Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Artist Profile: Ben Towle

If Ben Towle could be given an official title, a good one would be Comics Ambassador! Living in Winston-Salem, this Navy-brat with degrees in philosophy and art, and a stint in a rock band, helped form the National Association of Comics Art Educators ( NACEA (pronounced "nay-say"- a very fitting name for the general attitude many educators have had for comics) is a non-profit operation that offers online resources for educators and provides a list of available speakers across the country.
Ben's latest work, "Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean" (written by Sarah Stewart Taylor & James Sturm) has recieved high praise from the NY Times, School Library Journal, Graphic Novel Reporter and many other publications and review sites.
Ben also did the graphic novel "Midnight Sun", a fictional account of an actual expedition by an Italian airship to the North Pole. What seems to be a successful voyage turns into a fight for survival and rescue.
Ben is currently working on his re-telling of "The Count of Monte Cristo"
Featured here is a page from Midnight Sun, two from Amelia Earhart, and one from Monte Cristo. Enjoy!

1) When did you first discover comics and why did you notice them?

I'm not sure I can isolate one particular instance where I first "discovered" comics; they were much more ubiquitous when I was younger then they are now and you'd see comics at drug stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, etc. Probably the first comic books I ever really read were the Marvel Star Wars tie-ins, from the mid 70s. Before then, though, I'd read various collections of newspaper strips--Little Orphan Annie, Rupert and Betty Boop are the ones I recall.

2) How did you come to the decision to become an independent comic artist (in other words, not working for DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, Dynamite, etc)? That's just a function of the sort of work I'm naturally drawn to. I think if any of those publishers began publishing work that was the sort of stuff I enjoy doing, I'd certainly approach them about it. Those publishers, though, generally are interested in a fairly narrow scope of genres and art styles at the moment and they just don't happen to be the genres and art styles that I'm personally interested in working in. I certainly read stuff they publish, though--it's just not what I happen to be into creating myself.

3) Which story/book/piece of art are you most proud of doing and how has it been received by others? Despite the accolades my most recent project, Amelia Earhart - This Broad Ocean, has received (a recent New York Times review, for example) my favorite book I've done is, I think, my previous work, Midnight Sun. This is probably just because it's something that was entirely my work, whereas with Amelia I was illustrating only. I think my artwork on Amelia has improved somewhat from the previous book, however.

4) You are also involved in NACEA. Why? How does NACEA work? I got involved with NACAE right after graduate school. It was started by James Sturm and me. We had a really idealistic vision of some sort of group that would advocate for comics teachers, for comics curricula, and would be able to help schools implement comics-based curricula. Like many high-minded ideas, that didn't really come to pass, though. What it's turned into is more of an online clearing house for freely-available teaching materials for comics teachers to use. I occasionally have a volunteer helping me with the site, but often it's just me.

5) Did you have a favorite cartoon character as a child? How about now? Did you have a favorite comic book or strip as a child? Now?
I don't think I ever really had a favorite comics character as a child. When I started getting into comics in my early teenage years, I really liked Thor and Swamp Thing, but as I got older I began reading a broader range of things. I don't really have one these days either, just because of the sort of material I tend to read: mostly I read graphic novels, which are self-contained stories, rather than monthly issues of things with recurring characters.

6) What is a typical workday like for you? What projects are you on right now? That really just depends on what I've got on my plate comics-wise. I'm usually juggling a number of different things at the same time. For example right now, I'm working on a proposal for a graphic novel adaptation of The Count of Monte Cristo, but I'm also teaching some distance learning classes (basic perspective) and doing some freelance work. I'm home with my 2-year old daughter most days, so I have sort of an "inverse schedule." I work pretty much any time other than the normal 9-5 workday when I'm solo with my daughter, and when I'm sleeping!

7) What has been your best, worst and weirdest convention experience? I've been pretty lucky in that I don't think I've had any really bad convention experiences. I don't regularly do a whole ton of them though. Generally I do the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD and Heroes Con in Charlotte each year for sure. Beyond that, though, I really only go to something if I've got a particular reason some specific year to go. One interesting thing of late is that I'm beginning to get invited to some book festivals, which are a whole different ball of wax; they seem to me to be more of a celebration of books and less an opportunity to sell stuff. The Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta is my favorite of those I've done so far.

