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tom hawthorn

Comic-book fandom a springboard for success Add to ...

Like many kids, Glen Mullaly exercised new-found reading skills by perusing the colourful pages of comic books.

His favourites then were Richie Rich: The Poor Little Rich Boy, and Dennis the Menace, the troublemaking scourge of his peaceful neighbourhood. Like both those characters, little Glen was a blond-haired tyke. Unlike Richie Rich, he was not wealthy. (His father was a roofer, his mother a health-care worker in Nanaimo.) Unlike Dennis the Menace, he did not get in trouble. Much.

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As he got older, he began collecting comics, and he began scribbling himself. His first commissioned work depicted a superhero promoting “super deals” for a used-car dealership. It was published in an advertisement in the Nanaimo Free Press. He was 14.

He had found his life’s calling.

“I wanted to move off to New York to become a comic-book illustrator,” he said.

Instead, he wound up at art school in Victoria. Now, at 43, he is one of the city’s most prolific artists, his retro-inspired work appearing in children’s readers and activity books; on posters and in government brochures; in commercial advertisements and Star Wars comic books.

He spent five years drawing a familiar gold robot and Imperial Stormtroopers, among other familiar figures, with Ken Steacy, another prominent local cartoonist.

“It was daunting to be drawing for money the same characters that I had been drawing for fun as a child over and over and over again,” he said.

On Sunday, he could be found at a booth at a toy fair at Pearkes arena, where he sold colourful prints and original black-and-white drawings. The fair includes robots and Lego, and is the kind of place where the wearing of masks and capes does not seem odd.

It is not an easy time to be earning a living from a drafting table in a studio. Like call centres and manufacturing plants, jobs in illustrating have also been shipped to Asia. Work in India ink is being done in India.

“Chances are anybody who has a kid in elementary school right now, the illustrations for their textbooks and their activity books, a lot of that is done overseas,” he said.

A more recent blow was the folding of Yes and Know, two Victoria-based science magazines for children. Peter Piper Publishing ceased operations in February. Mr. Mullaly’s vibrant work appeared regularly in the publications, including several memorable covers. The artist illustrated a cover story titled “Decoding Da Vinci” by depicting Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile as being caused by her blowing a bubblegum bubble.

He collects vintage magazines and record albums (for the music as well as the cover design), and Bakelite radios, all of which influence his retro approach to drawing robots and goofy space aliens.

Some years ago, he completed an assignment for a local government recycling program by presenting two characters. The client chose Professor Worm to show off composting.

The artist could not bring himself to discard his orphaned character.

“I really liked him, so I sort of adopted him as my logo,” he said.

The character wears spectacles, and has four legs and two bent antenna. These days, you can find Pablo, the Pill Bug on Mr. Mullaly’s business cards.

TRIATHLON MAN

An Olympic triathlete has been immortalized in a one-page comic by the illustrator Michael Jones. “A day in the life of Simon Whitfield” depicts the Victoria athlete being awakened by his two young daughters bouncing on his bed. He then endures a long day of training sessions squeezed between play with Pippa and Evelyn, including a panel in which he wears a pink tutu and another in which he rides a stationery bike while watching Cinderella.

Mr. Whitfield, who won Olympic gold at Sydney in 2000 and a silver in Beijing four years ago, is seeking to capture a third medal at the Summer Games in London later this summer.

In London, the famous subway map of the city recently underwent an interpretation in which all 361 tube stations were renamed for Olympians. Bank Station on the Central Line has been renamed for Mr. Whitfield on the Underground Olympic Legends Map.

In typical fashion, the self-effacing athlete accepted the honour with good grace.

“I’m just a guy who runs around in his swimsuit for a living,” Mr. Whitfield said. “I’m sure the regulars at Bank Station are wondering who this skinny dude in Lycra is and why they didn’t getsomeone who’s actually famous.”

So far in Victoria, Mr. Whitfield’s greatest honour has been having his name grace a yam omelette (“Eat like an Olympic champion”) on the menu of Mo:Lé restaurant.

Perhaps some day the city will celebrate his will to achieve by renaming a stretch of roadway Simon Whitfield Drive.

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