Bradenton resident illustrates upcoming comic about first lady Michelle Obama

Bradenton Herald  – First lady Michelle Obama is coming to a comic book store near you.

Obama is the third political figure to grace the cover of Bluewater Productions’ “Female Force” comic series, due out April 29. The popular series has also featured Hillary Clinton and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

The newest issue, “Female Force: Michelle Obama,” was illustrated by Bradenton resident Joshua LaBello.

Bluewater has already sold out of the book’s first-print copies, placing LaBello’s talent in the national spotlight. Though the 34-year-old, self-taught artist has been illustrating all his life, he decided to break into the comic book industry after hopes of starting a cabinet company failed.

“The very best time to try something new is when you have nothing to lose,” he said.

The 22-page “Female Force: Michelle Obama,” like others in the series, doesn’t read like a traditional comic book.

No one is faster than a speeding bullet or able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Instead of super powers, the series focuses on real life “super women.” Each comic highlights their real-life backgrounds, influences and the paths they took to become the women they are today.

So far, the Obama book has been the most popular in the series. Bluewater has sold 45,000 copies to distributors, said publisher Darren Davis. That’s five times more than the Clinton and Palin comics, he said.

The demand has resulted in a second printing of the comic and lots of media buzz. The second edition will have a new cover titled “Nighttime at the White House.” Both covers were illustrated by Vinnie Tartamella. The rest of the book is LeBello’s handiwork.

The artist said he has been a comic book fan since he was a child. He still collects an assortment of some of the most popular ones — Spider-Man, X-Men and the Hulk. But when LaBello, who is married with two young children, moved to Bradenton two years ago, he didn’t have comics on his mind. He was eager to be on the ground floor of a new kitchen and design cabinet company.

When the economy took a nose dive, the business did too. So he turned to the best thing he knew how to do: illustrating.

“I tried to make lemonade out of lemons, you know,” LaBello said.

He sent a few sample drawings to various companies, which got his foot in the door. He said Bluewater liked his work so much it gave him a few projects to tackle.

LaBello asked for more.

“I said ‘What’s next? Give me something big,’ ” the Ohio native said. “It turns out it was something really big.”

LaBello said the comic books show these women in a powerful light — something that will inspire women of all ages.

Davis said the books educate the public about political figures and their backgrounds. The idea sprung from last season’s election. It was Davis’ hope to dispel myths that circulated among the nation, said LaBello.

“You got the impression that people weren’t getting a good source of information on who these people are,” said LaBello. “They’re all pretty mysterious — Hillary Clinton, everyone knows the most about her. But Sarah Palin, no one knew her. … It was pretty much the same with Michelle Obama.”

LaBello, who spent about a month illustrating the Obama comic, said he really enjoys the biographical information in the series. He believes people are interested in the path she took that lead her to success.

The artist’s real talent lies in drawing portraits. He was inspired by several photos of Obama and her family for the comic. In the book, she’s seen in the red-and-black dress she wore on election night and sports her well-known sleeveless look in other frames.

LaBello’s two sons, Aris, 5, and Solomon, 3, now share his love of drawing. When they see their father working, they pull out their pads and work alongside him, LeBello said.

More comics in the series will follow, including one about a powerful media female figure, but it’s still a secret. Bluewater will announce who the figure is at a later date, LaBello said.

Other upcoming issues published by Bluewater, but illustrated by others, will feature Princess Diana and Caroline Kennedy.

LaBello said he believes the comics will be a collector’s item.

“It will get more people interested in history,” he said.

published April 19, 2009

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