Wizard #70: Frank Cho

Since last issue’s “Palmer’s Picks” was the final one I wrote as a freelancer, it’s only natural that this one—featuring Liberty Meadows creator Frank Cho—would be my first as a full-time employee of Wizard Entertainment.

Kyle Rayner, who took up the mantle of Green Lantern in 1994, made his first appearance on a Wizard cover with issue #70, featuring art by Darryl Banks and Terry Austin. Banks is the co-creator of Rayner, along with writer Ron Marz.

Being a salaried staffer for the company’s new magazine ToyFare meant that I spent my 9-to-5 workday at the Wizard office in upstate New York, and wrote freelance assignments at home. At the time, the company was publishing three monthly magazines that covered the pillars of ’90s nerd culture: Wizard for comics, ToyFare for toys, and InQuest for collectible card games. If you worked on staff, any writing you did for any of the other magazines was considered freelance work. Salaries at Wizard were particularly meager, so finding a source of extra income was a necessity. The rule was that your freelance work was meant to be done off the clock, but it was considered more of a guideline and was rarely enforced.

Shortly after I started my job at ToyFare, the company did a little bit of belt-tightening. I guess the instability in the comic book market was starting to work it’s way through the industry. Sales for Wizard were astronomically high during the boom period a few years earlier, and they naturally started to come down to a more realistic level. Lower circulation numbers meant that budgets had to shrink, and one of the easy cuts was to freelance work. More writing was assigned to the salaried workers on each magazine, which led to a cutback on intracompany freelance assignments. This was one of the contributing factors to the end of Palmer’s Picks. Stay tuned to learn about the others!

So, back to the column at hand. Aside from being the first one I wrote after being hired for ToyFare, it was the first—and only—one that featured a newspaper comic strip. While Frank Cho is now known for his work in the comic book industry for Marvel, DC, and his various creator-owned series, his first big break was for his newspaper comic, Liberty Meadows. It wasn’t until 1999 that the strip was collected and published as a comic book, two years after it began. Cho eventually ended the syndicated newspaper run of Liberty Meadows in 2001. The comic book series ran out of newspaper strips to reprint in 2004, and only one issue of all-new material was published two years later. Cho has promised a return to the series, but it seems to have been put on the back-burner in favor of more lucrative work.


Palmer’s Picks

The Next ‘Calvin & Hobbes’?

By Tom Palmer Jr.

Is your daily newspaper looking a little drab and boring now that great cartoons like “Calvin & Hobbes,” “Bloom County” and “The Far Side” have faded into oblivion? Well, the only thing left for you to do is beg your local rag to start running Frank Cho’s “Liberty Meadows.” Cho has the potential to singlehandedly bring striking visuals, intelligent writing and beautiful characters back to the comic strip world.

Cho, a 25-year-old Baltimore resident and self-taught artist, has managed to start a comic strip that has all the charm, wit and superb drawing of memorable strips like “Calvin & Hobbes” and the others mentioned above. Realistically rendered humans mix with off-the-wall animals at Liberty Meadows, an animal sanctuary for creatures who have lost their natural habitats. The animals—who speak and act very much like humans—are taken care of by Brandy, a beautiful animal psychologist, and Frank, a neurotic animal doctor who happens to have the hots for his co-worker. The goofy gang of animals they look after includes Ralph, a mischievous midget bear, his partner-in-crime Leslie (a bullfrog), an innocent duckling named Truman, and Dean, the embodiment of a chauvinist pig who Cho claims is based on his roommate.

Most of these characters first appeared in one form or another in “University²,” Cho’s college strip from the University of Maryland’s daily paper, The Diamondback. The strip was an instant success, due to Cho’s deft mixing of zany college pranks (like beer guzzling and projectile vomiting) and the honestly written humorous relationship between Brandy and Frank (who began in “University²” as a duck). After quickly developing a cult following, Cho went on to win the Best College Cartoonist award from the Scripps Howard Foundation and the Charles Schulz Plaque for Excellence in Cartooning. After graduating, Cho self-published University²—The Angry Years, a paperback collection of the strip’s three-semester run that sold surprisingly well. “I had a couple of book signings on campus and people were standing in line for three hours to get a signature,” Cho recalls. “I never knew I was that popular.”

The transition from college success to nationally syndicated strip involved a few cosmetic changes. Y’see, Cho likes to draw beautiful women. But it just so happens his women are a little too beautiful for the general public. “The syndicate’s big concern was Brandy’s cup size,” Cho claims. “Basically they told me to make her less voluptuous and curvaceous. I submitted the first couple of weeks and they sent most of it back with little Post-it notes pointing to Brandy saying, ‘Reduce breasts and buttocks.’ It was so weird. Obviously they haven’t seen Blondie; because Blondie is stacked.”

