Rejection gives comic book artist chance at success

March 01, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

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David ChiarenzaRejection gives comic book artist chance at success

Rejected by major comic book companies, David Chiarenza decided to pursue his dream on his own.

A year and $4,000 later, the Hagerstown-area resident makes his professional debut this week. The first edition of his comic book "Julie's Journey/Gravity" hits comic book stores nationwide on Wednesday.

Comic book fans can buy the two-story issue locally at Atomic Comics on West Washington Street in Hagerstown.

Chiarenza, who writes under the pen name David Keye, said he was willing to invest about $4,000 because of a serene faith in his ability.


"I was pretty confident, and still am confident, that the product I have is better than a lot of what is out there," he said.

The debut issue features two stories. The first, "Gravity," features aliens of five races that struggle to evade an evil warlord who dominates the galaxy while searching for a mythical figure who could destroy him.

The other side of the book, "Julie's Journey" follows the life of a girl trapped in a never-ending hallway lined with bookshelves. Each time she opens a book, Julie finds herself magically transported into the story.

"What that allows me to do is explore all these different characters and stories I've come up with, without having to commit to a lengthy storyline," Chiarenza said.

In each issue, Julie interacts with the characters in the books she jumps into while trying to figure out how and why she became trapped in the hallway.

It is a magical room filled with limitless possibilities, but a prison nonetheless, Chiarenza said.

Chiarenza creates the story in a magical room of his own. The 31-year-old artist's studio in his apartment in College Heights Apartments outside Hagerstown is a virtual toy museum.

Toy spaceships from various movies and television shows hang from the ceiling, and the walls are covered with vintage action figures still inside their plastic boxes.

The shelves and bookcases overflow with every imaginable type of action figure and toy. Hats and pictures finish off the look.

For an artist who has longed to create his own comic books since he was in seventh grade, "Julie's Journey" and "Gravity" is a dream come true.

But it is only since his wife found a job at Washington County Hospital and the couple moved to Hagerstown about nine months ago that the dream began to take shape.

Now, Chiarenza said he can concentrate on his real work and does not have to squeeze in his comic-book work while working at other jobs.

"This is pretty much my job now. Hopefully, it will make enough money for it to continue to be my job," he said.

Chiarenza said it is extremely difficult to penetrate established comic book companies with original work.

The only other option is to go it alone, he said.

So Chiarenza put up the money to produce and print the comic book and then submitted it to an international distributor, Diamond Comics. The Timonium, Md.-based distributor included his comic book in its monthly catalog that goes to store owners and customers all over the world.

Chiarenza helped boost his visibility by buying a full-page ad in the catalog. He also got help from the distributor, which placed his second issue on a small list of new and exciting products to watch.

Now, Chiarenza hopes enough dealers order his $2.50 comic book - and enough customers buy it - to keep him in business.

"The hardest part is just awareness," he said.

Chiarenza said he gravitated toward comic books by way of a love of drawing and an interest in comics.

Chiarenza said he always doodled - even during inappropriate times in school. His first character had no legs, fingers or detailed facial elements because Chiarenza did not know how to draw those features.

The competition in the comic book industry, just by sheer volume, is stiff. But Chiarenza said he thinks his work is distinctive enough to draw attention.

"Gravity" is a 10-issue story, while "Julie's Journey" is more open-ended. The two stories will merge in the finale of "Gravity" when Julie will jump into the story.

And while the first run of his comic book was relatively small at 3,000, Chiarenza said he expects the number to grow. He noted that the first issue of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" also had 3,000 copies.

"I'm hoping mine goes in that direction, also," he said.

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