Have Guns, Will Travel – S.B.’s James Andrew Clark up for Eisner Award for superhero Western comic

Andrew Clark, seen here at last year's Comic-con in San Diego with his children, returns to this year's Comic-con and is up for an Eisner Award, the comic world?s equivalent to an Oscar, for his 'The Guns of Shadow Valley,'seen below and at bottom. Courtesy photos
Andrew Clark, seen here at last year’s Comic-con in San Diego with his children, returns to this year’s Comic-con and is up for an Eisner Award, the comic world’s equivalent to an Oscar, for his ‘The Guns of Shadow Valley,’seen below and at bottom.
Courtesy photos

In recent years the comic book part of San Diego Comic-con’s name has been overshadowed by the arrival of Hollywood. What once began as a place to buy, sell and trade among other comic book collectors, or to get autographs from your favorite artist, has now turned into a major launching pad for major fall movies, television shows and sneak peeks at the following summer’s blockbusters. After all, the audience for superhero comics and for the inevitable movie adaptation are usually one and the same.

Comic-con is also famous for people-watching, with fans dressed up in meticulous recreations of their favorite comic, movie, manga or TV characters, with awards creating a serious amount of competition.

But Comic-con is also a place for independent comic writers, artists and illustrators to set up tables, sell their wares, make new fans and connect with other creators.

Apart from James Andrew Clark, whose “Guns of Shadow Valley” comic will be on display (see following article), two other Santa Barbara creators will be there.

Barry Miller writes a superhero book called “Billy Baines: Sidekick for Hire,” which examines what happens when a hero retires. He’s been going to the Con for several years, and will be there again this year.

2010 also marks the third year in a row exhibiting for Molly Hahn, who is more of a children’s book illustrator, though her monsters are super in a way. She finds that the Con is the place where she’s guaranteed to sell out of her books and prints.

“It’s a great place to expand you audeicne and meet people from all walks of life,” she says. “I know I’m going to make new friends every year. It’s very beneficial socially and professionally.” You can check Hahn’s work at www.mollycules.com?

By day, James Andrew Clark is a mild-mannered I.T. manager at Santa Barbara City College. But when he dons his writing cap, he’s the co-creator of two popular comic series: “Scar Tissue” and, his latest, “The Guns of Shadow Valley.” The latter, a Wild West romp that includes superhero and fantasy elements, has been nominated this year for an Eisner Award, the comic world’s own Oscars. Down at Comic-Con tonight in San Diego, co-creator and artist David Wachter will hear if they’ve won the award for Best Digital Comic. Both Wachter and Clark are traveling to San Diego for the event, but Wachter has the furthest to go: He lives in Pittsburgh.

The Internet has revolutionized comics as well as all other media, and digital comics allow creators to build a fan base without having to pay up-front for costly printing fees. It also allows Clark and Wachter to collaborate cross-country and to dole out a page at a time to fans.

“One of the benefits of Web comics is you put a page up and the feedback is instantaneous,” Clark says. “We can actually talk back and forth with our readers as they’re experiencing the book.”

Clark originally wrote fiction and poetry for literary magazines, but about five years ago, he became bored with it. At the same time, he says he was reading a lot of adult and alternative comics and wondered how hard it would be to get into the business.

“I picked up a book on writing for comics, and there was a sample script and it looked like a screenplay,” he says. “I thought, I can do that.” He took a short story he wrote about heart transplants and superheroes and fleshed it out into what would become “Scar Tissue.” Needing an artist, he discovered an online community of independent creators, and was introduced to Dave Wachter, who had just graduated from the Art Institute of Chicago.

The two hit it off, and Wachter began filling in all the details to Clark’s minimal script. The two would only meet up when it came to comic conventions, where they would sell the book.

The idea for “The Guns of Shadow Valley” came from one of those meet-ups. Wachter pitched the idea for a mix of “The Magnificent Seven” and superheroes, and once “Scar Tissue” finished, the two set to work.

Clark and Wachter’s characters include an alcoholic gunfighter who once was the fastest gun in the West, a fiery Latina, a superstrong Chinese railroad worker, a malicious ex-military man with plans of his own, an obese fire-breathing woman and a strange magical child who seems to be the key to the story.

Wachter has a cinematic eye and has filled “Guns” with all sorts of homages to John Ford, Sergio Leone and Howard Hawks. The comic is also oriented landscape-style, perfect for a Western — and also for viewing on the Internet — but is a bit difficult to display in regular comic book racks. For now, the only printed versions are a teaser edition that prints the first five chapters. The finished version will run hundreds of pages long, and the two hope to collect the series in a proper book. However, online readers can get right up to date with the story.

Wachter is a full-time freelance artist, so his work on “Guns” varies according to his time commitments. But a win for the two at Comic-Con might mean that “Guns” will find more interest and a steady publishing schedule. Either way, the story is? to be continued.

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