8) What kind of comics would you like to be making 5 or 10 years from now? Ideally, I'd like to be in a position where I could put together a proposal for a general fiction graphic novel and get a decent enough advance for it that I'd be able to work on it--and nothing else--for as long as it took to get it done. Right now there are only a small handful of cartoonists who can do this, but other than those few it seems like there are limited genres where this occurs--mainly graphic novel memoir.

9) With the attention given to graphic novels and their movement into video games, movies, toys, etc are comics going through a second Golden Age? I think comics is definitely in a second Golden Age of sorts, but not because of video games and movies and whatnot, but rather because the quality of work being done right in the art form itself now is so high. I don't think there's been anything like this since maybe the heyday of the newspaper comic strip in the 20s and 30s.

10) Will evolving technology eventually squeeze comics out, or will comics continue to adapt to changes?
I don't think comics are going anywhere. Newspaper comics... well, I'm not sure that's a field I'd try to get into right now. But, comics--the general art form--I think will adapt quite nicely to whatever new technology comes along. People often get overly-concerned about what all the new things that technology can do, without thinking about whether people really want those things. It's not as if after the advent of television people began demanding that printed books begin making noise and moving around. There will continue to be comics as books, but also comics on phones, comics on tablets, comics on the web--it's not a zero sum game.

11) If you could be a super hero you would be... Plenty of Available Free Time Man... Able to fill hours and hours of time with things other than work!

You can view Ben's portfolio at and you can read his blog and see more work (including the cover he did for Free Comic Book Day) at Ben's books are available through his site (if you pay via PayPal) or with most book retailers like

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Empire Strikes Back....Again!

Back in February I was very excited to announce the addition of the Rebel Legion's Blue Ridge Base to our mini-con's attendees. Now I have official word that their counterparts, the Carolina Garrison of the Imperial 501st (also known as Darth Vader's Fist) will be in attendance keeping a careful eye out for any rebel activity.

Both groups are closely knit together, not only because of their passion for the Star Wars movies, but because of their desire to use the public's love of Star Wars to help make good things happen.
Throughout the year the rebels and imperial loyalists make appearances at community functions to help draw in a crowd and/or to help raise money for a worthwhile cause like juvenile diabetes research or the Make-A-Wish foundation. Members carefully craft their costumes or uniforms to be authentic to the source material- no store-bought outfits from the Halloween costume department, here, folks!

We are excited to have the 501st and the Blue Ridge Base here for our mini-con, and we hope things stay peaceful! Here are some pictures of the members of the 501st, which is a diverse group made of storm troopers, clone troopers, pilots, gunners, officers, bounty hunters and Sith apprentices. Enjoy!

Friday, March 26, 2010

More Marcus Hamilton Art!

As part of the interview, Marcus sent me scans of several pieces of art he thought showcased his abilities beyond Dennis the Menace. So enjoy the show and click to get a larger image. Thank you, Marcus!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Artist Profile: Marcus Hamilton

Marcus Hamilton became a part of our library's cartooning scene thanks to some friends at the Mint Hill Library. After just a couple of emails, Marcus was at our library speaking to the kids about Dennis the Menace, what he learned from the strip's creator, Hank Ketcham, and talking about how changes in art had gotten ahead of him but Dennis kept him going.
An incredibly nice and humble person, Marcus is a great encourager to others. He truly enjoys meeting fans of Dennis the Menace, and when he talks about the characters you know he really cares about them.
The mini-con will mark Marcus' third trip to Union West. He was also part of our very first mini-con last year and this year, he was the first person to say yes! He was kind enough to answer some questions for us, and to share some of his favorite art, much of it being used on the covers of magazines or inside the magazines. Enjoy!

