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SC pair hopes Kickstarter website propels graphic novel

Chip Ellis
Blake Wheeler (left) and Jason Pell have turned to the crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter to raise funds for mass printing and distribution of their graphic novel, "Season's End." The dark gothic tale is set in a fantasy world of magic.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Comic book creators Blake Wheeler and Jason Pell aren't looking to get rich -- well, maybe not right away. They're just trying to get people to look at their work.

The pair recently launched a hardback graphic novel called "Season's End," a dark, gothic tale set in a fantasy world of magic, not unlike J.R.R. Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy or George R.R. Martin's "Game of Thrones" saga.

"Only it's not a fantasy world you'd actually want to live in," Pell said. "It's a world that's kind of on its last legs."

The book is finished. Now they're working through Kickstarter to unite comic book and fantasy fans to get "Season's End" mass printed and distributed.

Kickstarter is a crowd-sourcing fundraising website for writers, artists, musicians and inventors. Ideas or projects are posted, along with descriptions and explanations of why people should want this project to happen. These usually include special premiums to encourage pledges.

These often are signed copies of DVDs, CDs or books. For "Season's End," Pell and Wheeler also are offering the actual paintings used to make the comic book (in pledge packages of $85 and up).

"I don't know who else is doing that," Wheeler said.

A financial goal is set, as well as a time limit. Potential backers pledge online using their credit cards. If the project meets its goal, the cards are charged and the project creators get paid. If the goal is not met, the project fails and the creators get nothing.

Pell and Wheeler set their project time limit at 30 days, which ends Monday. So far, 80 backers have pledged just under $8,500, which is a little more than a two-thirds of their $11,600 goal. That goal is mostly to cover out-of-pocket costs, printing and distribution.

"We'd like to get a couple of cool T-shirts, too, " Pell added.

"Season's End" isn't Pell's first comic book. A lifelong comic book fan, he started trying to break into the comic book market a little more than 10 years ago.

"I had zero luck," he said.

So Pell stopped sending his story ideas directly to comic book publishers. Instead, he found artists to illustrate his books, took the finished pages to Kinkos, made copies and sent them to comic book reviewers.

"That got me a lot more attention."

Eventually, the attention helped him get "Zombie Highway" published through Digital Webbing Comics. The independent comic company, which hasn't published anything new in a few years, carried a variety of titles, including "Sword of Dracula," "Fist of Justice" and a video game tie-in, "Bloodrayne."

Despite the blockbuster status of superhero films like "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises," there's not a lot of money in comic books -- at least not for most comic book creators.

While Pell was getting his work published, he didn't quit his day-job tending bar at Murad's. In 2009, with family finances tight, he took a second job at Toys "R" Us, where he met Wheeler.

Wheeler, a 2006 Fine Arts graduate from West Virginia State University, was a painter. The two became friends and eventually decided to work on a project together.

Pell came up with the story for "Season's End" because he felt it best fit Wheeler's artistic style. Wheeler said it was a real challenge to paint according to Pell's words and to maintain the feel of the characters in the individual panels.

"We started this January of 2011 and finished in April of this year," Wheeler said.

When they were finished, Wheeler had painted 47 paintings for a book that was 120 pages long.

It was an unusual sort of project, even for the comic book world, but rather than slog through attempting to find a publisher to subsidize distribution, the pair decided to try it on their own through the Kickstarter. So far, they're pretty happy with how it's going.

However, neither think just putting their product out on a website is enough. They two have reached out through social media to their friends and taken their book on the road. Earlier this month, they attended the Baltimore Comic-Con to make a direct pitch to the fans.

"We had a table there," Wheeler said. "We didn't sell a lot of books, but we talked to a lot of people and saw an uptick of interest on the Kickstarter site when we got home."

They will also be at the ShockaCon on Sept. 29 in South Charleston and are already considering future comic book projects.

"I've always got more ideas," Pell said.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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