2011 article reflecting on his Big Numbers experience, Sienkiewicz wrote that he and Columbia had long since reconciled over the matter, and that he was content to "[c]halk the feud up to the folly of youth."[8]


Columbia's first solo comic book, Doghead, was released by Tundra Publishing in 1992. It contains three short stories, two in black and white and one in full color. Paul Gravett described it as "three dark, stylish tales, indebted to Sienkiewicz and McKean but with hints of [Columbia's] emerging singular identity".[9]

Columbia contributed to three issues of the horror anthology From Beyonde in the early nineties, initially under the pen name "Lucien" and then under his own name. His stories "The Biologic Show" and "Tar Frogs" also appeared in the British magazine Deadline. In these works, which focused on visceral and disturbing subject matter including mutilation, incest, and the occult, he moved away from the glossy photorealism of his time with Sienkiewicz towards a scabrous but virtuosic pen-and-ink style that emphasized grotesque physiognomic details such as grinning mouths full of teeth and leering, reptilian eyes.[10]

In 1994 Fantagraphics Books published Columbia's comic The Biologic Show #0. It contained partially redrawn versions of his stories from Deadline along with new works. It received mostly enthusiastic reviews and praise from other cartoonists including Mike Allred[11] and Jim Woodring.[12] The Biologic Show #1 followed in 1995, featuring the first part of a never-completed graphic novel, Peloria; an issue #2 was advertised but never appeared. Also in 1995, "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool" became the first of a series of two color short stories by Columbia to appear in the Fantagraphics anthology Zero Zero. In these works, noted for their striking visual rhythms and their vivid atmosphere of dread,[13][14] he adopted a more streamlined drawing style evocative of early animated cartoons, particularly the works of Fleischer Studios. In later stories such as "Amnesia" and "Alfred the Great" Columbia combined cel animation-influenced character drawings with minutely detailed chiaroscuro backgrounds and some use of digital illustration techniques and photo manipulation. "The Trumpets They Play!", a widely lauded[15][16][17] work in this style based on the Book of Revelation, appeared in BLAB! #10 in 1998.

During the 1990s Columbia did ancillary tasks such as color separation for the publications of cartoonists including Chris Ware, Walt Holcombe, and Archer Prewitt. He also created artwork for the set of comedian David Cross's 1999 television special The Pride is Back.[18] Although he gave short interviews to several zines during this period,[19][20] the small quantity of his published output and the cancellation of several previously announced titles and anthology contributions, compounded with lingering questions about the fate of Big Numbers, made him an object of much speculation. "Whatever happened to Al Columbia?" became a perennial question on comics websites and message boards.[21][22]

2000s and beyond[edit]

During the 2000s Columbia made occasional contributions to anthologies including Mome, The Best American Comics, and Ashley Wood's Swallow. On November 19, 2001, The New York Times ran one of his illustrations on its Letters page.[23] His work also appeared in the alternative newsweekly The Stranger and in magazines such as The Believer and Arthur. In 2003 he wrote two issues of The Pogostick, an unfinished comic book series illustrated by Ethan Persoff that was nominated for a Harvey Award.[24] He created the artwork for The Postal Service's 2003 album Give Up.[25]

Columbia's personal website,, went online in late 2006.[26] The Adobe Flash-based site featured a changing assortment of illustrations, photographs, and multimedia content. It had closed by early 2012.[27] A new website, Orange Sunshine House, appeared in 2013 at[28]

In 2009, Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days, a book of Columbia's previously unpublished work, was released to widespread critical acclaim, including nominations for two Ignatz Awards.[29]

In recent years Columbia has created original paintings and prints, many of which have been sold to private collectors.[30] In 2013 a selection of his paintings was published on the website of Hi-Fructose Magazine.[31]

Recurring characters[edit]

From The Biologic Show onwards Columbia's comics have featured several recurring characters who continue to reappear despite having been killed multiple times.

Seymour Sunshine[edit]

A frequent protagonist in Columbia's early work, Seymour Sunshine is a timid, passive manchild who resembles Koko the Clown. He first appeared in the story "No Tomorrow If I Must Return" in The Biologic Show #0. Other stories featuring the character include "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool", "Amnesia", and "The Trumpets They Play!".

