In addition to original comics by industry veteran Guy Davis and "Sinfest" creator Tatsuya Ishida, May's MySpace Dark Horse Presents features the work of two emerging cartoonists from the worlds of webcomics and self-publishing. Alec Longstreth debuts an all-new comics world -beginning with the second installment- in "R.J. Jr., the Dragon's Librarian," while Portland's Carolyn Main shows off her twisted humor in "A Day at the Zoo." CBR News spoke with both artists about their MDHP comics and other projects coming down the line.
Carolyn Main's strip, "A Day at the Zoo," sees an unpopular young girl break away from her school field trip to save her pet guinea pig from a lion (by feeding said lion a lama). As is the way of things, not everything goes quite to plan. "At this point in history, we've all seen animals anthropomorphized over and over. We know lions are king, we know snakes make good lackeys, and it's understood that elephants never forget," Main told CBR. "While there are facts surrounding these images, the storybook fairytale images of animals have overtaken real truths. The proud male lion, with his great mane and king status, sleeps 20 hours a day. Monkeys, while yes, mischievous, are just monkeys. They are biologically the closest relatives to humans, but a monkey will not care about that. They want to go on with their life, eating, mating, and jockeying for status. Monkeys are more than mischievous, however, because they may bite your face off on a whim. Monkeys!
"Llamas, I think, are less known as an animal trope, so I felt like putting one into a long running magical act was enough new material to make people wrap their heads around," she continued. "In posters for Murray, the Wonder Llama, he's doing the sort of thing that's usually done by a sexpot assistant. The assistant is key to the magical act, to contort and finesse behind the scenes, which has been Murray's job for many years. Murray takes things for granted, and knows all the tricks he has to perform and has it down, but still, even knowing all the smoke and mirrors, Murray just kind of believes he's magic, because everybody else seems to think so.
"So, no, I don't find llamas innately magic, but rather domestic, and able to take direction. They do however, have innately fluffy ears, long necks and pretty eye lashes, which I had fun with."
Main said that living in Portland helps quite a bit with her networking routine. "I walk out my front door and run into the most respected, acclaimed and talented comic artists buying coffee and eggs at the market," she said. "In that regard, while I've gotten to rub elbows with my favorite living artists, I also meet agents, curators, and editors who actually make it so that art is seen by people. It was at Portland's own Stumptown Comic Convention that I met Scott Allie, Dark Horse's glowering editor with the cute grey ringlets. After becoming social with several Dark Horse chuckleheads, I passed Scott some mini-comics, and six months later he emailed me with work. I found it prudent to accept."
Main cites early childhood media saturation as a strong influence on her style. "I come from the '80s. Sitting in front of the T.V. with sugar cereals, watching the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Little Ponies and the Millionaire Ducks," she explained. "Waking up early and absorbing that media that was right at my child level, I've since realized I've taken a lot of dreck very seriously, and it's a pretty funny joke on me. So, from there, lurking in the back of my higher judgment and refined palette are some tacky-assed neon colors I can't seem to shake. For the parts of the zoo story when Violet's imagination was running the pages, I wanted to saturate it with as much feminine childhood color as my editor could stand. To grab at the magical, have formed wonderments of my earliest memories."
Comics also played a role in Carolyn Main's early aesthetic development. "After an early childhood of starring at picture books until I felt I'd figured something out, I continued reading the Sunday Funnies and 'Archie Double Digests' in the long boredom or summer vacations as a girl. My sisters all got into the X-Men during the early nineties--I largely ignored the superhero comics but couldn't resist the pull of Boneville when the 'Bone' anthology was left in our living room. This was around the same time I cursed the gods, along with my parents, for not giving me cable television while this amazing show called 'Ren and Stimpy' was on.
"Then, all of a sudden I'm an adult, and while studying animation and working on stop-motion cartoons, I read all of Craig Thompson's 'Blankets' in one day. Boom, it hit me. A comic artist can be an author. As noble as Stephan King banging away on the keyboard. Even better though, because we get pictures. Doing all of that, the draftsmanship, the characters, the emotions, the writing, the plotting... that seemed like a big enough challenge to take on, one that was possible -- unlike say, me solving a big math problem."
Main is keeping busy working on a few humor pieces in and outside of comics. "For some reason I'm very excited about the comedy skits and shows I'm working on with my funniest friends," she said. "I pal around with Aaron Diaz, he of the 'Dresden Codak' and 'HOB' online comic empire, and we have a whole show in the works. It will be on YouTube, via Harris Porter, our genius jock of a film buff. I got to meet Harris and Aaron last year, and while they and I have been writing our show, I've gotten to cast the parts from the character actors and comedians I just consider friends. It's been great to connect everybody to a place of extreme silliness that I know they are capable.
