From Doctor Cthulittle and Frankenstein Mobster to Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas, works based on Mark Wheatley's imagination, creativity and artistic talent have fueled his reputation as a creative force in the comic book industry.
That talent will be on display at the 2016 Baltimore Comic-Con this weekend. Wheatley, 62, a Carroll County comic book creator/illustrator, graphic novelist, musician and owner of Insight Studios, has been part of the Comic-Con since it first opened its doors 17 years ago.
Wheatley is one of more than 200 comic book illustrators and creators to be showcased at the three-day event, which runs Sept. 2-4 at the Baltimore Convention Center.
"I am currently preparing the industry awards show — The Harvey Awards — for the Baltimore Comic-Con that will happen on the evening of Sept. 3, at the Hyatt in Baltimore," Wheatley said earlier this week from his studio in the Westminster-area home he shares with his longtime love and spouse, Carol, an occupational therapist.
Wheatley is the designer for the Harvey Awards, which are the comic book industry's version of the Oscars and Emmys. The awards are named in honor of Harvey Kurtzman, best known as the founder of Mad magazine, and were established in 1988 to honor excellence in the comics industry, Wheatley said.
"Kurtzman is one of the top three most respected comic creators of all time, and that is why the awards are named after him," he said. "The awards became part of the Baltimore Comic-Con 11 years ago. Since then they have had a permanent home and have been growing in stature every year. Attendance is up. It's a very large ceremony, with hundreds of people expected to attend on Saturday night. Most of the luminaries of the comics industry will be in attendance."
During the rest of the three-day event, Wheatley will be painting an illustration to promote his new book project, "Doctor Cthulittle."
"I will … be performing a live painting on the spot, over the course of the three days of the show," Wheatley said. "I was at the San Diego Comic-Con just a month ago. I did another live painting there."
"Doctor Cthulittle," created by author G.D. Falksen and Wheatley, is a fusion of the character Doctor Dolittle with the Cthulhu Mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. Described by Scoop, an e-newsletter for the comics industry, as "a tale of terror and whimsy … with wonder, action, adventure and wry humor," the book will feature 60 to 70 original paintings by Wheatley. The book uses the artistic legacies of Norman Rockwell and N.C. Wyeth as an accent to Falksen's witty writing style, Wheatley said.
Based on "Wheatley's love of classic magazine layouts and Golden Age illustration designs," according to Scoop, the title character, Doctor Cthulittle, learns to communicate with the Lovecraftian Elder Gods, and, consequently, the good doctor becomes the only individual capable of negotiating an agreement to stop the gods' plans to inflict catastrophes on the unsuspecting population of the Earth.
In addition to working on comic books and graphic novels, Wheatley is working on a number of TV sitcoms on CBS and ABC. Wheatley also composes and performs original theme music for his comics using an electronic keyboard and digital mixer in his studio, which is in his home. He holds the Eisner, Inkpot, Mucker, Gem and Speakeasy comic industry awards, — he was also nominated for the Ignatz Award from the OrlandoCon and was nominated several times for the Harvey Award.
Wheatley said he has designed a costume for Lady Gaga to wear at a Robin Hood Foundation event to raise money for homeless people in New York City; while she ultimately didn't wear the costume, at the same event, his art was used as a backdrop for a Black Eyed Peas performance. He's also created designs for ABC's "Beauty and the Beast" and "Square Roots," as well as "Super Clyde," "The Millers" and "2 Broke Girls" on CBS.
Several of Wheatley's graphic novels have been optioned for movies. Currently, "Blood of the Innocent," written by Wheatley and Rickey Shanklin, and illustrated by Wheatley, along with his longtime collaborator Marc Hempel, is in pre-production. The comic book series pits Dracula against Jack the Ripper, whose actual identity is a psychotic Prince Albert. Director Mickey Keating, of "Carnage Park" fame, has been selected as the director for the movie adaptation of "Blood of the Innocent."
A native of Tidewater, Virginia, Wheatley's passion for comic books began around the time he was in fifth grade, when he became hooked on the campy television series "Batman," starring Adam West.
Wheatley said his obsession with comics concerned his parents, who took his books away from him.
In response, Wheatley decided to draw his own comics. By the time he was a junior in high school, Wheatley began publishing a photocopied magazine about comic book art, called Nucleus: The Center of the Comic World, featuring articles and illustrations by established comic book illustrators and writers.
From that early venture, Wheatley began interacting with respected comic writers and illustrators from around the country.
After graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, with a degree in communications art and design, Wheatley moved to New Jersey to pursue a career as a freelance magazine illustrator.
Wheatley landed his first professional assignment for International Insanity, a National Lampoon spin-off magazine. It didn't take long before Wheatley had landed an assignment with Heavy Metal magazine.
Today, he has helped create, write, and illustrate numerous original comic books and graphic novels. At various times, he has worked as a freelance illustrator on established comic book series' characters, such as Tarzan, Dick Tracy, The Green Hornet, Dr. Strange, The Flash — and recently he has worked on projects for the Doctor Who franchise.
"I have a show coming up that the Norman Rockwell Museum is touring," Wheatley said, adding that the date of the show is yet to be determined.
For this weekend, though, his focus is close to home.
"The [Baltimore Comic-Con] is possibly the best comics con in the U.S.," Wheatley said, "mainly because they are one of the few shows that still focuses on the comics rather than the media tie-ins, like movies and TV."
If you go:
What: Baltimore Comic-Con
Where: Baltimore Convention Center, 1 W. Pratt St., Baltimore
When: 1 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 2; 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 3; and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4. VIP ticket holders enter 1 hour early Friday and 30 minutes early Saturday and Sunday.
Cost: $149 three-day VIP admission, $65 three-day admission, $35 Saturday admission, $30 Sunday admission, $25 Friday admission. Children 10 and younger, free general admission with paid adult. Additional costs apply for autograph and other special sessions. Tickets may be purchased online or at the door. The ticket office opens in the show lobby at 9 a.m. Friday, and 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
More on Mark:
For more information on Mark Wheatley and Insight Studios, visit www.insightstudiosgroup.com.