Published Sep 01, 2005Once upon a time, there was a man who was sent to Disneyworld to find his true love. Well, not really. Tom Beland was sent on business, but he came back with a whole lot more.
Although his father wasn't an artist, Beland grew up with his father's love of animation. Together they would pore over the works of such greats as Don Martin and Jack Davis, and Beland's father would draw in his spare time. "He already knew a lot about cartooning, so he showed me what he knew when I was a kid. I think he really put the love of that particular art style in my head," explains Beland.
Beland's big break into cartooning came while working at a bank. "I made some stand-up paper dolls to celebrate the county fair. They were all members of the freak show. This guy came in to cash a cheque and mentioned the artwork; when I told him that I made them, he called an hour later and offered me a job at the newspaper. I went from paste-up artist in the advertising department to illustrator and page designer for the editorial side. I even got the opportunity to do political cartoons."
Of course, there comes a point in the life of an artist when leaps of faith are required for Beland, it happened when he met an artist at a comics convention. "I literally fell in love with a strip called The K. Chronicles by Keith Knight. That was the first autobiographical work I'd ever seen. I was just a Marvel guy in regards to comics. But Keith's stuff just blew me away. When I met him at WonderCon in Oakland, I told him that I wanted to do what he was doing for a living and he told me to just get off my ass. I went back to the newspaper I was working at and began to develop True Story, Swear To God.
Based on his life, TSSTG centres on Beland's life with his beloved wife Lily, whom he met on that fateful trip to Disneyworld so many years ago. All of the feedback has been positive, but there's one question many of fans keep asking Beland over and over again: Why hasn't Disney grabbed this story?
"The whole story of me and Lily begins at Disneyworld, but as far as I know, no one from the House of M has called for the rights. Of course, they did fly us out there to marry us for free, and they filmed us at the bus stop we met at they use it for commercials." Sure, there's romance and wooing, but is Beland's life really interesting enough to warrant a comic book? "I get a lot of people saying I'm telling their story. There are so many couples that have done the long-distance/instant connection thing. They really relate to the book. Lily and I got invited to a couple's wedding at the end of July. She's a Puerto Rican and he's a gringo, and they swear this is their story. It's very flattering to say the least.
"Who gives a shit that my roommate bought a pet crab that he thought was dancing in the fish tank, only to find out he put in too much water and it drowned? But you have to just throw it out there and let [readers] decide if they want to hear about it. I thought the same question again when it came time to release the TSSTG comic book series. It was in a box for nearly two years before we printed it up. But, in both cases, fortunately, both versions of TSSTG caught on with the readers."
True Story Swear To God is about more than finding a soul mate. It's about learning to live with another person, or with another person's life to be more exact, and the beauty that comes with the kind of compromise that Beland and his wife made in order to be together. In this age of disposable love and marriage, TSSTG is a breath of fresh air that reminds us that it could happen to anyone.
Batman & Robin Redux
DC Comics is going where Marvel has been before, re-launching some of its classic tales with new spins; similar to the Marvel's Ultimate tales, DC is starting its own All Star line. The big news in the comic world is that a "new" Batman tale which will feature the story of how original Robin Dick Grayson (there have been three) joined the Bat Family is being written by Frank Miller (Sin City) and drawn by stalwart Jim Lee. The sad news is that it's all been done before. Let's recap anyhow: Dick Grayson and his family are performing at the circus. They finish their performance and both Mom and Dad Grayson are murdered right in front of poor Dick. (At least the killer waited until they were done.) Fast-forward to Batman telling him that he's been drafted into a war.
With the talent involved, why isn't it better? Simple. DC is running out of ideas and is doing the same thing that Marvel is doing with its multitude of same characters in different settings: selling the audience out. DC has been putting forth a Herculean effort in promoting its upcoming Infinite Crisis arc, which will spread throughout most, if not all, the major DC titles in the coming months, but hasn't put the same energy into the All Star line. It reads like it's meant to keep everyone busy, biding time before the arrival of the more anticipated project.
Pairing talent like Miller and Lee with DC's iconic stable of characters can be the mother lode for comics fans after all, it was Miller's '80s-era Dark Knight Returns that revitalised Batman most recently. It's just too bad they weren't given a better story to (re)tell.