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Interview: Monte Beauchamp on His Collection ‘Masterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World’

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masterful marksMasterful Marks: Cartoonists Who Changed the World by Monte Beauchamp is impressive and fascinating. Rather than just tell short biographies of the 16 cartoonists featured, it instead has other cartoonists draw the images accompanying the biographies in each cartoonist’s unique style. So, for example, the biography of R. Crumb looks like something Crumb would have drawn. This makes it more engaging.

I learned a great deal about cartoonists ranging from Charles Schulz to Jack Kirby (Captain America) and many in between. The book offers biographies of Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, Charles Schulz, Siegel and Shuster, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, R. Crumb, Osaumu Tezuka, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, Lynn Kendall Ward, Hergé, Rodolphe Topffer, Winsor McKay, Al Hirschfield, even Hugh Hefner.

Beauchamp is the founder and editor of the graphic art anthology BLAB! His books include The Life and Times of R. Crumb, Striking Image: Vintage Matchbook Cover Art and Krampus: The Devil of Christmas.

Why did you decide to write this book and have it told in graphic novel and comic book form?

Masterful Marks came about due to the phenomenon of social media. Back in 2007, New York City literary agent Gillian MacKenzie reached out to connect with me via LinkedIn, and I messaged her back saying I’d enjoy the challenge of coming up with a book concept for her to shop around, to which she replied, “I’d love to work with you on something! Throw any ideas my way!”

The media blitz surrounding the release of the final Harry Potter novel earlier that year set me pondering about the far-reaching effects fictional characters can have on the world and I began thinking of popular literature equivalents from generations before.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein came to mind, as did Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, and then Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan. The ape-man’s successful spin-off as a newspaper comic strip set me thinking about cartoon characters of equal iconic stature. Disney’s Mickey Mouse came to mind, as did Dr. Seuss’ Cat in the Hat, followed by Superman, the archetype for all superheroes.

And then it dawned on me—had it not been for these characters, the entire comic book and cartoon industries as we know them today might not even exist. So I pitched Gillian on a graphic novel anthology comprised of profiles of the visionary masters who pioneered the cartoon and comics medium. That’s how Masterful Marks got started.

How did you decide which illustrators would work on which artists?

First and foremost, the talent had to be very passionate about their subject at hand.

I also needed to be a HUGE fan of their work. I wasn’t about to invite anyone whose work, no matter how great they were, whose style I didn’t like. For example, 12 of the 16 artists are contributors to my two art anthologies, BLAB! and Blab World, so I knew I could work with them from an editorial stance, what they were capable of, and what they could or couldn’t pull off.

And it was important that the other remaining four talents possessed the same energy, the same creative verve as the initial 12. They had to fit in. And I do feel I managed to find the perfect remaining four: Arnold Roth, Alan Mark Stamaty, Gary Dumm (and his wife Laura, his colorist), and Dan Zettwoch. Mind you, there was trial and error involved in putting this team together, but when all was said and done, I feel I assembled a fantastic roster of talent.

How did you choose which artists would draw in the style of another artist?

They weren’t tasked to copy or emulate styles, per se. Yet it was important to work with artists that weren’t only passionate about their subject but also had elements in common with the pioneers they were asked to profile. For example, Jack Kirby, the co-creator of Captain America, had a real thick powerful pen line, as does Mark Alan Stamaty; that thick line is the commonality. Yet when you place a page by Mark next to one of Jack’s early Captain America pages, there’s a stark stylistic difference.

Edward Gorey on the other hand possessed an extremely delicate line, so I wanted to attach an artist who drew with a delicate line, which I found in Greg Clarke. Denis Kitchen is another case in point; when you are reading his story you feel as if it had been created by Dr. Seuss himself, yet Denis didn’t ape Dr. Seuss’ style, that’s just the way Denis naturally draws.

How did you decide which artists would be profiled in this book?