1. How long have you been drawing Dennis and the Mitchells? Do you write the gags/script, too?
I began drawing the daily Dennis panels in 1994, after responding to Hank Ketcham’s comment on TV (June 22, 1993) that he would like to retire someday. I called and told him that I was an illustrator in Charlotte, NC, and I would love to have the opportunity to draw Dennis. After an extensive training period, Mr. Ketcham began inserting my drawings along with his. He officially announced his retirement in October, 1994.

We have a “troop” of gag writers, from around the country, who send me their ideas every month. I select 25 from approximately 250 submissions, and return the others. Each week I pull out 6 of the gag ideas that I want to draw and decide how to illustrate what the characters are saying.

2. Ron Ferdinand does the Sunday page- do you two ever work together or collaborate on ideas?

We are in touch by phone or fax almost daily. We endeavor to keep the DENNIS characters true to Mr. Ketcham’s tradition. Occasionally, Ron and I will tie together a theme for both the Sunday and daily panels. In July/August, we will be recognizing the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts.

3. You did a variety of things before Dennis- what were they?

I began freelancing fulltime as an illustrator in 1972. I was fortunate to realize my “dream” of doing story illustrations for books and magazines for 21 years, until computer graphics ended my career. It was exciting to receive assignments from most of the national publications where some of my “idols of illustration” had gained their reputations. Some of my regular clients were: Saturday Evening Post, Good Housekeeping, Reader’s Digest, Cosmopolitan, Golf Digest, Scholastic publications and cover art for Harlequin Romance paperbacks.

4. One of your art "idols" was Norman Rockwell- what was it like to do a Saturday Evening Post cover? Did you feel any added pressure (real or imaginary)?
The Post art director called in 1978 and asked me to do a painting of Bob Hope in a Santa outfit for a story inside the magazine. No mention of it being considered for the cover. However, when the magazine came out, my sister called to tell me that the cover looked really good. I rushed to the Mint Hill Library to see if they had received their copy of the Dec. issue. It was a thrill to see the painting of Bob Hope on the cover!

Honestly, I didn’t feel any “added pressure” because I didn’t know it was a cover painting until it was published. But, to have my art on the cover of the magazine that had given Norman Rockwell his fame was indeed a humbling honor.

5. What was your favorite comic or cartoon character as a kid? Do you have a favorite today(besides Dennis)?
“Prince Valiant,” “ L’il Abner” and “Mary Perkins/On Stage” were the ones that really inspired me because Hal Foster, Al Capp and Leonard Starr weren’t only cartoonists…they were accomplished illustrators. Later, as I became a “Dennis the Menace” fan it was mainly because Hank Ketcham was a master of composition and capturing the reader’s emotions with a minimum of linework; a challenge that I now face everyday.

My favorites today are “Pickles”…Brian Crane has captured the essence of retired seniors…I can relate to the situations he presents (although I’m not planning to retire!). I also enjoy “Zits,” “Mother Goose.”

6. Was art or cartooning your first choice of a career path?
Yes…I knew from age 6 that I wanted to be an artist. My Mom always had a notepad and pencil in her pocketbook at church to keep me quiet during the sermon. That was when I realized that drawing was fun. My parents encouraged my interest in art by paying for one of the art correspondence courses when I was 14 years old.

7. You go to conventions each year- what has been your best experience? Worst? Weirdest?

I always enjoy meeting the fans who tell me how much Dennis has meant to them as they were growing up…most of these fans are in the “older generation.” Having one-on-one conversations with the attendees at the conventions, especially HeroesCon, makes the time fly by. They love to tell about experiences of how they were influenced by the comics. Some mention that their parents taught them to read by reading the Sunday comics. Characters like “Dennis” have become more than just cartoon characters…they are trusted “friends” to the readers.

8. Fill in the blank- What I would like to do next is...
Continue drawing Dennis and striving to keep the drawing “fresh” everyday.

9. Are you more excited about basketball's March Madness or Baseball's Spring Training?

I used to really get into the basketball playoffs, back when Dean Smith and Jim Valvano were coaching Carolina and State. My wife and I were huge Atlanta Braves fans back in the day, but we’ve kinda lost interest since the original players have moved on. We do still enjoy our Carolina Panthers, even when they don’t make it into the playoffs.

