Like the first sprouts of spring, this year marks a rebirth for Larry Marder and his much-loved series, Tales From the Beanworld. Newly liberated after 14 years spent working for Image Comics and McFarlane Toys, Marder will deliver the first new installment in fifteen years, a Christmas special, to be followed by re-issues of the complete series up to this point, and ultimately a brand new graphic novel, all published by Dark Horse.
In this third and final part of our interview with Marder, we discuss the genesis of the beans, his early days of self-publishing, and how, after all these years, he finally found a new home for his “most peculiar comic book experience.
Who published Tales From the Beanworld, early on?
This was published through Eclipse Comics, which was an important indie publisher in the 80s. I think they went belly up two or three months after my last issue of Beanworld came out. I never really intended to take a hiatus. What happened was, I had been publishing it on a fairly regular basis, and then there was a two-year hiatus. I put out two books, within a couple of months of each other, and then I got hired by Image. Eclipse went under when I first got there, and I just got sidetracked. I never intended to take that time off. But fifteen years goes by in an eye-blink.
Did you have any trouble finding a home for the work?
No, I was incredibly blessed. In the hardcover book that’s coming out in February, the first story was the first comic book I ever drew. Everything got published in that order. I’m incredibly lucky. Now, it took me forever to figure out how to write that book, but I didn’t have any trouble at all, in terms of publishing. It’s an interesting story. In ’83, I had essentially the first issue of Beanworld. I had it altogether, one side of Xeroxes, put together with a paperclip, and I handed them out to the people I respected at the Chicago Comic Con. The person who wrote me back was Jim Shooter, who was the editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He told me, “this is really weird and really good. Stick with it.” And that was enough for me.
But I’m not going to publish it…
No, no. Especially not in those days. And besides, they would have owned it. But anyway, Jim was a big supporter of me, early on, for which I am really thankful. And the fact that he didn’t try to publish it, I’m also really thankful. The following year, I had gotten that much farther that I had put together little booklets, 11 x 17, with a staple, folded in half, and I handed it out with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and I handed those out at the Chicago Comic Con. And the second person that responded to it was Cat Yronwode, who was the editor-in-chief of Eclipse Comics.
She also wrote a column in the Comics Buyer’s Guide, which was a big deal, in those days. She said that “this guy is self-publishing, and I don’t really get it, but send a self-addressed stamp envelope and some money, and he’ll send you a comic.” And all of the sudden, I’m getting tons of money and people wanting to see these books. I actually marketed myself by sending free samples, these little eight-page books that were full chapters. I’d send a package of four, five, or six of these basically over-sized mini-comics—though we didn’t really know what mini-comics were, back then. And I sent those out to people and said, if you fill out this questionnaire—I called it “The Bean Poll”—I’ll send you the next issue.
I sent those to people who had full names in letter columns in the books I liked. So that was X-men, Cerebus, Elf Quest, and things like that. And, all of the sudden, I was sending out like $30 worth of stuff. Out of all of that, when Cat Yronwode realized that I was a marketing person, they wanted some help with their marketing, and they basically said, if you help us with our marketing, we’ll distribute your comic book for free. That was the handshake relationship that we had for 21 issues, until they went under. And I wouldn’t be here without Cat Yronwode and Dean Mullaney.
But then I went into the business and blah, blah, blah. But one of those people that I sent one of those booklets to—and when those booklets come up on eBay, they go for an arm and a leg—was Diana Schutz, who was, at that time, the editor of The Telegraph Wire, which was the in-house news magazine for Comics and Comics, which was a chain in San Francisco. She’s been a friend, ever since, and she’s my in at Dark Horse.
You mentioned that the first issue you had published of Beanworld was the first you ever produced. How fully formed was this world, when you first started?
I came up with the Beans in like early ’72. The first story that made any sense was in 1980. I had a lot of false starts. It took me a long time to figure things out. The character of Mr. Spook, who is the hero, he was developed very early on. The other ones went through a lot of incarnations. It took a while before everything fell into place the way that it fits together now.
In light of the major gaps in production of the book, how has Beanworld evolved since to beginning?
I’m older, I’m wiser, I’m a better artist. I think I’m a tighter storyteller. I don’t dwell on things, as much as I used to. I used to worry about whether everyone was understanding everything that I was doing, so I explained a lot. I’m glad I did that, but I’m not dwelling on that kind of stuff now.
It seems that, when something is such a labor of love, you can almost just write for yourself. Is that what you find yourself doing, these days?
These characters write themselves. Back when I tried to write it—I know this sounds insane. Every cartoonist says this, but it’s really true. It’s almost like they’re saying to me, “are you kidding me? I don’t do that.” And when they do that, it just breaks down like a car running out of gas. I wake up and look at it the next day, and it’s not working.