Mark F. Davis interview with Brad Olrich

You’re coming off your well received first issue of Commodore Dinosaur. Could you tell us about that comic book?

I’d be happy to. I think I could best describe Commodore Dinosaur as an adventure story disguised as a superhero story. I’m a huge fan of pulp adventure characters such as Tarzan and Doc Savage. Edgar Rice Burroughs, in particular, was a favorite of mine. Lost cities, exotic locales, often involving discovering dinosaurs and monsters thought long extinct, is what has largely inspired Commodore Dinosaur and it’s setting. Essentially, it’s everything that I love about the genre. My little twist on it is that instead of having the hero fight dinosaurs and monsters, he becomes one. Sort of.

It’s 1897, and Commodore Dilton Densmore forms an expedition to try and find a lost city of Aztecs deep within the jungles of Central America. But he finds that he’s been lured into a trap and is to become the living embodiment of the serpent god Quetzalcoatl. But there’s more to it than even that! I don’t want to give away too much…you’ll have to read the comic to find out more.

Could you tell us about some of the comic book projects you’ve been involved in recently?

Certainly. It’s been a busy year. First, an 8-page horror story I illustrated, written by Gary Scott Beatty, was recently printed in his Strange Horror #2, a full color anthology that is the length of a graphic novel. While I was working on this, the first issue of Commodore Dinosaur was published by Golden Era Comics. Around the same time a 16-page science fiction (actually space opera) story I’d done, At Galaxy’s Core, appeared in Golden Era Comics Surprising Universe. Then there was a Depthon story that I penciled, inked and lettered, which was written by the late legendary comic book writer Steve Skeates. This appeared in the Steve Skeates Special from Golden Era Comics. After that I penciled and inked a Glass Guardian story written by Mark Davis and Ray MacKay, with colors and lettering by Todd Tochioka for Big Bang Comics. More recently, and I mean really recently as in the past couple of days, I’ve been getting things ready for a new edition of the first issue of Commodore Dinosaur to be published by Blue Moon Comics. This includes a new history of the character for the inside back cover and a new full color illustration for the back cover. I’ve also started work on the 2nd issue, a story that the back cover previews. I’ve got a few other concepts that I’m working on, as well, although they had to be set aside while I work on the second issue of Commodore Dinosaur.

When you’re working with a writer, do the two of you work off of scripts, or do you do the old Marvel method of working off the writer’s plot and you drawing the story from there and then turning the story back over to the scribe to add the words?

It depends on the writer’s preference. I’ve done both, going from one extreme where the writer not only provided a full script but with the script on sheets with panels already laid out, to the Mighty Marvel Method, where the idea is suggested and I take it from there. Now, when I create a comic book, I write out a complete script, right down to the number of panels per page and descriptions of the action. So you’d think I would prefer that format. But, to be honest, I prefer the greater freedom of the Marvel Method. It also allows for more give and take between myself and the writer, which, I feel, only helps with the creation of the story.

Going back a way, did you have any of your work published before what you’ve already mentioned, and if so, could you tell us about it?

Oh, yeah. The first thing I had published and distributed nationally was an early version of Commodore Dinosaur well over 30 years ago. This version of the Commodore debuted in a mini-comic that I produced myself while working at a quick printing place. This was early 1990, when there was still a booming independent and B&W comic book market. Soon after I produced the mini-comic, I had gotten wind of a printer who had been in the mini-comic field for years and was expanding into full size comics with national distribution. I sent him a copy of my mini-comic and he promptly responded saying it’d be perfect as a backup feature for a comic book he had in the works called “Dragontales” (this was years before the PBS kids show of the same name). I did a total of five stories for the publisher of Dragontales before they went out of business. After that, I put any thoughts of a career in comic book art on the back burner while I went back to college to finish up. Except for doing a web strip for a while, it pretty much stayed there while I was working as a graphic designer and adjunct art professor. It was only while I was in graduate school, studying comic book illustration, that I felt confident enough to start taking commissions and putting my work out there.

1st: And finally, I came across a comment of yours in your about a visit you made to the Comic Book museum in Brussels. Could you talk a bit about that?

Of course. My wife and I often will take trips during Spring Break. The schedule I keep, as a college faculty member, is a lot like that of my students. Except instead of heading to the beach, we usually go somewhere we’ve never been before. Edinburgh, Porto and Aix En-Provence have been our recent getaways. Wherever we go, at some point I seek out whatever local comic book stores I can find. Now, comic book shops in Europe are very different from what you’ll find in the United States. They are more like bookstores…not a lot of action figures or superhero merchandise. And it’s reflective of the clientele. Comic albums are read by all ages. Sure, there are some Tintin and Asterix stuff for the kids, but most of it is very much geared to adults. I love finding a new shop that is stacked to the rafters with books and comic albums. It’s led to my discovering a lot of artists I’d never heard of, but whose artwork is stupendous. Even if I cannot necessarily read the text, I will still buy the books…they’re comics, after all. You can figure it out.

Well, my wife, knowing this, scheduled a special side adventure for us during in our recent trip to the Netherlands. She discovered that the Belgian Comic Center was only a 2-hour train ride from where we were staying in Amsterdam. Now, Brussels is the hub of comics in Europe. Even walking the streets there are a number of murals depicting comic characters on the sides of buildings. This isn’t graffiti, either, but works that are sponsored by the city. And there near the center of the city is this distinguished looking building that houses the Belgian Comic Center. This is a proper museum with a number of exhibits and countless examples of original comic book art. There was work there by some of my favorites such as Edgar Pierre Jacobs (Blake & Mortimer) and Hergé (Tintin). Moebius, in particular, stood out to me. I’ve had all of his Blueberry albums for over 30 years, but had never been able to see his original work. Being able to study the sheer amount of detail, his meticulous inking, and even his mistakes, was inspirational. Every aspiring comic artist should visit this museum if they have the opportunity.

Thanks for finding time to do this interview. Much appreciated.

Anytime, Mark.

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