FAYETTE/LIVERMORE FALLS — A former area resident has put his artistic talent to good use by establishing Mitchell Comics, a small business located in Tilton, NH.
“I was always interested in comics as far back as I can remember,” said Michael Mitchell, who grew up in Livermore Falls and lived for years in Fayette. “I loved the monster and mystery-type comics the best, and comics that had a science fiction feel to them. I used to study those pages over and over, and try to copy as best I could what the artists were doing. I was fascinated by the process, and devoured every source I could find that explained how it was done.”
Mitchell had worked at Maine Poly in Greene for 11 years and later at Verso Paper in Jay for just over 10 years. As he approached age 40, his two sons, Brandon and Kyle, began showing an interest in comics.
“I had a lot of fun re-discovering all the things I loved about comics with the boys, and when we went to a comicon in 2004 I saw all these people were now self-publishing comics…I thought, hey…I want to do that!”
Not only did Mitchell get the urge to draw comics again, he signed up for correspondence courses at the Kubert School, founded by legendary comic book artist Joe Kubert. In a way, he came full circle, because he had wanted to attend the school after graduating from high school but never got a chance to do so.
After finishing his courses, Mitchell created and self-published a comic called ZOMBIE BOY, and had some success with it. However, he went through a divorce around that time, “and life went in many different directors and I began to lose interest in the stories I was doing then,” he said.
Then, in 2008, he began dating Michelle (now his wife), who shared his love of comics and was encouraging him to find a new comic to work on. He was still selling his older work and had set up at a small comic convention in Portland. Michelle suggested that the two take a quick trip down to the USS Albacore, a decommissioned submarine in Portsmouth, NH, during a break in the show.
They walked through the cramped, spooky old sub and Michelle asked him, “Can you imagine zombies on a submarine? Where would you run?” Thus, ZOMBIE SUB-920 was born. The couple appears in the comic in the form of Captain Walters and Nurse Maggie O’Brien.
Mitchell excitedly went to work drawing pages and knew he had something special. However, he was still working shifts at the mill and could only work on the pages sporadically.
In 2011, he started looking for jobs in New Hampshire, as that’s where Michelle was from. When he secured a job at Monadnock Paper Mill in Bennington, NH, Mitchell sold his house, quit his job, and moved to New Hampshire.
The couple married in 2012, and just a few months later, Mitchell got an even better job closer to home at 3M Corp., where he is currently employed. For the first time in almost 20 years, he was able to stop working 12-hour swing shifts. This meant that he had more time to devote to drawing.
“Later that same year, we found a local printer who was willing to work with us to affordably produce our comic,” said Mitchell. “Having that kind of relationship with a printer has been another big key to our success.”
Growing up in Livermore Falls, Mitchell bought comics at Laverdiere’s drug store and Hams REXALL. They were made the same way, he said, as they were drawn, written, inked, and colored entirely by hand.
“Those comics are the ones I wanted to make, and those are the ones that I loved,” he said. “Today, it is all done on a computer. However, the reader no longer has those subtle visual clues passed on through hand lettering that ‘this’ word has more meaning to the story due to a certain slant, or emphasis by the calligrapher. I want to take my audience back to all those things.”
As a result, the comics that Mitchell Comics produce look like nothing else on the shelves today, “and people seem to really respect that and support it.”
Along with Michelle, he has been to comic shows all over New England. They have met interesting, talented and positive people doing what they love.
“You are sitting there, at your table, and kids are coming by who want your book and your autograph, and you feel like a rock star, and then you see, you actually witness William Shatner walk right by you…yep…Captain Kirk just walked by our table, that just happened. Seconds later an eight-foot transformer robot shuffles by, followed by a retired fellow dressed like Buck Rogers. It is like being in a film by Federico Fellini!”
When he starts each new comic, Mitchell begins by folding sheets of regular copy paper in half and scribbling small stick figures of what each page should look like. He scrawls notes, and swoops sloppy balloons around those words, “half sentences, just shorthand notes really.”
He might try something, dislike it and scratch it out, and put a better idea in the margins. At the end of this phase, Mitchell is holding a blueprint in his mind “because when I see it, I see, in my mind, how everything is going to look.”
Once he has firm ideas of what he wants it to look like, Mitchell adds bold dark lines and color to turn his work into a form of communication, then to a work of art.
“That is the part that NEVER gets old for me,” he said. “That is where the magic lies. The magic of taking a blank page and giving it depth and wonder, it gets me every time.”
ZOMBIE SUB-920 is a dystopian tale of humans afflicted by a mysterious “zombie-like” virus released by invaders from another planet. Those afflicted are offered a tentative cure by scientists in exchange for their promise to enlist in what remains of the military. In this particular title, there is a mixed crew of un-infected humans and zombies fighting together as comrades against their alien attackers in a refurbished 1960’s era atomic submarine.
The comics printed by Mitchell Comics are printed full color on glossy paper exclusively by HIPPO Prints of Manchester, NH. For more information, visit Mitchell’s blog at http://mitchellcomics.blogspot.com