While modern readers might not recognize her name immediately, Ramona Fradon played a significant part in laying the foundations of modern comics.
That’s because she was one of the artists that DC Comics hired to draw the adventures of a number of their characters in the early stages of the so-called Silver Age of comics, an era that saw the revival of the superhero in the earliest days of the 60s. But her involvement with that company—and Aquaman, the character she’s most identified with—predates even that heady event.
In fact, Fradon charted the King of the Seas’ adventures during the 50s, co-creating his sidekick, Aqualad, and forever linking her name with those characters in the hearts of historians, fans and critics alike. She also made significant contributions to tales featuring some of DC’s newest and most important characters, including Metamorpho, The Element Man, Plastic Man, and the Super Friends, among others. Then, during the 80s, she delineated the trials and triumphs of Brenda Starr seven days a week.
Eventually, she retired from drawing full time, leaving the field to a new generation of creators. And while she’s known to do a few sketches for her fans while appearing at one convention or another, she’s largely left the storytelling to others.
Until now, that is
That’s because The Dinosaur That Got Tired of Being Extinct, a full color picture book she wrote and drew, is due for wide release in the near future. It’s a project that highlights a little-seen side of her work, one which promises to introduce her lovely line work and joyful outlook to a whole new generation, even as it provides long-time fans with real reason to celebrate.
For those who haven’t seen or heard about it yet, how would you describe The Dinosaur That Got Tired of Being Extinct?
It's a comical account of an innocent young dinosaur who comes to life in a natural history museum and sets out to find playmates to romp with and something to eat. Of course he creates a gigantic mess and becomes disillusioned to find that nothing is real or the way he remembered the world. It has a warm and happy ending, though.
Where did this story come from, and what kind of changes did it go through on its journey from conception to completion?
I started to write this years ago when I had taken a leave from comics to raise my daughter. I did most of the drawings back then but recently made a lot of changes in the text. The pictures are done in loose line and wash and are quite funny.
Well, why do it now?
I never know why I do things at certain times. I had always meant to finish the book, but I guess it wasn't ready to be finished until now.
Why self-publish the book? What are some of the reasons you chose to go that route, rather than place it with an established publisher?
I decided to self publish because I didn't want to deal with editors who would change things. I love the book just the way it is.
You’re well known for your past comic work on Aquaman and other iconic characters, which led me to wonder if that kind of experience, doing all that sequential work, helped when it came time to do the book, or if it proved to be a bit of a hindrance?
I suppose having drawn sequential comic book art helped me construct a narrative, but the sensibility was quite different. This book is comical but it is also touching and tender.
Do you have to use different mental muscles when creating a single image—be it a splash page, cover or a typical one-image page for a kid’s book—than those you get to flex while creating a typical storytelling page for a comic? Or is it all the same to you at this point?
As far as flexing different mental muscles, the difference was that I was illustrating my own ideas, and that is much easier to do. The drawings came easily and naturally to me, especially since I have always enjoyed doing loose, funny drawings more than super hero stuff.
What was your creative process on this one? Did you start with a notion, and then just started drawing and writing according to the whims of your muse, or was it a bit more structured than that?
I started with the idea and then let the dinosaur's inclinations write the story. I also was living with a puppy and a kitten and had a three year old daughter, and their innocence and playfulness all influenced the dinosaur's personality.
Does knowing that an image or story will be done in black and white, or in full color, alter the way you approach the page, or even how you draw it?
How about intended audience? Have you essentially always done your work for the same expected audience or imaginary reader, or do you vary your approach and choice of shots accordingly?
I think I'm the audience I want to communicate with. I want the drawing or writing to strike me as authentic and to have an impact. I guess after that it will take care of itself.
Well, is The Dinosaur That Got Tired of Being Extinct a sign of things to come? Will we be seeing the further adventures of this lovable dino, or perhaps more storybooks that feature new characters?
I don't have any plans to do another one, but you never know.
Well, how can folks order a copy for themselves?
The book will be on Amazon in March, or you can contact me at Lizard Library, PO Box 61, West Shokan, NY 12494.
And what’s it cost?
It will be $16.00.
I know that a lot of artists welcome the occasional art commission for sketches of their favorite characters, or even cover re-creations. Do you take commissions, and if so, how can folks get a hold of you to set that up?
Yes, I do commissions. You can contact me at Lizard Library or through Scott Kress at Catskill Comics.
(As this article was going to press, Dynamic Forces announced that it would be publishing the first ever Art of Ramona Fradon collection, giving fans and aficionados of good art and comics real reason to celebrate. BB)
[Note: Aquaman and Aqualad, Batman and Robin, Superman and Superboy, The Shining Knight and Plastic Man, and all associated characters are copyright of DC Entertainment. Brenda Starr is the property of the estate of Dale Messick and/or the Chicago Tribune Syndicate. All other characters are the property of Ramona Fradon or their respective creators and/or owners.]