On the cover of CC senior Ben Philippe’s comic “Beloved,” long, curly locks of red hair fall from the face of an upside-down young woman and ensnare a faceless, suited man. On the inside cover, the reader finds a poem printed in white typeface against a red background. The poem, written by 2010 Columbia alum Liam Carney, is called “As Grows Her Hair, So My Desire.” It is as if the bright design and mysterious content of the cover has the same effect on the reader as the red hair has on the man—and this is exactly what Liam intends.
“‘Beloved’ was inspired in part by ‘Lolita.’ I wrote it after reading the book and after a breakup, and it’s the story of a girl who has the curse, or gift, that anyone she meets gets instantly enamored with her,” Philippe says, leaning against his bed in his impeccably neat dorm room in Watt, the furniture and decorations accented with bright reds. Though he’s mainly a writer, his room demonstrates an appreciation for color and design.
“Beloved” doesn’t follow a straight narrative, and indeed, there is not one traditional rectangular panel in the entire comic. Rather, the images overlap both vertically and horizontally, crashing into each other as the main character, Anya, is pulled in different directions by her jealous, possessive, enamored friends and relations. In one of the most chilling sequences, Anya’s adoptive father Chris tells her, “You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” as he grips her by the shoulder of her red school uniform. The frame below shows a zoomed-in image of the lollipop in his breast pocket. The larger lollipop comes up to the waistband of his belt, hinting at a taboo relationship.
“Beloved” is not your grandfather’s superhero comic.
Philippe and his partner, Victor Ochoa, a graduate of the Cooper Union School of Art and graphic designer for Simon & Schuster, produced the comic themselves under their new independent press, Draw More, Inc. The two met at Marvel Comics last fall, where Ben was interning as a writer and Victor as an artist in the same department. They bonded over a shared ambition to pursue careers in comics. Ben says the industry can be tough to crack. “Artists and writers who aren’t already in the big companies, which are Marvel Comics and DC, really have no way of getting in.” The two started brainstorming and procrastinating at work about their own company. “Eventually, Draw More, Inc. was born.”
The pair debuted their work at New York Comic Con this past October. They printed a thousand copies of their comics, “Beloved” and Victor’s “Toxicity,” and sold 800 for a dollar each. The books cost between $1.50 and $3.00 to make, and the additional cost of the table in Artists Alley at Comic Con all came out of Victor’s pocket. “But there’s nothing wrong with it,” he says. “I mean, we’re just going out to get people’s attention. Sort of reeling them back in later.”
In their website’s mission statement, the two founders say, “Draw More, Inc. aims to create, above all else, engrossing and multi-layered works that go beyond the standard narrative.” Victor calls this method “circular narrative.” He says, “We want to put out quality work that we’re proud of, want to avoid the sort of one-and-done that’s associated with comics where you just read an issue and then you put it down.”
Ben adds, “Comic books are at such high numbers now, you have ‘X-Men’ number 300, ‘Iron Man’ number 600, people just read the comic, they put it down and they wait for the next issue. So we wanted our books to sort of be like, you sit down, you read it once, you take it all in, and you’re gonna immediately want to read it again and get all the details.”
On the horizon, the duo has two main projects: one, a graphic novel called “The Most Dangerous Game Ever Played,” and another, an anthology of short comic work for which they have issued an open call for submissions. They plan to debut their work at Big Apple Comic Con in May 2011. Recently, they have added another editor to the staff, Mike Christatos, whom they also met at Marvel.
Ben says they are on the lookout for new talent, and like working with students. “I feel like students really get it,” he said. “They have the fire.”
From his position on Ben’s red couch, Victor agrees. “Yeah, they need that oomph, cause there are people that are like, ‘I want to do comics,’ but can you do comics, and do you really want to do them?”
So far, the two have enjoyed working together, collaborating mostly via e-mail because of their busy lives in college and “the real world.” They’re thankful for the many learning opportunities they’ve had, and say that the only loss so far has been a financial one. Says Victor, “We’re not breaking even, but having enough faith in our own work to hope that it pays off one day.”
The graphic novel genre is unique in the dialogue it creates between words and images. As Victor puts it, “He’s the writer, I’m the artist, but then the border starts to mesh together.” Ben says part of the goal of their new press is keeping print alive. He says, “A big part of the experience of comic books is the community—people writing their own stories, people discussing their stories, that’s why we have those circular storylines. With comics moving towards digital, a lot of that is dying, so we also wanted to go back to print to keep the spirit of comics alive.” He pauses for a moment. “Wow, that sounds geeky.