"And, right, comics. I am just about to start releasing the second 48 pages of my cheesecake sci-fi graphic, graphic novel, 'Personal Mission.' It's strange stuff. It'll be on my website, free to read online. Printed and sold, at least annually, at my table at Portland's Stumptown Convention, and available at fine retailers like Pony Club and Cosmic Monkey, here in my own little bubble of Portland, OR."
MDHP's other newcomer feature for May, Alec Longstreth's "R.J. Jr., the Dragon's Librarian," marks the debut of his new comics project "Isle of Elsi," a concept that has already undergone several transformations. "I have been working on the 'Isle of Elsi' world for about two years now. It originally started as an anthology submission for the second 'Elfworld' volume, which will be published by the San Francisco comics collective Family Style. But then I liked the story so much that I expanded it into a 48 page children's book," Longstreth told CBR. "I showed this to a literary agent in New York and a few cartoonists and writers whom I really respect, and everyone agreed that the sense of humor was a bit too old for a picture book and that I should expand the world and make the story longer."
Even once he had decided to produce "Elsi" as a comic book, there was yet one more transformation in format. "While I was trying to figure out what to do with the story, I started reading a book about Carl Barks, and I was amazed when I realized that he created Uncle Scrooge and all of the amazing characters that inhabit Duckburg 10 pages at a time," Longstreth said. "Except for the occasional full-issue story (which would be about 24-32 pages), Carl Barks built up this entire world by drawing 10 page stories that would appear in every issue of 'Walt Disney Comics and Stories.' By the end of his career he had drawn something like 500 of these stories.
"So I thought, instead of trying to flush this out into a stand-alone graphic novel, why not explore the characters one little adventure at a time? And about a week after I had this epiphany, I was contacted to do the DHP gig," the artist continued. "So I quickly set up a scenario for my characters and they did the rest!"
Interestingly, the "Isle of Elsi" story appearing on MySpace Dark Horse Presents is the second - yet the first has not been released. "Hopefully each story will be enjoyable on its own, and as the reader experiences more and more of the world, that enjoyment will multiply," Longstreth said. "I plan to publish future 'Isle of Elsi' stories in 'Phase 7' and in various other anthologies."
Longstreth's "Phase 7" anthology series will also soon feature chapters of his full-length graphic novel, "Basewood."
As to how R.J. Jr. became Nogard the dragon's librarian, Longstreth said this will be addressed in the as-yet-unpublished first installment of "Isle of Elsi." "Basically, Nogard was destroying R.J.'s village because he was bored all of the time. So R.J. figured that maybe Nogard would enjoy reading a book to pass away the time, and he was right! Nogard will pretty much read anything he can get his claws on, because I think of dragons as very curious, inquisitive beings who love riddles and learning about the world around them."
Alec Longstreth studied illustration at Pratt Institute, though not comics specifically. "I went back to school to get a better foundation in figure drawing, color theory, composition, typography, graphic design, painting, printmaking, and to learn from working illustrators," he said. "I was learning a lot about all of those things on my own, by drawing and self-publishing 'Phase 7,' but I kept hitting walls and knew that I could do much better work with the proper training.
"I think the only comic I drew at Pratt was a final paper for my art history class. I remember I had to beg my teacher to let me draw it as a comic book, which was silly because what better way could you incorporate imagery and text? It's a perfect assignment for comics! In the end, my comic got an A-grade and I heard he now uses it as an example for his current classes, as a cool way to do the assignment. And I reprinted the comic in 'Phase 7' #013."
In addition to his self-published projects, Longstreth has been working successfully as a freelance illustrator and cartoonist since graduating with highest honors from Pratt in 2007. He is now on a fellowship program at the Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, Vermont. "It has been an amazing experience--I was given free access to all of the printing, binding and screen-printing equipment in the lab, the Schulz Library, and I was allowed to sit in on any class," he said. "It also gave me a spot in the Inkubator studio and a very focused and supportive environment to work on my comics. I was also able to teach the Professional Practices class first semester, which I will be teaching again next year. I'm really enjoying living in White River Junction. I'm getting a ton of work done and I've made so many new friends."
"A Day at the Zoo" and "R.J. Jr., the Dragon's Librarian" are both online now at myspace.com/darkhorsepresents.