ITHACA, N.Y. — Ithaca in the 1920s sets the scene for a new comic book series “Ithaqa,” which has launched with strong grassroots support online. The comic, created by Ithaca College alumnus Michael Watson, is described as a “comedy-turned Lovecraftian horror.”
The story, illustrated by Manhattan-based Theresa Chiechi, follows filmmaker and conman Mookie Smitts, who discovers “the horrible Eldritch Truth of the cosmos as a moving picture he is struggling to produce in the 1920s accidentally uncovers a plot to destroy the Spacetime Continuum.” The comic falls under “Lovecraftian horror,” a genre of horror fiction that’s more about the cosmic horror of the unknown and things beyond comprehension rather than quick scares and gore.
Though Watson now lives in New Jersey after graduating in 2013, he said Ithaca made such an impression on him while he studied film at Ithaca College that he thought the city would be the perfect backdrop for the comic. There were other reasons, too. The name somewhat riffs off of “Ithaqua,” which is a gruesome fictional character that controls snow and ice from the Cthulhu mythos of H.P. Lovecraft — a prowling ice giant fits in nicely with Ithaca’s chilly setting.
The comic also gives a nod to some local history, and historical events of the time, such as Prohibition and women’s suffrage. Watson said he was intrigued by Ithaca’s rich silent film history with the Wharton Film Studio, and actually incorporates the studio into the comic. The studio, whose history is preserved today by the Wharton Studio Museum, produced films on the shores of Cayuga Lake from about 1914 to 1920. It was established by brothers Theodore and Leopold Wharton, and while they were producing films they had elaborate sets and brought famous movie stars to Ithaca.
Though the film studio left Ithaca in the early 1920s, the comic “Ithaqa” toys with the alternate universe that the Wharton brothers remained in Ithaca and got into bootlegging. Why not?
The story of the comic’s creation is stretched over several years and as Watson put it, “probably one of the scrappiest ways to launch a comic.” He said the seed for the story was planted “in a nightmare” while he was studying at Ithaca College. It first started out as a script, but that got too big for a film. Years after that, he said he and friends played the roleplaying game, “Call of Cthulhu,” which he described as a supernatural “Clue.” As part of that game, players create characters. When it finally clicked that his story should be a comic book, he began to develop characters that were loosely based on some from his friends’ gameplay in “Call of Cthulhu.”
The comic has an interesting collection of characters whose paths cross in Ithaca. Aside from conman Mookie Smitts, there’s Hazel, an ostracized artist; Margaret Murphy, a former suffragette; Ruth Adler, a cynical nurse; and Harvey Bolton, a World War I soldier gone AWOL with a former lover who his a lieutenant in the Ithaca Police Department.
When Watson said he felt he had enough of the script written for the comic, he hired Theresa Chiechi, who was studying at the School of Visual arts in New York City. With her on board, Watson said they worked for two years on the comic, and illustrated about three issues. Also on the creative team is letterer Lucas Gattoni, who is based in Argentina.
After putting in as much money as he could, Watson said he wanted to see how people would actually respond to the comic, so he put it on a Blogging platform called Steemit, a social media platform where positive feedback or upvotes equate to cryptocurrency. With Steemit, he said they managed to raise enough money to finish the final version of the first issue. With their success on Steemit, Watson said they then turned to a more formal campaign on Kickstarter, a fundraising website, to get issues printed.
The response on Kickstarter, when they launched on March 26 was fast.
“Theresa and I are just amazed,” Watson said. “We were completely funded in 12 hours.”
In less than a day, they had reached their goal of $2,530 and the campaign is still active until April 16. Going past their goal has allowed them to expand their print run to 500 copies, and they will also be able to foil stamp the cover. Currently, he said they are working to fund their biggest “stretch goal,” which would be to fund the creation of an additional 12 pages to complete the second issue.
Learn more about “Ithaqa” at www.ithaqacomic.com. The first issue is 36 pages and kicks off an eight-issue story arc.