And you didn’t even know there was a comic creators scene
by Megan Combs
Akron’s comic book creator and illustrator scene is booming. And you don’t have to look hard for proof: The Akron ComicCon is moving to a bigger location in 2016 after nearly 5,000 people attended 2015’s show.
For this issue, we picked nine comic book illustrators and creators that you need to keep your eye on in 2016. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of all the talent out there, but it’s a start. If you’re a comic book creator or illustrator or you know one who should be featured, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Imagine a world where your status in society is determined by the size of your mustache, and someone is putting an agent in the water that is preventing yours from growing. This is a world brought to life in Brian Dunphy’s “Push Broom Rebellion” web comic. Another features lethargic psychic housewife Clair Voyant who wants to be a great psychic, but she’s just too darn lazy and ends up making life a living hell.
Dunphy, who has always loved storytelling with a visual narrative, got back into comic books when his son was 2 years old and learning to read.
“He actually learned to read with comic books,” Dunphy smiles. “I’ve always been an artist, but that got me back into it.”
Dunphy, who lives in Akron, is an illustrator for AC Comics, a publisher in Florida. He pencils an existing comic called “Femme Force,” which features an all female superhero team. The script is delivered to him, and he puts the pencil to the paper. After he’s done, he sends it to another editor for revisions.
When he’s not drawing, Dunphy is also a member of and character on KRMA Radio’s The Altered Realm Radio show.
“Comic books are a classical art form,” Dunphy said. “In Asia and Japan, they used comics as sequential art — as a way to record history. I would love for sequential art to become a classic art form here.”
Coming up this year, Dunphy will continue work on The Altered Realm Radio show as well as “Push Broom Rebellion” and “Claire Voyant, Lethargic Psychic Housewife.” He also illustrates a comic strip for “The Devil Strip” called “The Altered Realm.” He works on this comic with our next creator, Dan Gorman.
Who knows how to draw a superhero better than someone who can draw him or her from the inside out? Dan Gorman, of Cuyahoga Falls, is a trained medical illustrator but always wanted to draw comics.
“In high school, my art teacher saw that I had an aptitude for biology and science,” Gorman said. “He pointed me in the direction of medical illustration.”
Gorman attended the Cleveland Institute of Art’s prestigious medical illustration program and was one of the few in his class to graduate. And even though he was good at drawing the human body and everything inside it, he said his motivation for getting through was so that he could one day draw a superhero that was true to life.
After 13 years in medical illustrations, Gorman got back into the comic book world in 2006 by drawing fan art and soon he was creating trading card art. He’s since illustrated trading card sets for “Lord of the Rings,” “Game of Thrones,” “Star Wars,” “The Walking Dead” and more.
He’s also an illustrator for “The Atomic Blonde,” which is another AC Comics comic book, but the character was created by Gorman and Joseph A. Miller.
What he enjoys about illustrating and comic books in general is the sense of limitless boundaries.
“You’re only limited by what your brain can conceive,” Gorman said. “I just love the storytelling and creativity that goes with it.”
Gorman is also a member of the ghost hunting troop Team Spectre, and founded the KRMA Radio’s The Altered Realm radio show.
In 2016, if Gorman comes up for air, he’ll continue work on “The Atomic Blonde,” he’ll be penciling a couple horror anthologies, contributing to the “Mac & Trouble” comic book series, continuing trading card illustrations, hosting Altered Realm Radio, and maybe even hosting Altered Realm the TV show? (He couldn’t say for sure.)
Joseph A. Michael
Growing up, comic books and video games were a way for Joseph A. Michael to escape the bullying he experienced in school. Immersing himself in the fantasy worlds of book and games kept him entertained and intrigued.
Michael’s mom used to take him to comic conventions when he was little and waited in the car the whole time he spent hours walking up and down the aisles.
“She was so patient,” Michael laughed.
Now he’s channeling that energy into creating a comic series titled “Only Human,” which follows an ordinary boy who is bullied in school but ends up unlocking the superhero within. Michael is the author of the series, and it is illustrated by Gorman.
“You look back at your past life experiences and determine your story to tell and mine was getting bullied as a kid,” Michael said. “I learned I had an inner superhero locked away and I could do anything given the right tools.”
Along with writing “Only Human,” Michael is also working on “The Atomic Blonde” with Gorman. She will make her first appearance in an AC Comics issue of “Femme Force” in the spring.
