University of Alabama students bringing comic book dream to life
In a Monday, Feb. 8, 2016 photo, srtist Ethan Newsome-Jackson brings the character "Breeze" to life on his sketch pad as he works at The Comic Strip in Tuscaloosa. He and writer Kristofer James Pearce are the authors of several comic books and they are still students at the University of Alabama. (Gary Cosby Jr./Tuscaloosa News via AP) (Gary Cosby Jr.)
For more than a year, Ethan Newsome-Jackson and Kris Pearce have been obsessed with the same woman.
She only exists on paper, but for the two University of Alabama students, creating the character in the upcoming comic book "Breeze" has been grueling, mainly in how to present the heroine's duality.
"She's very care-free, where she enjoys all kinds of things, but she lives in a very dark world," Newsome-Jackson said during a recent work session with Pearce at The Comic Store on Hargrove Road. "She actually gets through it and keeps her sense of humor about it."
Even the way Breeze looks, complemented with spiky hair and a mask, is a combination of deliberate choices.
"A lot of feminine characters in the comic book world are usually sexy and the artists accentuate their body parts," he said. "But with Breeze, we wanted to keep it sexy, but not have too much."
As Newsome-Jackson sketches story panels for an upcoming issue, Pearce explains that "Breeze" was an effort to not only create a character that recalled the comic book heroines they grew up reading, but with a twist.
"We wanted to give a deadly character a fun power," Pearce said. "She's like a deadly fairy."
When published, "Breeze" will become the next installment in the duo's comic book company, Dream Ink Comics, which has produced five comics and sold more than 100 copies since distribution began in August.
Three years ago, Newsome-Jackson and Pearce hit it off through their mutual appreciation of comic books, especially "Batman," the Japanese manga series "Akira" and "Static." However, it was their unfavorable discussion of a comic book they had recently read that started something bigger.
"We just sat there and thought 'I can do a better job than this,' " Newsome-Jackson said. "We then decided that we should try to do something."
The first comic created was "Ghost Phase." The plot involves a character who fights crime through special powers he developed after being exposed to radiation while buried alive.
"The first book we did took about six months because we had no idea what we were doing," Newsome-Jackson said. "From there, we shortened the time to about a month or so."
Pearce does the majority of the writing, but both men complement each other throughout the production process. For example, Pearce said Newsome-Jackson keeps the stories grounded to involve realistic problem-solving in unrealistic circumstances, while Newsome-Jackson credits Pearce for bringing in three-dimensional characters that flesh out the drawings.
"I think being good friends for three years helps," Pearce said. "We're not afraid to tell the other that one idea could be better."
Since starting Dream Ink Comics, the partners have released "Ghost Phase," ''Red Dragon" and "Negative Zero," which is sold in stores as close as Little Rock, Arkansas, and as far away as Vancouver. Since August, the company has sold over 100 copies of its comics.
When the duo gave a copy of "Ghost Phase" to The Comic Strip owner Greg Hulsey, he immediately started selling copies.
"I'm hoping they can produce more books so I can give them their own rack," Hulsey said.
Newsome-Jackson, who is majoring in aerospace engineering, said he hopes to continue the company after he leaves the University of Alabama. Although he does not want to go into comic publishing full time, creating comics gives him something that reinvigorates him.
"For me, I'm learning a lot through partly owning this company," he said. "You learn how to time manage, market, research and a lot of different things you would never think you would have to learn."
Pearce, who would like to work in film production, said creating comic books has helped him improve as a writer.
"It definitely has taught me so much, like character development and story arc," he said. "You have to be very specific in getting from the beginning to the middle to the end and that took a long time to learn."
For the time being, Newsome-Jackson and Pearce are just focused on doing the best stories they can.
"Each one has been better than the last," Newsome-Jackson said.
DREW TAYLOR, Tuscaloosa News