Niagara Gazette

Features

March 13, 2012

SERIOUSLY FUNNY: Professional comic book artist donates series to NF libraries

NIAGARA FALLS — Move over, Curious George. There's a new monkey in town.      His name is Banana Tail, and he's a primate with — you guessed it — a tail the color of a banana. His sidekicks are also uniquely designed: a plaid zebra named Tic Tac and a rhinoceros named Reena who changes color depending on her mood.

Author and veteran comic book artist Mark McKenna recently donated his hard and soft cover book series to the Niagara library system. After making the acquaintance of local film maker Ken Cosentino, McKenna decided to do something to help the community.

McKenna, who lives in Orange County, began his introduction into the world of comic books as a teenager.

"I always had a fascination with drawing superheroes," he said. "I never really thought it would be more than a hobby."

Twenty-seven years later, he has worked on over 450 comics for Marvel Comics and DC Comics.

Banana Tail was intended to be a collaboration between McKenna and his father. John McKenna had created the characters of Banana Tail and Tic Tac, but he passed away before the first book could be completed. McKenna said that helped drive him to make the book a reality, which he achieved in 2002.

The Banana Tail series reflects McKenna's experimentation with children's book styles. The first book, "Banana Tail," is a rhyming storybook highlighting the little monkey's struggle with his tail, which has suddenly turned from brown to yellow from eating too many bananas. "Banana Tail's Tales and Activities" contains short stories in graphic novel format, with the addition of coloring pages, connect-the-dots and other activities.

The most recent book, "Banana Tail's Colorful Adventure," uses 3-D computer graphics to illustrate the mystery of why Reena the rhinoceros is so upset.

"Everytime I do something new with Banana Tail, it becomes a whole learning lesson all over again," McKenna said.

McKenna said he hopes children have fun reading the books while learning lessons about things like self-respect, honesty and forgiveness.

There's also an underlying message of striving to develop solutions to one's own problems, with characters like the wise, old ostrich Eggboo to provide guidance along the way.

"I don’t have an adult resolve any of their conflicts," McKenna said. "They have to figure it out themselves."

That's not unlike what McKenna himself has been trying to do over the years when it comes to gaining recognition for the books. Getting a publisher has proved difficult, and McKenna has had to do much of the work that goes into creating the series himself. Mike White, a retired police officer and friend of McKenna's for over 15 years, has helped McKenna promote the book through word of mouth and at book fairs. At a book fair in Miami several years ago, the series was a hit. White also introduced the books to fellow police officers.

"I knew Mark was on to something when I showed one of the books to one of my guys and he said, 'I'm gonna read this to my kid every night,'" White said.

Librarian Linda Giarrizzo of the LaSalle Public Library expressed her gratitude for the donation.

“We’re always happy when people donate books to us,” she said. “We’re happy to see authors taking an interest in the library.”

Giarrizzo said she doesn’t know which library, LaSalle or the Main Branch, will ultimately house the books, but once the books are catalogued into the library system, patrons will be able to request them online or at either location.

Meanwhile, McKenna is working on another installment in the series, a “Boo-nana Tail” story that he hopes will be available by Halloween.

"I'm just not going to stop working on Banana Tail until I make it a household name," McKenna said.

Contact Julia Merulla at features@niagara-gazette.com.

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