FRAMINGHAM, Mass. (AP) — Riding the commuter train from Franklin, Rich Clabaugh draws spooky tales about five kids who meet in a crypt and battle bullies, grave robbers and a cupcake-devouring monster.
The Milford native spends the hour-long ride penciling the adventures of the young rascals who call themselves “The Graveyard Gang” in Ghostport, Mass., in 1930s comic book America “where nightmares are for real.”
After arriving in Boston, he heads to his day job as staff artist at the Christian Science Monitor.
Like the superheroes he read about as a kid, Clabaugh’s lived a sort of double life.
For more than 30 years, he’s worked in production and as a designer and staff artist for several area newspapers.
Yet he’s always been drawn to the visual verve and graphic elegance of vintage comic masters like Will Eisner who drew “The Spirit” and the Marvel superheroes such as Captain America, Spider-Man and Thor.
He recalled, “As a kid, I was always making up stuff and drew my own comic, ‘Colossal Man.'”
In Douglas, where he presently lives, he’s stored his collection of more than 10,000 comics in labeled boxes in the basement.
Now 49 with a daughter in high school and his son studying art in college, Clabaugh has achieved “a lifelong ambition” of writing, illustrating and publishing his own comic book.
He’s launched “The Graveyard Gang” online and has published two complete issues and part of a third, attracting thousands of readers. He’ll have a booth at the April 21 and 22 Boston Comic Con, which attracts the most popular artists and thousands of fans.
“Before, I was always a spectator at Comic Con,” said Clabaugh. “Having my own booth will be a dream come true.”
Anyone who got goose bumps reading “Tales From The Crypt” will likely enjoy how Clabaugh animates the Graveyard Gang’s antics with offbeat humor and visual panache without the outright gore.
An admirer of Milton Caniff’s 1930s adventure tale, “Terry and the Pirates,” he strives to give the Graveyard Gang “the old comic strip feel” of bright, bold images, contentious characters and an imaginative story line.
Clabaugh said, “I’ve always loved the 1930s. It was a time before television and computers when kids could play outside all day and get into all kinds of mischief.”
In a nod to the “Our Gang” comedies of old, his gang features five “misfits” — Preston “Presto” Perkins, Marcie McDoogle, Pasquale “Buster” Bonetti, Sammy “Sneezer” Smith and Lope “the Wolf Kid” Coronado.
Like the Fantastic Four, each kid has a more mundane skill that comes in handy during their misadventures.
Presto is the brain of the gang and Marcie is good with a slingshot. Buster likes to fight and Sneezer’s always got a runny nose.
The gang’s leader, the Wolf Kid, was an orphan rescued from a freak show and he’s hairy, brave and fast. Clabaugh calls the Wolf Kid “my Pinocchio” because he wants to be “a real boy.” Future issues, he said, will clarify Wolf Kid’s origins and the mysterious “curse” that hangs over his head.
Clabaugh has been mulling over back stories and adventures for the Gang for so long he has notes and plans for five seasons of 12 issues each.
For the time being, he’s been publishing two pages every week — “so I don’t have to rush” — since he launched last year.
After learning traditional methods of illustration, Clabaugh uses digital technology to put his stories online. He scans the stories he drew on the train into his computer. Then using Adobe Illustrator, he colors them, adds speech balloons and dialogue and lays out his pages in multiple tiers in boxes variously sized to suit the action.
He launched his third issue in February in which the gang tangles with a “krampus,” a legendary monster that he’s given a taste for cupcakes.
As the comic convention approaches, Clabaugh is looking forward to meeting fans in his own booth.
“I get excited people are reading my stories,” he said. “I’m still a kid at heart. I’m glad I haven’t lost that.”
“The Graveyard Gang” can be viewed online at no cost and can be printed for $6 an issue at http://www.thegraveyardgang.com.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.