Friday, April 07, 2006

If you're a comics fan, then put this event on your calendar!

In a medium crowded with vengeance, villains and violence, Williamsburg cartoonist Mark Martin is putting the “comic” back into “comic book.”

Martin will be signing the first edition of his new Runaway Comic from1 to 4 p.m. on April 15 at Modern Myths at 34 Bridge St., Northampton. Runaway Comic has been recently released by Fantagraphics Books, the company that publishes such alternative comics stars such as Dan Clowes and Peter Bagge.

Although no stranger to comic books – he has produced highly acclaimed parodies of Batman, Daredevil and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, among other projects – Martin is re-entering the comic book field after a long stint as a freelance cartoonist at Nickelodeon Magazine, Boy’s Life and Disney Adventures Magazine.

Martin’s star is no crime-fighting, angst-ridden superhero, but instead a young frog named Montgomery Wart who possesses an active imagination and a proclivity for trouble. Wart appeared in Tantalizing Stories, a collaboration between Martin and fellow cartoonist Jim Woodring.

The Wart stories are full of artistic detail, slapstick action, playful language – Martin has an ear for dialect – and many pop culture references.

Ask Martin who has influenced his work and there’s a long list: “Bill Elder, George Herriman, Walt Kelly, Marie Severin, Zap, Arcade, Raw, Weirdo, Monty Python, the Usual Gang of Idiots [MAD magazine], Salvador Dali, just about any old children's comic from the ‘40s, just about any old magazine from the 40s, Al Capp, Johnny Hart, Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Johnson Smith catalogs, National Lampoon in its hayday, my dad, my Aunt Jane, Mr. Rogers, Captain Kangaroo, Friendly Giant, Melvin Monster, Sugar and Spike, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Dalton Trumbo, Fleischer Studios, Disney Studios, on and on and on.”

Martin’s new book also features stories and strips that comment on politics and history as well as his own life. Anyone who has undertaken a major home renovation should appreciate his autobiographical “Hectic Grueling Torture Vision: Summer Remodeling” story.

Another influence is his Southern roots. Although he has made his home in western Massachusetts for over a decade, Martin is a native of Alabama and attentive readers might catch references to everything from Piggly Wiggly supermarkets to comedian Jerry Clower.

Drawing isn’t just a career for Martin – it’s a way of life. Martin has loved cartooning since he was a child.

“I can remember liking comic strips as far back as I can remember. I always loved comics, especially the Sunday Comics of course. I studied them before I could read. My real passion was coloring books. I think I had a pretty impressive collection, and I was an obsessive collector type even back then. I can remember hoarding them and wallowing in them like Scrooge McDuck in his money bin,” he said.

“Drawing, same thing, I remember loving to draw as far back as I can remember,” he added.

Having worked for Kevin Eastman, one half of the creative pair behind the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle phenomena, Martin has seen what can happen when success strikes, but that isn’t his motivation.

“Money, fame, and glory are nice perks, but I was drawing comics when I had no conscious ambition of actually being a published cartoonist. I always loved art, and I always thought I would try to have some kind of art career, but I did not always think I had what it takes to be a comic artist.

“In fact, I was sure I did not have what it takes the first few times I sat down and seriously tried to actually draw a publishable comic story. The first thing I tried was a Pink Panther comic. The second thing was a Harlan Ellison story. I can't remember the name of the story, but it's the one where a girl purposely bashes her head into a wall at the beginning of the story. If I still had these two laughable attempts at cartooning, I would show them to you, but they are long gone,” he said.

Martin is currently working on the second issue of Runaway Comics as well as writing a daily blog at

Standard disclaimer applies here: There are my words alone.

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