Dave Elliott and Garry Leach, the boys from AtomekArt, have been pretty busy over the last couple of years, and at downthetubes we were delighted to hear about their new series of thought-provoking graphic novels for Zuiker Press, tackling bullying and racial prejudice. Click and Mend, the first two books, are on sale now, with more to follow in April.
Over a successful career Dave has been involved in every aspect of the comic book industry, from writer and artist to editor and publisher. The creator of Sharky and Maximum Force, he’s worked on diverse titles such as A1, Deadline, VIZ, Heavy Metal magazine, Penthouse Comix, 2000AD, Justice League of America and Doctor Who.
Mend – Sophia Recca’s story of divorce – is a heart-wrenching story of how an 11-year old girl’s heart broke when her parents unexpectedly announced they’re divorcing. Feeling lost and alone in Las Vegas, Sophia Recca initially puts the blame on herself. Over time, self-loathing manifests itself into empowerment.
Sophia rises from the ashes and goes on a mission to get her Mom and Dad back by demanding them back in her life. Her heroism is driven by the prophetic words written on an old report card, a handcrafted paper robot, and a single prayer that’s miraculously answered.
Click – Alexandra Phillips (Lexie)’s story of cyberbullying – is a shocking depiction of young teenager’s torment in the newfound world of online harassment. Lexie, from Northridge, California, is ganged up on by a few girls in high school over a misunderstanding in the schoolyard. The quip spreads on social media and overnight, the entire student body is against her. The verbal terror follows Lexie on her phone, the local chat boards, and gossip sites.
Forced to change schools, Lexie gets her karmic revenge when she returns to her old school for a Winter Formal. In a gesture of pure bravery, Lexie turns the tables on the “clique” by getting the boy at the dance and her picture in the yearbook.
“These stories are all Sophia and Lexie’s,” Dave stresses. “Almost every printed word in the story are their exact words.”
The books are the first in a line of educational themed books created for Zuiker Press, a US publishing company that champions the voice of young authors, aimed at young adults dealing with issues and traumatic events, all true stories by real people.
The line art for the graphic novel is by Nam Kim (perhaps best known for Samurai’s Blood from Image Comics) and Garry Leach (Atomeka/ Marvelman/ Miracleman/ Judge Dredd/ Zirk etc) with colours by Fahriza Kamaputra and lettering by Jimmy Betancourt of Comicraft. Dave Elliott edited and packaged both books.
An “issue based” literary house founded by Anthony E. Zuiker, co-creator of CSI and partner Michelle Zuiker, all of the Zuiker Press authors have elected to tell their personal stories and be ambassadors of their cause.
Dave’s idea was that these new books can be used in the classroom to bring awareness to issues like bullying and racial prejudice and removing the stigma of coming from a divorced family or dealing with issues like autism or eating disorders.
“I’ve been in working in comics, in one form or another, for about thirty-five years now,” Dave recounts of his career. “The moment I started to choose my own path within the industry, I strived to go in directions that others weren’t. Paul Levitz used to take me out to lunch just because he knew I could ‘think outside the box’.
“When Garry Leach and myself started Atomeka Press and published A1, it was with the intent to publish our own material while giving a platform for other creators and treating them the same way we wanted to be treated. Full creative freedom and full creator ownership. I don’t think anyone has ever matched our deal; a page rate for one-time use, no collection rights, no reprint rights, no foreign rights… One time printing only. That’s why you’ve never seen a complete collection of the series.
“I even managed to persuade Marvel to give the same deal when we published the second, color, series through Epic. I tried to do the same wherever I went, Deadline to Blast! Heavy Metal to Penthouse Comix. Even Radical Studios.”
Perhaps best known for the hard-hitting, adult-leaning comic stories that featured in A1, his new work for Zuiker Press might seem a bit of a departure, but actually, it’s more of an extension of his attempts to move back to his roots, toward more inclusive projects.
“More recently, as comic publishers have moved away from accessible all-ages material in favor of darker, more adult material, I’ve thought more about doing comics aimed at a wider audience,” Dave says. “I tried with my own The Weirding Willows but realised too late I was working with the wrong publisher. There’s a lot of room in this market and more could be done with it.
