Kapow! Maine comic artists invade


So it’s a Friday night in Portland and I’m surrounded by some of the most influential comic artists in the state.

The KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society on Congress Street features artists who have worked for the likes of DC Comics, Cracked Magazine and Marvel. In the world of comics, some of these guys are pretty big deals.

So how did I introduce myself to this eclectic and energetic culture? I asked a really stupid question.

“Tell me,” I said to Mort Todd, among the most successful comic artists of them all. “Is there any of your Maine background to be found in your artwork?”

I’m thankful that Mort Todd has a sense of humor. He looks quite a lot like Andy Warhol, does Todd, and he’s as friendly and extroverted as can be. To answer my stupid question, he only needed to gesture to a nearby wall that featured several pieces of his works.

“You didn’t see that piece with Godzilla and the giant lobster fighting in front of the Portland Headlight?” Todd said. “Or the piece with superheroes fighting in front of the time-and-temp building? I’ve created about a dozen Maine-based superheroes and created all these pieces with them fighting around Maine landmarks.”



Before moving back to Maine, the 56-year-old Todd worked as writer, artist and editor for a variety of publishers, including Marvel Comics. For a time, he was editor-in-chief at Cracked, which was only the most popular and durable comic mag to follow the wild success of Mad Magazine.

After leaving Portland in the 1970s, Todd hit the big time on the national stage. But the Maine influence is everywhere in his art. There’s Monsters Menace Maine, for instance, which features “a trio of titanic terrors in turmoil on Casco Bay.”

There’s his “Chaos in Cumberland County,” “Mayhem in Monument Square” and “Anarchy in the Atlantic Ocean,” all part of his “Pineland Protectors” series – which features a crazy array of familiar moose heads, lobsters and even a superhero with the head of a clam.

How stupid does my question sound in hindsight?


It’s no big wonder that Maine features prominently in the comic art of many of these key figures. As it happens, Maine has a thriving comics culture, particularly in Portland, where stores like Casablanca and Coast City Comics cater to the comic craving masses, and in Lewiston, where comic conventions are on the rise and Zimmie’s Comics always seems to be crawling with customers.

Comics are big in Maine, as witnessed by the number of comic festivals and conventions popping up and by the popularity of KAPOW!, which runs until March 21.

“It’s such a unique exhibit,” says Katie Clark, communications manager at the Maine Historical Society, “that we have folks visiting who have either never been here but heard about KAPOW and are visiting specifically to see it, or folks who ‘haven’t been here since 3rd grade’ and are excited to come back and visit. . . . People online are also really interested in KAPOW and whenever I push out a post that’s KAPOW-related I see folks liking and sharing who are new to the Maine Historical Society universe.”

Maine shows up plenty in the work of Lewiston-born Paul Pelletier, but you won’t find it specifically in his drawings. For Pelletier, currently working for DC Comics, the Maine influence is deeper than his sketch pad.

“The biggest part of Lewiston that shows up in my work is not necessarily the art,” Pelletier says. “It’s my work ethic. I really approach drawing comics as a job and I take it very seriously. I think I’ve been able to stay busy in the industry for 25 years because of my work ethic, and I think I get that from Lewiston.”

Now living in Topsham, Pelletier’s climb to full-time comic success wasn’t a simple one. He paid his dues, as it seems all good artists must.

“I had always enjoyed drawing, and after high school I realized that’s what I wanted to do for a living – draw comics,” he says. “I spent four years working with small black-and-white comic publishers here in Maine and working on jobs. I worked in a shoe factory, I washed dishes, I worked in a rug factory. It took me about four years before I finally worked my way up to bigger publishers and I was able to do comics full time. Instead of going to college, I did it the hard way: working day jobs and then doing comics until the wee hours of the morning, often for no money.”

Pelletier is 48 years old. In 2001, he moved to Florida to join a comics company. It took him 15 years to get back to Maine, he says, and he doesn’t plan to leave again.

Around the corner and in a narrow hallway where the artwork is displayed, Sean Moran is being asked for the second time to sign some kid’s KAPOW poster. At 28, the Lewiston man is not accustomed to that type of attention.

“It’s weird,” he says. “It’s not something I’m used to doing. It wouldn’t be a bad thing to have to get used to, though.”

Relatively speaking, Moran is just starting out. He runs the website Fist Shaking Comics, which features an array of comic strips and full-page artwork. It also features several volumes of Moran’s strip “Planet of the Punks,” which involves exactly what you think it might.

“It follows a punk band doing whatever it wants to do,” Moran says.

Is Maine – or even Lewiston — specifically in his artwork? Moran isn’t sure. He’s never lived anywhere but here, he says. He started out trying to write scripts, but when he couldn’t find anyone to illustrate his work, he started doing it himself. Now he’s got a series underway and he’s starting to immerse himself in the culture of comics.

“You spend so much time alone working on your art,” Moran says.”It’s nice being able to interact with other people this way.”