Pim and Francie[edit]

A pair of impish waifs whose antics get them into horrific trouble, Pim and Francie first appeared in the story "Tar Frogs" and are the protagonists in "Peloria Part One" and Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days. The two have a loosely defined sibling relationship. According to Columbia they were originally modeled on him and his former girlfriend as cartoon characters before taking on a life of their own.[32]

Knishkebibble the Monkey-Boy[edit]

Described in the story "Amnesia" as a "childish icon for mischievous and filthy pleasures," Knishkebibble was introduced in "Peloria Part One". In later appearances he acted as Seymour Sunshine's sidekick, serving mostly to drag both of them into dangerous situations. He is greedy, conniving, and vulgar, and usually speaks with a hillbilly accent.

Music and film[edit]

Columbia was a founding member of the band The Action Suits, whose other members have included fellow cartoonists Peter Bagge and Eric Reynolds.[33] His more recent musical activities, including songs and music videos recorded with his partner under the name The Francies, have been sporadically documented on his websites.

In 2009 he directed and appeared in a music video for the song "These Wounds Never Heal" by the American heavy metal band Unholy.

In 2014 the Toronto International Film Festival screened Intruders, a short film directed by Santiago Menghini that includes a segment based on Columbia's comic "5:45 A.M.".[34][35]


Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance and author of the comic book series The Umbrella Academy, described his exposure to Columbia's work as "a turning point" in the development of his sensibility.[36][37] Marguerite Van Cook has praised Columbia's work as an example of the postmodern sublime, writing "Jameson suggests that nothing is left to shock us, but I'd suggest that Columbia does just that."[38] Other artists who have cited Columbia as an inspiration include Tunde Adebimpe,[39] Camille Rose Garcia,[40] and Frances Bean Cobain.[41]

In a 2009 interview with Juxtapoz magazine, illustrator Aaron Horkey asserted that "countless successful artists continue to pillage [Columbia's] back catalog, propping up their half-baked careers on the well-worn spines of second hand copies of Biologic Show."[42]

Published works[edit]

Solo books and comic books[edit]

Comic books with Ethan Persoff[edit]

  • The Pogostick #1 (February 2003, Fantagraphics Books)
  • The Pogostick #2 (December 2003)

Works in anthologies and serial publications[edit]

