December 7, 2016

Hot off the press: Festive Funnies!

Festive Funnies No. 1 cover art by Dale MartinInspired by my parent’s traditional Christmas letter, in 1985 I began a holiday tradition of my own, creating original holiday pieces to share with my friends and family. Sometimes these have been woodcuts or poems or die cut cards … but my favorite pieces (not surprisingly) have been comics!

For most of the past decade, these pieces have centered around Watusi the talking dog and his supporting cast from my weekly adventure strip (new each Wednesday at www.watusithetalkingdog.com), often tying into the storyline then running in it:

  • “Watusi’s White Christmas” (2003) was originally published as a minicomic.
  • “Wrapping up Christmas” (2008) came with a customized gift tag as part of its cover.
  • “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (2006) was the first solo Professor Harvey and Mitchell comic.
  • “The Green Line” (2005) had a hand-stencilled cover. It’s been fully colored for this collection. (And I laughed when I read it, in spite of myself)

Hapless hot dog vendor “Flamin’ Frank” (1999) was a character I used frequently before Watusi came along. Sadly, much of what would have been his supporting cast has been co-oped by Watusi, too! The original version of this comic came singed as my way of wishing readers “all the warmth of this holiday season.”

Likely my favorite holiday comic– certainly the most elaborate– is 2000’s “Three Wise Men”. Adapting my favorite part of the Nativity story, I did research into King Herod and the historical period, gaining new respect for the Magi in the process. Kings in their own right, they were crossing into the kingdom of a ruler beset with illness (Jewish historian Josephus described him as “suffering from uncontrollable itching, coughing, fever and worms”), haunted by the spirits of the wife and children he’d already murdered, and allied with the powerful Roman Empire. These men put their own lives on the line, all to pay homage to a newborn baby. It certainly gave me a new sense of their bravery and what a powerful effect that star had for them.

I hope you enjoy these comics with my best wishes for the season; they’re available in two formats:

  • A .pdf version is available in my online store for $2.00.
  • A print edition is available for $3.00 postpaid in the US (see address in footer of this page).

But, for those of you who read to the end of this post, you can get a .pdf copy for FREE! As 2016 winds down, I’m conducting a survey to better understand my readers, their reading habits and interests, and their thoughts on my comic. I hope you’ll take a moment to share your thoughts (survey starts here); complete the survey before the end of the year, and you get a code for a FREE copy of Festive Funnies. Thanks for your help!

November 8, 2016

Hot off the press: Smeary Soapbox Press-ents 100-Page Inventory Closeout Super Spectacular

ssp100pageI’m gearing up for my appearance this weekend at Wichita’s Air Capital Comiccon and I’ll be bringing a new comic (in addition to my “Watusi and the Emerald Serpent” roadshow) along with me. Well, maybe “new” isn’t quite the right word; here’s the story behind it…

The Smeary Soapbox Press-ents 100-Page Inventory Closeout Super Spectacular is my way of thinning out my backstock in a way that also pays homage to DC’s 100 Page Super Spectaculars of the early 1970s. Assembled from extra copies of my one-shot comics, each copy has its own unique mix of content (although I did make sure they each contained the characters mentioned on the cover: Watusi, Flamin’ Frank, FooF!, Professor Harvey, and the Guy with a Hammer!), as well as an original convention sketch. Given that nature of this collection, the material included varies, ranging from just a few years ago back to my earliest days as a self-publisher in the 1980s! The mix could include a sampling of my earliest superhero parody comics, a smattering of the annual holiday comics I’ve made since 1985, one-off comic “singles”, and/or comics featuring Watusi and his costars. The drawings may be rough, the stories may be silly, and they may even take me down a path I ultimately decided not to follow. But many of these comics are work I’m still proud of, if for no other reason than they led me to become the creator I am today.

I had fun “curating” the material that went into these copies, and I think my binding comes pretty close to capturing the feel of those great old 100-pagers. Check it out if you’re able to make it to the Air Capital Comiccon– I hope to see you there! But if you can’t make it, here’s a selection of some of the better sketches that ended up in the copies…

October 27, 2016

Fall comfort food

This may seems like an odd post for a blog on “comics and comic creation”, but I’ve been working on new ways to monetize my existing cartoons and other artwork. Notecards are an easy application for the type of work I do, and since the finished product is a work on paper, it’s something I’m comfortable with. This series of illustrations  I did over 20 years ago for a set of vegetarian recipes makes a nice addition to my notecard line. But rather than re-typesetting the full recipe for the back of the cards (sometimes I really miss PageMaker), I decided to just post them here. While they may not be the healthiest of recipes, you could do a whole lot worse. And they’re all the kind of warming comfort food that feels great on a nippy fall day…

recipe-chili recipe-cutting recipe-pantry recipe-teapot

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September 30, 2016

Hot off the press: Watusi and the Emerald Serpent!

emeraldserpentprintset

Well, maybe more “warm out of the oven,” since I’ve taken this collection to my last two events (with two more on the horizon: the Memphis Comic Expo, Oct. 22-23 and Wichita’s Air Capital Comiccon, Nov. 12-13) . But with the print copies now in hand, and my shipping costs figured out, I’m happy to share these comics with those of you who aren’t able to catch me at one of my appearances!