10. If you could take Dennis on an adventure what would it be?

Back in 2000, Mr. Ketcham sent Ron and his wife and Kaye and me to Hawaii to sketch and photograph for a week, so that we could have Dennis and his family take a vacation in the islands. It was a truly wonderful experience! It was fun to get back home and relive some of my experiences by drawing Dennis doing some of the things we experienced on our trip. I’d love to do that again!

As a testament to the continuing popularity of Dennis the Menace, the US Postal service has announced a Sunday Funnies collection of stamps. Included in the set is Beetle Baily, Archie, Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield, and Dennis the Menace. The set is scheduled to be sold in sheets beginning in July of this year. Congratulations Dennis, Hank, Ron and Marcus!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Artist Profile: Chrissie Zullo

Living in neighboring Charlotte, Chrissie Zullo is one of those rare few who has come into the comics scene and gotten the attention of people immediately. Often, top-tier artists like Bryan Hitch and Adam Hughes spend time working on mediocre titles getting no attention- sometimes for years- before finding a breakout title like Ultimates or Wonder Woman. Chrissie took off from the start, creating covers for DC's Vertigo line, specifically the Cinderella series, and the response has been consistently one of praise for her work. Just read what the comics/movie/video game website IGN had to say about her-
"New to the industry, it is awfully high praise to Chrissie Zullo when we say that she fits in just fine with James Jean and Joao Ruas, but after seeing her four covers released so far it's justified."
That's what IGN wrote about her cover for Cinderella- From Fabletown with Love #2 ranking it at #80 among the 100 best covers of 2009. To see the article, copy and paste this address in your browser:
Chrissie has a very distinctive, eye-catching style that comes partly from the mediums she uses to create her images. Often, Chrissie paints in oils on a wood panel to get the initial image. She then scans the picture into her computer and adds additional colors and effects using Photoshop.
The covers displayed with this article include Cinderella #2 with Cinderella and the prince standing back-to-back, and the other cover is issue #3 and draws some inspiration from ol' James Bond.
Below is our interview with Chrissie- enjoy!

1. How long have you been creating art? How long have you been doing comic book covers?
I have been drawing and being creative ever since I was a baby. I was always drawing as a kid, and from a really early age I was always the "artist" in my classes. I've been doing comic book covers and comic book art for about a year now.

2. Have you done or do you plan to do any interior work on a comic?
I am actually just about to start. I'll be doing 22 interior pages for an upcoming issue of Madame Xanadu, that I'm really excited about.

3. How did you get "discovered?"
I entered the DC Talent Search at San Diego Comic Con and got to meet with an editor from Vertigo... and the rest is history.

4. Were you into comics as a child? Did you have a favorite comic book character? Cartoon character? How about now?
As a kid, I was into Sunday comics and in High School I was into manga. It wasn't until college that I started to read DC/Marvel comics. It's hard to pick a favorite comic book character, but I do love Zatanna and lots of other characters from the Batman universe, as well as Ambrose and lots of characters from the Fables universe (as well as, of course, Cinderella). As for cartoon character, as I kid I always loved Hanna-Barbera cartoons and Disney cartoons, and now I love Miyazaki animated films.

5. Comics seem to be an almost exclusive boys club. What would you do to change this ?
I think it's perceived that way because the majority of American comics deals with a masculine super hero. A lot of girls today read manga, and I think it's less intimidating, because a lot of manga deals with a variety of stories that are stand alone in one series. Even when I was getting into comics, it can be intimidating if you aren't familiar with the very long history of x or y characters. I think the way to change this is something that Vertigo or other more independent publishers are addressing already with comics, and that's by telling new stories to catch new readers. I know "Fables" has a loyal male and female following. I don't think it's a matter of creating something that addresses more to girls, but creating something that appeals to everyone.

6. What is a typical workday like for you?
Very atypical... Every day is different. I really need to find out how to properly schedule things. It's weird working from home as a freelancer, because you make your own schedule. I just address each day individually, and try to get the most done of whatever project I'm working on. This usually means staying up late, painting or drawing, with lots of tea and lots of music.

