Art by Andrew Wilson
What would your superhero power be? Super strength? Flying? Invisibility? Mike Pallotta, the editor-in-chief for Old College Comics knew the answer to this question without hesitation.
“I’d have to go with super speed,” said Pallotta.
Old College Comics was born from a bar conversation back in February 2012 when Pallotta and some friends from Cal State Long Beach were talking about how they all wanted to do comics.
“We realized, why are we doing the same thing separately? Why don’t we just try and pull our efforts together? We can split the cost of printing. We could split the cost of booths at a convention. You know, it makes things a little bit more manageable; and once someone else is relying on you, it becomes harder to not follow through,” said Pallotta, noting that the curse of procrastination versus want and determination is well known, especially amongst those with a creative soul.
Pallotta went to college for creative writing and wrote for the Union Weekly at Cal State Long beach. He built up his publishing and media knowledge that he is now applying to Old College Comics. They started off with an anthology called The Freshmen 15—a project which involved 24 writers, artists and graphic designers, most of whom live in Long Beach with a few in L.A.
From a Viking adventure to trippy dream-world stories; to a of slice-of-life auto-biographical piece to a story about a teleporting fetus that jumps from womb to womb destroying relationships as it goes along, the collection can get pretty crazy. There's even a story about a man who finds a genie lamp on a beach and wishes for rocket arms.
“We tried to keep it as versatile as possible,” said Pallotta, “to be creatively open and free for our talent involved, we wanted to do whatever we wanted to do. Basically, the idea being that each story would be this kind of digestible chunk while standing alone.”
Comics mesmerize, frighten and have inspired the imagination of multiple generations since their inception. They catapult human capabilities to an exaggerated magical realm while remaining founded in our normal moral codes and can deal with familiar issues of family, love and society.
Pallotta remembers being seven years-old when he went to a comic book store around the corner from his house on Studebaker in Long Beach and read his first comic, a Tales From the Crypt reprint.
“It scared the hell out of me,” said Pallotta. “I didn’t read another comic for like, three years. Then I started reading Terminator and Alien Vs. Predator. I was all about the James Cameron movies turned into comics and from there I went into superheroes like Flash and Green Lantern.”
Pallotta feels that comic books mix visual art and text together to open doors that can’t be done with other mediums. Comic books can be done with a team, or an individual can write and draw it on their own. A lot of comic creators have a do-it-yourself approach and don’t have to be employed by a publishing company to get their stories seen. Also, there’s no big budget needed for filming action sequences so it can be less constrained.
“You just let your brush stroke go crazy and you do what ever you want,” he said.
Afterman, possibly Long Beach's first superhero.
In addition to organizing The Freshmen 15, Pallotta has created Long Beach’s very own superhero, Afterman. Keeping his love of sci-fi like The Twilight Zone and Amazing Stories in mind, he co-wrote Afterman with Joe Bryant. The main character has heightened abilities and has in a way evolved to the next stage of man, hence the name after-man.
They wanted to ground it in a place that they knew. With it’s industrial port, oil islands in the bay, art deco high-rises downtown, and cranes decorating the skyline behind the Queen Mary, Long Beach makes a fantastic backdrop for supernatural storytelling.
“There’s a lot of made up cities in comic books and we felt that Long Beach has such potential for a superhero story for a comic book. No matter how you look at Long Beach, it is diverse from every approach and we wanted to play with that,” said Pallotta.
Old College Comics is collectively working towards turning passion into career and has its sights set on becoming a bona-fide publishing house. The Freshmen 15 debuted at the Long Beach Comic and Horror Con this year and was received incredibly well. They have plans to continue building web-based anthologies and for a follow up collaboration called The Sophomore Slump.
“I like my comics weird for the most part,” said Pallotta.
In the words of the late great Hunter S. Thompson, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”