“In 2015, while working with DeviantArt to help create an editorial department for their new website portal (with an amazing group of writers and designers), I was introduced to Anthony Zuiker.
“Anthony had co-created the highly successful TV show CSI and was preparing to wrap it up with the series finale before moving on to a Broadway show he’d written and a Netflix series. He was looking for help and advice in putting together a children’s book based on a conversation he’d had with his son. His son Evan has Aspergers, these days referred to as being on the Autism Spectrum.”
One morning, while his father was driving him to summer school, Anthony’s son took the opportunity to give him a full overview of his life and how he had been dealing with it over the years, what he had to go through at home and at school to cope and fit in, even get his first true friends.
“It was an amazingly heartfelt and uplifting story about succeeding in the face of adversity,” Dave reveals. “For his father, it was the full realisation of what he had missed by being part of one of the most successful shows on television.”
Anthony wanted to create a book for his family and friends, partly to make amends for not always being there for his son but mostly for the pride he felt about his son tackling adversity and life head on.
“It wasn’t a hard sell to get Anthony to understand that a comic book, using sequential images and captions, would be the best format to convey his son’s story and his progression,” Dave continues. “Every word in every caption would be his son’s.
“This would be the first (of many) times that I would suggest the notion of not only publishing this story for a larger audience, but doing more books, as this format would be the perfect way to start the conversation about the many issues facing today’s youth in both the classroom and at home.”
It sounds like a great idea to us – but convincing Anthony wasn’t easy.
“At this point, Anthony was too close to it and was unable to see the potential,” Dave notes. “He just wanted a book to share with his family. Yet when the book was nearly complete that changed after he sent a PDF out to a few people close to him and they all called back, mostly in tears.
“As the saying goes, ‘the proof is in the pudding’. This was the turning point and the formation of what became Zuiker Press was begun.”
Working with his contacts cultivated from years of CSI stories, Dave and Anthony soon located their first candidates for the range.
“Anthony would interview them and help craft their stories in their own words,” Dave explains. “That first draft would then come to me to flesh out into a comic script, embellishing it to the correct page count.
“Realising that Anthony and myself were on two ends of the spectrum and different parts of the entertainment industry, I found it made for creating something unique that worked on multiple levels.”
Putting together the art teams was the easiest part.
“I knew exactly who I would go to off the bat and fortunately, they all said yes. Being around for a long time has its advantages!
“Garry Leach came on board to work his magic with a brush by inking three of the first four graphic novels.”
“Even the logo I designed and created makes a statement about who we wanted to be and who our authors were. The typewriter is a universal symbol of writing. Storytellers helping young authors tell their stories.
“We were lucky to have the amazing John Shableski come in and advise us as acting publisher for a while about the educational and library markets while leading us towards potential co-publishers. Carol Fitzgerald came on to build our online presence and help direct our initial marketing efforts.
“It was Anthony and Carol, with the additional help from Sven Larsen [now Director of Licensed Publishing at Marvel], who pitched the line to several potential partners, before settling on Simon and Schuster as the best fit for what we needed.
“My initial idea was to create a line of graphic novels that would educate people and start the conversation in both the classroom and the home to breakdown the stigma of many of the issues facing families today,” Dave expands, “and at the same time, alleviate a little of the mental health issues facing all of us today.
“I think we’ve taken a great step forward in achieving those goals.”
After three years at Zuiker Press, Dave is now re-focusing on AtomkArt, the company he’s run for decades, but is understandably proud of the books he’s worked on.
“While I’m no longer with the company, I hope people take a look at these books that represents four years of hard work by all involved,” he told downthetubes. “I believe they will stand the test of time and as a testament to the bravery of these young people who came forward and agreed to tell their stories.”
The first books are available now from all good book shops physical and digital and are highly recommended for use in the classroom. The next two books – Colorblind by Jonathan Harris and Imperfect by Dounya Awada– are on sale in April.
• Order Click from Amazon here (Affiliate Link, using this helps support downthetubes, thank you)
• Order Mend from Amazon here (Affiliate Link, using this helps support downthetubes, thank you)
• Zuiker Press is online at zuikerpress.com – the site offers supporting downloadable guides on the themes tackled in the books, videos and much more
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