RockNRoll Banner

TODD LOREN: REVOLUTIONARY COMICS FOUNDER
And his Unsolved Murder...

The following are excerpts from an article by Jay Allen
Sanford about Todd’s murder, originally published in the
San Diego Reader 7/23/1998

Todd is murdered
June 18th 1992: "I called the office in Hillcrest," says Spike
Steffenhagen, at the time the writer of Hard Rock Comics,
"the secretary told me he hadn't come in all day and that his
father went over to check on him. I knew something was
way out of line." Herb drove over and found the door to
Todd's Canyon Woods condo was locked. Concerned, he
called a locksmith to come open the door. He found Todd
upstairs, dead, in his own bed. He'd been repeatedly
stabbed & his head had been bludgeoned. He was 32,
the same age as me.

When I got the phone call, I thought it was another of Todd's jokes. It would be just like him, to circulate a press release faking his own death. However, when the homicide detectives called to ask me questions about who might want to kill him (yes, Axl Rose and all of the New Kids had alibis). I threw some clothes in a gym bag and flew to San Diego.

Both Herb and Todd's mom, Marylin, were devastated. I assumed that the company would immediately be
closing, so I was surprised when Herb told me that there would be an office staff meeting after the funeral, to discuss "upcoming plans," and that he had something important he wanted to talk to me about before the meeting.

What upcoming plans, I wondered?

The fact that Todd had been gay had never really affected the way Spike and I interacted with Todd. I soon found out that few others seemed to know about it, however, including his immediate office staff. At the wake, the first thing I was asked by all three woman employees (none of whom I'd met before) was "Is it true Todd was gay?"

"At the funeral," remembers Spike, "Elvis Costello's 'What's So Funny About Peace Love And Understanding' was played over and over. It was Todd's favorite song. Herb read an editorial of Todd's...it was a history of Todd's founding of Revolutionary and everything that led up to it. He had shown it to me and I'd said it was a bit self-congratulatory. He said no one else was tooting his horn so he might as well do it."

The murder investigation never seemed to go anywhere. They interviewed all of Todd's friends and associates. His car, a convertible Chrysler Le Baron, had been stolen from the condo parking lot and was found a few days later in a parking lot at a junior college in Hayward CA. Homicide Lt. John Welter said "Whomever took the car is probably the one who killed him." Since Todd's house keys were on same keychain as car keys, Police think his killer walked out front door, locked it and went to take the car. "There was nothing taken that we could tell." Stereo and VCR equipment and a big screen TV were still there. "As of yet, there is nothing that links any one person to the crime."

Gary Groth at Fantagraphics had a theory. "I don't think anyone in our industry hated him enough to kill him... but it wouldn't surprise me if someone in the music industry did. There’s a lot more money at stake in the music business, and he was publishing all those unlicensed biographies."

The Aftermath
A week after the funeral, the office reopened and, at the first staff meeting, Herb announced that he'd decided to keep Revolutionary open. "Todd had indicated to me with some sort of prescience that if anything ever happened to him, that he would like his dream fulfilled. And that is what we are going to do." He offered me the job of Managing Editor, having me essentially take over Todd's job while Herb would continue on as company President.

The logistics of taking over the operation was hard enough. I literally lived in Todd's old office for the first few weeks, reading all of his files, calling everyone in his phone book and trying to piece together where we were and where Todd had planned on taking us. Dozens of people's livelihoods depended on me keeping the machine humming and well oiled. The most difficult thing, though, was sitting behind Todd's desk. The job was getting done and we barely missed a beat with our publication schedule, but the psychic toll on myself and on the staff was enormous. We ended up moving our office from Hillcrest to Miramar. There was just far too much Todd in the old office, and at various turns every one of us felt haunted there. Not too mention the murderer was still on the loose and nobody knew the motivation for the killing - you can imagine how jumpy I'd be sitting alone in his office at ten PM and hearing a sudden scritching noise outside the balcony window ("It's only a pigeon, only a pigeon...")

We put out over one hundred and fifty comics over the next two years. More than Revolutionary had released during Todd's lifetime.

This period, while rewarding and productive, was hard on Todd's parents, both of whom worked at the office full time. "The first six or seven months after Todd's death were a lot of chaos," says Herb. "It took me a good six months to get refocused so that I could fully concentrate on what was going on." Unfortunately, what was going on was that sales for all comics, from all publishers, began to drop in late 1993, including our own. Dozens of new publishers had sprung up to flood the market with over six hundred titles per month (from just a couple of hundred in 1990).

Things went on, but Herb and his wife grew increasingly tired of the grind of putting out comics each and every month. Profits were down and the excitement and adrenaline we'd once been infused with had long since drained from all of us. Since several bills were still outstanding, Herb declared bankruptcy for the company and the doors were closed permanently in June 1994.

I then became publisher of Carnal Comics under the Re-Visionary Press name.

