Jack Grimm: Harbinger of Death is a comic book with a local area connection.
The tale’s creator, writer and artist Gary Boyarski lives just down Highway #52 in Ituna, SK.
So, what was the greatest challenge in terms of getting the book from an idea to a finished book?
“Getting past my own inhibitions and the feelings of ‘not being good enough’, that most artistic people struggle to overcome,” Boyarski, told Yorkton This Week.
“It took many years of ‘wanting to do the comic’ before I finally stopped procrastinating and just started it. There’s a famous quote by author Neil Gaiman in regards to writing, he says, ‘This is how you do it. You sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard.’”
“It’s the same for making comics, but its panel after panel, page after page. The hardest part for me, the ultimate procrastinator, was just committing myself to completing the project.”
The seeds of what would become the comic book series Jack Grimm: Harbinger of Death were actually planted back in 1995.
Boyarski said he had been thinking a lot about making a comic book, and like a lot of young comic book fans at the time was heavily influenced by the explosion of Image comics onto the comic book scene.
Having created his own fair share of superhero characters, admittedly often mimicking characters that already existed, Boyarski was looking to create something that resonated more with his personal desires and sensibilities.
One cold winter evening, Jack Grimm was born, although at first he was named Frank Grimm. Several supporting cast members like Howie the Werewolf and Samuel the Bridge Keeper, Otis the Scarecrow & Nicky the Noodle soon followed.
If that sounds like a rather strange crew of characters Boyarski said it is what makes the story work.
“I think that the thing that works best in the story is that the characters are relatable, and flawed,” he said.
“Jack is new at his job, unsure of himself and trying to mend a broken heart that just won’t heal.
“Howie is a good friend and selfless, Otis is naive and carefree. Samuel is quiet and hides a dark past.
“Even the villains have their share of personal problems that show through in their personalities.
“That was something I learned from reading the classic Marvel Comics stories by Stan Lee. All of his characters were as real as anyone you would meet in the street. None of them were perfect.”
But, it wasn’t until around 2014 that Boyarski finally decided to stop making comics he thought people wanted, and started making the comic book he wanted to make; to tell the story that had been wanting to get out of his head for years.
“I pulled out that old rough folded mini comic that I had saved for so long and started to work on Jack Grimm issue number one,” he said.
A push helped Boyarski finally take the big plunge. He headed to Calgary to attend a comic convention hoping to meet Stan Lee. But, Lee cancelled his appearance the day before he was to leave for the convention.
“It’s funny, the twists and turns life takes you, in spite of your best laid plans,” recalled Boyarski in a presentation paper he wrote.
One of the guests that was attending the convention that year, that Boyarski was also looking forward to seeing, was an artist that had worked on the longest running Canadian comic book of all time, Cerebus the Aardvark.
His name was Gerhard and meeting him was about as inspiring as it gets, said Boyarski.
Upon approaching his table, Gerhard was absent, but his partner Shelley Byers was at his table and they immediately hit it off, “chatting like old friends as I looked through the art prints he had for sale,” he said.
A few minutes later Gerhard returned, and he too was pleasantly talkative and kind.
“When I mentioned to them that I was working on a comic book, they both lit up and asked me all about it,” said Boyarski.
“Imagine a comic book professional asking about my comic work! The second day of the con I again went to his table to give them a drawing of Jack Grimm that I had done on hotel note paper with a blue pen just to show them the character I had been telling them about the day before. They were happy to see it and even gave me their home mailing address when I offered to send them a copy of my comic that I said would be done in October. Gerhard even offered to draw the cover of one of my issues someday. I stopped by to visit with Gerhard and Shelly every day of the con and we have remained in contact since.
Normally, an experience like that would have been enough, but fate wasn’t done with Boyarski.
“As I wandered past the literally 100’s of booth’s at the show, I stopped at one that caught my eye, and my life changed again,” said Boyarski.
It was the booth of Donovan Yaciuk. A professional comic book colourist who was selling a comic book he had been working on for a few years, featuring a character he had also created when he was a kid. The book was called ‘Spacepig Hamadeus’.
“After a nice talk about comics and creator owned characters, I walked away with a professional colourist who was going to colour my comic book cover, and more importantly a new friend,” said Boyarski.
“When I got home from that trip, I spent the rest of the summer finishing up my comic pages. Donovan coloured the cover, doing an amazing job of it, and even suggested using a printer that he was familiar with, which resulted in a professionally looking comic that I couldn’t have made without his assistance.
“And knowing that Gerhard and Shelly were waiting to see my completed comic helped to keep me going when things got difficult or I started to get lazy. By the end of the fall I had an actual honest to goodness box full of comic books that I made, delivered to my door.”
When Boyarski looks back on the original issues, is there one thing he wishes he could do over?
“Yes and no,” hedges the book creator. “As an artist you are always improving your art, and as it naturally gets better you look back on your previous stuff and it looks horrible. The pages I’m drawing for issue six are a vast improvement over the pages I did in issue one. So there is always that nagging feeling to want to go back and redraw things for future reprints.
“But, if you go down that path, there’s no end to how many improvements I would want to make.
“The one thing that I should have done was to get a proof reader. For each issue I went over the pages again and again, scrutinizing them for any little mistakes. Even when I thought I’d gotten them all, I always find something I’ve missed after the books are printed that a second set of eyes could have caught.”
So is that the gem of advice for others with a comic book running around in their head?
“Educate yourself,” said Boyarski. “There’s a ton of good books out there that will help you to understand the process of making comics. I spent a year and a half studying books such as ‘Comics and Sequential Art’ by Will Eisner, ‘Understanding Comics’ by Scott McCloud, ‘How To Draw Comics The Marvel Way’ by Stan Lee and John Buscema, and ‘The DC Comics Guide To Making Comics’ by Carl Potts.
“Once you have a rudimentary understanding of what works in comics and what doesn’t. Then you’ll be ready to apply that to the stories you want to tell. Even if you just want to write comics, because the process of writing a good comic is much different than writing a prose story or script.”
Of course Boyarski also drew inspiration from others in the field, although in a somewhat subtle way.
“I’m not sure, my art style has sort of evolved on its own,” he said. “I’ve never tried to emulate any particular artists’ technique or style. There are plenty of artists and even writers who I admire and whose talents have influenced my graphic story telling; Dave Sim, Todd McFarlane, Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Peter David are just a few, as well as the amazing Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge comics by Carl Barks.”
Interestingly, Boyarski isn’t a constant doodler as many comic artists are, although time is the culprit.
“I’m a Stay-At-Home Dad, so my days are pretty full from morning till night,” he said. “When I do squeeze in some drawing time, it’s to work on the book directly. I rarely draw anything that isn’t part of the comic these days.
“It’s what I like to think of as on the job training. The comic is what it is, warts and all, and a lot of readers like to see that. It’s part of the charm of an indie comic that you don’t get with a slick professionally produced comic book.”
But the comic has garnered notice in its merits too.
Jack Grimm #5 was awarded Best Canadian Independent Comic Book 2018 by the Canadian Independent Comic Wiki Awards and Sequential Magazine.
The latest issue Jack Grimm #6 will debut at the Saskatchewan Entertainment Expo Regina on May 4-5, and Jack Grimm #1 is available at www.comixology.com