March 22, 2015 – May 22, 2015
1:15 p.m. Sunday, March 22, grand opening of exhibit, 2 p.m.
Cowboys and cattle stampede into graphic novel world
Every little boy has a dream and for Aaron Mallard, growing up in the Delta region of Arkansas, it was to be a comic book artist. Now a grown man, he’s finally seeing his dream realized and not quite in the way he imagined.
Mallard was commissioned by the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in late 2013 to create a new historically-accurate graphic novel based on the Chisholm Trail.
“This project came through Stacy Moore and I jumped at it,” Mallard shared in a recent interview with the Heritage Center. “I had to read a lot about the Chisholm Trail. I’m not a historian or anything, but I had to have some kind of reference point.”
For Mallard, it meant spending an excess amount of time at the Siloam Springs library, where he lives in Northwest Arkansas.
“I started drawing cowboy-era paraphernalia, hats, saddles, chuck wagons. There was quite a bit of research involved. For several reasons I really loved the project. I love the Civil War era and the cattle drive followed the Civil War. It was the next big thing in history.”
When Mallard was younger, he would submit drawings and ideas to Marvel, but nothing resulted from his attempts. He didn’t give up his dream. After marriage, his wife, Alice, encouraged him to return to school. In December 2013, he completed his schooling at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Ark., earning his visual design degree.
“I had a better foundation to build on after graduation.”
Yet, he also had to pay the mortgage, so he took a management position with Dollar General stores. In addition to working 80-plus hours a week, he would research and draw for the graphic novel. When he first started the project, he intended to complete it digitally, with Photoshop and Illustrator.
“Alot of people do comics in Photoshop and I was just out of college. The very first page is the chuck wagon and cook. That one was all digital.”
The chuck wagon was also the most labor-intensive of the pages, as it has so many pieces that needed to have exact dimensions. He then decided he was spending too much time with the multiple layers and technology of the project, and he decided to complete the book the old-fashioned way. After he finished the pages, he scanned them in and then refined each one on the computer.
“What we think we know is not historically accurate. Hollywood has tainted what we know – giving people what they want and ignoring what happened (in history). That is one of the things that struck me as I researched the Chisholm Trail cattle drive,” Mallard said.
Working on this project also was more than just about having his first real “graphic novel” professional job.
“I’m thinking about young kids and what an impact it would have on them in the future. Doing this thing for the Heritage Center is awesome, but the one thing is, how are children going to perceive me and how a future artist will take away from this that they might be able to use. I wanted do comic books from first grade. I learned from how-to’s. and never had any encouragement. I came up in a farming community. I learned from watching other artists.”
Mallard is already beginning work for another graphic novel, also based on history of the Chisholm Trail.
“There are some interesting characters, to create more projects.”
One valuable thing Mallard discovered in the course of the project was the numerous websites created by people well-versed in the Chisholm Trail.
“There are many knowledgeable people, plus valuable notes from Dr. Chris Jefferies.”
The late Dr. Jefferies was a noted expert on the Chisholm Trail and the Heritage Center’s first executive director. He worked closely with Moore on the editing of the historical content of the graphic novel.