A look back at Seattle's Real Comet Press: publisher of Lynda Barry, Art Chantry, Michael Dougan and other 1980s alternative cartoonists.

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One of the biggest publishing successes of 1980s Seattle got its start in a tavern.

Real Comet Press, founded by Cathy Hillenbrand in 1981, was named for Capitol Hill’s Comet Tavern, which Hillenbrand owned — until she sold it to go into the book trade. Hillenbrand published art catalogs, criticism and works on feminist theory. But her mainstay was alternative cartoonists, including Michael Dougan, Ruth Hayes, Art Chantry and the ever-popular Lynda Barry.

Barry’s books — “Big Ideas,” “The Good Times are Killing Me” and others — graced coffee-tables and bathroom libraries throughout Seattle, and her “Poodle with a Mohawk” poster (“You’ll never call him Fifi again!”) got plenty of circulation, too.

Now Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery in Georgetown is paying tribute to Real Comet with an exhibition of “art, books and ephemera” from the publisher’s archives. A few select out-of-print Real Comet items (including that “Poodle” poster) will be for sale.

Barry herself, who grew up on Beacon Hill, won’t be making it to town. But at 6 p.m. March 24, Fantagraphics Bookstore will host Susan Kirtley, author of “Lynda Barry: Girlhood Through the Looking Glass,” in a chat with Hillenbrand (free).

Hillenbrand will also attend Emerald City Comicon at the Washington State Convention Center, where she’ll take part in a panel discussion at 6 p.m. March 30, titled “Northwest Noir: Seattle’s Legacy of Counterculture Comix,” moderated by Fantagraphics Bookstore curator Larry Reid. Joining them are cartoonists Ellen Forney and Jim Woodring, as well as Fantagraphics associate publisher Eric Reynolds. See www.emeraldcitycomicon.com for details.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com