Sunday, August 26, 2007
Ozzark & Company - The Overview!
Finally! Some of you have read the rumor that I'm a cartoonist, and I'd like to finally prove that rumor true. Until now, I'd had a hard time trying to upload some of my work onto this site because it was on a separate computer. Now, I've managed to upgrade my internet access with that computer, which contains all of my treasured artworks (well, not all of them; another story to come.)
So, I'd like to introduce my life-work if you will, Ozzark & Company. I created this strip on March 3, 1982 as a present to my mother. Actually, I had drew a cartoon picture of un mariachi in front of an upright piano in crayon on loose-leaf paper; there's not a lot most little kids can afford in terms of artist materials. I gave her the picture on her birthday (March 2) and she liked it a lot, so I decided to make more. I copied the character and gave him different outfits, settling on a suit with a medicus symbol scribbled all along the sides and on his derby. Now I needed a name.
I wanted this character to have a distinctive name, since he was supposed to be a distinctive character. I was very much into making street maps at the time, using atlases and globes to find names for naming the streets I created out of my imagination. I took my globe and spun it, stopping it with my finger. My finger pointed to the Ozark Mountain range. Cool, I decided, and added an extra z for flair. Ozzark was born.
I must tell you that I was a Peanuts disciple from birth; I learned to read by reading Peanuts books that actually belonged to my older sister, Dorothy. I watched animated Peanuts specials religiously, and devoured any books or compilations I could get my hands on. Naturally, my first foray in cartooning had resemblances to Peanuts characters. Ozzark looked very similar to the long, thin version of Snoopy in a suit and hat (and shoestring thin, long and droopy mustache.) I knew enough to try to find ways to make his appearance more distinctive and less derivative, and I also knew that my cartoon needed to be copyrighted(!) I copied styles from my favorite Peanuts books in creating my own book, with paneled strips and a straight story-line throughout. I changed his clothing and gave him a long-sleeve shirt and pants, covered with an indistinct swirl from top-to-bottom, along with a boxy beret that resembled a graduation cap. I bound my book with masking tape and called it Ozzark On The Road. I then sent it to a local publisher I found in the yellow pages, asking them to consider publishing it. I never heard back from the publisher, which only served for me to try harder.
I wrote and drew several books in this manner, filling them with references to other cartoons and one-liners I overheard from family members. Said family members were quite impressed with my ingenuity and proceeded to acquire more art supplies for my newly developing avocation. I even began to write stories and plays based on my cartoon, whose cast had ballooned to thirteen; each with a variation on Ozzark's name. All of the guys' names began with O, and all of the girls' names began with A. Collectively, the group became known as Ozzark & Company, to signify the central character and his supporting cast. I added at least twenty more characters later on, keeping with my naming scheme and continuing to draw comics that ultimately made sense to only myself. Of those, including the thirteen original characters (I was also a history buff), I only draw or refer to seven: Ozzark, Ouncey Ozzark (his little brother, who's name I shortened to Ouncey), Ozzy (his best friend growing up), Sis (his younger sister), Asela (Ouncey's friend), Ozzone (his cousin from the West) and Ozvaldo (his Latino cousin). And of those, only Ozzark and Ouncey have continued to appear as regulars.