It took Cho a few tries to find a syndicate (which is a company that sells and distributes comic strips to newspapers) that would accept his work. Most of the major syndicates rejected his proposal for “Liberty Meadows” because the humor was deemed “too aggressive and too fresh.” But it was just those qualities that brought him to the attention of the Creators Syndicate (even if they did have problems with the anatomical gifts of his characters). “They thought it was aggressive, fresh and hip. (Gosh, I hate that word, ‘hip.’) They sent me a contract within the week.”

The strip is off to a respectable start and begins its run on March 31st in a number of big papers like The Chicago Tribune, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Denver Post, The Dallas Morning Star and The Washington Post. It’s this last paper that makes Cho a little nervous. “The Washington Post is my hometown newspaper, and I just got word today that they picked me up,” Cho explains. “At first, the whole thing didn’t hit me because I had signed with papers across the country I would never see. But now that I got word about The Post, I’m kinda scared spitless.”

Judging by the first few weeks of his strip, Cho has nothing to worry about. “Liberty Meadows,” with its beautifully rendered scenery and expressive characters, stands out on a page full of simply drawn gag-a-day strips. And once the strip catches your eye, you’ll be hooked when you read one of Cho’s perfectly timed jokes. What’s the secret behind his can’t-miss formula? “Drawing comics is sort of like therapy in one part, because I get all that stuff that I want to get out of me down on paper,” Cho explains. “I just want to make people laugh. But I try not to write for people; mostly it s just writing for myself, stuff I want to see in comic strips, things that make me laugh.”

Even though Cho is his own audience, “Liberty Meadows” has the potential to quickly develop a loyal following. But to do that, Cho has to take advantage of the stagnant nature of the funnies page. “I think the comic strip industry needs a breath of fresh air,” Cho says. “Newspapers need to take a chance on a lot of the new talent out there. There are a lot of funny, well-drawn strips out there, but they won’t give these guys a chance because they just stick with the dinosaurs, which is too bad.” Let s hope a lot of papers wise up and jump on the “Liberty Meadows” bandwagon.

Tom Palmer Jr. used to work at an animal sanctuary until he was caught slapping the weasels.

FYI: To get the folks at your paper to carry “Liberty Meadows,” you’ll have to start writing them a lot of letters. Show them this issue of Wizard; maybe it’ll get them interested. If you want, you can write to the Creators Syndicate at 5777 West Century Blvd., Suite 700, Los Angeles, CA 90045. You can e-mail them at [email protected] or check out their Website at http://www.creators.com. Frank Cho still has copies of University²—The Angry Years, the paperback collection of his college strips. Copies are just $15 postage paid, so send your order to 12 Angry Monkeys, 7844 Saint Thomas Dr , Baltimore, MD 21236 and make your checks payable to Frank Cho.

Frank Cho’s Recommended Reading

“I really enjoy a lot of the small press stuff, because [it’s] a lot more mature and much more honest than the mainstream superhero stuff,” Cho says. “I guess my tastes are a bit snobbish.” Here’s a rundown of some of his favorite comics: Bone by Jeff Smith, Akiko by Mark Crilley, Milk & Cheese by Evan Dorkin, Schizo by Ivan Brunetti and Xenozoic Tales by Mark Schultz.

Recommended Reading

The Odd Adventure-Zine: Ian and Ty Smith have made the jump from photocopied mini-comics to full-size comics with the first issue of The Odd Adventure-Zine. One of the good things about this series is that every issue has a nicely written self-contained story so you can pick up and enjoy any issue. This first issue finds the main character, Moe (an investigator of bizarre and fantastic things) trying to figure out why animals and people are turning up stuffed by a mysterious taxidermist. Things just get more bizarre from there. For more information write to Zamboni Press, 16842 NW Joscelyn St., Beaverton, OR 97006.

Mister Blank: Newcomer Chris Hicks has a winner on his hands. His crisp black and white art and beautiful gray tones make this comic a joy to look at. Hicks has also crafted an interesting story about Sam Smith, an ordinary guy who gets thrown into an action packed adventure when he breaks out of his drab routine and decides to confront two mysterious prowlers. Enough is revealed about the story in each issue to keep you interested but Hicks holds the right amount back to keep you wanting more. If you can’t find this comic at your local store, you can get in touch with Slave Labor Graphics at 979 S Bascom Ave , San Jose CA 95128 or call them toll-free at 1-800-866-8929 for a free catalog.

Tom Palmer Jr
Tom Palmer Jr. is a writer/editor/web developer. He also once had a job filling perfume bottles on an assembly line.

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