A transplanted city resident has fulfilled a dream and created a sci-fi comic strip that has run in the pages of the Voice for almost two years. Tom Aschenbach has gained a following for the strip, which is called, UFO, and his work has brought about invitations to speak to school children regarding art.
Born in Brunswick, GA, in 1972, Aschenbach grew up in Jacksonville, FL. It was there he developed an appreciation for art.
“My grandfather was an amateur landscape painter. I developed a love for drawing from him,” he said.
Comic strips were a passion for Aschenbach and that passion started very early.
“In the fourth grade, I made my first comic book series. It was called Simon and Ralph,” he said.
“The premise was, Simon was always happy/optimistic, and Ralph was always grumpy and pessimistic. These were drawn on notebook paper that I’d stapled together, and I tried to sell them to my fellow students for ten cents apiece. My teacher, Mrs. Champion, ended up buying all of them, and encouraged me to keep drawing.”
As he grew up, a new interest began to show up in his art, and influence the way he wanted to portray his work.
“In the 80’s, I loved reading science fiction, superhero comic books, and comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County. I first had the idea for my own comic strip in the early 90’s. At first, it was going to be a funny strip about aliens. Then I realized I wasn’t funny, so I turned it into the sci-fi adventure strip it is now,” he said.
His art interests are not limited to far off galaxies or strange beings. He does other things and uses other media in his art pursuits.
“Over the years, I’ve worked as an artist when I can, picking up freelance gigs here and there. I did a series of children’s activity books for a local publisher in Jacksonville. Through him, I did a coloring/activity book for Ripley’s Aquarium, Cypress Gardens, the Schiele Museum of Natural History, and the people of the Seminole Nation, among others. That gave me the confidence to try and do my artwork full time,” he said..
Bad health and a need for brain surgery between 2006-2009 threatened his pursuits.
“For awhile, I wondered if I’d ever draw again. It was a low point in my life, but was ultimately for the best,” he said.
Then he met the certain someone that made life different – and certainly gave him a new outlook.
“I met my wife, Jamie Reeves, in 2014, and it was love at first sight. We were married within six months. When she was hired to work in the library at SCSU in November of 2016, we moved up to West Haven. We absolutely love it here, and plan on buying a home within the next two years,” he said.
Besides doing the “UFO” comic strip, Aschen sculpts custom resin toys, doing everything involved in that medium, from mold-making to casting the resin.He is currently working on a dinosaur toy that should be ready within a month.
“I also love coming up with t-shirt designs to sell online. Doing the comic strip is still the most fulfilling art that I do,” he said.
Last year tragedy struck as the Aschenbach family lost Tom’s younger brother, Matt. It was a blow to artist, who shared his love for science fiction with his sibling.
“We lost him last year. When I’m writing up a new strip, or designing another alien, I ask myself if he would like it. Or what would he like to see done in this spot, etc. So, in a way, I’m doing the comic strip with my brother,” he said.
How are people reacting to UFO. The reviews seem to be the public enjoys the strip.
“I’ve had a very positive response to the comic strip. An academic at SCSU told me he and his wife look forward to reading it every issue. And I was even asked for my autograph by someone who worked at the Valero gas station,” he said.
He still has plans for the strip, and hopes it goes a step further in its development. He wants to follow the path of many comic strips and see it animated.
“In the future, I’d like to see my comic turned into animation. Either as a cartoon for TV, or film. I’ve been working on a screenplay since last year, adapting the strip for a movie,” he said. “As I get older, I realize that if I want to see it done, I’m the one that has to do it. No one is going to realize my dream for me.”
Doing something he enjoys, whenever he gets an opportunity to talk to young artists, he has a straightforward message: do it.
“To the kids out there who enjoy making art, I’d say don’t give up on it. If it’s something you’re truly passionate about, the world needs you. The artwork we have now is wonderful, but you’re the ones who’ll give us the art of the future,” he said.
What’s next for Aschenbach? The sky’s the limit.
“My future with Jamie looks bright and wonderful. We have our fur babies to keep us warm, and the community of West Haven welcomes us,” he said. “I’m currently working full-time as an artist for hire.”