Monster Smash

These days, a certain one-eyed monster is getting more and more attention.

For the record, that would be Harry the Monster, the central character in the comic Protect Your Monster. After a few years of appearing in David Magazine and impacting the Atlanta community, Protect Your Monster is entering into some new arenas. Most notably, the recent publication of Covered: A Protect Your Monster Comic Collection is giving Protect Your Monster the chance to reach a broader audience.

Shepherding the project is Protect Your Monster creator Richard Marshall. Marshall, who also works as a bartender at Jungle, was inspired to use Harry the Monster as a way to promote safe sex. With a combination of puns and creative images, Protect Your Monster has found a number of ways of relaying a promotion of safe sex.

Protect Your Monster’s impact has also gone beyond the pages of David. Proceeds from the project, including book sales and other assorted products, benefit a number of Atlanta organizations that deal with HIV/AIDS, including AID Atlanta, Positive Impact, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and the Armorettes.

I sat down with Marshall to discuss the origins of the series, the impact of the project on the community, and more.

What led you to start Protect Your Monster?

It started in February of 2009 and they mainly started as icebreakers. Hopefully people get the message [from the drawings of the monster]. That’s how I led off into it. So I had that and I created the Woo-Woo, the female persona, and mainly just because working with Joey Johnson [a.k.a. Knomie Moore] of the Armorettes, who’s barbacking over at Jungle. When I started doodling these, he was the one who suggested I make a project out of it. I created it to have people jump into the conversation about safe sex. A lot of people are hesitant to bring up protection, status, testing because they feel it kills the mood. And, you know, a certain percentage of people are a little shy about sex anyway. So, just as a way to springboard into that, pretty much if you see a one-eyed monster with a raincoat on…

How often are you creating comics at this point?

I’ll have a new comic come out every week in David. If inspiration hits me, I’ll produce…seven in one week, because it keeps on coming to me. The puns will flow.

When I first started off, David wanted to do the four-panels just to keep the reader’s attention a little bit more. But I’ve always tried to simplify the message. HIV/AIDS seems to be a very heavy topic. I grew up on Calvin & Hobbes and The Far Side, so I felt a little bit of humor put in with a heavy topic would be a good approach to [talking about] it. Boxes and packages are a frequent theme.

After a year of doing the four-panel comics, I was able to bring a little bit of humor into social situations. After that first year, I wanted to go back to my original approach, which was hitting people with a simple message, grabbing their attention and putting it out there. It’s definitely been a lot of fun. One of the things that’s really interesting is before I started working with David Magazine, and continuing through the whole relationship, I’ve been able to partner up with a number of people in the community. Steven Igarashi from AID Atlanta has been invaluable. He’s invited me to…as you can see on the website, I had a costume. It has since been retired, because I was tired of losing 30 pounds of water weight.

I noticed that on the website. I thought that the costume was cool, but it had to be very, very hot.

Yes. The costume was pretty much shag carpet. It was cool, though. I was a mascot during college. I was Pounce the Panther at Georgia State, but that was enough for me, and I wouldn’t subject anybody else to being inside that costume. Febreze is your best friend when you’re inside that costume.

But I was able to get the costume and participate with AID Atlanta and a couple of different Atlanta Prides. I eventually walked in the AIDS Walk twice. Darie, one of my friends, actually donned the Woo-Woo costume. That one’s even hotter, so bless her for that.

So what led you to come out with the book?

Well, the whole thing with me. When I first started Protect Your Monster, I wanted it to be an opportunity to come up with approaching a heavy topic as well as fundraising. And of course, Joey Johnson with the Armorettes and all of the other organizations I’ve been able to come in contact with over the years, I’ve seen all of the work that they do and it’s really impressive. I always wanted to make sure that if I got anything, I give it back. With the comics, I try to put it out there as much as possible. I did some t-shirts for a while, and anything that was gained from that went back to…pretty much half of it went to a non-profit organization. But I’d much rather focus on getting done with the comics.

Hitting the two-year mark, I just figured it was time to compile it, and people who were interested in the book, they wanted to have the collection available to be able to enjoy it and share it with their friends. It would be a way to emphasize the message I’m trying to get out there. Also a majority of anything that comes as a profit from the book goes directly to organizations. I see all of the important things they do, and if anything, I’m just trying to bring a little more attention to something they live and breathe on a daily basis, so definitely all the credit goes to them for the effort they put out there.

Where is the book available?

Amazon has the digital book, and people can order the physical book from there as well. It’s for people outside the Atlanta region, but also it helps to have the physical book in Atlanta, and Brushstrokes has been so fantastic with community involvement anyway, with their orders, it actually allows me to do a bigger donation per book. Essentially, Brushstrokes is $4 – a dollar going to each organization – per book.

How did you choose which comics ended up in the book?

There are about 120 of them that made the digital cut. There was a lot of self-editing. Some of them weren’t that funny. Sometimes I just had a deadline to meet. I had a few that just needed to go away. But the ones that I was able to get the biggest response out of made it. I have the Facebook page. I’ve had a lot of friends jump on that, and a lot of people that I don’t know, which is kind of fun for me. I’ve been able to get a pretty steady stream of feedback.

So what are some of your future plans or ideas for Protect Your Monster?

Pipe dream: essentially, my main goal has always been to focus on the topic, so exposing my monster is the main thing that I’m looking for, if that would be…you know. I would hate to give myself one direction and have other options open up. I think doing something with the CDC would be fantastic. Anything that gives me a large impact. A cartoon would be a lot of fun. If you have any connections at Cartoon Network, we’ll talk.

Visit Protect Your Monster for more information. you can pick your copy up at Brushstrokes orAmazon. Prefer the Kindle version? Get it here!

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