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'Chillers' is now a graphic novel

For more on the "Chillers" graphic novel, go here. CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Danny Boyd's first movie, "Chillers," a horror anthology released in 1988, has had multiple lives with a new one out soon in stores and online.

Sales and distribution records show the movie has been sold in more than 30 countries. Starring local actors and funded with a stitched-together melding of local financing and in-kind contributions, the movie was later picked up by Troma Films, won an Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films Silver Scroll Award and earned fans far and wide beyond West Virginia's borders.

The movie ticks off yet another life, in the form of a "Chillers" graphic novel, released this month by Big Pictures Inc., in association with West Virginia State University and Troma Inc. and published by Transfuzion Publishing.

The black-and-white graphic novel has about 130 pages and features some of the original characters from the movie, but with 11 new, original tales that reprise the concept of Babylon bus line driver Peterr Jesus, driving people to Hell, based on misguided or evil actions in their human life:

"Just goes to show, mon," Jesus says as he gathers up riders along the way in the book. "You don't have to go to hell. Sometimes hell comes to you."

Boyd will initially release the novel to comic book stores across the state in mid-May, in homage to the retail establishments that have kept the traditional comic book alive, and encouraged the popularity of its big brother, the graphic novel.

"You always try to show respect to the traditional comic shops," said Boyd. "It's a struggling enterprise, and anyone who loves comic books want to keep them alive."

The book will receive a second wave of promotion in June when it goes on sale in regular bookstores and online through Amazon.com. It sells for $12.99.

Boyd wrote four of the tales. One of his students at West Virginia State University, Betsy Allen, wrote another along with other contributors.

Being a horror anthology, some of the tales are quite dark, such as Boyd's tale of "Dr. Timmy's Fearless Dentistry." A man, fearful of the dentist and his own dark urges, goes to a dental office filled with alluring assistants only to have burly bruisers break in searching for pills. The dental patient -- modeled after original "Chillers" actor Jim Wolfe -- grabs some sharp objects at hand, starts slashing and leaves the place a charnel house of dismembered bodies.

"But . . . but I'm the . . . hero, right?" he asks, as the police gun him down and he awakes on the bus to Hell.

The mix of character-driven anthology tales won the original film a devoted audience that Boyd hopes to find again through the burgeoning genre of the graphic novel.

A vivid testament to fan devotion to that long-ago 1988 film is a new recording by punk trio The Buddy Black Band of Canada, timed to release along with the "Chillers" graphic novel.

"Witchfinger: The Chillers EP" features songs inspired by the movie. Band founder Buddy Black, who estimates he watched "Chillers" easily more than 500 times, sought out Boyd to pay homage to the film. In February, the band filmed a music video in the area of their song "The Chillers Theme," using some of the original cast and crew, including bus driver Peterr Jesus, played by West Virginia poet Norman Jordan.

For a long time, Boyd said, he wondered whether he had imagined the "mythos" that "Chillers" had created, this strong bond fans felt for the film.

"I think it really existed. Youngsters and teenagers at the time really dug it, and now those are the people in power, running the studios and reviews sites and they're the publishers -- they all remember it and have quite fond memories."

That said, despite the movie's success as a kind of widely traveled cult film -- Boyd estimated that, in sum total, it generated more than $1 million in revenue -- not much of that money found its way home.

"It's not sour grapes -- it's the nature of the business," said Boyd. "It goes through distributors and sub-distributors and changes hands. I was in the room when they sold it to South Korea in the Beverly Hilton hotel. South Korea paid X amount of money and they can do anything they want with it -- they bought it, they have all rights. So, you just never know how much is made, totally."

On the other hand, his first big movie project out of the box was a kind of unexpected home run.

"There were some bad experiences, but I'm very grateful -- it started my career. I'm not one of those guys that whines about the screw jobs in the business, because that's the business."

The graphic novel form of "Chillers" is a new direction for Boyd, who has a new anthology graphic novel series called "Carbon" underway and set for release next year. The Brazilian shop illustrating that book, Rascunho Studio, drew two of the 11 stories in "Chillers," with artists from around the world doing other chapters.

Don't expect the shiny, many-colored inks of contemporary comic books from the "Chillers" graphic novels. They trade in the same gray-scale, black-and-white imagery of the popular graphic novel "The Walking Dead," the series that resulted in the popular cable channel spin-off.

That look, said Boyd, "is not only acceptable, it is desired in the true world of horror comics."

Boyd will host the release of the novel at the following locations:

Wednesday, May 16, 5:30 to 8 p.m.: Lost Legion Games and Comics, The Rifleman, 600 D St., South Charleston. Call 304-205-7919.

Thursday, May 17, 5:30 to 8 p.m.: Lost Legion Games and Comics, The Keep, 706 Thorn St., Princeton. Call 304-431-0021.

Friday, May 18, 5:30 to 8 p.m.: Lost Legion Games and Comics, The Castle, 406 2nd St., Beckley. Call 304-253-1974.

Saturday, May 19, 2 to 6 p.m.: Lost Legion Games and Comics, The Vault, 3206 Dudley Ave., Parkersburg. Call 304-873-6044.

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


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