Although I was born and grew up in St. Marys, Pennsylvania, my inspiration for the fictional town of Marienstadt in many of my stories, I have not lived there since 1980. In some ways, I suppose, that makes it possible for me to recall the town in a spirit that is quite a bit more idealistic than realistic. One of the things I most remember from my young years there was the abundance of “colorful characters” that the town seemed to grow in great number. One of these was a man named Dick Dornisch.
I didn't really know Dick, though I knew who he was. He worked for the local newspaper, The Daily Press, and was the leader of a book club that was well-regarded. I knew him well enough to say hello on the street but that was all. By 1996 I was living in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and going back to St. Marys for visits about once a year. During that time I started hearing about a comic strip that appeared every Saturday in the local paper. It was called St. Marystown Saga and was a combination of history lesson and cartoons written and illustrated by Dick. My mother had recently passed away and my dad, living alone, began cutting out the comic strips and mailing them to me—especially when they mentioned people we were related to. I enjoyed them, pinned them on my refrigerator, and didn't think more about them.
In 2011 I wrote my first Marienstadt story, The Reluctant Belsnickel of Opelt's Wood, never dreaming it would grow into an entire series. That story grew into ten more which were published as The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall:Secrets of Marienstadt and the title story of the collection won the the eFestival of Words award for Best Short Story of 2013. People kept asking for more and as I began work on a sequel, The Christmas Daughter, I thought of Dick's comic strips and all the history they contained. I wished I had saved all of them to refer to for inspiration.
Then it came to my attention that a man named Dennis Lecker had scanned all of Dick's comic strips and posted them on a web site. There were over 350 panels posted. Not only did he tell the story of our town but he placed events within an historical context to show how our little St. Marystown grew in relation to world events. He drew pictures of people and events both local and global—fabulous little cartoons of our town's colorful characters as well as U.S. Presidents, world leaders, people in the news. His drawings were amazing.
I saved the web pages to my tablet and spent hours looking at the pictures and reading. The story was thorough and endlessly interesting but the drawings were what fascinated me. They were tiny but as I enlarge them on my screen I was endlessly charmed by the tiniest details—the ribbons on a little girl's pigtails as she ran, a man rushing for a train losing his hat, the buttons on the back flap of a lumberjack's long johns, or the coffee grinder on the counter of a housewife's kitchen. Beautiful, perfectly illustrated little touches that delighted me. I wanted all these comic strips in a book where people could see how talented this man was.
In December when I was in St. Marys I met with Dennis Lecker, a close friend of Dick's, who had scanned all the comic strips. I outlined my idea for a book to him and Dennis said he would talk to Dick, who is in his eighties now, about the idea. Dick gave him the go ahead. Dennis gave his high-res scans to me, and I set to work. In a little over a week, I cleaned up all of the cartoons and assembled them in an InDesign file. I was so taken with some of the illustrations that I isolate them and enlarged them to use as ornaments on the opening pages. Last night I sent the manuscript off to Dennis for his inspection and, if all goes well, this book will be available from Amazon within the next few weeks.
Even though I happily volunteered my time for this, I feel I got so much from it—I learned more about my hometown and got tremendous inspiration for additional Marienstadt stories. I cannot wait to see the finished books and I am honored and thrilled to play a part in bringing this talented man's work to the world. St. Marystown Saga by Richard “Dick” Dornish will be available soon. Stay posted.
Thanks for reading.