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Backers help comic book creator fulfill dream
BY CATHY JETT
Charlie McElvy has dreamed of getting a comic book published since he was a 9-year-old fan of Superman and the Green Lantern.
Now, with a little help from his own fans, the Spotsylvania County IT consultant is hoping to make that dream come true.
He’s using Kickstarter, a website where people can help fund creative projects, to raise $6,500 to cover the cost of printing and marketing two pilot comics in one “flip book” format.
They’ll feature his Teen Force 5 characters and those from his award-winning “The WatchGuard Sourcebook,” which he created for superhero role-playing games. The sourcebook came out last year and is available on Amazon.com.
“The comic book has always been my goal. The sourcebook was a means to an end,” said McElvy.
Backers for the book can receive anything from an exclusive WatchGuard and Teen Force 5 wallpaper set for a desktop or mobile device for a $1 donation to an autographed copy of both the comic book and sourcebook plus other rewards for a $1,000 donation.
Artist Andy Smith, whose clients include Marvel and Green Ronin Publishing, drew McElvy’s WatchGuard characters and suggested McElvy use Kickstarter for the comic book project.
“I was totally prepared to pay Andy, but he said, ‘Kickstarter generates lots of publicity. You’d be surprised at how much the fans will jump in. It gives them ownership,’” McElvy said.
So far, the response has been “overwhelmingly positive,” he said. By Friday afternoon, he’d received $1,990 in pledges from 66 donors.
“Every day I have received donations from $1 to $200. I appreciate every one of them. I’m really grateful for everything people are doing,” McElvy said. “Besides the donations, they’re tweeting, sharing on Facebook and blogging. I’ve had a couple of bloggers interview me.”
Comic books are big business. Overall sales in July for Diamond Comic Distributors, the largest comic book distributor serving North America, was $263 million for comics, trade paperbacks, and magazines. That’s an 18.51 percent increase from the same month in 2011.
Comic books also served as the source for two of this summer’s biggest blockbusters, “The Avengers” and “Dark Knight Rising.” And the annual Comic–Con International convention in San Diego drew serious fans for four days of panels, seminars and parades last month.
For McElvy, a bookworm whose parents divorced, comic books were a source of escape. Lost in the adventures of his favorite superheroes, he could forget about everyday problems.
“It stuck with me,” he said. “I continued to read them even when it wasn’t cool to read comic books. Now that geeks rule the world, it’d cool to read comic books publicly. My iPad is loaded with them.”
McElvy, 37, didn’t get into the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons as some of his classmates did when he was growing up in Norfolk. But some years later, he discovered the first edition of a book for a similar game played with collectible miniatures called Mutants & Masterminds while looking for comic books at a Game Parlor store in Woodbridge.
He thought the superhero role-playing game was cool and bought a copy. Then he starting playing another game, HeroClix, with his then 10-year-old daughter Taylor, and designed and sold some grid maps for it. Teams use them while taking turns battling various HeroClix characters.
Playing HeroClix was a fun father-daughter thing to do, McElvy said, but he kept thinking there was more he could do with the Mutants & Masterminds concept.
“I found out that it had a free licensing program, and in 2001 I published my first character for that, then two more,” he said. “They were pretty successful characters.”
McElvy, who has four other daughters and one son, took a hiatus from creating things for the role-playing game world for a few years before working on what would become the WatchGuard superheroes. He emailed a sketch for one of them, a patriotic character called Sentinel, to Smith in 2007. Smith asked if he could draw it and encouraged him to publish the character.
“That’s when I started working on the sourcebook,” McElvy said.
His inspiration for The WatchGuard were such superheroes as Captain American and Guardians of the Galaxy. His WatchGuard characters exist in the same universe as Teen Force 5, but at different times. The WatchGuard superheroes are contemporary, but Teen Force 5 exists in what would be our 1990s. They pay homage to The Teen Titans, a fictional superhero team that unofficially debuted in 1964.
“Teen Titans were wildly popular in the 1980s when they were reintroduced as the New Titans,” said McElvy. “It stuck with me. I love them.”
Last year he licensed his characters to Vigilance Press, which specializes in role-playing game supplements. It brought out Teen Force 5 first.
“Everybody likes the throwback characters,” McElvy said. “I didn’t expect that. I ended up writing a comic book about them.”
He decided to combine The WatchGuard’s and Teen Force 5’s stories into one publication, using a “flip book” format. It’s designed with a cover on both sides. Readers have to flip the book over after they finish one story to read the next one. If it’s successful, he plans to turn the stories into young adult novels.
“If any movie studios want to pick up the characters,” McElvy said, laughing at the thought, “I’d be fine with that.”
Cathy Jett: 540/374-5407