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!

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