How did I get here?
Let’s face it, you don’t just wake up one day and say I’m going to make a comic strip about Plastic Babyheads from Outer Space, and you certainly don’t make it the centerpiece of a grand plan to conquer the comic strip world. Like many things in life, PBHFOS was a happy accident, the offspring of some classroom silliness and the need for material to fill the pages of an alternative comics newspaper I was co-publishing a few years back. One strip led to another, and before I knew it I’d been doing Plastic Babyheads strips for a year and then --Poof!-- I’m here on GoComics.com!
It’s certainly not how I imagined it would be when I dreamed of being a comic strip cartoonist all those many, many years ago. I grew up in Endicott, New York, enthralled by Charles Schulz and Peanuts, Hank Ketcham and Dennis the Menace, Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury and hometown hero Johnny Hart and B.C. Johnny Hart was the role model, a local boy done good, a community icon and one of the smartest, cleverest cartoonists in the papers, a cartoonist who drew “funny” like nobody’s business. I was just as motivated by comic books; ‘60s “Superman” and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Jim Starlin’s Captain Marvel and Warlock, Harvey Kurtzman’s MAD and the National Lampoon. I devoured comics history. By the time I entered art school, I had developed my own comic strip, and was certain it would be my path to a life as a full-time cartoonist.
That didn’t happen. Art school led me down several different roads, toward film and animation and then to painting and art history. There was so much to learn, so much that interested me. Along the way I met my wife; we got married and built a life together. Finally, after fifteen years in and out of school, I ended up with an MFA/MS in Painting and Art History from Pratt Institute and was on the path to a career as a fine artist, with a big studio in Brooklyn, exhibiting in New York. Yet comics were never entirely out of the picture; the collages and paintings I was doing featured monster movie and superhero imagery derived from my favorite sources.
And like so many in the ‘90s, I was inspired by the alternative and independent cartoonists and decided to try my hand at self-publishing my own comic book, Dr. Speck.
That experience re-awoke my love of making comics and I never turned back. Eventually, making comics subsumed my paintings and collages and I began to incorporate that work into large format, mixed-media comic books, like Look Out! Monsters, which won a Xeric grant for self-publishing in 2007—and fandancer (a “notable” comic listed in America’s Best Comics of 2011).
And then in 2010, inspired by DC’s Wednesday Comics, and my life-long love of comic strips, I partnered with cartoonist Kevin Mutch of The Moon Prince to publish pood, an alternative comics broadsheet; 17” x 24” and featuring an array of international cartoonists working on one large page per artist. It was in the last issue of pood, when, at the last minute before publication, we needed to fill some space that I turned to Plastic Babyheads from Outer Space. The rest is history (or, well, something).
Along the way, I’d found a vocation in teaching -- and I’d become a university professor, teaching studio art and art history, settling in to teaching comics classes and, most recently, serving as chair of the department of Art and Art History at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.
At 54, I suddenly find myself back at my beginnings, doing what I’d set out to do at age 18, albeit with much more discipline and a lot more craft. Working on PBHFOS is the most fun I’ve ever had in my professional life, as well as the most work.
I could show you pictures of my fancy studio, but the truth is, I travel between my home in upstate New York, and Adelphi on Long Island -- and so my studio is portable. “Have Bristol board, laptop and Wacom, will travel."
During the four-hour commute between upstate and Long Island, I tape record ideas and scripts, listen to them speeded up just for laughs, and sit down to draw when I’m at home. I scan and color the strips usually nights after teaching. Altogether, each strip probably takes around 8-12 hours from start to finish. Not very glamorous, but there’s nothing else -- including sleep -- that I’d rather be doing. Sleep? What’s that?
The world of Plastic Babyheads allows me a lot of freedom -- to explore different scenarios and different characters, to push against the rules of reality, to explore the absurdity of life. I’ve come to live in this world facing alien invasion from silly little drunken baby heads(seriously); its inhabitants are real to me, and I’m dying to know what happens next. I don’t know if Plastic Babyheads from Outer Space is the strip I imagined I’d do when I was 14, but it fits like a glove now. Who knew?
There are a million compelling stories in the Plastic Babyheads world, and I’m going to try my best to tell them all. Come along for the ride! Trust me, it’s a lot of wacky fun.
Read Plastic Babyheads from Outer Space here or follow the comic on Twitter and Facebook.