With the popularity of comic book heroes at an all-time high and movie screens featuring them on a regular basis, there is a corner of the comic book world that originates locally.
But you won’t find many superheroes as local creators focus on the monster craze — specifically zombies.
“We’ve been doing this since 2012,” Shannon Smith of Denison said. “And we love it.”
Smith and writer David Furr work with artist Mark Henry to create a new world of monster mythos. These Denison guys take their time to get the quality just right as it has to pass their “eye test” first.
“It takes about a year to get each issue ready,” Smith explained. “We work in different eras with our different titles; and we want to get each one right.”
The first comic book series produced by the trio was “Frontier Graveyard,” a rocking mashup of zombies and the Old West.
“Zombies were the big thing at the time; and I’ve always wanted to put together things that you don’t normally think go together,” Smith said. “We wanted to do monsters; and this worked well. With the popularity of “The Walking Dead” (another zombie comic book that spawned the hit television series), we knew we wanted zombies in the background story. We have done three issues and a graphic novel so far.”
Then, there is the spin-off, “Mobster Graveyard,” a mix-up of the 1920s mob scene and monsters.
“We have done three issues of ‘Mobster’ and we hope to do four more of each series,” Smith said. “And we want to do other eras; maybe, incorporate some old TV shows — whatever we like at the time.”
Smith, Furr and Henry take this ‘funny’ book stuff seriously. It’s their passion, according to Smith.
“This is something we always wanted to do; to create something and leave a legacy,” Smith said. “People like (comic creators) Stan Lee and Todd McFarlane will leave a legacy when they pass; and we want to do the same thing in our own way. And we love comics; we have a passion for them. We want to be a part of the mythology.”
These creators have gone with the current times to make their creation a reality; a “Kickstarter” campaign was done for “Frontier Graveyard,” which garnered $4,500. This made it possible for the project to be realized. Subsequent comic projects have also gone through the Kickstarter process.
“All of them have made money,” Smith added.
The current technology brought the idea of comic book creation to Smith in 2010 when he discovered “Create Space” on the Amazon website. People could create a work (a story, a book, a comic or other artistic endeavor); then Amazon would publish it to order. The trio did a book series, but always kept the comic book idea at the ready. They decided to take the plunge in 2012 with their first comic.
“When I thought of the comic book idea, I immediately thought of David and Mark,” Smith said. “It all came together after we produced that first book on Amazon. We really wanted to do a comic book series. We started looking around; that’s when we found Kickstarter.”
According to Smith, they tried to publish “Frontier Graveyard” in the traditional manner, but it didn’t work out. Kickstarter allows people to “donate” to a cause; in this case, the publication of an independent comic book. Smith explained that they had to offer incentives such as free copies and artwork to help the campaign along.
“The nerve racking part is the time limit they give; you have to set a goal and achieve it or you don’t get any of the money,” Smith said. “On that first comic book, we only had 30 days to reach our goal.”
Once the guys secured the money, they contracted with a Chinese company, “LithoNinja,” to actually publish the comic book. And there are still copies at Fantasy Quest in Denison, the comic shop Smith owns.
“This process has been great; we’ve met some more artists—from Houston, Washington, D.C. and locally in Sherman and Van Alstyne,” Smith said. “We kept up the Kickstarter campaigns and have produced 10 comics in the last five years. And we are working on six more right now.”
Currently, both “Frontier Graveyard” and “Mobster Graveyard” are set for seven issues each with possible additional story arcs. The plan is for a recurring character to be in each of the series; maybe under a different name, but they will be related. The trio also has a law enforcement group idea for a comic book in development; and they are looking at a late 1990s comic book project for revival. Their book series, “Portal Hunters,” from “Create Space” is also set for a comic book version.
In addition, the Denison trio has put together a “Simpsons” like comic book named “Help Wanted,” which has had two issues. Smith explained they have always wanted to do a humor type magazine.
These Denison guys are going full color on future plans with superheroes, too; as a new title, “Public Domain,” a 1940s/1950s superhero title, begins in January. “Deities” is another title in the works, while Smith is working on a solo series, “4 out of 5 Zombies.”
“We have a lot of ideas and want to get them out there,” Smith said. “We are really having a lot of fun with it.”
Another member of the creative group that can’t be forgotten is Smith’s wife, Geri, who helps with the coloring of the issues, which is the most time consuming part of the comic book creative process. Geri has a graphic design degree from Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
“She does a great job on coloring,” Smith, who also helps in that process, said. “We all enjoy our work.”
Specifically, Furr focuses on writing, but also does lettering while Henry does the pencils and inks during the production process for each issue. Smith does story concepts and collaborates with Furr.
As for Furr, he likes the creative process in general and telling stories in a visual medium.
“I like storytelling in the most direct route; and comic books do that,” Furr said. “I like to write different characters and events. My favorite is the archetype of the lone warrior who has a problem and solves it to the best of his ability. I love to contrast that with other characters.”
Furr noted that he and Smith have a “great rapport” and they “think alike.” Bouncing ideas off each other is a natural thing and they each said they tend to stay away from the traditional. They see a niche and fill it with such things as horror westerns like “Frontier Graveyard.”
“We mesh well,” Furr added.
Of course, the trio would love to be in the mainstream comic book industry, but the odds are against it.
“It’s a tough industry to break into; you have to know someone and then your talent has to be good enough to get noticed,” Smith explained. “There are so many companies and SO much competition. There are the Big 2 (Marvel Comics and DC Comics) and some popular independent companies, but there are hundreds of people trying to break into that field. Here, we get to create what we want.”
Smith and Furr have known each other for 25 years while Henry came in the fold with the book series in 2010. Henry has actually worked for nationally known comic book publishers. Smith and Furr met him in Houston at a comic book convention, naturally. The trio honed their talents on that book series, “Portal Hunters,” which ended up being a four book project.
“You never know; maybe there could be a movie someday,” Smith said. “We just want to get out there and get noticed. Maybe something will happen, but until then, we are having great fun playing in the worlds we create.”
Creating comic books is a far cry from the days of combing the comic shops and convenience stores for the latest issues of Spider-Man, Wolverine and Spawn. Smith remembers fondly the searches for just the right comics and the lows and highs of discovery.
“Sometimes, we would ride all over the county to buy up all the copies of a certain issue,” Smith recalled. “It was so much fun; those were great days for sure.”
Those days led to a passion that survives today in what they are doing creatively in Denison. Smith laughs now as he remember he and Furr trying their hand at creating a comic 20 years ago.
“We did one issue and it died,” Smith said with a smile. “But you can’t forget your dreams; they can still come true.”