Lawrence artist Dale Martin was fascinated with comics at an early age. He grew up reading all the DC and Marvel comic books, and was especially drawn to the images created by Jim Aparo ("Batman") and Will Eisner ("The Spirit").
So it was probably to no one's surprise when at age 14 the Wichita youngster wrote, designed and illustrated his first comic book, "The Guy with a Hammer," a satire on the superheroes found in comic book series at that time.
"It was 8 1/2 by 11 inch (paper) stapled together," he said of the book, which was printed in August 1982. "I used Magic Marker on typing paper."
Seeing his drawings and words in print added fuel to the teen-ager's creative fire. He went on to produce 13 other books in "The Guy with a Hammer" series, which was available in Wichita and through mail-order.
Martin came to Lawrence to study art history and design at Kansas University. But his skills as a cartoonist remain self-taught.
Since the mid-1980s, he has perfected his line art illustration, hand-lettering and poster design skills, and has contributed comics to Synapse Showcase, Worcester, Mass.; Weevo One: the First Year, Ontario, Canada; Fandom, West Boylston, Mass.; The Small Press Sampler, Tuscola., Ill.; and Small Press Creative Explosion, Houghton, N.Y.
He also has done illustration work for Hall-Kimbrell Environmental Services Inc., Kansas Alumni Magazine and The Note.
Martin's latest comic book venture, a collaborative series with Lawrence resident-writer Wendy Griswold called "Invasion of the Space Amazons From the Purple Planet," published its first issue in the summer of 1997.
What makes this quarterly series unique is that the storyline is female-friendly.
The comic is the continuing saga of S'san, a sociologist, and Shallod, a planetary guardian, who travel from the purple planet of Kaa'ala to study the Earth and search for their fellow traveler, Jahnae. Jahnae landed on Earth 20 years earlier and all contact with her was lost. During their journey, the women aliens encounter a number of friends and foes.
Griswold said she read comic books as a child but then left the genre behind until a few years ago when she picked up one of Martin's issues of Wonder Woman.
Like most comics, Wonder Woman went through cycles depending on the writer. At one point, the series featured women of all ages and all sizes and addressed topics such as domestic violence and teen-age suicide. But then another writer was hired, and the comic reverted back to depicting females as having small waists and large breasts.
"It brought me to the place where I thought we needed to write more comics for women," she said. "If you want something, sometimes you have to create it yourself."
Griswold works as a project manager for Great Plains Rocky Mountain Hazardous Substance Research Center at Kansas State University. She coordinates the center's American Indian program and is based at Haskell Indian Nations University.
Operating under the name GrizMart Production, the Martin and Griswold do all the writing, artwork and production for the series. The comic books are typically printed in two colors or on color stock paper in Florida and then returned to Martin and Griswold, who distribute them to subscribers and women's bookstores.
Martin said a typical run is from 1,000 to 2,000 copies. The series is not carried by any Lawrence store.
"We're not to a break-even point," said Martin, who works at Strong Office Systems. "We've learned a lot about reaching readers and how to market it and control the cost."
In an attempt to gain younger readers, Martin is planning to make a change in the Space Amazons series. He will make the stories self-contained rather than continuing from one issue to the next. As is, the series caters more to adult readers.
Other projects Martin is working on include a how-to book for hand lettering and a web-based comic. Griswold is working on a science fiction manuscript; in early 1999, she hopes to begin a vegetarian cookbook.
-- Jan Biles' phone message number is 832-7146. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.