Also in 2016, Michael plans to launch a new series called “Lunacy,” which explores what happens when Earth’s ozone layer disappears.
“It’s a dystopian sci-fi where there’s no limitation, Michael said. “There’s so much political correctness going on in mainstream media right now and everyone is afraid to talk about other people.This is the opposite take. There are no rules anymore.”
Jason Miller, who goes by Jay, is a shopkeeper by day and comic book marketer and supporter by night… or weekend. He also dabbles in illustration, drawing superhero stick figures known in the comic world as Super Stix.
Miller owns Stuff Genie Emporium in Barberton, a wonderland of comic books and related paraphernalia. He is also a cohost and cofounder of The Altered Realm Radio. When he’s not at the shop or the radio station, he’s helping Dunphy, Gorman and Michael market their talents, whether it be at a ComicCon or other related convention. He calls himself a “think tank end-user,” meaning Gorman, Michael and Dunphy bounce ideas off him and he responds with how he thinks a customer would react to something new.
Miller’s love of comic books goes back to when he bought his first comic book, “Great Grape Ape” at 6 years old. In college, he bought and collected several copies of comic books and eventually had enough inventory to open his own store in Green in 1994. When the comic book industry took a dive in 1999, Miller closed up his shop but reopened as Stuff Genie two years ago, still selling the same inventory.
“I’ve always loved reading comic books. I love getting lost in them,” Miller said. “They stay relevant because people can pick one up, read it and in 10 minutes you’re done. In this day and age where things are quick, it’s still quick enough in a paper form and it doesn’t have to be digital.”
In 2016, Miller plans to continue drawing Super Stix since they sell in his shop and at any convention where they’re on display. He also plans to stick with Altered Realm Radio and continue his marketing efforts in getting he and his friends out there.
When you want to create a superhero, where do you start? Apparently you start with an ordinary guy of Hungarian descent who lives in Cleveland and drives an ice cream truck. That’s the premise behind Ted Sikora and co-creator Milo Miller’s comic “Apama.” The comic is illustrated by Benito Gallego who lives in Spain.
“Having read comics our whole lives, Milo and I thought we had something new to say in the comic genre,” Sikora said. “We’ve created a different character that’s never been seen before. He’s not brilliant like Peter Parker, he’s just an ordinary guy who doesn’t have a Rolodex of buddies to help him fight crime.”
The main character of “Apama” is Ilyia Zjarsky, a regular guy who drives an ice cream truck and repeatedly gets egged by “Tremont punks.” After taking a walk through the woods one day, he happens down a wormhole where he finds his Apama costume and eventually takes on the characteristics of this “undiscovered animal.”
“It’s an easy comic to just jump into and read, whereas if you want to read something by Marvel or DC, you have to do your research and learn who all the characters are,” Sikora said.
Cleveland was chosen as the setting for the comic because it has a lot of blank-slate potential, Sikora added. And Illyia Zjarksy is Hungarian as a representation of all the different ethnicities present in the city.
Since printing the first five issues in a their first book, “Apama” has been picked up by Diamond Comic Distributors, which is the largest distributor of comics in the world. “Apama” will be distributed nationally this month.
Coming up later this year, Sikora and Miller plan to release more individual issues of “Apama,” and get more into the villain of the story Regina. More local history is brought into the book when the guys describe Regina as being a part of a cult from the legend of Helltown in Boston Mills.
Milo Miller has always been big into books. All kinds of books. But the thing that really opened him to the whole world of literature was comic books, he said. He met “Apama” co-creator in the late ’80s while the two were attending the University of Akron.
“I always wanted to be a writer of some type, and because I liked comics so much, it seemed like a natural fit,” Miller said. “‘Apama’ grows from the type of character that we enjoyed when we were reading stuff in the ’70s. It has a lot of characteristics and a convoluted origin. It’s not simple and straightforward.”
When it comes to choosing a favorite superhero, Miller never went with the Batman and Spiderman fan clubs.
“I liked the Creeper or Mister Miracle, characters that were the C and D list instead of the top tier,” he said.
What he loves about creating comics is that it’s a great medium for expression. Comics aren’t movies or novels, but something inbetween.
“Comics have a unique way of telling a story,” Miller said. “It’s challenging as a writer to work within that medium because it’s not only visual and in people’s minds, it’s very much in between the two. It’s a challenging medium to tell stories in and I enjoy that.”
