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Mad taps Canadian cartoonist Mike Holmes for “True Story”–style comic

Illustrator and cartoonist Mike Holmes grew up on Mad Magazine. He found it first in the grocery stores of lower mainland British Columbia, and then in Halifax when his family moved to the East Coast city.

“I have specific memories of seeing it in a Safeway in B.C.,” says Holmes, over the phone from his current home in Philadelphia. “The first one I ever bought I think had Miami Vice on the cover. Instead of guns in their holsters, they had hair dryers, which I thought was very funny.

“It was everything to me. They kept it relatively low on the magazine rack, perfect eye level for a little kid always on the lookout for anything that’s not boring. It was always wild and dangerous to see.”

Throughout his career, Holmes has illustrated poster art for American comedians such as Patton Oswalt and Dan Telfer, and drawn issues of Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors comics. He has also worked on several graphic novels including 2015’s Secret Coders (written by Gene Luen Yang) from publisher First Second, and Wings of Fire (written by Tui T. Sutherland) from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, published in January. But one of Holmes’s sweetest career accomplishments to date is a brand-new assignment: a regular comic strip for the relaunched Mad Magazine, which recently relocated from New York to Burbank, California, as part of DC Entertainment.

“This feels so specifically right,” says Holmes. “It’s the exact thing I grew up reading. It’s hard to process just having that come true in a definite way. It’s very cool.”

The formative influence of comics like Mad led Holmes to become a cartoonist. For Halifax alt-weekly The Coast he created True Story, where every week Holmes would illustrate a new story sent in by a reader. In 2011, the strips were collected and published by Picton, Ont.–based Invisible Publishing. Invisible publisher Leigh Nash is thrilled to hear of Holmes’ new gig. She says True Story and Holmes’s other book with Invisible, This American Drive, still do well at the local Picton bookstore, Books & Company, which has a shelf dedicated to the publisher’s titles.

The new strip is called Real, Dumb, which takes the reader-submission concept of True Story and reworks it for the Mad audience. “That title also gives it more of a focus than True Story, which was about anything and everything,” says Holmes. “For True Story I wanted sad stories, I wanted joyous stories, or when something incredible happened to you. With Real, Dumb, it’s more like, ‘When were you an idiot? When were you the biggest moron you’ve ever been in your life? Could you share that with the world and put it in our hands?’”

Holmes says he and Telfer – who is now senior editor at Mad, and who recruited Holmes – rolled over a few titles for the new strip. Holmes was the one who suggested calling it, “Real comma Dumb. Dan was like, ‘It’s good. I’ll run it up the flagpole, but I think we’ll go with that.’”

Telfer also volunteered to provide the first story for Real, Dumb. “Mike makes idiocy epic,” he writes in an email. “He’d drawn two of my stories for True Story, and he can do so much with only a few panels. I knew that if I’d done something foolish he could imbue it with an actual character arc. Hopefully I look real dumb.”