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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Writing career rises from childhood love of comics

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Tribune-Star.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Tribune-Star.

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. – As a kid, Troy Brownfield found an oasis inside the supermarket: a spinner rack full of comic books.

He’d never budge once he got there.

“In the course of Mom’s shopping trip, I could read everything on the rack, and she would give me 35 cents to buy one book,” Brownfield recalled.

A few years later, he visited a full-fledged comic book shop on Wabash Avenue for the first time. “It was akin to someone going to the record store and realizing there were all these bands he’d never heard about. It was mind-blowing.”

Today, comic aficionados pore over stories in those vivid books written by Brownfield, now 40 years old. Last month, his new fantasy-horror comic series, “The Blood Queen,” debuted in stores. The publisher, Dynamite Entertainment, also produced the iconic “Green Hornet” and “Lone Ranger” series.

Brownfield also penned a new Gothic romance novel, “Prince Dracula,” for Dynamite this year and now available through Amazon. He’s written two comics mini-series: “Clash of Queens” and “Grimm Fairy Tales vs. Wonderland,” for Zenescope Entertainment. His repertoire also includes two webcomics, “Sparkshooter” and “Solo Acoustic.”

So far, 2014 has kept the Terre Haute native busy.

“The fact that all that – and ‘Blood Queen’ and ‘Prince Dracula’ – all happened at the same time … I’ll get hit by lightning next,” Brownfield quipped to the Tribune-Star.

The storyline of his writing career follows a path from freelance work for Web and print publications to seven years as an assistant professor of journalism at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, covering the world of comics for pop-culture websites such as Newsarama and finally crossing over to writing those comics himself.

He’s found his niche.

“Troy has written ‘Batman,’ and that’s about as up as you can get,” said Pat Shand, a writer and editor for Zenescope, based in Horsham, Pennsylvania. “I’m pretty sure that Troy is going to keep getting work and doing it well.”

Yes, Brownfield’s credits include an “80-page giant” issue of the legendary “Batman” series. That work, co-written with friend and frequent collaborator Matt Brady, served as the “Batman” ‘’annual,” a larger-than-usual, once-a-year issue. Brownfield and Brady had pitched two “Batman” story ideas to editors at DC Comics previously without success. In 2011, their third try, “Short Straw,” told from the viewpoint of Batman’s rival, charmed DC.

Getting that “yes” from DC Comics was a “surreal moment” for Brownfield.

“I joke that it’s ‘tombstone stuff’: ‘Father, Husband, Wrote “Batman” Once,’ ” he said, laughing.

The opportunity sounds magical, even three years later. Brownfield and Brady previously collaborated on another annual for the “Buck Rogers” series. That constituted their list of comic credits as a duo, before to sending their “Short Straw” story idea for “Batman” to DC.

“To be asked to write DC Comics’ top character, and then to get it published with just one credit to our name, was just crazy,” Brady said by telephone from his home in Winston-Salem, N.C.

It makes good dinner party conversation, too. When Brownfield and his wife of 21 years, Becky, socialize with friends outside the world of comics, the topic occasionally shifts to his writing. “Generally, at some point in the evening, one of the guys musters up the courage to ask about comic book stuff,” Brownfield said.

The stereotype of comic book fans portrayed in the CBS sitcom “Big Bang Theory” isn’t based on real life, Brownfield said. In the show, the comic book shop is typically filled with nerdy guys, and on the rare occasion when a woman walks in, heads turn and the room falls silent. In reality, Brownfield said, comics draw a large readership among women.

“Big Bang Theory” exaggerates the gender interest in comics. “It’s unfair to say the number of female fans is that small,” Brownfield said.

One of his editors at Dynamite, a woman, agrees. Hannah Elder, associate editor at the New Jersey-based publisher, sees the demographics shifting rapidly. She recalls that “when I was younger, it wasn’t cool to be a reader of comic books.” Now, though, “There’s actually a lot of female readers these days,” she said.

Comics’ readership in general is rising. Comics sales in 2013, including print issues, annuals and digital downloads, hit $870 million, compared to $635 million the year before, according to a July New York Times report. Dynamite Entertainment typically ranks around sixth in annual market share, with giants DC and Marvel topping the list, Brownfield explained.

With largely strong reviews in the comics media and his current string of successes, Brownfield feels “pretty comfortable that I’m in an area where there are ‘next projects’ ahead,” he said. In the meantime, he’s teaching at Med Tech College’s Greenwood campus, coaching his two sons in soccer and raising their family with his wife in their Plainfield home.

He can’t predict when, or whether, another “Batman”-style opportunity will come along, or whether his “Blood Queen” or “Prince Dracula” works will spin off into multimedia hits like “Captain America.” If such successes occur, Brownfield won’t forget the excitement he felt with his “Batman” breakthrough. “I want to keep that,” he said.

Information from: Tribune-Star, http://www.tribstar.com.