Comic-book artist talks about draw of area convention

October 26, 2002|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Here's this weekend's Baltimore Comic-Con, the third annual convocation of area comic-book fanatics, as envisioned by artist Frank Cho:

Lots of geeks running around in costumes, unable to hide their excitement when they spy a real-live girl, desperately searching for that first issue of Schecky the Monkey King they've been craving all their lives.

To the uninitiated, the appeal may be inexplicable. But to those who know ... suffice to say, Cho has it right.

"A lot of it is just tongue-in-cheek," Cho says, insisting he loves the comic-con experience. "I love it when people stop by and talk to me about the things I've done. I enjoy people, they're fun. And they make me laugh."

Cho, 30, who lives in Ellicott City and is the man responsible for the hilariously warped Liberty Meadows comic strip, is enough of a comics geek himself that he knows whereof he speaks when he pokes big-hearted fun at the endearing absurdities of the world of comic collecting.

His take on the comic-convention phenomenon, where thousands of fans come together and buy, swap, brag and ogle to their hearts content, were included in a recent issue of Liberty Meadows. Introduced with a front cover that read, "Brandy and the boys hit the comic convention," the collected strips featured the lovely Brandy and two of her animal friends, Leslie the bullfrog and Ralph the midget circus bear, checking out the scene.

"These comic-cons are fantastic," Cho was saying yesterday, as he and partner Eric Crowe set up their booth at the show, where they'll spend the weekend selling books, doing sketches and promoting their latest project, Zombie King!, a mix of horror and humor they hope to get published sometime in 2004-2005. "They're even more fantastic now than they were before. I have a kid now, so being here for the weekend is like my little vacation."

Of course, one of the reasons cons are so much fun is people like Cho, a self-taught artist who started drawing his own comic strip while a nursing student at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. "I really hated going to nursing school," he says. "It was something to kill the time."

His strip ran in the UM student newspaper, The Diamondback (under the name University2), and landed him a syndication deal while he was still in college. Cho toned down the risque humor a bit, moved the characters from a college campus to a nature preserve called Liberty Meadows, and the strip was off and running. At its peak, about 100 newspapers carried it.

But Cho wasn't really having a good time. Even his toned-down strips often proved too much for the syndicate's censors, who were constantly altering his submissions before publication, sometimes without consulting him. "There are five things you can't talk about on the comics pages," he says. "Sex, violence, religion, drug use and race. Those are topics I wanted to do every week, and so I got censored every week."

Fed up, Cho dropped out of the syndication market at the end of last year; now, Liberty Meadows strips are available exclusively in comic books distributed by Image comics. And they're worth picking up, filled as they are with such touchingly memorable (or should that be memorably touched?) characters as Truman the duck, Dean the (male chauvinist) pig, Oscar the wiener dog (an adorable dachshund who, alone among this animal kingdom, never says anything) and a monkey named Frank Cho, who draws a comic book.

Then there's the lovely Brandy. She's the animal psychologist at Liberty Meadows, adored by veterinarian Frank (who can rarely rev up the nerve to even speak to her), lusted after by all.

"She's half Bettie Page, half Lynda Carter," Cho says, invoking the names of a '50s pin-up queen and the actress who played TV's Wonder Woman. "She's my ideal woman."

It's an odd world these creatures inhabit. When they're not going to comic-cons, they're ruminating on the meaning of life, paying homage to Calvin and Hobbes, living among dinosaurs, trying to figure out why Oscar keeps tugging at his leash so incessantly. It's all a rather delightful struggle.

"They're not really autobiographical," Cho says of his strips. "They're more like a cry for help."

Convention

What: 3rd annual Baltimore Comic-Con

Where: Baltimore Convention Center

When: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. today, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. tomorrow

Admission: $25 for a two-day pass; daily admission, $15

Information: www.comicon.com/baltimore/ or 410-526-7410

What you'll find: More than 100 dealers and about 300 guests, including comic artists, writers and publishers

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