Todd Loren

It was strange, in July 1997, as I began hearing the reports about Andrew Cunanan's killing spree. He targeted well off gay businessmen who were prominent in their communities. Brutally bludgeoning them. Sometimes stole their car. And he hung out in Hillcrest at the same places as Todd. Plus, Cunanan collected explicit and softcore videotapes, which Todd also bought and traded through local adult newspaper ads. Could Todd have known Cunanan? I got a call from Herb and Marylin, who were wondering the same thing. "Prior to his death," said Herb, "he talked to us about a fellow who sounds a lot like [Cunanan]. He said he met a younger man at a gay bar in Hillcrest and had a brief affair. He said he was very taken with him. He was young, with dark hair, active in financial
circles and might have been living with an older guy in La Jolla."

Local police and the FBI were looking into the Todd/Cunanan link as well, both calling me to gather more information. All I could confirm was that Todd was an intensely private individual. He rarely told anyone where he lived, and only someone very close to him could get access to his condo, let alone his bedroom. Since there were no signs of forced entry and no evidence of kidnapping, Todd's killer would have to be a good friend or lover. Could Todd have been Cunanan's first victim?

Cunanan's suicide in a Florida houseboat effectively ended the investigation, as no physical evidence could ever be found linking the two. Todd’s murder is still unsolved, with no real killer identified.

At the time, homicide Lt. Jim Collins held out very little hope for any resolution. "It's a real long shot. I don't want to get the [family's] hopes up. But we'd be remiss if we didn't compare the evidence."

Around 2001, Chicago-based BulletProof Film began production on a documentary film, “Unauthorized and Proud Of It: Todd Loren’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Comics.” They shot interviews with Todd's family and surviving Revolutionaries, comic book colleagues, adversaries and supporters, even past and present rock 'n' roll stars featured in Revolutionary Comics.

Filmmakers also confronted San Diego police about their supposed "investigation" into Todd's murder, interspersed with clips of friends who say they weren't even interviewed, or who had to force feed evidence and information to investigators who seemed uninterested. “They looked at it as just another fag murder,” says local underground cartoonist Mary Fleener.

The documentary debuted in San Diego in 2005, in conjunction with that year’s Comic-Con. The fact that "Unauthorized And Proud Of It" is told by those who lived it gives the docu the same kind of "You Were There" feel as Todd’s own comics. Video footage of Todd from the late ‘80s shows him giving a tour of his office, just as he was forming the rock comic line. Outtakes show both his humor and his controlling presence ("It's my video and we'll shoot it my way").

Edited alongside recollections of the few people who were close to him, it's a fascinating insight into a guy whose death, coming just a few days after Mad founder William Gaines, was overlooked by the comic industry that Todd helped Revolutionize.

Interviewees include Alice Cooper (who pitches a Keith Moon comic; "There could fifty issues") and others who weren't as enthused about Loren's unauthorized biographies. Gene Simmons refused to be interviewed on camera, saying he considered Loren's comics "bootlegs" even though he and Paul Stanley worked with Revolutionary on four true-life Kiss Comics.

However, Gene Simmons manages to get a film cameo via a recording of a phone conference, during which he both threatens us with a lawsuit over our earlier unauthorized comic AND praises us ("the work is excellent") with an offer to "do something together" (later resulting in the aforementioned Kiss bio comics).

When we’re heard telling Simmons "and hopefully we'll all make some MONEY," and he cheerfully pipes in with "That's the MAIN thing!", it provides fascinating insight into exactly HOW comic books and rock and roll were intertwined by Todd's ingenious antics.

Publisher Gary Groth at Fantagraphics is interviewed, appearing clearly nonplussed as he discusses a rival whose "shoddy and exploitative" comics broke most sales records for indie comics. The fact that, so many years after his death, Todd Loren is the topic filmmakers are asking him about, seems to bemuse and pester Groth.

Artist Robert Williams - famed for his painting on the cover of Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction - says of working for Todd at Revolutionary "I warned him that he didn't really know what he was getting into."

"Stickboy" creator Dennis Worden balances the Todd-bashing by praising his former publisher, revealing that Todd paid him four times as much as Gary Groth at Fantagraphics. Mary Fleener and Rock 'N' Roll Comics creators Steve Crompton and Spike Steffenhagen share revealing and moving stories about what Todd was like behind-the-scenes.

Gonzo rocker Mojo Nixon - who helped create Todd's first AUTHORIZED rock comic – is shown explaining that Todd's outspoken willingness to be "outlaw" was not only the secret but the purpose of his success.

The documentary later concentrates on Todd's unsolved murder, and the possible links to Andrew Cunanan. It makes a compelling case that Todd may have been Cunanan's first victim, years before the killing spree "officially" started.

San Diego police recently reopened the investigation into Todd Loren’s murder. Evidence is being examined again, some of which could provide new clues via forensic technology unavailable in 1992. Details of the crime are posted on a new cold case website, in hopes that new leads may come in:

CBS News affiliate KFMB channel 8 ran a report on, interviewing Todd’s parents at their home. "It would mean a great deal to us to see the person who murdered our son…brought to justice," Herb Shapiro told the news crew.

Crimestoppers is offering a $1,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest in the murder of Todd Loren.

Unauthorized and proud of it: The Todd Loren Story: Is playing at many film festivals
across the US and will be available on DVD at some point in the future.

Todd Loren Movie

HOME - COMIC LIST - HISTORY - GALLERY - TODD LOREN - LINKS
RevCom Materials Copyright & Trademarks of Infinate One, Inc.

FooterBar