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Friday Surprise!

So, I was floored to see this post on longtime Melonpool reader John (”Soxfan59″) Russell’s facebook page this morning. I think this meant as much — if not more — to me than the comics that were sent to him meant to him. Reposted with John’s permission! If you ever need legal council in the Chicago area, I can recommend no finer lawyer. Here’s his website.

I have a collection of rare, original artwork. All by the same, well known and talented artist.
Oh, I’m sure many of my Facebook, Xanga, and Blogspot friends will say they’ve never heard of him, but that does not change his unique statute in the art world, nor does it alter the priceless value of my collection.
Who is the artist? Why, none other than Steve Troop.
Steve Troop is a pioneer. He draws, or has drawn at least, his own comic strip, self published on line. It was originally called “the Adventures of Mayberry Melonpool.” He mercifully shortened the title to just “Melonpool” because his work kept getting lost in lists under “a” for “adventures,” so he retitled it to reflect just his main character.
“Melonpool” is an eclectic creation. It involves a space ship full of aliens who crash land and are marooned on earth. While trying to repair the ship, the crew tries to blend in with “life on earth.” It’s “Gilligan’s Island” meets “Star Trek,” and Mr. Troop would not be ashamed to admit that those two television shows are a big part of his inspiration. Indeed, pop culture, and more specifically science fiction are the focal point for his satire. Not only is the comic funny, in the sense that I laugh at the jokes in each strip, but Mr. Troops work is filled with pop culture references that are funny on so many different levels. The subtle complexities are truly amazing.

Steve is a pioneer because there was a time about twenty to twenty five years ago where an artist who created a new comic strip who wanted to present his work to a wide audience would have to be syndicated in newspapers. And to do this? Well, it was impossible. Then, cartoonists grabbed hold of the then “new” phenomenon of the internet, and suddenly found a new, almost limitless new audience. Today you can find websites which are cooperative ventures by multiple cartoonists, sharing server space and trying to produce advertising revenue while self-publishing their work. Steve was on of the first cartoonists to put his work on the internet. His current website has a huge archive of his work – over ten years worth of daily comics (with the occasional intermittent hiatus). Steve was never able to realize the concept of making a living at his comic strip, and eventually discontinued its regular updates as the need to make a living, have room for a personal life, and creative burnout took its toll. He’s worked as an artist on other projects as well, and especially has an affinity for puppetry. While in college, he helped design and build puppet versions of his characters for a movie of his comic stories he made for a film class. He continues to design and build puppets, and has had his puppetry featured on a website associated with a television show. His puppet designs have also been used in television ads in California.
I discovered Steve’s comic strip (it’s at www. Melonpool.com) quite by accident sometime in the mid 1990s. I contacted Steve to praise his work, and the two of us became good friends via e-mail. I did my best to promote Steve’s work – I wrote to many newspaper editors and syndicates asking them to consider his strip for publication. I even got promises from some folks they would look into it. Nothing much ever came of it, but Steve and I got to know each other. I always felt Steve was destined for greatness.
He and I got a chance to meet on several occasions, even though he lived in Southern California, and I lived in the southern suburbs of Chicago. I traveled to San Diego on business a few times, and my wife and I got to spend time with Steve. On a few occasions, Steve visited Chicago for the Comic-Con convention, or to visit other friends, and we would hook up. On one of these occasions, Steve awarded me with my first piece of original “Troop Art.”
While at the Comic book conventions, Steve would re-draw and ink some of his original comic drawings and sell them. I had commented that I related to one of his characters – a giant talking hamster who ran on a wheel to provide the power for the space ship (clever, no?). I related both to the concept of being trapped, running on a wheel and this poor character’s struggles with weight gain. To thank me for helping him when I spent a day at Steve’s booth at the Chicago Comic-Con, Steve sent me an original bit of art featuring the hamster character. I was so honored by this, I had it framed, and it hangs in my office to this day (even though my office is currently in my basement furnace room). Here is a photo of this precious art work:

And here is the same comic strip in its original form, as published by Steve on his website:

Well, recently, my Troop collection got bigger. Late last year, Steve announced he was going to start selling his original comic drawings. I contacted him at the time. I couldn’t afford to buy one at that time, but I had asked him to set aside one of my favorite strips, and I would pay him for it when my cash flow improved. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter I lost my job, and my cash flow would not allow me to purchase original artwork.
A week or so ago, though, while recuperating from my surgery, I got an unexpected package in the mail. It was from Steve Troop. He had sent me two pieces of his original comic art as a “get well” present, along with a lovely note from him and his wife. I was humbled by this gesture. This was a true gift, from the heart. I have been so blessed by the love and support of my friends and family – and here was an example of someone who, though not a close friend, gave a special gift to me out of what was really most precious to him. It was a marvelous gesture.
Here are the two additional pieces of comic art. First, the “laptop” strip, which of course, I can relate to in so many ways:

And then, a VERY special bit of art. Steve often included caricatures of his close friends in his comic strip (because he often caricatured himself as a character in his own comic, breaking down the “third wall” from time to time). One day, I was surprised to find that he had included a caricature of ME in one of his strips. He was in a story line where his main character, Mayberry Melonpool, had been chosen for jury duty. He made me the judge in the courtroom. I’m not sure if this is what I really look like, but the facial expression is pretty much spot on, and he even included a “White Sox” coffee mug for me! I was a celebrity in the webcomic world! And now, he had given me the original of this comic strip as a gift. Here it is:

So, as you can see, I am the proud owner of three Steve Troop originals. The two recent additions will eventually be framed and join the first in my office, whether it stays in my basement, or, as I hope, winds up in an office here in town or perhaps in downtown Chicago!

John also wanted me to include one of the comments from his daughter Simi:
LIKE TIMEs A JILLION!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! YAY melonpool!!!!! Mr. Troop’s comics are really funny I personally love Ralph…I have a thing for villains with a caffeine addiction…
I think I can think of a few strips that Simi might like in her stocking this year, John!

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