Only criminals and superheroes have aliases. Howard Garton is trying to make a name for himself as the latter.
By day, he’s a brick-laying Magnolia resident. But by night, he straps on a fin and becomes the speed demon known as Orcaman. Now, he has a comic book to share his adventures and give back.
Nearly a decade ago, Garton first strapped a fin to his back and became Orcaman. The response was lackluster; his “girl” told him it was “stupid.” But soon, he was making a name for himself, zipping along the water on his watercraft, giving people on the ferry a show and having some frequent run-ins with the police for going too fast.
Garton likes to ride farther out in the ocean, where he can go as fast as he wants. He estimates he’s been to Canada and back about 70 times. While he was out on his watercraft, he started picking up garbage he found floating and bringing it back to shore. Downtown Seattle has the worst garbage, he said. Much more than one man — even an Orcaman — can clean up on his own.
“So the only thing I can do is berate people into trying to help,” he said.
One way to get his message out was to create a comic book about his alter ego.
Garton first met his comic artist while working on a construction job. The artist — who is unidentified in the book and by Garton — drew the Orcaman logo first. He tried nine other artists first, but the logo was exactly what Garton wanted, and he decided to pursue the book.
Garton storyboarded the book, and the artist expanded on some of his ideas. He used some of his own experiences as Orcaman in the book, like going camping with Boy Scouts. In one scene Orcaman knocks over a bunch of levers with his fin, something Garton did to drinks at a Halloween party dressed as Orcaman.
Garton and the artist agreed to $50 per page of the 68-page book. Garton figured the drawing costs would total about $3,000 to $4,000, and the publishing costs would be $5,000 to $6,000. It has cost him more than $20,000 to self-publish the comic book, Garton estimates.
“In my brick work, I build big, fancy mansions,” he said. “People come in, they’re just awed; this [book] is the same reaction. They go, ‘Wow.’ The art just does stand out.”
It took three years for Garton and his team to finish the book. “I could have quit this 500 times,” he said.
Garton printed 10,000 copies of “The Adventures of Orcaman,” which released in November.
“I did give my mother [book] No. 1. — that was the most fulfilling right there,” he said. “I bought the first 100 to give to my family and friends. Boy, they’re treating them like jewels.”
His assistant, Abby McMillen, was hired on initially to help redo some of the calligraphy in the book that had mistakes. As things went forward, she began to take over Garton’s email accounts and built his website; now, she’s his social media and communications manager. She also handles things like promotional work and printing logistics.
“As it’s come closer and closer to fruition and now that it’s here, my job has grown and grown,” she said.
Garton plans to do a cheaper run of 100,000 comics after this set sells. The target audience is 6- to 10-year-olds and their parents, he said.
“I want to sell these first 10,000 and become a local hero, then go from there and be a national hero,” he said.
Garton, an Eagle Scout, plans to donate one-half of the proceeds of the book to the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, in remembrance of his father. The Boy Scouts don’t really get what he’s all about yet, he said, but giving back is important to him.
“Other companies, they’re proud [if they] give 1 percent of their net,” he said. “If this gets successful, I’ll be able to browbeat people into more donations.”
Garton wants the money to be used to send kids to camp. When he was a Boy Scout, he learned skills from beekeeping to astronomy to signaling.
“Kids these days are just on their damn Game Boys,” he said. “There’s no well-roundedness.”
Like Orcaman, who has pig sidekick Orca Porca, Garton has a pet pig, too, named Lady Bonita. Lady Bonita has her own fin that Garton straps to her back. He sometimes dresses as Orcaman and takes her to local elementary schools.
“It does really impress the kids,” he said. “I mean, they just go nuts.”
The book has an extensive word choices that even extended McMillen’s vocabulary.
“That’s exactly what I want,” Garton said. “A little bit of education, a little bit of fun and a moral or two.”
Other comic books can be extremely violent, but Garton didn’t want that for Orcaman. He took curse and negative words, like “idiot,” out of the book. The only violence in the comic book is accidental, he said.
“We want to sort of circumvent all of the bloodiness,” he said.
Both of his watercrafts are broken right now, so Garton hasn’t be able to go out on the water for several months. Garton has been using that spare time to work on his second Orcaman comic book. Garton and his artist have been storyboarding the next edition, with new characters like a penguin called Orca Penga.
If Orcaman the comic book becomes successful, Garton wants to continue doing his day job. And he wants to do his comic book for charities like the Boy Scouts, Habitat for Humanity and others.
The money isn’t important to Garton, he said: He’d rather have the fame.
“You can’t take it with you,” he said of the money.
Garton has other merchandise plans, including orca fins for dogs or fin-shaped candy for him to throw out during parades dressed as Orcaman. He also wants to start riding an electric watercraft — something he requested to Tesla in a letter.
Not everyone is a fan of Orcaman, though. When he was featured on the Magnolia Voice blog in 2011, talking about the plans for his books, more than half of the 42 comments were negative. Comments ranged from criticism of his environmental focus while riding long distance on a gas-powered vehicle, to “I hope Orcaman gets bit by a real Orca!”
“The Adventures of Orcaman Issue No. 1: The Drab Debacle” is available forpurchase on Garton’s website: www.orcaman.org.
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