Saturday, May 18, 2013
PORTLAND - Comic books and comic strips, in case you haven't noticed, are not about subtlety.
Yarmouth native Mort Todd has returned to Maine after a career working for DC Comics, Cracked magazine and other publications.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer
The cover of the first issue of Todd's comic-based newspaper, Vex.
Courtesy of Mort Todd
So perhaps it's not surprising that Mort Todd, a former editor of Cracked magazine and writer and artist for Marvel and DC comics, has stirred up controversy with his creative efforts since moving back to his native Maine in 2011 after more than 30 years in New York City.
This summer, the 50-year-old Todd started a free comic-centric newspaper in Portland called Vex, and soon created some downtown drama.
In August, he wrote an editorial criticizing people who oppose the Eastland Park Hotel's proposal to build a ballroom on what is now a public space, Congress Square Plaza. The editorial, in turn, prompted someone to vandalize Vex with stickers and inserts -- which prompted Todd to devote an entire issue to the controversy.
Earlier in the spring, Todd made a couple of TV commercials for local businesses that irked some folks, including one that portrayed vegetarians as loafers. In a less controversial vein, he has painted murals on the walls of local restaurants Nosh and Taco Escobarr, and exhibited a documentary film that he made on photo comics.
Currently, he's working on a TV pilot and is trying to get versions of Vex distributed in other cities.
"Mort Todd is a member of a very special gang of independent, creative, artistic entrepreneurial folks whom I recognize instantly due to the fact that I myself am a charter member," said nationally known Maine humorist Tim Sample, who writes a column for Vex. "Folks in our gang see opportunity where others see an empty canvas. The fact that nobody else has attempted something strikes us as all the more reason why we should give it a try."
Trying to describe exactly what it is Todd does for a living is not an easy thing to do. Even for Todd himself.
"A lot of people when they first meet me ask, 'What do you do?' and my response is kind of, 'Geesh, depends on the time of day'," Todd said.
"I like entertaining people, amusing people, telling stories. Whatever I do, the main intent is to amuse and entertain. I guess I started with comics as a kid, because that was the most immediate way for me to do that."
WHY NOT MAINE?
Todd grew up in Yarmouth, where his grandfather ran a printing business. He was fascinated by TV and comics at a young age, and can recite random TV credits ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" was made by Desilu Productions) and obscure Maine comics ("Ricky and Debbie in Sardineland") in the blink of an eye.
He read comics and drew constantly, and by the time he was 12, he had convinced his father to take him to New York, where he got a meeting with an art director at DC.
"The guy told me I'd never work in comics, but (about) 10 years later, he was asking me for a job," Todd said.
After graduating from Yarmouth High School, Todd moved to New York, where he took classes at Parsons School of Design, among other places. He was selling his art and writing to various publications. He did some writing for the "Superman" comic at DC, created album cover art, and sold a screenplay to German television, so he gradually gave up on school.
Eventually, Todd's name was suggested by other comic writers and artists for the job of editor at the humor magazine Cracked, which had been around since the late '50s but was often overshadowed by the better-known Mad.
"It was kind of crazy. Here I was at 23, and I could call up any artist I liked and have them do something for the magazine," said Todd, who was at Cracked from about 1985 to 1990. "I got to hire Steve Ditko (co-creator of 'Spider-Man'), so that was pretty cool."
(Continued on page 2)
click image to enlarge
Mort Todd works in an office on Congress Street.
Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer