Dreams are vivid in Tommy's world Comics: A new strip follows the nightly dreams of a boy and his 'dream guide.'

November 11, 1996|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Remember when you were a kid, and the only good part about having to go to sleep was the fun you'd have while dreaming?

It was kind of like your own personal amusement park. There'd be scary moments, sure, but there'd also be things that were way more exciting than anything in your waking life -- awesome places, amazing toys and people unlike any you ever met. Sometimes, in fact, you'd end up in a dream so good you'd be mad that you woke up, because you knew you'd never find your way back to that dream.

If only you had somebody like Gus.

Gus is a dream guide -- or, as his client Tommy likes to put it, a "nightmare personality" -- and is pretty much the heart of Jay Martin's new comic strip, "Tommy," which makes its debut today, replacing "Wizard of Id" in The Sun and Sunday Sun. It's Gus' job to see Tommy through the dreamworld, to rustle up bogeymen and help cast his fantasies. Think of it as being like a booking agent for the Letterman show, only with less chance of meeting Isabella Rossellini.

Tommy himself is a typical comic strip kid, except that he really likes to sleep. To that extent, he's reminiscent of Little Nemo, the hero of Winsor McCay's legendary strip, "Little Nemo in Slumberland." One of the greatest of the early comics -- it began its run in 1905 in the New York Herald -- its depiction of Nemo's nocturnal adventures in such places as the Palace of Ice have inspired numerous cartoonists over the years.

Martin is one of them. "I was really influenced by the old-time comic artists, Winsor McCay in particular," he says, over the phone from Lake Geneva, Wis. That he would be a serious student of comics history shouldn't be too surprising, given that his father is Jim Martin, the artist responsible for both "Willie and Ethel" and "Mr. Boffo," but the younger Martin came to comics from a slightly different direction.

Although he thought "a lot" about a career in comics when he was a kid, the 22-year-old Martin says, "When I was in college, I really thought about fine art as the way to go. That was my major. You know, like painting, sculpture."

That's not to say he kept out of comics entirely. "When I was in college, I'd come home for the summer and I'd ink the 'Mr. Boffo' and 'Willie and Ethel' strips for [my dad]," he says. "That was how I got my intro into the comics thing."

Part of what drew him to the idea of doing "Tommy" was his desire to merge his fine arts training with his comics history. "McCay had a really strong fine arts background," he says. "And I think I'm trying to move more toward that, where it's incorporating both the traditional comic and get more into the fine arts thing, with the detailed background. Sort of straddle the fence there."

Of course, one big advantage McCay had was that the old Herald gave him a full page to work with every week. "That would be nice to have," laughs Martin. "It's really tough. Sunday strips have the most structured format; it has to be a certain [size and shape] every week. And so many times, I just want to call up the art lady at the syndicate and say, 'Please, can't I do just one big panel?' But you have to wait a while before you can make that call."

In fact, one of the few recent comics artists able to demand and get more space on Sundays was Bill Watterson, the creator of "Calvin & Hobbes."

"I have a lot of respect for his work," says Martin, adding that it can be difficult to draw a strip involving a little boy and a large fantasy character without running into "Calvin & Hobbes" compar- isons. "The worst thing is, I'll be writing jokes or something, and then I'd look at a 'Calvin and Hobbes' book and go, 'Oh, he did something so close, I couldn't do that.' I mean, I am professional.

"But in another sense, it is a very well-trod area. There are a lot of things where you have a kid and a monster, like 'Puff the Magic Dragon.' I don't think it's original for anyone who has that kind of concept. It's a good combination of personalities."

Pub Date: 11/11/96

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