SO/M Is Long-Standing Enclave for Comic Book Artists
Since the 1950s, notable comic book artists have lived in the community.
Jeff Peters, owner of Commuter Comics on South Orange Avenue, says South Orange and Maplewood “have a long-standing tradition as home to writers and artists for the comic industry," dating back to the 1950s.
While researching comics, he found that Helen Meyer, “a major mover and shaker in comics in the ‘50s,” lived on Montrose Avenue. Meyer was the first female president of Dell Publications, parent company of Dell Comics, the most prominent publisher of comics in the country at one time. She defended her company’s line of wholesome comics, which included many Walt Disney stories, during the 1954 Kefauver hearings.
Peters says there are “at least a dozen” comic artists living in the area. The DC Comics contingent includes Senior V.P. Richard Bruning; art directors Russell Christian, Evan Metcalf, Mark Chiarello and Kurtis King; supervising editor Karen Berger; and freelance art designer Amy Metcalf. There's also Bob Schreck, a former editor of the Batman series for DC. Rick Parker is a freelance cartoonist best known for illustrating "Beavis and Butt-head" for Marvel Comics; his wife, Lisa Trusiani, wrote the nationally syndicated newspaper comic strip "Apartment 3G" from 1996 to 2003.
The group holds numerous national awards. Chiarello won the 1993 National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Comic Book for his work on "Batman/Houdini: The Devil's Workshop." Berger’s credits include the Inkpot Award (1990), three Eisner Awards (1993, 1994 and 1995), and nine straight Comics Buyer's Guide Award for Favorite Editor.
The cartoonists give back to the community in many ways. Peters says all have come to his store, and many are regulars. Parker teaches classes at Geralyn’s Art Studio in Maplewood, as well as intensive seminars at The Baird. On April 11, he'll teach a free three-hour seminar there called “How to Create Your Own Cartoon Strip.”
These artists have the luxury of working in a world that helps them escape reality. Parker says his ultimate goal is to help others find that release.
“If I can say something or do something to make people laugh, I feel my job is complete,” he said.