Hunting for Vortex Merch

Happy belated New Year Forgotten Silver Readers. After taking a short break during the holidays that brought us to Saint John, New Brunswick for Christmas, we are back in Halifax and focusing on a couple of new initiatives. Something that we are currently focused on is opening our new Poshmark closet where we will be selling eBay overstock and vintage and modern apparel. We are also sponsoring a new professional wrestling company, DIY Wrestling, to start off 2024!

A poster for the upcoming DIY Wrestling event that we are sponsoring featuring one of the region’s most popular wrestlers, the “Newfoundland Nightmare” Justin Newhook. Image courtesy of DIY Wrestling.

Last month, as I was getting things ready for my column about Paradax!, I flipped through a couple of other Vortex series and stumbled across an advertisement for several Vortex graphic t-shirts and pinbacks. Since we have been building an inventory of vintage and interesting graphic tees for our new Poshmark initiative, I immediately took notice of this and decided that it would be fun to see if I could track down some of these pieces of vintage Vortex merchandise on eBay or elsewhere.

An advertisement/order form for Vortex merchandise as found in the inside back cover of Black Kiss # 7. Image from my personal collection.

As you can see in the Vortex advertisement, several t-shirts, pinbacks and posters were available to order from the company. Given that these items are nearly forty years old, I assumed that they would be hard to track down on the secondary market. To my surprise, several of these items are currently available for sale on eBay. Even more surprising is that I was able to find more than one example of some of these items that are for sale right now.

Here is an image of the same Black Kiss t-shirt that is seen in the Vortex advertisement. Image sourced from eBay.

I found at least five examples of the Black Kiss t-shirt currently for sale on eBay and other platforms during the month of December. I was also able to track down multiple examples of the Mister X t-shirt.

The Mister X t-shirt that is depicted in the Vortex advertisement. Image sourced from eBay.

Being able to find both shirts so easily was certainly a surprise. I assumed that these would be much rarer than they seem to be. Of course, it could be a fluke that so many are available right now. Sellers seem to be asking between $50 to $100 CAD for these, but they are not selling. Obscure Canadian comic book t-shirts from the 1980s are a niche product.

A second Mister X shirt was released, but this one is not shown in the advertisement above. Image sourced from eBay.

I was curious as to whether I could find any other t-shirts associated with Vortex Comics, so I widened my search. Ultimately, I was able to track down a second Mister X t-shirt. Again, I found more than one example on the secondary market. I was also tracked down a single Paradax! t-shirt. It is entirely possible that the company released more shirts, but at this time I am not aware of any others.

A vintage Paradax! t-shirt that is not part of the Vortex advertisement. Image sourced from eBay.

Less of a surprise for me when researching these shirts was that they were printed by Graphitti Designs. The company was founded in 1982 by Bob Chapman and has long been associated with the comics industry. They celebrated their fortieth anniversary in 2022, but according to their website the company is currently on hiatus. The company hasn’t posted an update since September 2022, so it is entirely possible that it is now defunct. Graphitti Designs is probably best known for printing graphic tees but has dabbled in a myriad of other types of merchandise over the years.

Most of the Vortex Comics tees that I found have the Graphitti Designs logo printed on the left sleeve. Image sourced from eBay.
All the Vortex shirts that I uncovered were printed on black Stedman Super Hi-Cru tees. Graphitti Designs was likely using this one company to produce their shirts, rather than printing the graphics on whatever black blank tees they could find (which is common in the graphic tee business). Image sourced from eBay.

By the 1990s, Graphitti Designs was releasing graphic tees for Marvel and DC, but during their earlier period in the 1980s they seemed to be working more with larger independent comic companies like Dark Horse. I was able to find examples of shirts depicting the Flaming Carrot and Concrete from the same era using the Stedman blanks. The company also worked with Dave Sim for decades and I was able to find several shirts depicting Cerebus. The oldest one is from the same era as these Vortex tees.

A “Cerebus the Dictator” tee released by Graphitti Designs on a blue Stedman blank from the late 1980s. Image sourced from eBay.

I don’t want to go any further into the world of Cerebus the Aardvark merchandise today because there is enough of it to justify writing a separate article. Nevertheless, Graphitti Designs was certainly the go-to t-shirt company for the larger indie comics publishers at the time.

Given the success I had finding examples of the t-shirts shown in the Vortex advertisement, I was hopeful that I would be able to find examples of the pinbacks too. In this case my results were a bit more mixed. I was able to find a couple of examples of the black enamel Mister X pin that is shaped like a guitar pick but was unable to find any pictures of the smaller promotional button.

The front of the Mister X enamel pin. Image sourced from eBay.
The back of the Mister X enamel pin. Notice that it too was produced by Graphitti Designs. Image sourced from eBay.

These Mister X enamel pins are quite nice. In an unexpected twist, they too were produced by Graphitti designs. Vortex didn’t cheap out with these and outsourced these products to a company that was making quality apparel. That said, this pin was listed for $5.95 CAD in 1987, so I am glad that it wasn’t a cheap piece of junk for the price.

When I decided to see if I could track down any of this Vortex merchandise, I assumed that the posters would be the easiest things to find. I was wrong. There are three posters shown in the advertisement, but if you read the fine print, one of the Black Kiss posters is a signed limited edition that would be shipped flat, while the Mister X poster image is actually advertising a set of five posters. I wasn’t able to find examples of any of these items for sale or even pictures of them from older listings on eBay or elsewhere. I was pretty much ready to give up when I stumbled upon a folded example of the “It’s Been a Long Long Time” poster on eBay that is not signed by Howard Chaykin.

This large, folded 26” x 34” Black Kiss “It’s Been a Long Long Time” poster is the same one shown in the advertisement. Unfortunately, this example is not signed. It is also folded. However, folded posters were the standard at the time. Image sourced from eBay.

That brings me to the end of this rabbit hole. This was a fun exercise for me, and I learned far more than I initially expected I would when I first decided to write about this topic. Vintage Vortex merchandise is much better quality than I initially thought it would be and I will certainly be keeping an eye out for it in the future. I am particularly enamored with the Paradax! tee that I uncovered when doing a wider search for Graphitti Designs items.

In the past I have often overlooked merchandise advertisements in Silver Age Canadian comic books. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake. Certainly, there is a pile of vintage Cerebus the Aardvark and Captain Canuck merchandise out there, but I am now going to have to be more conscientious of my blinders when examining more obscure titles for such items. This is a niche within a niche, but I now see research concerning vintage Canadian comic book merch as a hole that needs to be filled.

I will be back next month with another fresh column. See you then!

brian Campbell
brian Campbell

Dr. brian Campbell is an Anthropologist based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. His PhD research focused on the used-goods trade in Halifax. Dr. Campbell is co-owner of East Coast Toys and Games, one of Atlantic Canada's largest eBay stores specializing in pop culture collectibles. Dr. Campbell left academia in 2019 to focus on his business. During his spare time, he researches Canadian comics that were released between 1960-1990.

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