John F. Kennedy's birthdate is May 29th, 1917. JFK would have been 92 today. In the late 90's I started a comic book series called "Tales of the New Frontier" (TotNF). It was an attempt to play with the mythology of the 60's and the Kennedy family and mix it with the mythology of comic books and science fiction of the time for satirical effect. TotNF was in alternative comic book publishing limbo for years and eventually I put it aside as I focused on other things. On JFK's birthday I thought I'd finally put all this unpublished material on my Polypop site and write on Daily Kos about this project's history.
I've always been fascinated by the blurring of history and myth; the mix of fact and fiction and how popular culture creates mythology. Growing up in the 1970's, JFK had a mythical quality to me as a young boy. Although my family wasn't particularly political or liberal, JFK's short lived legacy had an impact on my childhood. After leaving the Air Force my father got a job at NASA in no small part due to JFK's inspirational call to action in the space race. Clear Lake City (the town I grew up in) was established during the Kennedy administration as a community to support NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (later named the Johnson Space Center). My mother kept a metal piggy bank for me that she had saved silver Kennedy half dollars for me when I was a baby. I remember as child once playing with those tarnished silver coins and my mother telling the story of a popular young president with a beautiful wife and how he was shot and killed in Dallas tragically. I remember my fascination with the silver coins and how their value was intensified even more once I knew the story of the man on them. I even collected coins for a while as a kid appreciating more the history linked to an old coin.
I was 8 years old when "Superman: The Movie" came out in 1978, that movie and Star Wars sparked in me an intense interest in comic books, fantasy and film. For me growing up Superman was a major influence on me becoming a cartoonist. A few years after that I went to our World Book Encyclopedia set and looked up "comic strip" as my interest in cartooning was just beginning. I thought what better way could there be to learn about how to draw cartoons than to look it it up in a encyclopedia? One of the images under "comic strip" blew my 10 year old mind. There was a reproduction of a panel from a old superman comic where Superman was meeting with JFK in the White House. This image confounded me, two mythical figures: one from history and one from comic books were in the same world interacting. This mixing of mythologies created a tension that I still find fascinating and in part inspired my comix.
After graduating from the University North Texas in 1993 with a fine art and film degree I moved to Dallas and worked part-time and freelance jobs so I'd have the free time to work on my comix and artwork more. I was broke but I had a few comix pages published in alternative comix anthologies and in Heavy Metal. I was hopeful about being a cartoonist and working toward a series. I was thinking about the Superman and JFK team-up that disturbed me as a kid and my interests in mythology, science fiction, comic books, politics and history. This was also around 1994 and I was also starting to feel a general sense of disappointment in the Clinton administration. Healthcare reform had failed and The Democrats had lost the House. Clinton was a capable executive and did some good things but I never felt he was inspiring, nor ever JFK "cool." He had no mandate being elected with 43% of the vote. This wasn't the next dynamic JFK I'd hoped for. There seemed to be a lot of nostalgia in the media in that decade for the Kennedy years and I thought I could play off that and create an odd satirical comic that combined my diverse interests in a unique and hopefully entertaining way.
I finished the first 21 page episode in 1995 and my plan was to publish the first chapter along with some of my other work in my own comic series called Rocketship Go! I didn't have the resources to self-publish it but Kitchen Sink Press was interested. They planned on publishing it in '96 but then pushed it back to '97, then cancelled it as KSP went out of business. TotNF floated around to some other comix publishers who were interested, but ultimately passed on the book as the economy in the late 90's for comic book publishing was very rough, especially for alternative/indy publishers. They correctly foresaw the limited market for a comic book that satirized 1960's history. I became very frustrated with cartooning and the state of alternative comics publishing industry. I put some samples of the work on the web but I basically put TotNF aside and focused on a career as a graphic artist and getting a decent job. Like a lot of cartoonists during that time period, I had trouble reconciling putting my comics on the web for free vs. trying to get paid putting them in print. I thought the web was a promotional tool for cartoonists, not a end in itself. Cartoonists are still wrestling with that issue. Looking back on it though I really should have just put it all on my website when the print publishing fell through.
Now we have a popular, young, hip and dynamic president who inspires a lot of people; this is something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. There are times I still can't believe it happened. I think this recent change in the dynamic of our politics motivated me to get this old work out there and get some closure on it. It feels weird and bittersweet to put this old stuff up now after being away from it for 10+ years. It's a product of the late 1990's. I don't know how the content will read now and how it will be viewed technically; I was 25 when I drew this and my artwork and lettering was still rough at points. I decided during the digital clean up/retouching process not to alter the work too much and let it be an artifact of the time I made it. You can see the difference in quality between the first episode and the second mini-episode though.
I'm curious to see how the readers on Daily Kos will respond to this work. I've never presented this work in a political context before. I've shown these pages in art shows and samples on the web but never specifically to a political audience. There was nothing on the web like Daily Kos around when I started this, it probably would have done a lot better back then if political blogs were around. Hopefully you'll enjoy something in this series even with it's youthful flaws. I originally planned out this series as a graphic novel. I have a story arc and plenty of ideas and if there is great interest I'll consider picking this up again. Otherwise I'm just glad to have put it all up and I can move on to other projects. I hope you enjoy it.