The Maine Historical Society describes its KAPOW! exhibition this way: “Comic art tells stories in diverse ways. It can critique the world in which we live, poke fun at the absurd, or transport us to a fantastical realm. Historical examples of comic art include political satire and caricatures of the 19th century, and superhero stories, noir comics, cartoons, and Sunday funnies of the 20th century.”

The walls on the first floor at the historical society are festooned with a weird variety of comic artwork. Some is intricate and richly detailed, others look mere sketches, scribbled quickly to tell a fast story. The artwork varies wildly, as do the artists themselves.

“They’re amazing,” says Amanda Skinner, who curated the KAPOW! exhibit. “I work with artists sort of regularly. They’re great to work with. They’re all just very laid back. They have a sense of humor.”

And a fair supply of perseverance.

Like Moran, Mili St. John is just starting out. At 24, she’s currently creating a world that’s entirely based on the Maine coast. Not so long ago, it didn’t seem like comics were in her future at all.

“I always wanted to be an artist,” St. John says, “but I was told that wasn’t viable. Now I’m here in the art world and I see that it’s completely viable if you’re willing to put in the work and the time. It’s been great.”

She creates mainly adventures, does St. John, and usually with headstrong female protagonists. Most of her work, she says, derives from stories she and her sister used to make up while playing in the Maine woods as kids.

“I’ve been doing art forever, but I’m actually a software engineer,” St. John says. “That’s what I went to school for. But when I got out of school and actually started working as a software engineer, I realized that I need a constant outlet for art. I’ve been doing it very consistently for three years now.”

St. John has a comic described as “a very fun space journey” coming online March 15. Meanwhile, like Moran, she’s discovering the benefits of mingling with the comic community in places like the Maine Comic Arts Festival and at the stores of Portland.

“I think the culture that they’ve built around those comic stores is just incredible,” St. John says. “It’s a great community in Maine. It’s definitely smaller than in Boston, but it’s building.”

At the opening night of KAPOW! interest was heavy the very minute the event started. Longtime comic fans came in to mingle with their favorite artists. Kids came in hopes of learning to draw. A few said they came simply because they were dazzled by that odd array of artwork hanging on the walls.

Mort Todd, who has been in the business longer than most, agrees that the comics community in Maine is better than ever. This is a guy who would know, too. After he was kicked out of Yarmouth High School in the ’70s (we haven’t heard that story yet) he ended up at the Waynflete School in Portland on an art scholarship. By then, he was already drawing album covers for local punk bands and creating ads for Portland stores.

It was not the same Portland that we see today.

“Portland in the late ’70s was a different world,” Todd says. “It was degenerate. All of Congress Street was porn theaters. I was 16 and I could take my girlfriend to see porn films. We’d bring pizza and a six-pack. There were discos and massage clubs and porn shops. I was a super punk rocker and all of that.”

He moved to New York City at age 17 and dived right in. The rest, more or less, is history – Todd went on to conquer the world of comics and now he’s back in a cleaner and less porn-cluttered Maine to keep on doing what he does.

What’s coming next from Todd is more Maine flavored then ever, with titles such as “The Larcenous Lobster,” “The Black Fly,” “The Sinister Seagull” and “Killer Clam” in the works.

Maine comic artists doing the state proud.

Lord, how I wish I hadn’t asked him that question.

A page from Sean Moran’s upcoming strip “What Am I Doing With My Life?” Moran’s work is being featured at the KAPOW! exhibition at the Maine Historical Society in Portland.

The artwork of Lewiston’s Paul Pelletier is on display at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

The Maine-flavored drawings of artist Mort Todd are on display this month at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

The Maine-flavored drawings of artist Mort Todd are on display this month at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

The artwork of Portland artist Mili St. John. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

The strip “Big Nate,” from Portland cartoonist and writer Lincoln Peirce, of Portland, on display at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Kate Raymond photo)

Comic artist Paul Pelletier, formerly of Lewiston, now living in Topsham. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

Comic artist Sean Moran of Lewiston signs an autograph at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

Comic artist Mili St. John of Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

Maine comic artist Mort Todd. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

Comic artists and their fans mingled recently at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

Comic artist Sean Moran of Lewiston. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

The KAPOW! Maine Comic Artists exhibit runs until March 21 at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

The artwork of Lewiston’s Paul Pelletier is on display at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Mark LaFlamme photo)

The Maine-flavored drawings of artist Mort Todd are on display this month at the KAPOW! exhibit at the Maine Historical Society in Portland. (Courtesy of morttodd.com)

KAPOW! Maine Comic Artists

What: KAPOW! Maine Comic Artists exhibition

Who: All artists and artwork in KAPOW! Maine Comic Artists represent comic-inspired artists currently working in and drawing inspiration from the state of Maine. The artists featured in KAPOW! Maine Comic Artists are: George Danby, Rick Parker, Lisa Trusiani, Mili St. John, Lincoln Peirce, Jay Piscopo, Sean Moran, David Harrigan (SCARECROWOVEN), Paul Pelletier and Mort Todd.

When: Through March 31. 

Where: Maine Historical Society, 489 Congress St., Portland 

Cost: Regular admission is free to MHS members and $8 for non-members.

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