After Mitchel McKeon became interested in comic books last year, he started seeing one artist’s name over and over again on the comics he liked: Mark McKenna.
Then he found out that McKenna was going to be at the Albany Comic Con last fall, so he and his mother, Melissa, went there to meet McKenna in person.
“I just wanted to learn how to draw like him, so that’s how I got inspired,” said Mitchel, 10.
McKenna, who has spent 27 years in the comic book industry, has a work history that could inspire any young — or old — comic book fan. Working for both Marvel and DC Comics, the Orange County resident has inked “Batman,” “Wolverine,” “Iron Man,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “X-Men,” “Spider-Man” and the recent “Star Wars: The Old Republic: The Lost Suns.”
Because Mitchel was so interested in McKenna’s work, the artist named the boy his “biggest fan” at the Albany Comic Con and said that as a prize, McKenna would visit Mitchel’s school for free. McKenna paid that visit Wednesday at Joseph Henry Elementary School in Galway, where he spoke to third-, fifth- and sixth-grade students about the process comic book artists use.
For well-known comic books like ones the students have read, McKenna worked for hire as an inker, one member of a team that also included a writer, an editor, a penciller and a colorist. Each artist has a specific job and reports to the editor.
The team dynamic is important, he said: “It’s a lot like ‘Guitar Hero.’ You’re only as good as your drummer. If your drummer stinks, you fail.”
He explained to the students the tools of his trade, including a crow quill pen, ink, brushes, markers and templates.
And on the classroom’s interactive whiteboard, he showed them how yellow, blue, red and black printing plates are made separately and then put together to create a single image, eliciting an “ooooh” from a crowd of sixth-graders when he merged the four plates of a Spiderman cover.
“I did this in 1986, when you guys were just little kids, right?” he joked.
The Suffolk County native became interested in comics when he was 12, just a little older than the children he visited at Galway.
“I used to draw a lot of werewolves, and Army men jumping out of airplanes,” McKenna said.
Since 1994, when an overinflated comics market started to decline, McKenna has been working on his own self-published series, “Banana Tail,” which stars a young monkey with a yellow tail and his jungle friends.
He self-published his first “Banana Tail” book, a young children’s picture book, in 2003, and he also has published an activity book for elementary-schoolers.
“I’m still trying to figure out what market suits me best right now,” McKenna said.
Being his own boss on a project is interesting but scary, because he’s in charge of making the book and marketing it.
“It’s an uphill battle, because if I stop making it, it won’t take off on its own,” he said.