I started with a list of the significant cartoon genres: comic books, syndicated comic strips, animated cartoons, anime, manga, graphic novels, caricature, gag cartoons, and children’s picture books, and from there I began listing the creators who most influenced or revolutionized each category. For example, the creators of Superman held court in the genre of comic books, whereas in regards to animation, Walt Disney is the grand master. Though there are other masterful talents whom contributed to the various genres, Masterful Marks celebrates the cultural icons, the pioneering visionaries that jump-started the cartoon and comic industry.

Who would you have liked to include but didn’t fit?

A personal favorite of mine is Tarpe Mills, one of the first major female cartoonists.

I love everything about her comic strip Miss Fury, yet she isn’t of the iconic stature of a Charles Schulz or Winsor McCay. She didn’t pioneer a form, though in my secret heart of hearts I wish she would have.

Who was your favorite included and what is your favorite chapter?

That would be very hard to pinpoint because the volume was composed as an orchestrated work, a symphonic production so to speak. Yet, what may be a good way to answer your question is to view Masterful Marks as if it were a record album and the label was trying to decide on several songs to promote. Here would be my recommendations for Top 10 contenders: Denis Kitchen’s “On the Loose with Dr. Seuss;” Drew Friedman’s “R. Crumb and Me;” Peter Kuper’s “Corpse on the Imjin;” and “Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,” by Ryan Heshka and myself. Those all would be rock solid contenders to promote Masterful Marks with.

I was surprised the amazing Art Speigelman was not included. Why was that?

I had already filled the two spots Art most likely would have been passionate about: Harvey Kurtzman, the creator of MAD, and R. Crumb who pioneered the underground comic book. Had those two profiles not been filled, perhaps Art would have been a contributor. Who knows? In 1992 Spiegelman’s Maus was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, so it would be a real dream and an immense honor to someday include the great Art Spiegleman in one of my projects.

Did you intentionally leave out more modern graphic artists/cartoonists like Trudeau, Watterson, Larsen? Why?

I’m a big fan of those three artists, yet they weren’t intentionally left out. I didn’t reach out to them because there were other graphic masters I was more excited about working with. Bill Watterson of Calvin and Hobbes would have been a great candidate for Charles Schulz, yet from my editorial perch Sergio Ruzzier was the ideal choice. Sergio is an extremely insightful artist and writer and he was able to delve deep into the psyche of Schulz. He really captured the loneliness, the despair that plagued Schulz all his life. Though Schulz looked vibrant and strong from the outside, he was frail on the inside, and I needed a talent to convey this frailty not only through word but also through pictures, which Sergio is a master at.

Some could argue that Gary Larsen would have been an ideal choice for either Charles Addams or Edward Gorey, yet I’m not convinced he could have done a better job than Marc Rosenthal and Greg Clarke. What these two talents turned in was splendid.

Are there plans for a sequel?

I have a sequel mapped out, yet whether it actually gets made, who knows? I had no idea it would take seven years to edit, art direct, write several of the stories, and produce the first volume. An issue of BLAB!, with the same page count (128), only takes me six to eight months, whereas for Masterful Marks, two years went into research alone. Then when the stories were nearly completed, I lost my original editor, Anjali Singh, who brought Persepolis to the United States. And then it took many months to get the book back on track. Yet if there’s a demand for a sequel and the money’s there, I’m open to discussing the possibilities.

My bonus question: What question would you most like to be asked more often? Here’s your chance to ask and answer it.

“Are you living your dream?” to which I would reply, “Career-wise, yes. I adore editing, art directing, and producing books.”

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About Scott Butki

Scott Butki was a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years before making a career change into education... then into special education. He has been doing special education work for about five years He lives in Austin. He reads at least 50 books a year and has about 15 author interviews each year and, yes, unlike tv hosts he actually reads each one. He is an in-house media critic, a recovering Tetris addict and a proud uncle. He has written articles on practically all topics from zoos to apples and almost everything in between.
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