2007-05-24 / Community

Catching the comics bug

By Stephanie Bertholdo bertholdo@theacorn.com

JOE COOL- Comics publisher Nat Gertler of Newbury Park is releasing a book of cartoons featuring teenagers by the late Charles M. Schulz, the mastermind behind the "Peanuts" comic strip. Gertler also developed an annual event where people draw comics for 24 consecutive hours. JOE COOL- Comics publisher Nat Gertler of Newbury Park is releasing a book of cartoons featuring teenagers by the late Charles M. Schulz, the mastermind behind the "Peanuts" comic strip. Gertler also developed an annual event where people draw comics for 24 consecutive hours. Nat Gertler caught the comics bug big time at college in the 1980s in Massachusetts. But instead of pursuing his passion through art or English, Gertler relegated his newfound interest to hobby status and majored in the sensible subject of quantitative studies, or math.

Outside the classroom Gertler, now a Newbury Park resident, launched a successful career in computer programming, but his percolating creativity eventually boiled over and demanded a life of its own. Gertler self-published his first "mini-comic" series, called "The Life and Loves of the Average Panther," which featured a cast of "humanized cats," he said.

A programmer by day and comic book artist and writer on nights and weekends, he published his first comic strip in 1988 and turned a page in his life.

One page quickly turned into a book, then another and another, but Gertler didn't limit himself to comics: He expressed himself as a writer, artist, editor and publisher. He wrote, co-authored or contributed to several "Idiot's guides," most of them focusing on computer software, but others, like "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Sex on the Net," straying far from his usual subject.

In addition to his "Idiot's" work, Gertler has penned nine nonfiction books, guides and tutorials on buying and using computers and software, has editorial and television credits and contributes to many websites.

Comics stories are Gertler's current focus. He's written more than 30, including classic tales for such titles as "The Flintstones," "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers," "The Jetsons," "Speed Racer," "Yogi Bear" and "Legends of Nascar."

Off the beaten path, comic book aficionados enjoy his stories in "Monkey Business," "Grave Tales," "Headbanger," "ElfQuest: New Blood, Dread of Night" and "Burrito 4," a collection of individually authored stories about a burro who tries his hoof as a dance instructor, prize fighter, marine, detective and other exciting jobs. Gertler wrote and illustrated a story in the compilation.

After writing comics for dozens of publishers, including DC, Image and Archie, Gertler founded his own comic book publishing company, About Comics, in 1999.

He describes About Comics on his website as a company whose goal is to "publish good comics and material about comics." The comics are written and illustrated in a variety of styles and genres, offering readers and comic book lovers new story lines as well as old favorites.

The lovable, bigeyed "Licensable BearTM" is one of Gertler's new creations. The character is always aiming to make a few bucks by licensing himself out to corporations, video game manufacturers or even the person sitting next to him. Gertler said the bear is willing to sell himself for promotion in "any way he can think of, both appropriate and inappropriate."

"The Licensable BearTM concept really came to me in a flash," Gertler said. "I had emailed another comic book concept to an artist I work with regularly, and to indicate that he thought Hollywood would be interested in the concept, he said that 'it screams "license me."' Once I had that mental image of a character who would scream 'license me,' the (character) sprang into (my) mind almost fully formed."

Gertler was nominated as "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" for writing "The Factor," a nontraditional superhero series where the hero is never actually seen. The author described the series as a set of short stories exploring the hero's impact on the people he saves, including cops, crooks, the man on the street or the kid playing with a toy of the superhero.

"I worked with a lot of different artists on this, each chosen to match the story being illustrated," Gertler said.

Gertler counts Charles M. Schulz of "Peanuts" fame as an alltime great in the world of comics. He compiled a collection of non-"Peanuts" cartoons that Schulz aimed at teens. The book, "Schulz's Youth," will be released in the next few weeks.

Since 2004, in a quest to discover new talent and launch comic book careers, Gertler has been conducting a "24 Hour Comics Day" once a year. Wannabe comics artists and writers are challenged to complete a 24-page story in 24 hours.

"You don't have to go without sleep, but the clock doesn't stop while you're sleeping, so most people power on through," Gertler said. "Folks have been taking this challenge for about 15 years now, but it was something they did any time they wanted, alone and at home. The stories tended to be a mite depressing: When it's 3 a.m., you're alone at home, you know you still have hours of work ahead of you and you're running behind schedule, things can seem bleak."

Gertler now organizes the challenge at event sites. Most people celebrate the day at comic book stores, schools, libraries, civic art spaces, "anywhere where there's a group to organize things and space to draw," Gertler said.

Last year, he counted 89 event sites in 17 countries on five continents.

"And when people are working side by side, they keep each other's spirits up, sharing energy, camaraderie and snacks," Gertler said. "Some amazing work is turned out, by amateurs and pros alike."

When participants become weary, the author said, they sometimes take the "usual 3 a.m. shortcuts- a character falls into a cave or gets hit by a snowstorm whiteout, and for a couple pages all the panels are just black or just white- but in general things are a lot more upbeat."

Even if participants don't meet the challenge, Gertler said, there are two forms of "noble failure." Apparently Kevin Eastman, who was creating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, failed to meet the 24-hour deadline, but kept going until he completed his project. The Neil Gaiman variation of failure is a testament to a perfect 13 pages rather than 24.

"When best-selling author Neil Gaiman saw that his 24 hours were running out, he tied up the story and brought it to the best ending he could in the time allotted," Gertler said. "It's only 13 pages, but it's a great 13-page story and quite an achievement in the time available."

After each of the first three years of the event, Gertler compiled a "24 Hour Comics Day Highlights Book," which showcased some of the best stories. This year, Gertler dropped the highlights book because, he said, they haven't sold well enough to justify the time and money invested.

"If I knew how to work the arts grant system, it probably wouldn't be hard to get funding for this- after all, how many arts events involved over a thousand creators creating some 20,000 pages of art?" he asked.

For more information about the 24 Hour Comics Day, visit 24HourComics.com

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