Larry Marder on Beanworld
Beanworld Holiday SpecialLarry Marder’s Tales of the Beanworld is one of the mostly fondly remembered and utterly singular comics of the 1980s and 90s. After writing and illustrating twenty-one issues, Marder put the series on hiatus in 1993 to pursue other opportunities that presented themselves with then-neophyte comics publisher Image Comics. Drawing on his background as a successful advertising executive, Marder became Executive Director of Image, where he helped the Image partners learn the ropes of publishing and shepherded the company successfully through the industry’s late-90s doldrums, keeping Image afloat when many other companies closed their doors. Working hand in hand with Todd McFarlane, his next challenge was as President of McFarlane Toys during the company’s growth to become one of the most decorated toy manufacturers in the world and during the company’s struggles through the Tony Twist and Neil Gaiman lawsuits. Fifteen years since he put down his pens, Larry Marder has gone back to his first comics love, setting up a home on Beanworld again. December marks the first new Beanworld story to hit comic shops since 1993, with The Beanworld Holiday Special from Dark Horse. And for readers who need to get caught up with this unlikely and decidedly unique comic book experience, Dark Horse is also publishing a two-volume collection of the classic Tales of the Beanworld comics, starting with Larry Marder’s Beanworld Book One: Wahoolazuma! Though he never seems to sit still, we managed to ask Larry a few questions about his return to the drawing board and his time away. Newsarama: Larry, you’ve been away from Beanworld for over ten years. What brings you back to it now? Larry Marder: It’s time. It’s long past time. From the mid-70s until the mid-90s Beanworld was the center of my creative life. I was an “eat-breathe-drink Beanworld” kinda guy. And then, sorta outa the blue, I took employment managing other folks’ businesses. Word got around to people in the comic book field that the Beanworld guy was an advertising executive and pretty soon I was consulting with publishers, distributors, retailers and other comics artists. At some point I was getting paid far better consulting and managing than the money I was making as the creator of Beanworld. After I took the job of managing Image Comics and moved to California, the Beanworld part of my life went into an extended period of hibernation. Then about 2 ½ years ago, the Beanworld part of my imagination woke up from its long sleep and I haven’t looked back ever since. NRAMA: Was it difficult to slip back into Beanworld’s specific worldview? LM: When Beanworld was in its hibernation, I found it rather difficult to create anything other than little snippets of story or characterization here and there. Basically, some idea would pop into my head that I thought might have some use in a Beanworld setting some day and I’d write it down. Then I’d toss it into a big cardboard box underneath my drawing table along with all the other little fragments that had accumulated over the years. But I never understood how these bits and pieces might interlink with each other. I just kept accumulating them. In the spring of 2006 it all started making sense to me again. To top it off, I then found a big pile of penciled pages, some 10 or 20 pages in length, all clipped together with a binder clip. I don’t remember doing this at all, but apparently I gathered the layouts right after the last issue of Beanworld was published. It was as if I knew Beanworld was about to go into a long hibernation and I had the foresight to gather these story acorns and bury them where I could find them when I was going to need them. And between the fragments in that unearthing and the cardboard box accumulations, I found the heart of what will be published in 2009 as the original graphic novel Remember Here When You Are There! Beanworld: Holiday Special, page 1 Once I experienced that bit of revelation, I knew that Beanworld was quickly assuming the mantle of being the center of my creative life. Everything else I was involved in was becoming of secondary interest. Ultimately this meant that after fifteen years of managing other folks’ businesses, I’m now only responsible for myself and Beanworld. That is a long way to get to the answer to your question. And the answer is—it was incredibly natural to return to Beanworld full time. This was very apparent to me during the writing and drawing of the Dark Horse Beanworld Holiday Special. The story “Every Cutie Deserves A Toy!” didn’t springboard out of a story fragment or come out of the cardboard box. I made it all up out of scratch, and the story came to me relatively quickly and smoothly. Of course having a bone-crushing deadline helped! I’ve always been a deadline person. That’s why I did well in advertising and marketing when I was younger. All of my life there has always been a big deadline approaching. NRAMA: You have two new Beanworld projects coming out in the next couple months. First, let’s discuss the new new: Beanworld Holiday Special hits stores just a week before Christmas. What’s the scoop on this one-shot? LM: Charles Brownstein, of the Comic Legal Defense Fund, suggested the idea of a one-shot color comic. He thought that color stuff I had been whipping up for my blog (larrymarder.blogspot.com) might transform rather well into a color Beanworld comic. I asked my editor at Dark Horse, Diana Schutz, if she thought that might be a good idea and it very quickly gained the hook of being a “Holiday Special.” The fun was to discover a story that included subtle echoes of the holiday season but still remain 100% the separate reality that is Beanworld. Plus, I couldn’t get ahead of the continuity of next year’s original graphic novel. So I looked for an open spot in the previously established continuity. I found the gap I was looking for somewhere between Tales of the Beanworld 19 and 21, the last regularly published issue of Tales of the Beanworld. In TOTB #21 I showed baby Beans playing with toys that I called Beanworld Action Effigies. There were individual figures, accessories, and play sets. Perfect! The Holiday Special would be about the origins of toys in the Beanworld. NRAMA: I found it entertaining that Beanish has to teach the Cuties how to soldier in this book. Where did that twist come from? LM: In the earliest drafts of the story, I had most of the interaction between Professor Garbanzo and Mr. Spook because together they function as Beanworld’s primary leaders and role models. But as I progressed through the story, it became clear to me that both of them would be too busy, and perhaps a little too full of themselves, to actually