HOLTVILLE — It’s universally known that behind every great man, there is a great woman. It’s no different with giant pandas, especially those that wield samurai swords and perform spinning back kicks.
There would be no fully realized Panda Khan character without the art and ink strokes of cartoonist Dave Garcia, and there would be no conceptual backstory and fictional landscape without the mind and words of Garcia’s life and work partner, Monica Sharp.
Together the Holtville natives and constants on the comic-book convention circuit are a formidable team, and now they are the executive producers and creative force behind “Panda Khan the Animated Series.”
Dave and Monica, as they are generally known locally and among friends, signed a months-(if-not-years-)in-the-making development deal May 11 to turn their 35-year-old-plus character into six to eight animated episodes of anthropomorphic *ss-kicking, hopefully realized with toys and other goodies in the not-too-distant future.
“This is amazing. Just incredible. I knew when I drew him the first time, he had an appeal, a quality, that was almost timeless in a way. That is what Kevin (Eastman) and Peter (Laird) saw. I get stopped at (comic) cons or shopping by 30-somethings who loved the (Teenage Mutant Ninja) Turtles but tell me, ‘Oh, Panda Khan’s my favorite turtle toy!” the 67-year-old Garcia said during an interview May 11.
“So, this is what I always hoped for. Kids watching cartoons of Panda Khan. Playing with figures of Panda Khan and his friends. I couldn’t be more excited,” Garcia added.
Sharp feels the same way. After Garcia created the character in the early 1980s, it was she who created its storyline and fully wrought world of bio-enhanced beasts steeped in Asian mythology and genetically engineered animal science.
“I’m incredulous. We were doing absolutely nothing to search out deals. Which is on me, because once our son was diagnosed with dyslexia, ADD, sensory-processing disorders, autism, etc., I totally quit writing fiction and became his advocate,” Sharp said of their now-37-year-old son, Philip Kirk, who was born just two years after Panda Khan was created. Sharp is 64.
Breeding Panda Khan in Captivity
The Panda Khan character, which was a comic series on its own by 1985, gained a bump of fame when it appeared alongside Eastman and Laird’s famous pizza-eating teen turtles between 1987 and 1990 in early incarnations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ comics, animated series and line of toys. Garcia was an artist and early author of TMNT stories.
But now a Renaissance awaits Garcia and Sharp as their deal with Gaelstone Media to produce the scripts and character design for Global Genesis Group to animate their characters begins its long road to reality.
As with most development deals, although the ink is drying, nothing is etched in stone.
“The thing I’m always telling myself, it’s just a development deal. Maybe it won’t go anywhere,” Garcia said.
Yet he’s excited and hopeful.
“The plan is for Panda Khan to guest star in an episode of one of their (Gaelstone Media’s) other shows to introduce Panda Khan. I imagine a lot depends on reaction from viewers,” Garcia added. “I’m fairly confident. Most people that see Panda Khan are usually interested.”
Panda Khan is to be introduced in a streaming animated series called “Action Mice,” which Garcia said is in development for Amazon. Panda Khan would spin off from there.
This could be a big year for the big panda in general.
Although it hasn’t been an active comic book for many years, Abacus Press, a small, independent printer, is readying a new colorized version of five books of Garcia and Sharp’s black-and-white “The Chronicles of Panda Khan” by comic book veteran and well-known colorist Mickey Clausen sometime in 2020.
Garcia and Sharp credit Clausen with not only giving birth to the development deal but renewing interest in the dormant character and line of comics.
Still, Garcia jokes about Panda Khan’s staying power in the pop culture zeitgeist and the sudden spark of interest.
“What goes around comes around? He’s a bad penny? I’m still trying to figure out why he didn’t hit sooner,” Garcia said of “PK.”
Life on the Farm and the Early Years
Garcia and Sharp are third-generation “Holtville-ites,” he said, and they spend many of their days in creative pursuits on a farm outside town, living off income from agriculture.
Although “we have goats, man. Thirteen freaking goats,” Garcia said, he added they are no farmers.
“Hey, walking the Boer and the pygmy (breeds of goat) with my pack of dogs is as farmer-y as I ever wanna be,” he said.
Rather, Garcia and Sharp mostly live off income from farmland they lease to the sons of Ernie and Walter Strahm, an old well-known Holtville ag family. Garcia said Sharp inherited her grandparents’ farmstead.
Sharp is retired from a 30-plus-year career as a schoolteacher, Garcia said, and his days have mostly been dedicated to art.
He recalled that pivotal moment when he knew his life’s passion.
“Oh, when my older sister, six years my senior, bought an Archie comic when I was about 5. From the moment I saw that, I knew I wanted to draw comics for life. I started drawing, my mom claims, when I was 2 and I drew all the time. But I only ever wanted to make comics. Jack Kirby in ’61 or so became my idol,” Garcia said, referring to the famed Marvel artist and writer.
“Me and my school buddies made up our own strips from elementary school onward. I think I am the only one that stuck with it, although some stayed in the creative arts field, like Ernie Rivas at Caliber Printing and Daniel Thornburg writes poetry,” Garcia said.
Garcia, whose dad, Gilbert, was an Imperial Irrigation District zanjero, and whose mother, Eloise, was a translator for the county health department, met Sharp in 1971, when he was 18. They’ve been together ever since.
Best Possible Outcome for Future
Still grinding away at his art and with Sharp by his side as his creative and more business-minded partner of closing in on 50 years, Garcia has had his brushes with fame through his work with not just the TMNT franchise and Panda Khan, but with “The Tick,” which later went on to become a television show, an animated series and a toy line as well.
Currently, Garcia and Sharp are hard at work in the second story arc of the Old West/science-fiction/fantasy series, “Shadow of the West,” a self-published shoot-‘em-up Western world that comes face to face with dinosaurs and other pre-historic creatures.
There’s work to be done, but both can’t wait to see where Panda Khan goes from here and what the future brings.
Sharp said she wants to see “people everywhere love Panda Khan and that Dave has all the merch his 5-year-old heart could ever have dreamed of when he first discovered comic books and fell in love.”
“Oh, and that people don’t refer to me as ‘that’s Dave’s wife’ when introducing me. I have a name,” Sharp said.
“We don’t envision TMNT success. There are too many outlets now. If we get a good first season (of the animated series), that would mean merchandising. It also means the comics get rebooted. That would be awesome,” Garcia said.