Thursday, April 10, 2014

"The Outbreak" Breaks Out

Artwork by Micheal Neno
JL (Jen) Smither is a local writer making her first foray into the world of sequential storytelling with the new web comic The Outbreak, which went live on the Wild, Wild Web earlier today.  Her artistic collaborator on this project is Michael Neno, a name that should be well known to Columbus comics cognoscenti as the creator of The Signifiers, as well as many other titles in his more than two decades of writing, drawing and self-publishing comics.
I'm going to rely heavily on Jen's own words for the rest of this post, as she speaks quite eloquently for herself and her work.   On her blog, she describes the basic premise of the strip thusly:
"While still recovering from the trauma of World War II, England endures an outbreak of ravenous, wolf-like carnivores called lupanoids. The beasts take over the countryside, dramatically altering the landscape and culture. No one seems to understand where they came from or why. All that is known for sure is that the lupanoids aren’t wolves and aren’t humans, and they appear to never have been either. Popular opinion is divided on whether they should (or can) be exterminated or whether humankind should learn to live alongside the lupanoids. Two main groups make up either side of this debate. The Institute for Co-Existence, which is just a refurbished version of the war-time Institute for Peace, is a government-funded research institute that employs chemists, biologists, mathematicians, sociologists, and other scientists all working toward a common goal: to establish a new normal society in which humans and the lupanoids co-exist without fear. On the other hand, The Confrontation is a military-style group that eliminates lupanoids wherever the soliders find them.
After surviving the Blitz and other stresses of the war, many English citizens found the lupanoid Outbreak too much to bear. Many have left the country, fleeing to America and other countries where they believe they’ll be free of the lupanoid threat. Those who remain live mostly barricaded in rooms with bricked-over windows, dependent on The Confrontation for transportation, and with little opportunity to venture outside without fear of attack.
But they make do, those who remain in England. Because that’s their duty to their country and families: to make do."
 In a later post, describing the genesis of the project, she says:
"These stories that make up The Outbreak, including the story in “Monster at the Institute,” began as short stories that I wrote to take a break from my novel. I thought there was a slim chance I’d ever get “Monster” and the other stories in a literary journal (which does take some of the pressure off, allowing me to write a little more freely than I might otherwise). But then my husband mentioned that they might make good comics…"
When I asked her in an e-mail how she came to work with Michael Neno, she responded:
"After I got a script together with the significant help of my comics writing group (which was Max Ink, Travis Horseman, and Ken Eppstein at the time), the group also helped me put together a call for artists. Actually, the call for artists for was a different, shorter script that I intended to launch first. I distributed to call to the Sunday Comix group and to some people I'd met at previous SPACEs and to friends of friends. I got a lot of great responses, but Michael's really impressed me. He seemed to get exactly what I was going for, so I was pretty sure we'd be able to communicate well. Instead of the original, shorter script, I asked Michael if he'd be interested in doing this longer one instead--I first thought I might use different artists for every story, and I wanted to take advantage of his skill for a longer piece. He agreed, and produced some great artwork. He's so easy to work with, and I'm so happy with the way this turned out, that I already have him working on that original shorter script now! "
The first story of The Outbreak, "Monster At The Institute", runs six issues, and future chapters will appear each Thursday for the next five weeks.  "Michael and I are already working on the next story," Jen told me in her e-mailed response, "...but there's no ETA on that yet. But people should follow my blog for updates on that kind of stuff."
To read the first installment of "Monster At The Institute, point your browser here.

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