7. What is your dream comic assignment? Is there a comic you would refuse to do?
My dream comic assignment would be to create my own comic book, otherwise, everything I have worked on so far has really been a dream come true. All the comics I've been able to be a part of have been favorites, so even if it's cheezy to say, each project I get really brings the fangirl out of me. As far as "refusing" to do a comic; I'm not sure if I would ever "refuse", but if it is something that I don't think will really match my style of work, than I wouldn't do it.

8. What has been your best convention moment? Worst? Weirdest?
My best convention moment was probably being on the Fables panel at San Diego Comic Con, or signing at the DC booth. It's incredibly humbling and awesome to sit right next to people whom you look up to and admire, so I really tried to let nerves go and soak it all in while it lasted. As for worst-- I did drive out and stay out of town for a three day convention that had almost no attendees; I think a total of three people walked by and talked to me at that show, and one of them was another exhibitor. As far as weirdest-- I'm not sure, but every convention is likely to have a weird moment...

9. What other appearances will you be making?
I'm going to San Diego Comic Con this year as well, and trying to also get to NYCC, Baltimore Comic Con, Dragon Con, and Star Wars Celebration V.

10. What thing do you love to do to get a break from comics?
I'm a huge LEGO fanatic, and love video games and going to movies. I also read a lot of books, you know, the ones without pictures, and I try to spend a couple of hours every night reading some good sci-fi.

You can also follow Chrissie's work on her Deviant art site, and you can see her works in progress on her blog,

Monday, March 22, 2010

We're Listed at Superhero Universe!

That's right- the Return of Mini-Con has taken another step toward the big time. Superhero Universe ( has listed our library's event next to other regional and national comic book conventions! Since the Return of Mini-Con is a two day, two location event, Superhero Universe listed each day separately, giving the con two block on the convention calendar!
If you haven't heard of Superhero Universe, check it out- there is a place for comic fans to put their own art out on the web for free. There is a page dedicated to the latest in comics news, a fan fiction section, and even their own original online comics that can be read for FREE!

The Return of Mini-Con happens June 25 at the Union West Regional Library in Indian Trail, and moves to the Monroe Library in Monroe, NC on June 26. Look at older posts to see who is expected so far!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Charlotte Comicon is Sunday!

The Charlotte Comicon is Sunday! There will be loads of old and new comics along with the Imperial 501st, aka Darth Vader's Fist and plenty of talented artists, many who have been named in earlier postings here such as Al Bigley, Derek & Nikki Davis, Tom Davidson, Eraklis Petmezas, Jester Press and Chrissie Zullo- just to name a few!
Admission is $3. Children 12 a nd under get in free. The hotel will even give you a token for parking!
So where and when is this event, you ask? Why Sunday, March 21 from 10- 4 at the Crown Plaza Hotel on 201 S McDowell in downtown/uptown Charlotte. You can get more details on the web at

Monday, March 15, 2010

You Won't Believe This: Superboy Dropped in, too!

That's right- Superboy was in the library Thursday afternoon. With low clouds and rain, the kid of steel decided to land in the library for awhile! Obviously, he was here to also get info on June's mini-con and check out the layout of the library. Superboy also checked out the computers (he's a fan of Clifford the Big Red Dog's game) looked at some books, and posed for photos.
Also, if you look at Spidey's pictures, you notice he's missing a glove, and Superboy has a glove. Hmmmm... did Spidey and Supes have a run-in, and now the last kid of Krypton is showing us who won?

BTW- Spider-man and Superboy are NOT the same person. Neither was asked to come by- it just happened in the same week! Our library is just a fun, exciting place! Go to your own library and see if you can find out why, too!

Who will be the next comic book celebrity spotted at Union West?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Can you believe it? Spider-man was here!

That's right. The friendly neighborhood wall-crawler was in the library this morning checking things out, getting to know the building I guess, before the mini-con in June. Spidey spent some time at the computers (apparently he likes the Bob the Builder video game!) went to a story time, and of course posed for pictures! Maybe we can get him to be a judge for our costume contest! This just proves that some of the most exciting things around can be found at your library! Thanks, Spider-Man!