I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a number of really amazing publications over the years. Here’s a selection of my favorites:
Cartoonist Jon “Bean” Hastings edited the first Spark Generators anthology for the Cartoon Art Museum in 2001. When he put together the sequel, I helped recruit about half of the artists, including cover artist Mike Kaluta, serving as the book’s assistant editor. I also contributed the lead story, a tribute to my favorite cartoon historians, with a special focus on the great Bill Blackbeard.
In the summer of 2005, Shaenon‘s former colleague on the webcomics anthology site Modern Tales, John Barber, had landed at Marvel Comics as an editor, and he called her up one day and asked if she’d like to pitch a story for the forthcoming Marvel Holiday Special. As a lifelong Marvel fan (and a big fan of the early ’90s Holiday Specials), I begged her to go for it, and to let me help if at all possible.
Sweetening the deal was the fact that we’d be working with Roger Langridge, one of our favorite cartoonists, both in terms of talent and in terms of being a great guy, and my pal Al Gordon, whose studio is right around the corner from the Cartoon Art Museum, would be inking.
After kicking around a few ideas, we knew that we wanted to use The Fantastic Four, maybe as kind of a Thing solo story, with the FF’s first villain, The Moleman. We added The Sub-Mariner, first hero of Marvel’s Golden Age, then pulled the whole thing together with a Citizen Kane homage. Ten years later, I still love the heck out of this story, Moleman’s Christmas.
The world didn’t end with the publication of that story, and Marvel didn’t go out of business, so John invited us back the next year for another go-round. I’d get an official story credit and cover credit this time around, too. The conceit for our story in this issue was that we’d do four one-pagers that would tell a single story, spaced between the other stories in that comic.
We opted to show a typical A.I.M. New Year’s Eve party, which would allow us to advance the story an hour or two at a time, as need be. It was a little clunky, due to the issue’s format, but we had fun with it, and managed to put in a pretty filthy M.O.D.O.K. joke while we were at it.
The highlight for me, though, was getting to write a story that was illustrated by Ron Lim, whose work I’ve loved since he first drew Silver Surfer for Marvel back in the late 1980s. Two years in a row, I got to check something off the “this is soooooo cool” bucket list.
Rounding out our tenure on the Marvel Holiday Special, John asked us to go commercial and team up Marvel’s two most popular characters, Spider-Man and Wolverine. Getting to basically do an issue of Marvel Team-Up was a blast, and playing the two characters off each other was a lot of fun. And I’ve been a Spider-Man fan forever, so getting to write one last Marvel story with my favorite character was an incredibly fun experience.
Who didn’t grow up watching Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies? My dad watched them in the theater, first-run, back in the 1940s, and I grew up watching them on Channel 43 in Ohio and on CBS every Saturday morning as a kid. When Insight Editions contacted me to ask if I’d like to write couple of short essays about the classic cartoons Drip-Along Daffy and Little Red Riding Rabbit (one of my absolute favorites) for The 100 Greatest Looney Tunes, I jumped at the opportunity. Shaenon contributed two essays as well, and it was a fun little book to add to our library.
Apparently, I made enough of an impression on editor Kevin Toyama that he immediately thought of me when it came time to put together his next big project, The Looney Tunes Treasury. His concept for this deluxe art book was an all-ages history book, but with a catch—the history would be told first-person, from the point of view of the characters themselves. He told me “This will either be a lot of fun for readers, or it will be the worst thing ever. No pressure.”
After a half-second, I took the job, and I loved having to buy all of the available Looney Tunes Golden Collection DVD sets and watching them over and over again, taking notes on dialogue, individual episodes, and making sure I could capture each character’s distinctive voice. I didn’t get to go quite as in-depth with the characters’ histories as I’d have liked, due to page count and other factors (we lost a whole chapter on Bosko and the other early Warner Bros. stars), but I was pretty happy with the final product. [Note: The book was edited and packaged by Insight Editions, but was ultimately published by Running Press.]
The Cartoon Art Museum has published some really great exhibition catalogs over the years, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a hand in most of them that have come together during my tenure. In 2011, I got to work with one of the heroes of my childhood comics page (I lived for Bloom County in fifth and sixth grade, and had a huge crush on Opus’s fiancee, Lola Granola), and From Bloom County to Mars gave me the opportunity to work closely with the great Berkeley Breathed. CAM designer Julie Davis assembled the catalog for publication by IDW, and I got to write the introduction.
My only regret about the intro is that I lied about planning to see the film adaptation of Mars Needs Moms, which, by the time the catalog was published, was one of the biggest bombs in Hollywood that year. Oops.
I remained on good terms with IDW, though, and have worked with them on numerous projects, including several of their deluxe Artist’s Edition publications, and a few books for Dean Mullaney’s Library of American Comics series. Dean dropped me a line and asked me if I was a Popeye fan (my mom has some Popeye drawings I did at age three that back me up as a lifelong Popeye enthusiast), and if I was a fan of Bobby London (whose work I’ve loved since my older brothers first snuck National Lampoon into the house in the mid-eighties).
Writing the introductions to these collections was a lot of fun, especially since I got to trade e-mails with Bobby London throughout the whole process, getting as much behind-the-scenes info and insider stories as I could while sifting through some of the best Popeye comics since E.C. Segar’s heyday.
Another fun project for IDW came about when editor Scott Dunbier called me up and said “Congratulations—I heard you’re doing a Sam Kieth retrospective.” That was news to me, but he gave Sam my number, and before I knew it, we were both deep in the planning stages of an exhibition and a catalog. While I’m sure that Scott had tricked both of us, I welcomed the opportunity to work with one of my favorite artists on a big project. I’d been a fan of Sam’s since I first saw his work on Marvel Comics Presents in the early 1990s. It wasn’t long before I’d discovered his run on Sandman, and I was thrilled when he produced the first great Image Comics title, The Maxx.