Watusi and the Emerald Serpent is the story of an ordinary talking dog thrown out of his comfort zone into a crime-ridden island paradise! Watusi finds himself pitted against an outlaw gang and its lunatic leader in his most epic adventure yet! Inspired by the Kenneth Robeson Doc Savage novels and Floyd Gottfredson’s “Mickey Mouse” strips, this story may be my favorite project so far. Certainly my favorite Watusi story.

As I wrote a couple of months ago, I’ve been working on a print edition of this story, and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. This print edition has been edited and expanded from the story as it was first published online (46 of its 84 pages have new &/or updated content), and I think the changes help the story flow much better. And look better, too! In addition to interior art improvements, I’m also really happy with the full-color covers– I think it’s my best color work to date– and the full-color guest art from JB Winter, Billy McKay, Mike Sullivan, and Tom Cherry really rounds out the package in a classy way. As you can tell, I’m trying hard not to overdo the hyperbole, but I’m really proud of these comics, and hope everyone who reads these issues enjoys them as much as I did making them!

You can order all seven 16-page issues (b&w interiors with full-color covers) as a set from my online store & have them delivered right to your mailbox.

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August 28, 2016

All hail The King!

KirbyBD2015

Today is the anniversary of Jack Kirby‘s birthday. His contributions to comics– both in terms of characters and stylistic conventions– have rightly earned him the nickname “King.” I first discovered his artwork pretty much right as I discovered comics, at a time when he was working for Marvel in the mid 1970s. While his Captain America was a little too out there for this 10-year old, I couldn’t deny the power of his artwork. At that time it was gracing many Marvel titles, from characters he created such as Fantastic Four and The Avengers to newer heroes such as a favorite of mine, Nova. The fact that interior art on many of those comics were provided by more conventional– though by no means not also great– artists such as George Perez and John Buscema made for a great package and they remain some of my favorite comics from that era. I later came to appreciate Kirby’s work more fully through his creations at DC just before I started reading comics: the New Gods cycle and Kamandi, the last boy on Earth, are amazing comics to behold. Like his later creation for Marvel, The Eternals, these works were able to (largely) stand on their own without interference from other editors or a need to adhere to line-wide continuity concerns. They are definitely worth checking out, especially since many of them have been collected in trade editions within the last decade.

Last year around this time I created the above piece for Jason Garrattley’s annual Jack Kirby birthday celebration on the Jack Kirby Museum‘s Kirby-Vision blog. It was a blast to do, and while this summer’s project (which is progressing quite nicely, thanks for asking) has kept me too busy to celebrate, I plan to do it again next year to celebrate Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday!

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July 20, 2016

Taking a break

I’ve been sticking to a twice-monthly schedule of posts here for a full year now, and it’s been a good exercise for me. I’ve been happy with the range of content I’ve included, finally devoting time to topics I’ve meant to write about for quite some time (such as APA-5, my stencil coloring method, my interview with Tom Cherry, and even SpongeBob Comics). As with my webcomic, I appreciate those of you who take the time to read (and even comment on) my ramblings here. Some posts turned out to be meatier than others, of course, which was part of the variety I was aiming for. But I’ve decided to step back from that frequency for the foreseeable future…

It’s time for me to rein extraneous activities in for a bit, and buckle down to my drawing table. I’ve got big plans for my fall convention schedule (confirmed: Memphis Comic Expo, Oct. 22-23 and Air Capital Comiccon, Nov. 12-13) and holiday market events that will I feel will be a better use of my time than posting just to keep on a set schedule. I’ll continue to pop in from time to time with some art or an update on my project, but it will be on a less rigid– and more infrequent– schedule.

What project is so important, you may ask? Well, I’ve never really gone back and revisited or edited past work before, but it’s high time (past time, actually) I collected my Watusi webcomics in a print edition. It’s been an interesting challenge so far: looking at the work as a completed project, but giving it a final edit separate from its original creation, and adding new scenes or tidier drawings where needed. I’m excited about the form it’s taking and feel it will be worth the effort. Here’s a teaser image to tide you over until release (which I plan to have ready for this fall’s events):

WebTeaser0716

Thanks for reading and enjoy the rest of your summer!

July 6, 2016

I couldn’t say it better myself, Al Capp!

No artist who can write should avoid words; no author who can draw should avoid drawing.

