By all outward appearances she indeed seems to be a law-abiding, mild-mannered artist and a typical garden tending homeowner, but in reality confesses to being, “Twisted between the ears.”
Meet our very own Encinitas comic book hero, artist, and storyteller, Mary Fleener, who has been living quietly amongst us since 1981.
Mary Fleener’s prolific career was recently honored at the 2019 Comic-Con Convention held in San Diego in July, as Comic-Con’s Special Guest, in recognition of her lifetime achievements through her phenomenal body of artwork and graphic novel storytelling. As a Special Guest, Mary is being treated like a rock star… wined and dined and housed in the finest hotel, “In exchange for speaking on 100 panels during the weekend”, laughs Mary.
It was at one of these panel talks that Mary literally almost fell out of her chair when they presented her with the prestigious Inkpot Award, which now puts her onto the elite Gold Member A-List for Comic-Con and Wonder-Con. Only ten Inkpots are given each year.
Art was something that Mary was born into. “My mother was an artist and fashion designer and we always had art supplies around the house”, recalls Mary. “An artist is all I ever remember being.”
Mary found her muse and finally her voice after discovering the work of underground comic book artist Robert Crumb, Robert Armstrong’s Mickey Rat, and the Hernandez Brothers who created the Love and Rockets series.
“I always harbored a secret desire to do cartooning, but I wasn’t inspired until I was in my ‘30’s, in 1984.”
By 1987 Mary was now displaying her artwork for the second year at her booth in Comic-Con when one of her colorful Cubismo styled 16″ x 20″ paintings caught the eye of a New York tattoo artist with long black hair and a gold tooth. Totally in love with the painting, he talked Mary into a trade and went home with her painting.
“Three years later”, Mary recounts, “I heard through the grapevine that the guy had gotten a tattoo of the painting, but I hadn’t seen it yet. Then one day I walked into Leucadia Liquor and my husband Paul says, ‘Oh my God, look at that!’ and on the cover of Outlaw Biker Tattoo magazine was the tattoo artist displaying his full-back tattoo of my painting.”
Mary’s drawings and the stories she tells, are in many ways autobiographical and inspired by her own life’s experiences, hopes, and desires, as is reflected In Mary’s 120-page hardcover, 2019 graphic novel, Billie The Bee.
“The Snake character is very wise and fatalistic, which I wish I could be” laughs Mary. “She’s got this Zen approach to life, that you take it as it comes and you don’t worry about it. I wish I could be like that. I think it’s a wise way to live” muses Mary, “Instead of worrying about everything, like the Turtles in Billie the Bee, for example, they worry, worry, worry! That’s another part of my personality, I worry too much.”
Billie the Bee, on the other hand, says Mary, “Is a song and dance man, like myself, so I wanted my character to have some sort of musical talent. When I’m on stage I’m a bit of a ham, so I put that into my character, Billie the Bee.”
Asked about her artistic style, Mary explains, “It’s all about contrast and clarity. I like to look at art that is visually kinetic. I’m really critical about colors. Color is real important to me.“
How did you settle on moving to Encinitas?
“Paul my husband, surfed here in high school. He brought me here on my first visit to Encinitas where we stayed at the Campgrounds in Cardiff. My second trip here we hung out at Beacon’s, ate tacos and I saw the dolphins surfing, and that was it. I told Paul ‘Quit your job, we’re moving down here’. He said, ‘Sure!’”
“We went back to L.A. and gathered up all my art supplies and music equipment. I had just inherited and sold my Grandma’s house in South Central L.A., which was next door to the guy that started the Crypts, and with that money, in 1981, we came back to Encinitas, found a fixer-upper house up a dirt road on Ocean View Avenue, made the down payment on it, and we’ve been here ever since”.
What do you love about Encinitas?
“I just like the people. It’s a diverse community, but everybody lives together, everybody’s stuck in traffic together and everybody has to stand in line together. I think it’s the most integrated community I’ve really ever experienced. Everybody is just happy to be here.”
And in closing, Mary Fleener’s philosophy of life: “Try everything once!”