  • "The Virus", 8 pages (artwork only); front cover and various illustrations, From Beyonde #1 (February 1991, Studio Insidio) [as "Lucien"]
  • "Clara Mutilarés", 11 pages; front cover and various illustrations, From Beyonde #2 (May 1991)
  • "Untitled", 4 pages; back cover, From Beyonde #3 (September 1991)
  • Untitled cover, Deadline #51 (May 1993, Deadline Publications)
  • [Unknown contribution], Madman Adventures #2 (June 1993, Tundra Publishing)
  • "Johnny 23", 4 pages, Taboo #8 (1995, Kitchen Sink Press); also published as a minicomic (n.d., Wow Cool)
  • "I Was Killing When Killing Wasn't Cool", 8 pages, Zero Zero #4 (August 1995, Fantagraphics Books)
  • "Jack never woke up", 1 page (inside front cover), Zero Zero #8 (March/April 1996)
  • Untitled front cover, Newbies Eclectica #6 (1997, The Graphic Cartel)
  • "Walpurgischnacht '97", 1 page (back cover), Zero Zero #15 (March 1997)
  • "The Blood-Clot Boy", 6 pages, Zero Zero #16 (April/May 1997)
  • "Amnesia", 8 pages, Zero Zero #20 (September/October 1997)
  • "The Trumpets They Play!", 8 pages, BLAB! #10 (1998, Fantagraphics Books)
  • "Alfred the Great", 5 pages, Zero Zero #26 (July/August 1999)
  • "Movie Magic", 1 page, and front cover, The Stranger, March 16, 2000 [as "Jack Lazy"]
  • "Vladimir Nabokov's Cheapy the Guinea Pig" (back cover) and untitled front cover, Zero Zero #27 (August 2000)
  • "Pim & Francie", 1 page, The Stranger, March 22, 2001; reprinted in color in Mome #9 (Fall 2007, Fantagraphics Books)
  • Drawing for the letter "As the Taliban Flee, Time to Send In Fido", The New York Times, November 14, 2001
  • "See no evil", front cover, Hanging Like a Hex #16 (n.d. (published between 2001 and 2003), Hanging Like a Hex/Ryan Canavan)
  • Untitled wraparound cover, Dirty Stories Volume 3 (Spring 2002, Eros Comix/Fantagraphics Books)
  • [Unknown contribution], Madman Picture Exhibition #3 (June 2002, AAA Pop Comics)
  • "Chopped Up People", 9 pages, Mome #7 (Spring 2007, Fantagraphics Books)
  • "Fucking Felix", 9 pages, Mome #8 (Summer 2007)
  • "Cheapy the Guinea Pig in Morning Glory", 1 page, Awesome: The Indie Spinner Rack Anthology (October 2007, Evil Twin Comics)
  • [Unknown contribution], The Evil Dead #1 (January 2008, Dark Horse Comics)
  • Untitled front and back covers, Mome #10 (Winter/Spring 2008)
  • "5:45", 6 pages, Mome #11 (Summer 2008); reprinted in The Best American Comics 2009 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
  • "Blue Apples", Arthur #29 (May 2008), #30 (June 2008), #31 (September 2008)
  • "Invasion", 3 pages, Mome #12 (Fall 2008)
  • Untitled, 16 pages, Swallow Volume 1, #5 (December 2008, IDW Publishing)
  • "Toyland", 2 pages, Diamond Comics #4 (October 2009, Floating World Comics)
  • "The Happy Prick", The Believer Volume 7, #9 (November/December 2009)
  • Untitled, 9 pages and back cover, GO FOR THE GOLD! 3 (December 2009, Meathaus)
  • "The Happy Prick", The Believer Volume 8, #1 (January 2010)
  • [Unknown contribution], Black Eye #1 (2011, Rotland Press)
  • "Al Columbia’s Pim and Francie Continue Their Adventures in New Works", 29 images,, June 2013
  • "Al Columbia: Works on Paper", 16 page insert and 2 regular pages, Hi-Fructose Magazine Vol. 31 (April 2014)
  • Untitled, 12 pages, "Mirror Mirror II" (June 2017, 2dcloud)

Profiles and interviews featuring original artwork[edit]

  • Lynam, Ian. "A Chat with Ol' Al Columbia". Velour #1 (Berkeley, CA: Migraine, n.d.). 7 pages.
  • Gravett, Paul. "Al Columbia's Voyage of Discovery". The Comics Journal Special Edition, Vol. 1, Winter 2002, 33-35.
  • Owens, Annie. "Al Columbia". Hi-Fructose Magazine Vol. 15, April 2010, 92-103.

Other works[edit]

  • Big Numbers promotional poster (1992, [unknown publisher])
  • Sleeve art and label, "Glazed Donuts" b/w "Andy the Android", 7" vinyl single by The Action Suits (1997, Spot On! Records)
  • Stage set, The Pride is Back, television special by David Cross (1999, HBO)
  • Album art, Canada, CD album by Loraxx (2000, The Orchard)
  • Portrait of Nick Cave, Book of Changes: Interviews by Kristine McKenna (2001, Fantagraphics Books)
  • Album art, Give Up, CD album by The Postal Service (2003, Sub Pop)
  • Illustration of the song "Toy Boy", 2 pages, Songs For Sorrow, EP by Mika (2009, Casablanca Records)
  • Cover art, This Side of Jordan, novel by Monte Schulz (2009, Fantagraphics Books)


