DRAWN & QUARTERED
COURTESY UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE
The cast of "Maintaining," who revolve around central character Marcus, are from left, best friend Anton, Marcus, love interest Freda, and little brother Tavian.
New strip uses high school as metaphor
In this week's column, we talk to a couple of guys with some new work to show us. Editor Jason Rodriguez has an interesting graphic collection called "Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened," which will be in stores nationwide next week. But first, let us introduce you to Nate Creekmore, a young man whose comic strip, "Maintaining," debuts in our Sunday comics section today.
COURTESY RANDOM HOUSE
The debut of "Postcards" was pushed up in order to steer clear of the "Harry Potter" release date.
Still in his 20s, Creekmore said he always wanted to be a cartoonist. He's been doing "Maintaining" since he was a graphic-design major at the Christian-based David Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., where it ran in the school's weekly newspaper, the Babbler.
"Maintaining" is about a high school student, Marcus, who, like Creekmore, is the product of a biracial marriage (white mother and black father). As the strip's title infers, Marcus is just trying to get through life and find out where he fits in society.
Before gaining nationwide syndication, Creekmore distinguished himself as a cartoonist by winning the Charles M. Schulz Award for College Cartooning in 2003 and '04, and the Associated Collegiate Press Competition in '05. Universal Press Syndicate signed him to a development contract in 2004, and "Maintaining" went national in May of this year.
Speaking by phone from Decatur, Ga. (where he holds down a day job as a FedEx courier), Creekmore admits that during those three-or-so years leading up to the strip's appearance in dailies around the country, "it was a fairly rigid process. I had to submit 15 strips a month for evaluation. But, overall, it was not much of a struggle, as I had already developed enough characters and plot lines when I was doing the strip in college. It was more about fine-tuning and making it more palatable for a wider audience."
He said that he finds a lot of humor in Marcus' life situation, "and I still use high school as a metaphor for adulthood in general. The main supporting characters in the strip includes Marcus' best friend, Anton, who is black. While Marcus is curious and wide open about the world, Anton's fairly cynical, so there's a balance between the two. Little brother Tavian looks up to Marcus because he thinks Marcus' got everything figured out. And there's Freda; she's Marcus' love interest although he's not very monogamous. She's a really strong character, smart, but Marcus can't get her because she sees him pretty much as just a friend."
While Freda won't be introduced into the Sunday version of "Maintaining" until October, Creekmore previewed a couple of upcoming story lines: "One is an interracial story line, where Marcus dates a white girl, and another where he writes an argumentative essay for an English paper."
The release date of Jason Rodriguez's new book was originally Tuesday, but a juggernaut named Harry Potter changed that.
"Heh, well, we're not going head to head with the little wizard anymore," e-mailed Rodriguez from Arlington, Va. "The book was pushed back a week."
The genesis of "Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened" (Villard, 160 pages, $21.95) came about when Rodriguez obediently tagged along with his girlfriend during an antique-shopping trip. She happened upon a shoe box filled with postcards postmarked as early as the 1900s. As Rodriguez rifled through them, he wondered what could've been the real stories behind all of this tersely worded correspondence. He sent out a select few to fellow comic creators to help re-imagine the tales behind these cards.
"'Postcards' is the kind of book that's going to grab hold of your imagination. Once you understand the basic premise, you're going to find yourself reading these 100-year-old postcards and instantly coming up with a story behind them. And you'll be surprised every time with what the creators came up with and how much it differs from your own story.
"I think 'Postcards' offers something for all (comics) fans and nonfans," Rodriguez said. "There's romance, action, adventure, drama, mystery, comedy -- it's a well-balanced book."
Highlights include the work of two creators whose work is familiar to mainstream superhero comics readers. Michael Gaydos illustrates "Tic-Tac-Bang-Bang," Stuart Moore's imagined expansion on a rather cryptic postcard, telling the tale of a simple yet deadly game played between con men during the turn of the 20th century. Phil Hester, best known for his work on DC's "Green Arrow," creates "A Joyous Eastertide," a richly written account of a woman suffering from Tourette's syndrome in the '20s who finds true love, albeit too briefly.
Two other examples showcase the potential emotional power of sequential art. In "Cora's Dress" a little girl poignantly confronts a mother's illness, and Tom Beland's "Time" is a calm, measured tale of an impending death -- a welcome addition to Beland's résumé that includes his heartwarming "True Story Swear to God" comic book series.
"Personally, I love 'The History of a Marriage,'" said Rodriguez. It's the book's closing story as told by Harvey Pekar of "American Splendor" fame and his wife, Joyce Brabner, with the help of pieces of notes that illustrate the important moments of their rich life together. "I think, by being a true story complete with themes reminiscent of the 15 stories that precede it, it shows that the stories the other creators came up with weren't as far-fetched as some may think."
"Beyond its place in the book, it also serves as a very tender love letter between comics' most beloved couple, and Matt Kindt's art can melt the hardest heart."