notice the subtlety of the Cuties’ behavior. The story hinges on the fact that the Pod’l’pool Cuties don’t talk to each other. This is actually first observed by Beanworld’s musicians, the Boom’r Band. They report this to the artist Beanish and together they decide to investigate this on their own before reporting their findings to Mr. Spook and Professor Garbanzo. It is assumed by all the Beans that when the baby Beans, the Pod’l’pool Cuties, grow up they will become Chow Sol’jers. After all, the larger the Bean population becomes, the more members of the tribe there need to be fed. So clearly the Cuties are required to have intercommunication skills or they will never be able to Chow Sol’jer efficiently. Beanworld Holiday Special, page 2 NRAMA: Coming up in February, your old Beanworld stories are also being collected in Larry Marder’s Beanworld Book One: Wahoolazuma!, putting together the first nine issues of Tales of the Beanworld. What can you tell us about this hardcover book, and how did Dark Horse Comics get involved as your publisher on these projects? LM: Pretty much out of the blue, I emailed Mike Richardson and politely asked if Beanworld could come over to his house and play. His response was a an incredibly rapid: “I always believed Beanworld should be at Dark Horse.” Wahoolazuma! is the first in a series of affordable hardcover Beanworld books. It re-presents the first nine issues of the Beanworld comic book. It will be published in February of 2009. It’s 272 pages and retails for 19.95. The second volume A Gift Comes! will ship in the summer in time for San Diego 2009. The first and second volumes reprint and complete the entire original run of the Beanworld comic books. The artwork has been totally rescanned from the original artwork and really looks crisp and sharp. These are really handsome volumes. The third and subsequent volumes will feature original graphic novels following the ever evolving Beanworld mythos. Dark Horse’s design and production teams always make beautiful books and that too is a large part of the reason that I believe that Dark Horse and Beanworld are a natural fit. NRAMA: You have such a unique cartooning voice. I have to ask what influences weigh on you when shaping the world of Beanworld? LM: The biggest influences on me were Jack Kirby, Robert Crumb, Marcel Duchamp, and Native American mythology and culture. From Jack Kirby I learned how to dazzle the eye through composition and weird detailing. From Crumb I learned to not be afraid to do what you want. From Marcel Duchamp, the French Dadaist, I learned that no matter what the artist intends, it is the viewer that makes the painting. And that it is more important to make art that is in the service of the mind than of the eye. From Native American art and mythology I learned how to think beyond the boundaries of Occidental and Oriental story and art and how to consider alternate realities. Put those influences in a blender; add pinch of George Herrimann, Henry Darger, and Dr . Seuss. Then add a dash of Rudolph Zallinger, Leo Burnett and Joseph Campbell. Blend ‘em all up and pour into the brain of Larry Marder. Let them simmer there over a lifetime. And that is the recipe of Larry Marder’s cartooning voice. NRAMA: Do you regret that you spent so many years on the business side of the industry rather than the creative side? Beanworld Holiday Special, page 3 LM: Oh no, certainly not. I witnessed, from the center, some of the most critical developments of the comic book business in the 1990s. I was inside Image Comics during the early days, the crazy days when we did whacky stuff like Image X Month: where the guys drew each other’s books and we didn't tell anyone who was drawing what. I was the lead negotiator between Image Comics and all the other distributors in the period of upheaval following Marvel Comics going off its nut and deciding to self-distribute. We ended up at Diamond and I did all of the ground work for that contract. I was Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld’s representative in the super-secret negotiations between them and Marvel Comics that led to the Heroes Reborn extravaganza. I was there as the President of McFarlane Toys as it grew from a little boutique toy company into a major manufacturer with mega-licenses like professional sports and major motion pictures. I witnessed the Tony Twist and Neil Gaiman lawsuits from as far inside as you can get. I have no regrets about those parts of my life. It was a fun ride but like any amusement park ride it always comes to an end, the bar that is holding you in your seat pops up and you move on to the next thing. NRAMA: How has the industry changed in the last ten years, and what impact – pro or con – has it had on your work now? LM: The industry has always been in a constant state of flux since I became part of it in 1984. I was asked this very question recently by someone at Rory Root’s memorial service at Comic Relief in Berkeley, CA last summer. My answer was pretty simple. “The marketplace has never really had much to do with me.” Bob Wayne of DC Comics, who I guess I’ve known as long as I’ve been in the industry, thought this statement was pretty funny. But it has always been more or less true. Beanworld has always been a project that never much seemed to directly reflect the spasms of the marketplace. Beanworld fans tend to stay loyal through thick and thin. It’s just more of a challenge in uncertain times to cast a wide net and find new fans. But pretty much, once someone finds Beanworld to his or her liking, they are around to stay. NRAMA: With your recent story in issue 14 of MySpace/DarkHorsePresents and the Holiday Special on the horizon, does this mean Beanworld will be a regular presence in comic stores? LM: Absolutely. Beanworld product will be offered to the comic book store marketplace through Dark Horse from now on. After the publication of the OGN Remember Here When You Are There! I’ll just roll up my sleeves and get to work on the next one. I plan to work in that format for the foreseeable future. The whims of the marketplace, of course, will determine whether this is a good business plan or not. I don’t intend to return to the pressures of creating chapters of a periodical comic. I enjoy telling stories that are in a longer format. I am determined to make Beanworld my main endeavor for the rest of my life. It’s time. I’m ready. And I believe that the reading public is ready. Beanworld Holiday Special arrives in comic book shops Dec. 17. Larry’s Marder’s Beanworld book 1: Wahoolazuma! arrives Feb. 11, 2009. Until then, Beanworld can be lived at MySpace/DarkHorse or at LarryMader.blogspot.com.
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