Autobiographical comics can be hit or miss. It depends on the creator's life and how it's woven into a stimulating story line. Judd Winnick did it in "Pedro and Me" as did Brian Bendis with "Fortune and Glory." Now, Tom Beland is throwing his name into the hat by releasing his online strip "True Story Swear To God" as a full-sized comic.
"TSSTG is a weekly strip that's sent out over the Internet about every Friday afternoon," Beland told CBR News on Wednesday. Five years ago, Beland was strictly a political cartoonist, but decided to try storytelling.
Advice and encouragement came at Wondercon in Oakland when Beland met Keith Knight, author of Salon.com's "K Chronicles" and "Bone" creator Jeff Smith. "[Smith] he talked with me for two hours or so and I swear I floated back to my hotel room. I mean, this guy does "Bone" and he's totally into looking at my stuff and giving me advice... I thought I was going to pass out."
But, where did he get that name "True Story Swear To God?" The story is an interesting one and it's, well, true.
Beland's first strip was about a roommate's ill-fated pet crab. After returning to the pet store and accusing the owner of selling a sick crab, the owner asked Beland's roommate about the crab's tank. The roommate describes the tank, saying it's a foot and a half deep. The owner asks if the tank had a ladder so the crab could get air. "Crabs breathe air?" asked Beland's roommate.
When Beland's editor read the strip, he asked if it really happened, and Beland replied "Yeah, true story, swear to God." And so the strip was named.
Beland has been publishing his strip for five years, sending it to subscribers by email. A 40-page, black and white, comic-sized edition of his strip will be published in October by his Clib's Boy Comics imprint. Self-publishing is challenging, but Beland got help from "Colonia" creator Jeff Nicholson. He asked Nicholson everything from the number of pages to do, how much to charge, and "how the hell does this Diamond shit work?" The solicitation can be found in the August Previews and has been "Certified Cool."
The comic is personal and forces Beland to examine himself honestly. "At times, I'm a guy who's happily in love and living a good life. But I've done other strips that have focused on trying to control my temper and how that can affect the other person in your life." The book details how Beland met his wife Lily at a Disneyworld bus stop, but topics for strips range from the embarrassing, like prostate exams, to the touching, like the death of Beland's parents. "I did a strip once about forgetting what my father looked like…. After every panel I had to give myself a good cry. But then, after doing the strip, I was flooded with memories about my parents."
Though a fan of the comic strip format, he appreciates 40 pages of space. "In the book format, you can weave a tale and take it much deeper than you normally can. A strip is like 50-yard dash and a book format is like a marathon." He finds himself focusing even more on the writing with this book. "If you don't have anything to say, you're screwed."
And what about a follow-up to this issue? Beland hopes the books sell well so he can recoup the $1900 cost for the 2000 books. He wants to publish the book quarterly and is currently working on the next issue about bringing Lily home to meet the family.
Interested in receiving TSSTG? Email Beland at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to be added to the reader list. Catch Beland at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, later this year.
Shylo Bisnet contributed to this story.