You're a good team, Ron and Justine: Talking "Tales of the Terminal Diner"

Wed, February 16th, 2005 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Seth Jones, Staff Writer

The Peanuts gang, the Cat in the Hat, the Lion King -- when you're used to writing international best-selling licensed properties, sometimes you need a different creative outlet.

For Ron and Justine Fontes, that outlet comes in the form of "Tales of the Terminal Diner."

Ron Fontes, former art director of Marvel Comics, and Justine Fontes, dubbed "Queen of Licensed Children's Books" by "Writer's Digest" magazine, have been kicking around the idea for Terminal Diner for years now. After a night of too much Nyquil mixed with a "Twilight Zone" marathon, Ron broached the idea with Justine of using a diner as a setting to tell all the stories they hadn't published.

"Ron remarked on how many Zone stories are set in diners, and how often diners appear in movies and commercials," Justine reflects. "We talked about how much we love the diner spirit: Wholesome food at a fair price, a place where everyone is welcome - and everyone has a story! Ron realized a diner could be the place for all our unpublished stories, the ultimate 'play place' from which to tell any kind of tale."

Telling tales has been good to the Fontes'. The couple has literally millions of books in circulation, in the form of licensed properties they have penned for publishers. "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," "A Charlie Brown Valentine," and their biggest seller -- the adaptation of "The Lion King" that sold almost 4 million copies worldwide -- are just a few of the books they have written.

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The Fontes decided the best way to get "Terminal Diner" out was to open their wallets, enlist some talent, and get the book moving. The first issue is currently available from the couple's own comic company, Sonic Comics. Issue 2 is currently in the works, with a release date not yet determined.

"Tales from the Terminal Diner" isn't just a comic that's set in a diner -- the diner is also a character. When a customer passes through the hidden diner for a piece of lemon meringue pie or a turkey club, Genie X -- a sexy, mystical cape-clad brunette that doubles as the diner itself -- senses the customer's desires, and decides based on motives if she should grant a wish. Some diners are rewarded, while others are punished.

"Our slogan is: Every heart has a hunger. Every soul has a story. Every wish has a price. Hunger brings characters to the Diner, whether their story spills out over a cup of joe, or they simply pass by on their way to wherever," Justine says.

With a wide-open premise, the Fontes contacted friends in the industry -- including Fred Hembeck ("Fred Hembeck Destroys the Marvel Universe"), Don Lomax ("The 'Nam") and the late Grass Green ("Wildman" and "Rubber Roy").

"Michael T. Gilbert was the first 'big name' to honor us with a visit," Justine says. "We met him through Phil Longmeier, known to adult comix fans as Philo. We're thrilled with 'Square Eggs' because it shows the Diner's potential for seamless crossovers with established characters. If Mr. Monster likes to stop by the Diner, any character can, including Neal Yamamoto's hysterically cynical Repo Dog."

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Jason Arnett is one of the talents that worked on the first "Terminal Diner," writing a story about Genie X's enemies. Dan Murray illustrates his contribution in a digital CGI-style.

"I met Ron on a message board, he asked me if I'd work on some of his characters," Arnett says. "Working alongside guys like Michael T. Gilbert, Don Lomax and Fred Hembeck -- pretty neat to be in that company. And I've always been a fan of Grass Green's underground stuff.

"I think if you like 'Twilight Zone' style stories, stories that have a twist, you'll like 'the Diner,'" Arnett continues. "It's an anthology, so there's something for everyone. And it's all rated PG-13 or less."

For the Fontes, the Diner isn't a way to make a quick buck -- it's a labor of love, something to keep their storytelling fresh, and something that's all their own.

"It's a place we like to go, and we're excited all these creators have responded so positively," Justine says. "With the (Teenage Mutant Ninja) Turtles, and movie adaptations, and licensed properties, we're limited -- with the Diner, it's a limitless play place. It's things like this that keep you alive."

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