  1. ^ "Al Columbia". Inkstuds. 2011-02-07. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  2. ^ Kavanagh, Barry (17 October 2000). "The Alan Moore Interview: Malcolm McLaren and Big Numbers". Archived from the original on 11 January 2010. Retrieved Dec 18, 2009.
  3. ^ Eastman, Kevin. Interview by Gary Groth, The Comics Journal #202, March 1998, 38-99.
  4. ^ Campbell, Eddie. Alec: How to Be an Artist (Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions, 2001), 112-116.
  5. ^ Columbia, Al. Letter to the editor. "Kevin Eastman Is a Big, Fat, Fucking Liar!", The Comics Journal #205, June 1998, 5.
  6. ^ Wood, Ashley. "(Seeking for) THE TRUE STORY BEHIND BIG NUMBERS´S FALL OUT". Archived from the original on 12 March 2009. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  7. ^ Young, Robert. "Zero Sum Masterpiece: The Division of Big Numbers (AKA Searching for Al Columbia)", The Comics Interpreter Vol. 2 #3, 2004, 8-18.
  8. ^ Pádraig Ó Méalóid (2011-01-02). "Pádraig Ó Méalóid: Bill Sienkiewicz speaks about Big Numbers #3". Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  9. ^ "Al Columbia: Columbia's Voyage of Discovery". Accessed November 18, 2009.
  10. ^ Lambiek comic shop and studio in Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2010-06-21). "Comic creator: Al Columbia".
  11. ^ Back cover, The Biologic Show #0, October 1994, Fantagraphics Books.
  12. ^ Woodring, Jim. "Muss I Den?", Jim Vol. 2 #5, May 1995, Fantagraphics Books.
  13. ^ Pryor, Marshall. "Young Cartoonist Profiles: Al Columbia", The Comics Journal #205, June 1998, 80.
  14. ^ "CR's Halloween Special: Brief Notes on Horror Comics, Art Comics, and Their Intersection". The Comics Reporter. Retrieved October 13, 2007.
  15. ^ "It's 2000: do you know where the Devil is? | Dec 3, 1999". 1999-12-03. Archived from the original on 2011-05-21. Retrieved 2009-10-18.
  16. ^ "The Comics Reporter". The Comics Reporter. 2005-03-11.
  17. ^ Paul Gravett (2006-10-08). "Al Columbia: Columbia's Voyage Of Discovery". Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  18. ^ "Al Columbia filmography". Movies & TV. All Movie Guide and Baseline via The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  19. ^ "A chat with ol' Al Columbia", interview by Ian Lynam, Velour #1 (Berkeley, CA: Migraine, n.d.).
  20. ^ Ain't Nothin' Like Fuckin' Moonshine #10 (Portland, OR: Bwana Spoons)
  21. ^ "Pim & Francie Answers "Whatever Happened to Al Columbia?" at Comic Book News, Reviews, and Previews – The Blog From Another World". 2009-09-08.
  22. ^ "The Comics Reporter". The Comics Reporter. 2006-10-05.
  23. ^ "As the Taliban Flee, Time to Send In Fido". The New York Times. November 19, 2001.
  24. ^ "2004". Harvey Awards. Archived from the original on 2013-08-27. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  25. ^ Al Columbia. "Al Columbia - Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  26. ^ "Al". 2013-05-11. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  27. ^ [1]
  28. ^
  29. ^ "2010 Ignatz Award Recipients | Small Press Expo". Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Blog Archive » Interview: Al Columbia Pt. 2 [of 4]". The Daily Cross Hatch. 2009-12-07.
  33. ^ "Eric Reynolds - Action Suits 7-inch - Art by Al Columbia Original comic art from top artists". Comic Art Collective. Archived from the original on 2011-05-25.
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ "Gerard Way Interview with". 2008-07-14. Archived from the original on 2008-07-29.
  37. ^ - By Frank Meyer (2009-01-30). "Fresh Ink Online With Gerard Way".
  38. ^
  39. ^ Van, Jennifer (2007-03-22). "TV on the Radio revels in the moment | Vancouver, Canada".
  40. ^ "'Snow White': O.C. artist lashes together Disney forests, dark folklore | Hero Complex – movies, comics, pop culture – Los Angeles Times". 2012-03-12. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  41. ^ "Frances Bean Cobain: No Apologies - Page". Interview Magazine. Retrieved 2013-06-09.
  42. ^ "Juxtapoz 15th Anniversary Art Auction » Aaron Horkey". 2009-09-17. Archived from the original on September 17, 2009. Retrieved 2013-06-09.

External links[edit]