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Issue #41

I have been very lucky.

Some might say blessed but I'm not a religious sort so I don't go in for that kind of tomfoolery, but things have worked out rather well and I'm extremely grateful to everybody that has supported me over the years.

I really wasn't sure that this would work out.

As a kid, there weren't any comic book stores anywhere near me or even outlets that sold comics. In order to get my hands on a comic book I had to go all the way from my home up Albion Ridge Road, past Albion, Little River, Mendocino, Casper and all other places to Fort Bragg, California. It was a considerable distance. As a youngster, that meant waiting until my parents had reason to go to Ft. Bragg. When I was a few years older, they let me hitchhike. And hitchhike, I did on numerous occasions.

And those cursed skip weeks, those four weeks a year when nothing shipped from any publisher, were the bane of my existence. I'd have made the trek, having taken well over an hour to get there and I'd be standing in Rexall Drug, staring at the spinner rack, devoid of new product and a sickening feeling would wash over me. Not quite as bad as your mom uncovering the porn under your mattress but close.

In any case…

The point I was attempting to make was that all I knew was the printed books. That was all the information I had. I could see the names in the books and I had reasoned that these guys must made a living doing this, but that's all I knew, really. I'd never seen a comic book professional. I didn't know where I might find one. I had no idea that comic book stores existed or conventions or much of anything. All I knew was that somebody was making these things called comic books and that I wanted to be one of them.

I drew my own comics by the truckload. I folded 8 1/2 x 11 paper in half and stapled them up the side and drew my own adventures. At school I perpetrated other comics, crude treasury edition-sized comics starring myself and my friends. A buddy of mine (Ricky Bouras -- where is he now?) did a comic book about me called, "Accident Comics featuring the birth of Erik Larsen" and I retaliated with, "Mistake Comics featuring the birth of Ricky Bouras."

And a good time was had by all.

I didn't know how this was done. I didn't know anything. I just knew that I wanted to make comic books.

There was a group of artists in Middle School. There were enough of us that, at some point, the faculty accommodated us by concocting a class called ""Comic book art." Which was an art class, taught by the librarian who, if memory served me, really had no business teaching art of any kind to anybody. But we endured. At some point he brought in a pile of Fantastic Four comics. He'd cleared the shelf of the existing copies of "Fantastic Four" #178, a book that ended on a cliffhanger, and had us attempt to continue the story on our own, with mixed and often hilarious results.

I went to school in Mendocino. I took the long bus ride to school getting up at some ungodly hour. My best friend, Chris Vito, drew his own comics. So did Mike Redfern and Ricky Bouras and Aaron Katz and Chris Osborn. Mendocino was a picturesque little berg, which often subbed for New England in various Hollywood extravaganzas. You can see it in all of its splendor in everything from "Racing With the Moon" (my buddy Chris Vito was an extra in that) to "The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming" to "Humanoids from the Deep" (a classic).

Mendocino was (and is) a funky little artists'' community and the schools there reflected that. Up at the high school, classes were taught to those in the community after hours.

At some point, a publication called "Mendocino Funnies" came out. It wasn't spectacular, by any means, but a local guy named John Chamberlin ("Jayce") who did splendid posters for local bands drew the cover and the lead story and it was pretty good (it was also "to be continued" and it hasn't, to my knowledge, ever BEEN continued). The rest was less remarkable. And the strip by Mervinius (Life in the Northwest Nowhere) was (to us) downright dreadful.

So, because of popular demand or - whatever - somebody up at the high school decided it would be a good idea to have there be a class teaching budding cartoonists how to do what they wanted to do. And, being a place that prided itself on reaching out to those in need, a group of us youngsters were tapped to sign up for the night class.

Needless to say, we were all abuzz over the idea. We agreed to go and it didn't even occur to us to ask who the instructor would be. All we knew was that he was a "real" cartoonist and that he had work published in "Mendocino Funnies."

As it turned out, the teacher was a fellow by the name of Mervin Gilbert.

You guessed it - Mervinius.

And we learned to appreciate his work just a bit. His cartooning was a bit crude, but the gags were kind of funny. It was a kick to be there with the adults, learning the ropes. It was as though we were grown ups or something like that.

There was even a point where the budding cartoonists got some of their work in print. A local underground newspaper called "the Mendocino Grapevine" was the first to expose my work to an audience that didn't go to school with me and read the school paper.

And then Chris Osborn blew it all by ogling the live model, that came and posed nude in the classroom. The rest of us managed to keep our cool, but Chris practically foamed at the mouth as he edged closer and closer in an effort to get an eyeful. He'd have climbed up her birth canal, I have no doubt, if he wasn't pulled off. I can still hear him say, "You can see where the dick goes."

Needless to say, that was it for us.

The neat part of that learning experience was getting to see the kind of paper cartoonists used and the pens and brushes and white out and all the rest.

A short while later, the school librarian put me in contact with a fellow named Rob Gluckson, who gave me a breathtaking piece of original art - the Frank Robbins cover to the "Shadow" #8! That was a real eye-opener.

Acquisition of Stan Lee and John Buscema's "How to draw Comics the Marvel Way" was another. I was soon on my way. I not only knew how big to draw things and what to use when drawing them, but I even found out the terminology! No longer would they be squares and bubbles - now it was panels and balloons!

I drew my first comic on the right paper, a few years later, and tried to get it published but that didn't pan out. I ended up publishing it myself.

That led to paying work, actually.

A fellow named Gary Carlson gave me work in his book "Megaton" at $15 a page (a fortune) and soon others followed suit.

I would have done it for nothing. Money was never the goal. I've heard some ill-informed folks comment that the Image boys were the first generation of creators that "got into the business for the money," but that's a bit of a misnomer. Royalties had just barely started up as we entered the field, sure, but there's no way that any of us really could have anticipated that while we grew up and honed our craft (such as it was). I certainly had no idea that it was possible to make a decent living doing comics - all I knew was that I felt driven to draw comics and tell stories and that's no different now that it was when I was nine years old drawing on the kitchen table on typing paper folded in half. Those that entered the field a few years after the success of Image comics might well be guilty of such a thing, but not our gang, we got in because we loved it. The rallying cry for the boys at Image was, "We're doing it for the kids!" and the kids responded with enthusiasm.

I've been very lucky.

This all came together at a time when a fellow could make an okay living doing this and readers have been willing to put up with me and my creation for nearly a decade and a half.

I really don't know what I would have done if this hadn't panned out. I have little education and no other marketable skills. I never aspired to do or prepared for anything else. It was a one-in-a-million shot that paid off.

And I'm having a ball.

And things have settled down. The numbers of units being moved is not what it was, but I'm not starving and given the option, I'd rather do my own thing than someone else's thing.

So…thanks.

Thanks for making this all possible. And to those who came before - thanks for blazing the trail and paving the way. Thanks for creating a comic book field in the first place.

It's a wonderful thing. I hope I can do this forever.

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