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Danny Boyd digs for graphic novel gold with 'Carbon'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The top of Danny Boyd's website for his newest project describes him in three large words: "Professor, Filmmaker, Writer."

That may be too plain a description for a guy who in midlife reinvented himself as occasional big-time wrestler Professor Danger (he has worked more than 150 matches), and who co-wrote with fellow middle-aged wrestler William Bitner the 2008 illustrated novel "Death Falcon Zero Vs. The Zombie Slug Lords."

Boyd is perhaps best known to local audiences as a bootstrapping filmmaker who crafted the award-winning horror anthology film "Chillers," the sci-fi comedy "Strangest Dreams" and the dramatic fantasy "Paradise Park" (later renamed "Heroes of the Heart").

Now, at age 55, he has thrown the full force of his creative energies into two ambitious cross-continentally created graphic novels: an anthology of "Chillers" stories set for 2012 and a mythological epic he has penned called "Carbon," slated for 2013.

"First and foremost, I'm an entertainer. I want to do work in graphic narrative like I did with motion pictures, that reach a big audience. As I tell my students, don't be afraid to work in any genre," says Boyd, who calls graphic novels "cinema on the page."

A communications and media studies professor at West Virginia State University, Boyd began the Paradise Film Institute there in 1994. He has since added a "graphic narrative" focus and line of student-created graphic novels under the banner PFI Comics.

His students are helping him on the "Carbon" project, along with the Charleston-based comic book letterer Jason Arthur and some South American artists he hired through an ad on the comic site www.digitalwebbing.com. And, well ... possibly you.

To complete "Carbon," Boyd has leapt into the fray of "crowd-funding" new creative projects, pioneered by such sites as Kickstarter, RocketHub and -- the one he uses -- IndieGoGo.com.

If you visit www.indiegogo.com/CARBON/ you can view a video of Boyd, in which he describes the ongoing creation of "Carbon." Included are sample pages by Rascunho Studio illustrator Edi Guedes and colorist Alzir Alves at work in Brazil, a studio that does "DC-, Marvel-quality work," Boyd says admiringly.

He describes his story as "an epic graphic novel of gods, monsters and evil coal barons."

It's not easy to summarize in a short article, but the over-the-top tale features an environmental theme told with comic-book verve and vibrant art. The tale begins with an Atlantis-like legend, proposing that there was a world before the one we know and that the original Garden of Eden was found in what is now Mingo County.

An earlier race of people failed to live in harmony with the Earth and were imprisoned by their god in the form of carbon beneath the Appalachian Mountains, until the planet might renew itself. Their sentence is overseen by flying warrior beasts that are unleashed in the 21st century after a coal baron discovers that this "sacred" buried carbon can burn forever.

From his attempts to exploit these riches, all hell literally breaks loose. The only thing standing in the way of the end of the world is "a disgraced, ex-pro baseball pitcher and a community of courageous coal miners," as the website puts it.

Boyd says he is cognizant of the contentious emotions and politics around coal and the environment and that there is "propaganda" on both sides of the issue. But he says he hopes "Carbon" will be an entertaining means of furthering "a conversation" over the rather fundamental issue of the fate of the Earth.

"We must entertain before we can enlighten," he says in his pitch video. "Films of the fantastic and graphic novels can often make sensitive issues more approachable."

Crowd-funding sites set a target goal and completion date that must be met or no money exchanges hands. In Boyd's case, he has until March 29 to raise $7,000 for "Carbon." As of Wednesday, he'd raised about $2,000.

He lays out the financial details at the site, noting that each page costs $110 to produce, there are about 65 pages to go and he is trying to finish the project in this fashion after pouring $6,000 of his own money into "Carbon."

Crowd support ranges from a low $10 "Friends of Carbon" donation (which gets you listed on the site as a supporter) to a $500 "Carbon Superstar Package" (in which your face will be used in the graphic novel as one of the featured characters with a speaking role).

Boyd hopes to find a mainstream publisher to release "Carbon." If you ask him for his dream endgame, he says it might be something akin to the success of "The Walking Dead." The high-end zombie tale began as a black-and-white comic book in 2003 and has evolved into one of television's most critically acclaimed series.

Another example might be "The Watchmen," a comic book about an alternative Earth full of struggling superheroes, later made into a Zack Snyder movie, Boyd said.

"That's a huge endgame. I mean, it was such a masterpiece of not only smart entertainment but making people think."

Reach Douglas Imbrogno at douglas@cnpapers.com or 304-348-3017.


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