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Larry Marder Returns to “Beanworld”

by  in Comic News Comment
Larry Marder Returns to “Beanworld”
Beanworld Holiday Special
“Beanworld Holiday Special” on sale December 17

After working the business side of comics for nearly fifteen years, first as Executive Director of Image Comics and then as President of McFarlane Toys, Larry Marder has returned to the creative fold. A short story in September’s MySpace Dark Horse Presents online anthology marked the first new story in Marder’s “Beanworld” universe since 1993. This month, Dark Horse will publish the “Beanworld Holiday Special,” a full-length comic book offering an unexpected take on seasonal gift-giving traditions, followed by hardcover collections of the creator’s original “Tales of Beanworld” series, debuting in February. CBR News spoke with Marder about the holiday special, his return to the Beanworld characters, and the “poetry of a bean plant.”

“Like all Beanworld tales, the ‘Beanworld Holiday Special’ is a most peculiar comic book experience,” Marder told CBR. The creator of this enigmatic series explained that all Beanworld stories “springboard out of trying to solve the mysteries of the Beanworld food chain centering around the actions of their spiritual guardian, Gran’Ma’Pa.”

The holiday special, then, fits into this context while adding another piece to the Beanworld universe. Explained Marder, “It’s a stand alone one-shot story. It starts out when it is observed that the baby Beans, the Pod’l’pool Cuties, don’t seem to talk to each other. Over the course of the tale, we see how Beanish and the Boom’r Band team up to teach the Cuties how to communicate. And along the way the reader witnesses the secret origin of Beanworld’s first toys!”

Though the word “unique” is overused, “Beanworld” come with a flavor that does seem to be one-of-a-kind. “There are several sensibilities that influenced me in the discovery of Beanworld. First and foremost, I’m investigating what I often call the ‘poetry of a bean plant,'” Marder explained. “Beanworld over time is growing and evolving in the same way that a bean plant does. First, it is nourished by its own seed. Then it sends down roots and feeds itself. After that it, reaches aggressively towards the sky. All of this is the foundation upon which Beanworld is built upon.

“The characters themselves grew out of my love for all primitive cultures, art, and mythology-with a special emphasis on North American native peoples. The Beans are a small tribe that truly believes their little world is the center of a perfect universe. They understand that as long as they and their adversaries, the Hoi-Polloi Ring Herd, play by the rules they will have a good, prosperous life. The trouble is that Beanworld is just a little speck in the Big-Big-Picture and a lot of their adventures unfold as they bump into other beings with their own agendas.”

Pages from “Beanworld Holiday Special”

Following the holiday special, “Wahoolazuma!,” the first hardcover collection of the original “Tales of Beanworld” series, arrives in February from Dark Horse. For those who may have missed these stories the first time around, Marder recapped some of the highlights and discoveries of these first nine issues: “How the Bone Zone came to be; the Insect Infestication that brought the Mystery Pods to Beanworld; the Secret Origin of Mr. Spooks Fork; the invention of Art by Beanworld’s first artist, Beanish; the introduction of Beanish’s mysterious nameless friend–and that’s just in the first few stories.”

A second hardcover, “A Gift Comes!,” collects the remaining chapters of original Beanworld series, including some issues that have never been reprinted before.

Marder’s next all-new “Beanworld” project will be an original graphic novel called “Remember Here When You Are There!,” which will follow directly on from “A Gift Comes!” The new book “will be a stand alone story, but it will also tie up most of the loose ends from the original Tales of the Beanworld series,” Marder said.

Along with “Wahoolazuma!” all three of these volumes make up the seasonal arc of “Springtime.” “To go back to the ‘poetry of a bean plant,’ the roots are now functioning,” Marder said. “The next arc will be called ‘Summertime’ and the Beans will, well, reach for the sky. Upwards and outwards is the direction the Beans will be going.”

Pages from “Beanworld Holiday Special”

Though the hardcover collections of early “Tales of Beanworld” material may give readers some sense of the comic’s history, the roots of Beanworld go even deeper. “There are three parts to the evolution of Beanworld,” Marder explained. “The first one happened on the day I was born. I was a difficult breech birth and my head came out smooshed and lopsided. When my Mom saw me for the first time she said, ‘What’s wrong with him? His head is shaped like a lima bean!’ She even made a sketch of my head shape in my Baby Book. I heard this story repeated as I was growing up.

“Then in art school, as a cartoonist who was very much under the influence of the conceptual art movement, I decided to abandon rendering. I was also heavily influenced by Spider-Man. In those days, Spider-Man had no facial gestures and Marvel artists only had body gestures and voice balloons to communicate a full range of emotions. So I adopted my basic character of a bean-shaped body, spindly legs and clodhopper feet. I learned to convey a full range of emotions using a few shapes for eyes and body gestures. I used these characters in simple cartoons that looked more like newspaper strips than comic books.

“The third step was in the summer of 1975, while growing a communal vegetable garden in our backyard. The idea of putting my simple little characters into something complex called ‘Beanworld’ took root. I knew that it was a rather ambitious project and that it was going to take me a long time to discover exactly what Beanworld wanted itself to be. And that turned out to be true. It took me five years of investigation, false starts, and dead ends, before I thoroughly understood the mechanics of Beanworld’s food chain. Once I was familiar with mentally walking around within the parameters of Beanworld, then I started telling its stories using the comic book format.”

Pages from “Beanworld Holiday Special”

Between the recent MySpace Dark Horse Presents strip and this month’s “Holiday Special,” Marder is well into a Beanworld revival. Asked why he chose to return to the characters after so long, he simply said that “it was time.” “I took a 15 year sabbatical from ‘Beanworld ‘and worked on the administrative side of our business. After all that time at Image Comics and McFarlane Toys, I recognized that it no longer was making sense for me devote all my energy and time to managing the creative affairs of others,” Marder said. “A lot of the folks I helped bring into the business and mentored were now ready to take over and manage things on their own. So when, a few years ago, Beanworld started softly whispering in my ear that it had been asleep long enough and it wanted me to wake it up; I did.”

Marder said that he chose to publish “Beanworld” with Dark Horse out of abiding admiration for its editorial and production staff, knowing that his creation would be in good hands. “When I was running Image Comics and President of McFarlane Toys, Dark Horse was hands down my favorite competitor. I always admired [Publisher] Mike Richardson’s business practices and the excellent staff of people that make up the greater Dark Horse team,” he said. “But the real incentive was to work with Diana Schutz, who I believe is one of the very best editors in our field. We have been friends since 1984 but we never actually worked together. Diana was a huge booster for ‘Beanworld’ from its fanzine days and I trust her judgment. I’ve been in this business long enough to have participated in some very haphazard art direction and production values at other companies. The Dark Horse art and production crews under Diana’s watchful eye have really captured the feel of ‘Beanworld.'”

Pages from “Beanworld Holiday Special”

“Beanworld Holiday Special” is on sale December 17 from Dark Horse.

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