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The Return Of Banana Tail

This week, the new "Previews" catalog comes out. In last month's catalog, though, one release went overlooked, I thought. So before we start looking at the next catalog, I wanted to bring up that missed title. Coming from Image Comics and Jim Valentino's "Shadowline" imprint of kid-friendly hardcover books is "Banana Tail's Colorful Adventure."

Banana Tail, for those of you who may have long forgotten his last mention in this column (hint: 2004), comes to us via comic book inker, Mark McKenna. Mark is a regular on the convention circuit, and one of the nice guys I always looked forward to visiting with on those con-filled weekends. And, as the father of a one year old daughter who devours picture books, I have something of a keen interest in this type of material.

So I shot Mark a few questions about the book at the last minute, and he was kind enough to answer them for me.

Augie De Blieck Jr.: Who is Banana Tail? What's the elevator pitch on the character? Why are the kids going to want to read his adventures?

Mark McKenna: Banana Tail is a li'l monkey who my Dad created in the mid '90's. BTail was supposed to literally have a banana for a tail, but I tried it out and it was just too weird for me to continue with, so I opted for him thinking he's turning into a banana because one day he wakes up with a yellow tail. The origin for Banana Tail is all laid out in his first storybook, which is available on

I know that kids will respond to the adventures of Banana Tail and friends for numerous reasons, one being that he's awfully cute. And, if a child is not a monkey fan but likes zebras or li'l rhinos, well, we have those too!

The other appeal that I've engrained in the stories which I know kids will love is that I've developed stories that teach lessons while being enjoyable. The first book is about being different, but it's cool to be different. The new book is about how to handle dilemmas with friends. The trick is, that I don't have an adult animal come in to solve the young animals problems; They solve the problems themselves. I think, as a developing writer, I'm learning these things as I move forward and write more stories for and around this trio of friends.

ADB: Banana Tail is a character you've been working on for years now. What brings him to Image now?

MM: Coming from a long time background in comic book biz and being alerted that Image Comics co-founder Jim Valentino had started a kids book line, it seemed like a perfect fit. It was an old friend and roommate, Fabian Nicieza, who mentioned Image had a kids book line, Silverline Books (an imprint of Shadowline). When I sent them the introductory info along with my website info, plus the "Banana Tail" books I had already self-published, Jim and Kris [Simon, editor] thought that the character was appealing to children and would make a great addition to their lineup.

ADB: So, is this a comic book, or a picture book? Some kind of hybrid? You have caption boxes telling most of the story, but there are word balloons in there, too.

MM: I wasn't sure about adding word balloons and captions for young kids, but Silverline Books publishes books that bridge the gap between picture books and graphic novels, specifically designed for young or reluctant readers. So it was their idea to incorporate both, which Iím happy we did.

I went over the text with my sister in-law, who is a second grade teacher, so we got the text to where it could be somewhat challenging to a young reader, yet stretch their abilities, as well.

ADB: You've chosen CGI art over traditional pen and ink this time. Why go that way?

MM: I had three art directions in mind for the new book. The conventional pencil, ink, and color style I had worked with on the first storybook. The other idea was a cut and layered color paper treatment that an artist I know did beautifully. And, of course, this third style: 3D CGI art.

I realized two things right from the start: I wanted to move at a fair pace and I didn't want to have the art as an economic hardship for me, seeing I wasn't doing it myself or with a pencil artist. The other thing is that I know that children's book publishers are constantly on the lookout for the next new style or something that is unique.

The clear choice became the CGI look. In fact one of the teachers at Full Sail University down in Winter Park, Fl., Matt Smith, I met at the Pittsburgh Comic Con years ago at an awards dinner when he was an animation student at the college. He told me he wanted to animate a short using Banana Tail back then. I really never thought anything would come of it, then one day Matt sends me this 30 second CGI piece he did using Banana Tail. I was in shock that he was a man of his word. That kind of got the ball rolling. Matt introduced me to Steve Akehurst and his crew that are all teachers at FSU who call themselves the 4th Armada, and were looking to do outside work and build up a side business in the entertainment biz with all of their expertise and skills.

ADB: The book is aimed at younger readers, obviously. Will you be doing the rounds of local libraries or schools in support of the book? Any crazy promotions or appearances to pimp?

MM: I am available to do schools, book stores and libraries, absolutely. Iíll do the usual rounds at comic cons and when the book is available at major book store chains I will set up appearances at the local Barnes and Nobles and Borders Books.

Thanks to Mark for sitting on the questioning seat this week. "Banana Tail's Colorful Adventure" will be in stores April 14th, sporting a $12.99 cover price for its 32 colorful pages.