C.J. Davenport has a rough time holding down relationships. A copper-headed special agent with a bulbous nose and brooding blue eyes as wild as her hair, C.J. would seem to be any man's fantasy. Well, except for one thing: She can see every man's fantasies. When C.J. was 14, she had her scalp peeled back and a chip implanted in her forehead. Now she can read people's thoughts. Whether they're thinking about a bagel sandwich, babies or holding a .22 to her head while having sex, C.J. can see it all. Unfortunately, that doesn't go over so well with her lovers.
C.J. is the central character in "Thought Swarm" from the series Breaker, Breaker: Love vs. the Future, a comic book by Ethan Ede and BW graphic designer Adam Rosenlund. Published partially in the Summer 2008 edition of Idaho Arts Quarterly, "Thought Swarm" is comprised of two short, 22-page issues that spill out a sci-fi love tragedy using bold ink, subtle eyebrow furrowing and swarms of ghost-like thoughts. Unlike most comic books, it eschews delving into all the ways psychic abilities can be awesome, and instead pries into the negative repercussions of knowing too much. The Breaker, Breaker series, as a whole, is made up of five other two-issue stories: "Dumpster Dive," "Born Yesterday," "MOC," "Obsessive Compulsive" and "We're Not Alone." Without sharing any characters, each story explores the essential question, "What happens to love when bleeding-edge technology gets in the way?"
"For me, it's a stronger medium than any other form of storytelling. There's more potential in it, and there are things you can do here that you can't really do anywhere else," says comic writer Ede.
Ede and Rosenlund, both 25, have been working together for the last four years, and they're serious about what they do. Though both grew up avid comic book readers—plunking down allowance money next to bologna sandwich-eating clerks at comic book store counters only to run home and smudge their thumbs on the latest editions of Spiderman or Batman—they now approach the industry as up-and-coming professionals.
"There's a saying: 'If you're into comics, you want to do comics,'" says comic illustrator Rosenlund. "So there's a huge surplus of talent out there and nowhere near enough jobs, or even space on publishing schedules, for all the people who want to create comics."
Submission guidelines on the Dark Horse Comics Web site confirm Rosenlund's comments, cautioning: "We appreciate how difficult it can be to break into the comics business or to get the attention of an editor, but an editor's primary duty is to maintain his or her portion of the company's publishing schedule, and that job leaves little time to review submissions. We, as a company, are still interested in seeing work from new creators, but we don't want to promise a response which we may not have the resources to send."
So even though Ede and Rosenlund—like so many others—dream big, they're starting small. While 22-page issues are the standard for comic book length, starting off with self-contained two-issue stories in their Breaker, Breaker series allows the duo to pitch their comics to editors as a relatively small up-front commitment. Whether a publisher agrees to print only one story from the Breaker, Breaker set or all six of them, there's little risk the comic will flop or be pulled before the entire story has run.
"Basically, we made something that would be easy for a publisher to look at and go, 'At the very least, I can commit to two issues of this,'" explains Rosenlund.
And though they have had interest from smaller publishers, Ede and Rosenlund have decided to court the big guys—Dark Horse, Image—right off the bat. They also have other more ambitious projects in the works—a 12-issue comic called Colony and their daunting 60-issue brainchild, Ghosts of Floodtown—but are currently content to cut their teeth on Breaker, Breaker and perfect their unique style before tackling the larger projects.
"We're stretching our muscles, so to speak," says Ede. "Most prose writers will publish a book of short stories before they publish their opus, their novel. This is our book of short stories."
Another aspect of the industry Ede and Rosenlund are constantly combating is genre prejudice. Most comic book readers, in a nutshell, like superheroes. Ede doesn't write superheroes, he writes space opera science fiction, or something close to that. Ede is interested in exploring humanity confronting and adapting to technology. How do people live and love in an age when nothing—even basic notions of what defines humanity—is certain?
"The thing about comics is there's everything—everything there is in film or novels or television," says Ede. "There's every genre fully represented out there. But the reading population only wants superheroes. There's a very, very small market that wants other things."
But that market is growing. Though both Ede and Rosenlund agree that the term "graphic novel" is just a pretentious label to slap on a long comic in an attempt to court non-comic-reading audiences, they acknowledge that the form is helping to expand people's assumptions of what comics should be. From books like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis to Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, the medium is increasingly being viewed as a storytelling form equal in validity to any short story or novel.
"The way we see it is, you have a market for single issues and then you have a market for graphic novels, but you can service both markets," says Rosenlund. "All it really means to me is I have two revenue streams coming at me."
And while it may seem like Rosenlund and Ede are all business and no funny, remember that they're doing all this in their free time. Many of those fancy ads and drawings sprinkled throughout each issue of BW? That's Rosenlund. The guy who monitors calls at the AT&T service center—that message that says "these calls may be monitored for quality assurance"? That's Ede. Besides their day jobs, the duo spends countless hours perfecting page after page of comic script, painstakingly adding light sockets to panel walls and attending comic book schmoozefests to rub elbows with potential publishers in hopes that, one day, they'll realize the dream they each had when they were kids.
"We're consistently on the cusp ... we're always at the point where we're on someone's radar," says Rosenlund. "But it's just keeping ourselves on the radar enough that they would actually publish the book."
But there's still a long fight ahead for Ede and Rosenlund before they land the comic deal they've spent years dreaming of. Fortunately, these two have a solid grasp of their strengths and weaknesses, and know just how to tackle the fickle, highly competitive beast that is the comic book industry—even without the help of superheroes.
"Things are going well, it's just a matter of getting someone to say 'yes' at this point," says Rosenlund.