Al Capp, creator of “Li’l Abner” (from The enigma of Al Capp / Alexander Theroux. Fantagraphics Books, 1999). I’ve highlighted this quote before, but I still think they’re words any cartoonist should take pride in. And live by.

Capp is a complicated figure to say the least, but his story is an interesting one. If you want to find out more about the man, I recommend the fine biography by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen, Al Capp, A Life to the Contrary (Bloomsbury USA, 2013).

June 15, 2016

50 cent finds – 901 Comics

50centaIt’s been a while since I’ve written about my bargain bin finds– a while since I’ve rummaged through bargain boxes at all, in fact– so I was thrilled to stumble upon the “50¢ Island” during last weekend’s grand opening of 901 Comics on Young Avenue in Memphis. In addition to a healthy supply of bargain reads, they stock a pretty respectable number of back issues, including signed comics and new and used trades. New single issue selection was still a little sparse, but for a store that hasn’t even been open a full month yet, that’s not surprising.

But I was more than thrilled with the gems I found, including…

SGoof43Super Goof #43 (Whitman, 1977): Not only did it have a fantastic cover cameo by Donald Duck, but it was also an issue I didn’t have!

Love and Capes #7 (Maerkle Press, 2008): I enjoy Thom Zahler’s “heroically super situation comedy”, and this issue (a FCBD offering) also gave me a peek at how he markets and monetizes his webcomic with ancillary merchandise.

Marvel Saga #1 (Marvel, 1985): I had never read an issue of this cut-and-paste retelling of Marvel’s continuity, but for half a buck I figured it was worth a try. An interesting primer, but I thought it came off really dry, with none of the excitement of the original stories. Had they done this 15-20 years later, when they could have used digital lettering instead of typesetting, and actually taken the time to lay the cut-and-paste images into full pages of comic art, I think it would have worked much better.

Super Powers #3 (DC, 1986): When I opened the cover to this issue to see if it was drawn by Kirby (it’s actually by Paul Kupperberg, Carmine Infantino, and Pablos Marcos), not only did I know I had to buy it, but I had to write about it …

PoorDarkseid… the sight of Darkseid using a crowbar to break into a thrift shop was just too good to pass up! And that’s not even the most ignominius thing to happen to him in the first three pages, either! Almost puts Thanos’ helicopter to shame…

Cosmic Capers (Big Muddy Comics, 1972): One of the things I was hoping to stumble upon when I shifted my location so far from Kansas were different locally-published comics. This underground gem from New Orleans has a flavor all its own that certainly fits the bill!

TubeTalesTales from the Tube #1 (Print Mint, 1973): The find of the day! Surfing-themed comics from Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Robt. Williams, Crumb, and other underground legends!

Wildstar #1 (Image, 1993): While I’m not a big fan of the blood-drenched superhero vibe of the early Image comics, it’s got Jerry Ordway art! That alone makes it worth a read!

Adventures in the DC Universe #7 & 15 (DC, 1997-98): Captain Marvel & family (the version then being done by Jerry Ordway), in entertaining animated-style adventures (by Steve Vance & John Delaney). Ever since I read the Ordway/Parobeck story that usedg that formula in Superman & Batman Magazine, I thought it was a winning combination. It even happened for an all-too-brief period in the underrated Franco/Baltazar/Norton stories from Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! (#13-21)…

Rip in Time #1 (Fantagor Press, 1986): Bruce Jones and  Richard Corben– definitely worth a look at that price!

The Age of the Sentry #1 (Marvel, 2008): Luckily, it was written by Jeff Parker & Paul Tobin (not Bendis!), and the art by Nick Dragotta and Ramon Rosanas is fresh and fun to view.

Secret Origins #5 (DC, 1973): Unlike the Secret Origins series of the 80’s, this was a reprint book, and this issue was all about the Spectre: 20 pages of Bernard Bailey’s origin of the character from 1940’s More Fun Comics #52-53. I also enjoyed the subscription ad in that issue, which served as a stark reminder of how diverse that publisher’s output used to be:

DC1973SubThank goodness for Image and the independent publishers who have made good use of genres ignored as DC and Marvel became so superhero-centric over the years since then.

There were even a couple of beat up much-loved copies of Micronauts #1 (Marvel, 1979) and Marvel Team-Up #74 (Spider-Man and the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players! from 1978) that I left for someone who hasn’t read them yet to discover on a future visit to 901 Comics…

Maybe it’ll even be you…

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June 1, 2016

It really was “The World’s Finest APA”!

APA-5logoThis month marks the tenth anniversary of my last “Larry’s Kitchen” zine as a part of APA-5, the world’s finest APA!

