After nearly a decade of sporadic releases, Tales from the Beanworld ceased publication in 1993. Since then, the series’ creator Larry Marder has kept himself fairly busy, first as the executive director of Image Comics and then as the president of McFarlane Toys, a role he held for almost eight years.
In 2007, Marder quit his job at Todd McFarlane’s toy company, vowing to return to the Beanworld, after a decade-and-a-half’s hiatus. Next year Dark Horse will reissue the long out-of-print story and Marder will release a volume of all new material.
We spoke to Marder at this year’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda. In this second part, we discuss Beanworld’s all ages appeal, the genesis of his ideas, and how the artist’s time with the Image crew has affected his work.
It’s interesting that the story seems to have such a resonance with readers, because it takes place in an entirely different universe. Do you think that hurts or helps the book, in terms of personal connections?
It’s a hindrance when I’m trying to explain it. I’ve seen it a million times, especially with little kids. They’ll pick it up and read a page or two and then put it down, or else they’ll read the entire volume at once and say, “gimme more.”
It’s this way for kids of all ages?
It seems to be, to me, that seven or eight is when a kid can really wrap its head around it. I think there are parents that read it to their children at a far younger age. That’s one of the things that I noticed, when I was doing this, a while back. The entry level for Beanworld, to make their head explode was 11, and it seems to be eight now. I don’t know what to attribute that to. Are kids smarter? Are they more media-savvy? Are the big ideas contained in Beanworld more accessible to them? But it seems to be eight now. But I don’t write it for anybody. I just write it for myself. It’s not a kids book.
But there’s nothing overtly offensive in it.
No. There’s some violence.
Nothing more than a cartoon, though.
No. But the relationship between the beans and the Hoi-Polloi is not a friendly one. They’re definitely adversarial. But it all makes sense in the fact that they maintain their food chain in their adversarial relationship.
When you’re sitting on a plane and one of those aforementioned ideas pops into your head, is it more abstract? Is it a little piece of a story?
All of the above. Sometimes somebody will say something in the plane, or I’ll be thinking about something, or I’ll be laughing about something, and it will just convert—transmogrify in my head—and it’s like, ‘that would be cool if my character Professor Garbanzo said that.’ I can make that work within the Beanworld context. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I know what leads into it and what leads out of it.
Is the goal to tackle these large ideas? Are you just trying to push the story forward?
No, the goal is just to tell the story. I started telling the Beanworld story over 30 years ago, and I know what the signposts are. I know where the stops are. I know where it’s going, but I have no idea how I meander. That’s where the fun is.
When he’s talking about Bone, Jeff Smith always says that he had the exact image of the book’s final page in his head when he started. Does Beanworld have that definite an end?
Yeah. It’s winter and everyone dies. I said that in a book, or in a letter column, or something. Beanworld is set to the pace and rhythms and poetry of vegetable life. The original books, Tales of the Beanworld, plus Remember Here, When You Are There, which is next year’s graphic novel, will conclude what I consider the springtime cycle. I will then follow that with what I consider the summer cycle, the autumnal cycle, and then winter comes, everything dies, and then the follow year, it regenerates. It’s the poetry of being plants. This particular year, something went horribly wrong. All of the adventures of this year are about everyone trying to figure out what went wrong, and how to correct it. The more they correct it, the worse things get.
Since Darkhorse is printing the books now, it seems like you’ve gotten back into things, full bore. I know you were working with McFarlane and Image for a while, which probably took away from your ability to work on Beanworld full-time. Have there been points where you really doubted your ability to reach the end of the cycle?
Of, for sure. In fact, I think you would find that most people, except for my wife, believed that, until recently. I wasn’t sure that I was ever going to get back to it, and then, all of the sudden, it seemed really important for me to get back to it. But yeah, five years ago, I’m not sure that I knew I really would, and then, all of the sudden, I knew that I really had to. I can’t really explain that, except to say that the urge to continue this became overwhelming, and I just had to make sure that that actually happened.
What did your wife know that no one else did?
She knew that I couldn’t stay way from this forever.
What were you doing for Todd McFarlane?
I ran Image Comics from 1993 to 1999. I was there during the crazy years. And then I was the president of McFarlane Toys from 1999 to 2007. The hierarchy was Todd McFarlane and then me. I was there for seven years, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had six good years, and then one when it was less interesting and less fun for really silly reasons—the way the business was run in China, the demands of the economy on retailers wanting the prices to remain low. It was, for me, increasingly less fun, and there was no point in me staying there.
Beyond putting a strain on your time, did working on that side of things have any noticeable effect on your work?
You know, I think I’m a better storyteller. I’m a much more concise storyteller, having come out of this 15-year journey. Before that, I was an art director in the advertising business—b2b. I was a pretty good storyteller from that, but I wasn’t around cartoonists, and I wasn’t talking to them. And then, all of the sudden, I was at the at the top of the food chain, talking comics with Jim Lee, Mark Silvestri, Todd McFarlane, Valentino—who is a hell of a storyteller—and then all of the sudden I’m publishing Jeff Smith, Sergio Argones, Brian Michael Bendis, and Gene Yang’s first book. So, it was really fun to have a relationship to those guys and holding people’s hands, as they were first starting out. I did a lot of stuff that I was really proud of, and having conversations with those guys about those sorts of things, I think made me better.
[Concluded in Part Three]