Unhindered by their remote location, the group has attracted like-minded comic “nerds,” said writer Chris Meeuwes, who teamed up with artist Ryan Lee to create the dark alternate-world superhero comic called “The Naturals.”
The two met at a special Cherry Capital Con 2010 event through Ethan Van Sciver, an established comic book artist who has drawn DC Comics titles like “Green Lantern,” “Superman,” “Batman,” “New X-Men,” and “The Flash: Rebirth.”
“[Lee] brought his portfolio to show Ethan Van Sciver,” Meeuwes said. “And I looked at it and we just kind of talked because he was a new comic book nerd in the area that I’d never met. I thought he should become one of the group. I was like, this is really good.”
TRAVERSE CITY ON THE MAP
The artist and writer hit it off. Lee, 36, had just moved to Traverse City from downstate and wanted to explore a career in comics.
Meeuwes, 28, had worked for a couple of years at Top Comics, northern Lower Michigan’s only dedicated comic book shop. One of Top Comics’ owners, Michael Akerley, started Cherry Capital Con comic book convention in 2009.
Akerley said he hoped it would bring people like Lee and Meeuwes together.
“That was our goal. It was set up as a way to get artists and writers to meet. There’s a lot of talented people in the area,” Akerley said. “If that’s all it does, I’ll be thrilled.”
The Van Sciver event was just one of numerous high-profile happenings at C4 over the years. In 2012, the convention hosted Tony Moore, the artist behind the first six issues of the comic book “The Walking Dead,” which has become a hit television series on AMC.
ULTRA-VIOLENT, PALATABLE AND FUN
Lee and Meeuwes’ comic, “The Naturals,” is set in an alternate universe in an unspecified American city just after World War I. It is a dark and violent story about a murderous returning soldier and the alcohol-fueled trouble he leaves in his wake.
Like the best comic books, it’s both dreamlike and rooted in the real world.
Lee and Meeuwes say they are comfortable creating an ultra-violent fictional world.
“It’s a war story and it’s pretty dark, but some of the violence I have in there, by going over the top, I think it adds a little bit of levity to it,” Lee said. “We’re not trying to do a documentary. This isn’t a first-person memoir. This is comics and even when things are dark and horrific, we still want them to be palatable and fun.”
Lee and Meeuwes write a new multi-panel page and post it online every other week. They’ve completed the story’s first chapter, the size of an individual comic book, and they are well into the second chapter.
DRAWING FOR A LIVING
When Lee moved from Royal Oak to Traverse City a few years ago, he didn’t know what kind of like-minded people he might find. He saw the move north as a way to be somewhere good to raise a family.
He also thought he could develop his career as an artist.
“We had recently had a child and I worked in advertising for six and a half years before I moved up here,” he said. “I wanted to try drawing for a living again. Doing illustration. That’s what I went to school for and that’s what I did the first almost three years out of school.”
Lee’s wife got a job in Traverse City and the couple was able to move north.
Lee still works as a freelance commercial artist, but he is able to devote more of his time to comic book art.
“Obviously, no one is paying us to do this,” Lee said of “The Naturals.” “This is a passion project. It’s something fun to do for us.”
‘KIND OF LIKE CHEERS’
Meeuwes also came to Traverse City looking for something else.
In Cadillac, he developed a love for comic books even in the absence of access to them. He sort of stumbled upon superheroes.
“When I was growing up in Cadillac, we really didn’t have a comic store or anywhere that really sold them,” Meeuwes said. “But there was an older neighbor kid ... him and some of his friends were into the collector’s cards.”
Meeuwes started to collect superhero cards. He read the bios on the backs and figured out how the stories intersected.
“I guess that’s how I got into it. Not the traditional, ‘Oh, I read ‘Ironman,’ and some of this stuff,” he said.
In Traverse City, Meeuwees found the community he was looking for.
“It’s small. It’s kind of like ‘Cheers’ [TV show bar], where everybody knows each other,” he said. “We run into each other at the comic book shop every Wednesday, when they get new comics. It’s really tightknit, I guess.”
SUPERHEROES ON TWITTER
Lee’s and Meeuwe’s relationship with C4 has changed over the years.
Once they went as fans. Now they go as makers.
“I think people are really hardcore about it. The people who like comics are really invested in it up here, which translates into the success of the convention,” Lee said.
For Meeuwes the convention was, at first, part of his job.
“When it first started, I was kind of like Mike Akerley’s right-hand-man,” he said. “Then, when I started making my own comics, I kind of wanted to be on the other side of the table.”
They attend other Midwest comic cons to promote their work.
They also put up a website (naturalscomic.com) and spread word through Facebook.
They hope friends spread the word to friends of friends of friends.
They promote each new page on Twitter.
That’s a good way to get visitors, Lee said, because there are a lot of comics fans and creators there.
“Twitter has been huge,” Lee said.
“Twitter, for a comic book artist, because so many of these guys are freelancers who just work at home, Twitter has kind of become an office. It’s become a water cooler.”