An APA (or Amateur Press Association, for those of you who don’t know) is a group where individual members create their own zine, send it to a central mailer who assembles them all into a single publication and redistributes it to the members for comment and enjoyment. APA-5 was a great environment for me at a time when I felt disconnected from other cartoonists, and wanted feedback on my work. For over seven years I was an active part of this group of amazing creators, including Drew Boynton, JB Winter, Larned Justin, Mike Leuszler, Michael Munshaw, Brien Wayne Powell, Dan Lauer, Tom Davidson, Steve Willhite, and others.

I was happy with much of the work I created while in APA-5, and enjoyed it as a venue to share work in progress with other creators for feedback. In the years before social media posts and “likes” became the accepted way to interact online, we were able to get into meaty discussions and give thoughtful critiques of work in the pages of APA-5. As it became easier to communicate virtually it took its toll on that level of discussion, and it soon felt like the writing was on the wall for not only APA-5, but a few years later to the Small Press Syndicate’s Rap Sheet as well. While I was only able to get in on the tail end of the storied histories of both APA-5 and the SPS, I treasure the time I was able to spend as part of those groups. Not only for the improvement it brought to my work and my work ethic, but for its sense of camaraderie with fellow creators, many of whom I still collaborate with from time to time today.

The work in my 77 “Larry’s Kitchen” zines (+ assorted jams and other projects) remains largely unscanned, and unshared beyond the active membership at the time. In fact, that was one of the reasons that I moved Larry’s Kitchen into its own freestanding digest format comic in 2006– so I could share it more widely, to creators and readers not part of the group. Unfortunately, my situation at work changed, and after two more issues I didn’t have the time to commit to both Larry’s Kitchen and my Watusi projects. One had to go, but I think I chose wisely.

Of course, APA-5 had been going strong for over a quarter of a century before I joined and it went on for a number of issues without me. Among its storied roster of past members are names familiar to fans of comics and television: Mark Verheiden (who founded the group in 1972), Paul Chadwick, Frank Miller, Chris Warner, Randy Emberlin, Cliff Biggers (Comic Shop News), Mike Richardson, Tak Toyoshima (“Secret Asian Man”), Bill Nichols, Sheila Wilding, Robin Ator, Brad Kurtz, Mark Badger, Michael Monasmith, and many, many more.

While APA-5 as I knew it may be gone, it exists online here and here, and carries on in spirit in the pages of T. Davidson’s Fiver Fun Comics. Below are glimpses from a few of my favorite APA-5 moments from 1998-2006…

May 18, 2016

Dear IDW, Dear Marvel

MantloCoversDear IDW, Dear Marvel,

I quite enjoyed the new ROM comic that was part of this year’s Free Comic Book Day. I never actually thought I would see a new ROM comic in my lifetime, and it was great to see young readers excited by the character. I hope they will come to enjoy this ROM as much as I did the character during Bill Mantlo’s fine comic run with the character.

I was also pleased to see an advertisement for The Bill Mantlo Support Fund in that issue; it is good to see his contributions to both ROM and Micronauts recognized in the new book. I know you don’t need to be reminded of Bill Mantlo’s tragic circumstances (though you can find out more about them here), and devoting a page to spread the word about his needs was a generous act.

It would be wonderful to see you build upon this with a joint publication, however, with a share of the proceeds to benefit his continued support. IDW and Marvel have worked together well over the years producing a number of impressive Artist’s Editions of Marvel properties. With IDW now having the rights to both ROM and Micronauts, it seems like the perfect alignment to produce collections of well-regarded stories from both these properties, stories very integrated with the Marvel universe. Stories written by Bill Mantlo, who shepherded the properties from simple toys into fantastic science fiction comics.

Marvel certainly benefited from Bill Mantlo’s work on the comics when they were originally published, and the nostalgia for those original stories will no doubt give IDW an added boost with the new series. Even for the toys’ rights holders, Bill Mantlo added to the value of those brands: his work on both ROM and Micronauts outlasted the shelf life of the toys in this country. Without the comics, I think it’s fair to say there would be little to no interest in reviving the ROM brand, for instance.

I encourage you both to come together and publish benefit books collecting the original comics. For ROM, an Essentials-style treatment would be ideal, collecting all the appearances in what was essentially one epic adventure told by (essentially) one writer. For Micronauts, a trade of the first 12 issues, recolored and published on quality paper to best show off Michael Golden‘s artwork would attract a lot of interest. I don’t know what the royalty situation for these stories would be like, but considering when these comics were initially published, it shouldn’t be an insurmountable issue. Hopefully you could even get Michael and Sal and– dare I hope?– Steve on board for such a project.

Either (or both) projects would not only be a gesture of good will to comic readers and creators, but would help a creator who gave so much to the industry, who was able to craft great stories from humble beginnings. It would be likely to drive up interest in the new properties, and particularly warm the hearts of the many Bill Mantlo fans. Fans, in many cases, with money to spend.

For your consideration,

– Dale Martin.