“How to draw comics the Dale Martin way”

As I was working on a talking head sequence for my next publication, I couldn’t help but think of this oldie, so I dug it up for you. Enjoy?

This dates from March 2000 (APA-5 #303); I presented a lot of the content for my “Larry’s Kitchen” zine (especially early on) as myself, so it seemed like in those days I was drawing more talking head self-portraits than was healthy! At least in the new piece, “I” have Watusi to banter with…

(Of course, like all GeoCities pages, the old APA-5 website is long gone. But if you’re curious about the hand lettering technique I mentioned, you can still find it here.)

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.


Thanks for the reminder, Shane McDermott!

Unfortunately, sometimes there isn’t enough room for all of the really small actions or subtle moments I originally imagined. There isn’t always enough room on a page to show every nervous glance or stepping foot as a character runs along the roof of a train. Sometimes I have to cut those less important moments to keep the story moving along at the right pace.

Shane McDermott, 2016 (from his excellent recent exhibit at the Memphis College of Art, Seahorse in Sequence: Creating a Comic). Not only did that show feature Shane’s work from various stages of the process, he shared well-written descriptions such as this, too. It’s a great reminder that creators– myself included– need to be willing to make those kinds of cuts to make a better story. Probably more often than I’m willing to admit, too…

I couldn’t say it better myself, Marv Wolfman!

I felt then and now that sometimes comic-book stories, in an effort to always raise the stakes, keep getting larger and larger until there is nothing left for the readers to identify with. If all the people a super-hero meets have super powers of their own, it takes away the fragile layer of reality that we depend on. That’s why characters like Sarah  Simms, Terry Long and others exist: to ground the heroes in some manner of reality and to make the readers believe this could be happening right now around the corner, if only you can get there in time.

Long-running series need to be like roller coasters, with stories that move along faster than a speeding bullet followed by others that slow you down and remind you what you like about the characters even as you are being set up for the next major thrill. If you are constantly being shouted at you will eventually be numbed to everything. You gain perspective and have time for reflection only when there’s some quiet.

Marv Wolfman, 2004 (from the introduction to The New Teen Titans volume two. DC Comics, 2015). Sadly, this kind of writing style has been ignored for far too long in most ongoing comic series.

Writing a mystery: what I discovered with “The Case of the Purloined Pocketwatch”

purloined-1Today I’m publishing the final episode of my long (longer than I thought it would be) Watusi storyline, “The Case of the Purloined Pocketwatch”, and I wanted to give interested readers a little behind-the-scenes peek at my working method on this story. [WARNING: STORY SPOILERS ABOUND IN THIS POST. FYI.] Unlike most of my previous storylines, this one hadn’t kicked around my sketchbook much before I dived in. In fact, it first appeared less than six months before the first strips were published, with this notation:

Story idea– following ‘Sourpuss’? Done as an actual mystery (robbery, not murder) story, using clues, red herrings, suspects, etc. … if not too hard to write for that genre. May need some research into how to write for it; will probably need more planning than the seat-of-your-pants style that worked so well in ‘Isla Esmerelda’…

And of course, I did need to do research into how to write a mystery. While I’ve read a fair share of them, I’d never thought about how to construct one! By far the biggest help as I delved into this genre was Gillian Roberts’ book You Can Write a Mystery (Writer’s Digest Books, ©1999). This book was especially helpful in clarifying my thinking about red herrings (they are misdirection, not false clues), how many suspects to use, and how to play fair with the reader: present all the clues to the reader that Watusi has, but downplay them in such a way that their significance is not noticed at the time. She also had great tips that had me start the story with all the suspects in the room when Watusi first brought in the watch, and keep my dénouement as short as possible (Roberts quoted the King of Hearts advice to Alice on telling stories: “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end. Then stop.”) Continue reading “Writing a mystery: what I discovered with “The Case of the Purloined Pocketwatch””

Setting the scene

When I write my comics, I like to have a good sense of where the action will be taking place, even it doesn’t always end up on the page visible to the reader. Case in point is the location for the current sequence in my Watusi comic strip, “Archibald’s Antiques”:

strip269clippedI wanted readers to see that it was a classy establishment, in direct contrast to the junk shop esthetic of Watusi’s friend Eric George’s “…Another Man’s Treasure” that played host to earlier scenes in the storyline. So I spent a bit of time to work it out before I had to draw it into a panel of the strip. Unfortunately once that time arrived, in order for the Watusi figure to be large enough to have any sense of expression, there wasn’t room to show as much of the building as I’d hoped, which is why readers saw so little of it in the strip. At least I should be able to convey a better sense of the richness of the store as the sequence moves inside beginning this week.

Still, I don’t see that prep work as time wasted, as it better informs my sense of setting, which helps me picture new sequences in my mind before I start putting pen to paper for the final art. In fact, I do this quite a lot, and often use buildings I’ve been in or pass by regularly as a source of inspiration for these locales. In this storyline alone, I’ve used a flea market I frequented when I lived in Wichita as a kid, my local senior services building, a stately house I pass by on my way to work, and a downtown shoe store (mixed with elements of an antique mall in downtown Topeka).

My original mixed media (watercolor, color pencil, laser print) drawing of “Archibald’s Antiques” was displayed in last fall’s Drawing Frenzy exhibit in KC, but for those of you who missed it, here it is once again:


The pleasures of Batman ’66– both the comic book and the TV show

Batman66-1 Since I’ve been enjoying “Batman” on Me-TV lately (more on that later), I was looking forward to the new Batman ’66 release– “DC Comics reimagines the classic Batman TV series in comics form for the first time! These all-new stories portray The Caped Crusader, The Boy Wonder and their fiendish rogues gallery just the way viewers remember them.”

Written by Jeff Parker, it does a fairly good job of evoking those episodes, though he [SPOILER ALERT] missed a few of the obvious elements from the show: the Batphone call from Commissioner Gordon, the costume change down the Batpoles, and the Batmobile racing towards Gotham City that started nearly every episode. And the impossible-to-escape deathtrap. And the two-part storylines. He did touch upon these elements, but tweaked them in such a way that I don’t really think did a proper job of paying homage to the original. [END SPOILER] About the only thing missing was the voice of the narrator (who I think counts as a “character” in the show) setting the scene; Parker’s script had minimal narration, far too little for a comic meant to be paying homage to the classic television show. Still, aside from an overly-jokey ending (the show did not have a laugh track, after all), the characters sounded pretty-much on key.

66panelRichard Case’s art also does a nice job of capturing the look of the show’s mainstays, particularly his Bruce Wayne and Riddler. His scenes with the unmasked heroes in the Batcave were particularly reminiscent of the show! Unfortunately, his coloring job to fake off-register coloring was more distracting than anything else. It’s almost like he didn’t understand how comics are colored in the old CMYK scheme, and thus how they were off-register (hint: it’s not because the black line work was repeated with a blue plate that didn’t line up).

And it’s a particular shame, too, because when done well (as in Erik Larsen’s backup stories in the latest Savage Dragon or in Mike Sullivan’s “Tales of the Infinite”) slightly off-register Ben-Day dots can be a beautiful coloring scheme. Continue reading “The pleasures of Batman ’66– both the comic book and the TV show”