I carried my creations from elementary school all the way through high school, where I made my first significant alterations to the strip. I dropped the naming scheme (thankfully) in favor of nicknames, introducing Candy; Ozzark's first love interest, Fats; a random and oblivious oddball who became an unwelcome friend and foil for Ozzark, and Zero; a nitwit who became Ouncey's unlikely best friend and foil. It was also during this time that I became friends with other cartoonists, among them a fellow named Chris Truett who like me had developed a cartoon from his earlier childhood, called Team Truett; a racing enthusiast and leader of an eclectic assortment of cartoon characters of other styles, and Tom Tait, whose character Tom Tater was a direct satire of Mr. Potatohead long before Toy Story did the same and a Checker Cab enthusiast. These two best friends, among others, formed a group calling itself the Cartoon Posse, when 'posse' was a popular Hip-Hop colloquialism. We would draw vignettes with each other's characters and pass them among each other between classes, often playing out the drama among members of our strange group; which included a living Superman insignia in a cape, and a midget draped in kingly robes and a crown, who always brandished a sword at least twice his size. Strange as it seems, I learned not only different styles of drawing, but how to develop stories and character arcs from these little jams and cartoon battles. My first distribution of Ozzark and Company occurred when I was invited to draw my strip for the school newspaper, and from there I drew almost regularly on a monthly basis. As a pièce de résistance, I painted a mural of Ozzark based on a picture I drew and made into a t-shirt of him leaning on a lamppost in park in front of the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie, NY.
The biggest changes to date came when I left for college and started drawing for the college's newspaper. New people and a new environment brought about new influences, and thus new characters. Among those was one who made the leap from high school with Ozzark, Ouncey and (not surprisingly) Fats: Sillone, Ozzark's new and long-lasting love interest. With her, the focus of the strip developed and matured even further. The introduction new characters, collectively known as the CIX Posse (6th Floor Posse of Meridian Hill Hall), brought depth and a renowned sense of identity to the cartoons I drew from then on. Whereas Ozzark & Company was a collection of character types loosely based on composites (except Ozzark, whose early influence was my brother Joseph, Ouncey who was my alter ego, and Fats who is definitely based on someone I know), it was with them that I began to focus the strip as Afrocentric, with characters based on particular people I knew, who also represented a cross-section of Black culture. The settings, dialogue and characters were influenced mostly by the renaissance of the Hip-Hop culture.
Artistically, developed significantly by incorporating techniques from many of my favorite artists of the time; most significantly Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes), Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), Sergio Aragones (Mad Magainze, Groo the Wanderer), Antonio Prohías (Spy vs. Spy) and Samm Schwartz (Archie). A direct influence and colleague was the school newspaper's head artist, Rodney Reynolds (drawing by the name Da Bama), who taught me technical aspects of drawing comic strips that propelled my strip to a professional standard.
Another significant development involved Ouncey; up until that time, Ouncey was Ozzark's smart-alecky genius little brother who played pranks on the rest of the cast. But a personal incident changed that. As I was on my way to my friends' house (most of the posse had moved together from the dorms to the surrounding off-campus housing available for rent, I was attacked by a group of young thugs, who stole a record on the cover of which I had drawn a concept that involved my cartoon characters that were based on them. I escaped with my health intact, but my sense of security and pride for my ethnicity in complete shambles. The attack opened me to a darker level of observation that had only existed in my imagination. I took revenge for the attack in a series of cartoons that starred Ouncey, evolving him from a playful smart aleck to a brooding vigilante who destroyed everything in his path. This loss of innocence deeply effected both of us; I never forgot the incident and developed a more objective view of Black culture that at the time deflated my Afrocentric sensibilities. In a way, it also reflected the changing focus of Hip-Hop from Afrocentric to a devolving urban and cultural decay. A change of scenery on my part reinvigorated my creativity and waning sense of self, and I was back to drawing Ozzark & Company, injecting my own various aspects into each character as inspiration.
Today, the cast of Ozzark & Company includes Ozzark and his family (including his parents and siblings), his long-time girlfriend and his buddies from the CIX Posse. And Fats; for some reason, Fats has endured as a popular character, so I made him part of the family as Sillone's cousin. And Ozzark, for his part, has learned to tolerate him as an affable foil and unlikely friend. Each has incorporated my own personal observations within the context of their own established personalities. Or so I like to think...
Over the next several days, I'd like to present some selected strips from past doings, and in time I hope to also present brand new strips, as my studio has recently experienced some upgrades. Ultimately, I intend to bring Ozzark & Company to wide distribution via newspaper syndication and motion pictures, but for now, enjoy the strips, feel free to comment and thanks in advance for the support.