Bronlynn Thurman, known at “The Devil Strip” (TDS) as the “elusive elf,” has been drawing comics for almost two years. She got her start by drawing Disney fan art and illustration.
“I’ve always been a storyteller,” Thurman said. “From a young age, I would craft short stories about my life. This was just a natural progression for me.”
You can catch her comic strip, “Inequivalent Exchange,” in TDS or at InequivalentExchange.com. The main character is an exaggerated version of herself, Thurman said. Her character lives with her best friend, Eric, and her cat from outer space, Caesar.
“I comment on everything from social issues, nerd/geek culture, relationships, philosophy, design and science,” Thurman said. “It’s all the things that interest me.”
Thurman said the best part about drawing comics is the challenge that comes with it.
“I like how concise it can be,” she said. It’s harder than it looks to get a point across in a limited number of panels.”
In 2016, Thurman hopes to increase the number of comics she produces and compile them into a book. Keep an eye out for a new comic, too!
Sixteen-year-old Jacob Luther has been drawing comics for 11 years. His current comic strip “Towny Town” can be found in issues of TDS and on Instagram.
“When I was about 2 years old, I discovered that I had a profound passion for drawing –– specifically drawing cartoon characters,” Luther said. “I think what primarily attracts me to comics is their lack of recognition as an art form. So many other forms of entertainment are praised by the masses like movies, paintings and theater, but comics are often brushed aside as childish.”
By the time Luther was in kindergarten, he was already drawing cartoon characters that he calls “poorly drawn stick figures.” In 2004, at 5 years old, he drew his first comic strip that featured a man who “somehow steals houses from his neighbors.” After a first-grade hiatus, Luther spent most of second grade drawing his stick-figure comics.
As elementary school wore on, he got more comfortable with his drawing, and his main character morphed into the star of his “Towny Town” comic.
“Over the next eight years, I accumulated more than a thousand additional strips, while I refined my writing, drawing style and humor all along the way,” Luther said.
Citing influences like “Calvin and Hobbes” creator Bill Watterson, and “The Far Side” creator Gary Larson, Luther said he’s still working on developing the premise behind his cartoon.
“As of now, I consider ‘Towny Town’ to be the suburb of some obscure Midwestern city,” Luther said. “I am also beginning to focus more on the lives of elementary school students in my strip and shift the focus away from adults. I am still trying to come up with the perfect recurring characters.”
In 2016, in between filling out college applications, Luther hopes expand his readership by getting his comic published in more local newspapers, and to launch a website that showcases his work.
“Comics are just a way for me to release the tension of everyday struggles,” Luther said. “It’s quite relaxing to just sit there, listen to music, and doodle away inside little panels.”
Summit County Historical Society Curator Ted Mallison has been drawing comics since he was 6 years old. His first comic book was titled “The Ha-Ha-Ha Book.”
“The plot is sort of hard to follow, but the art is great,” he exclaimed. Now you can find Mallison’s comic “Quieter Days” in TDS, as well as on his website, www.tomhells.com.
He started drawing comics regularly when he was in sixth grade as a way of entertaining his friends. He said he’d draw absurd, chaotic comics on a sheet of notebook paper they would pass around and laugh at all day.
“My teachers didn’t really understand me and thought I was troubled, but really I was just a very cynical 12-year-old,” Mallison said. “It was the early ’90s, a really ripe time for cynicism!”
There is no overarching theme for “Quieter Days,” but no matter the plot or character, they all take place in the same fictional geographic location. His three fictional areas include Balewind, a large post-industrial city; Whisper City, a smaller working-class mill town; and Thrapp Valley, a college town. Each is based on Northeast Ohio towns. Mallison said each comic can relate to the other because they take place in the same area or part of town.
What he loves about creating comics is how they make him a better overall artist.
“The form necessitates being able to reproduce the same image over and over again, and often from multiple angles,” Mallison explained. “If I make a painting of a house, I don’t necessarily ever have to paint that house again. However, if that house is the setting of a comic, I need to know how it looks from the front, from the back, from the sides, what the interior layout of the rooms is, etc.”
In 2016, Mallison plans to attend more shows and comic book conventions to network and get feedback on his comics.
“That’s a big piece of why I’m so happy to be doing a strip for ‘The Devil Strip,’” Mallison said. “Comics can be pretty isolating, and the whole ‘showing your work to others’ part of it is easy to lose track of when you spend all your free time in your studio.”