Getting to work closely with Sam on the exhibition and catalog was insightful and inspiring, and I took advantage of the fact that he’ll sometimes call and chat for an hour at a time to conduct a lengthy interview with him for the catalog, which we called Sam Kieth: Samplings and Dabblings.
When I joined the National Cartoonists Society in 2008, I got even further behind the curtain with cartoonists than I’d been before, and got to spend a lot of time getting to know them personally. One of many highlights of my first year as an NCS member was attending the annual Reuben Awards weekend festivities, which were held in New Orleans over Memorial Day weekend. At the big closeout dinner on Sunday night of that year, I saw a quiet cartoonist with a familiar name: Richard Thompson, whose strip Cul de Sac I’d just started to read, thanks to constant mentions by Tom Spurgeon on his Comics Reporter website. Shaenon and I struck up a conversation with Richard, who graciously drew his lead characters Petey and Alice in my sketchbook, and we struck up an online correspondence after that.
I got to be such a fan of Cul de Sac over the next couple of years that Shaenon bought an original strip from Richard (one of my favorites, which I’ll post here once I get a proper scan of it), which hangs on our living room wall, directly above a second strip that Richard gave us a couple of years later. Sadly, not long after Richard really started hitting his stride with the daily strip, he was diagnosed with the degenerative disease Parkinson’s, leading to his involuntary retirement in 2012.
Some good did come out of all of that, however, as Richard’s friend and Cul de Sac enthusiast Chris Sparks rallied Richard’s fellow cartoonists (including such heavy hitters as Bill Watterson, Garry Trudeau, Lynn Johnston, and Cathy Guisewite) to create Cul de Sac tribute pieces for a charity auction, raising funds for the Michael J. Fox Foundation and its ongoing efforts for Parkinson’s research. Shaenon and I created a tribute to the strip’s supergenius/supervillain Ernesto, and we’re proud to be alongside such talented cartoonists in the Team Cul de Sac hardcover, which continues to raise funds for Parkinson’s research.
Another favorite cartoonist (and I’ve got a lot of them) is Stan Sakai, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with on multiple Cartoon Art Museum exhibitions, including a 25th anniversary solo showcase of his artwork. Over the years, Stan and his wife Sharon were a welcome presence at comic book conventions, always quick with a smile and a kind word.
Sharon has had a host of medical issues over the past five years, sadly, and even great health insurance doesn’t come close to covering the mounting expenses required for her round-the-clock care. Once again, artists rallied to the side of one of their own, and hundreds of talented cartoonists created artwork to be auctioned off as part of a fundraiser for Stan and Sharon. There was such an abundance of high quality artwork that Stan’s friends at Dark Horse and the fine folks at CAPS, who masterminded the auction, compiled their favorites into a massive hardcover edition, with 100% of the proceeds from that book going toward Stan and Sharon to offset their medical expenses. Again, I was very honored to be a part of this one.
A couple years after The Looney Treasury was published, another Insight Editions editor, Chris Prince, contacted me and asked “what do you think about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?” That kicked off a conversation about their history, and I talked about my various connections to various TMNT creators and wrote a pitch explaining how I’d approach a comprehensive history of the property, from the first comic book by Eastman and Laird all the way through the current Nickelodeon animated series and movie. Chris liked my pitch, I signed a contract in the spring of 2012, then I spent about 18 months reading, researching, interviewing, writing, and gathering artwork for a book called Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Radical Mutations.
The publisher decided to go with the more straightforward title Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Visual History, and it hit stores in June 2014. Roughly 60 interview subjects, several hundred pieces of artwork and photographs, lots of long discussions with my editor…but I’m really pleased with how this came out, and feedback from TMNT alumni and fans has been phenomenal. My sixth-grade self would have exploded if he’d known he’d get to write something like this one day:
And speaking of childhood dream projects, I got into G.I. Joe from the very first episode of the first animated mini-series, which aired back in 1983. Before long, I was begging my mom for G.I. Joe toys at every opportunity, and I started reading the comic book in 1985 (with issue #37 of the Marvel Comics series, purchased by my mother along with Transfomers #6 in late May/early June 1985, to help me pass the time when I was home sick in bed one day toward the end of third grade).
When the TMNT book was published, I contacted an editor at Running Press to express my interest in working with them again, and after establishing my credentials, they asked “What do you know about G.I. Joe?” Rather than give them an issue-by-issue synopsis of Larry Hama’s complete run of the original comic book, I told them I was the man for the job, whatever it was. They assigned me a Cobra H.I.S.S. Tank Mega Mini Kit, and I got to write bios of several G.I. Joe and Cobra characters, a basic story setup involving the H.I.S.S. Tank, and I got to check yet another thing off my “this will impress eight-year-old me” bucket list.
I’ve been a fan of Adventure Time since I first saw the original animated short back in 2007, so I jumped at the opportunity to come up with a guidebook for Running Press’s Adventure Time Bowling Mega Mini Kit (especially since I’ve been a fan of bowling since I took it in high school gym class in the early nineties).
“Want to write something about Zombie Gnomes?” Sure, why not? The Zombie Gnome Mega Mini Kit is one of my all-too-rare collaborations with my wife, Shaenon K. Garrity. We developed a survival guide to accompany Running Press’s two-inch-high terror, and we can only hope that people will take our lessons to heart, lest they be devoured bit by tiny little bit by this red-hatted menace.