Drawing closer Indie comic artists united by local events, Free Comic Book Day

Christine Brunson, the local comic book artist behind the “Undead Norm” series, works in a makeshift studio in her Summerville home.

Before Christine Brunson quit her job to create comics full-time, she said people were “literally wiping their feet” on her artwork.

That’s not a hyperbole. She designed doormats for 9 years until recently.

“It was a good job, but it’s not what I wanted to do,” she said. “And I figured it would make me a lot happier if I could focus on my comics and my artwork instead of doing that ... and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But at least I can show my son if you want your dreams, you need to go ahead and work for them.”

Like many independent comic book artists, Brunson’s lifelong adoration for comic books and their characters inspired her to start drawing, writing and eventually producing her own series, “Undead Norm.”

It’s a comedy about zombies, an idea spawned from a pretty unusual situation.

“I came up with the idea at a funeral for somebody I didn’t really know well,” she said. “There were a lot of people there and I was in the back and couldn’t really hear anything. And you never know when inspiration is going to come. I just started thinking, this would be a bad place for the zombie apocalypse to happen. So that’s where Norm’s story starts, at a funeral.”

The first two issues were printed in 2011 and 2013, and it went on hiatus once Brunson’s co-author, Melanie Florencio, left the area for a job story-boarding for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C.

In the meantime, Brunson, who lives in Summerville, has been commissioned to help with a number of local projects, including artwork for the “Simon Says” graphic novel by Matthew Smith.

Eventually, Brunson said, being a mom, a full-time mat designer and an artist became too much to juggle at once. So she chose to make comics her main focus, and she’s already working on the next installment of “Undead Norm” due out sometime this summer.

While Brunson said quitting her job to focus on her hobby full-time was a risk, she’s felt a new wave of encouragement and support recently as more comic book-related events and organizations have popped up in the area, offering local independent comic book creators an outlet for networking.

“Charleston is really recently starting to let its nerd flag fly a little bit,” she said. “It’s a good, growing community and most everyone is pretty friendly and wants to support each other.”

Park Circle Comics has been putting on its Taking Flight Comic Book Show series for nearly two years at The Sparrow in North Charleston, where many local, independent artists such as Brunson have been able to showcase their creations. Also, new conventions in the area such as AtomaCon and Storm-Con, two multimedia and gaming conventions, tend to highlight comic book art as part of the events.

“There are a lot of people who love to buy artwork and talk about comics there, too,” Brunson said. “They’re both pretty new, but it’s pretty exciting to have them in the area now. ... They support a lot of artists.”

Another event coming up is Free Comic Book Day, when participating comic book shops nationwide give away special-edition comics for free on the first Saturday of May each year. Locally, it’s being held at Captain’s Comics and Toys in West Ashley, Green Dragon in North Charleston and Soundwave Music and Movies in Summerville.

In addition to the giveaways, stores often have additional activities such as costume contests as well as meet-and-greets with local and regional artists. Brunson is a special guest this year at Soundwave during its festivities.

“I enjoy being a part of it, and there’s lots of kids coming up to ask me how to get into comics,” she said.

Jimmy Steen, another independent comic in the area, said that’s why he enjoys participating in comic book-related events as well.

“When I was at an AtomaCon, I had a ton of kids coming up to me asking, ‘What do I need to do to be a better artist?’ And that made me realize I have a responsibility to pay it forward and help these kids with their art,” he said.

Steen is a youth pastor at Memorial Baptist Church in St. George, and he’s also the creator of “Drawn Closer,” a web-based comic about a young family that’s more in the vein of a newspaper comic strip such as “For Better or For Worse.”

He met Brunson recently at Summerville’s Flowertown Festival, and the two are now discussing starting a group for comic artists to get together and review each other’s work.

“We eventually would like to do a comic creators collective in Charleston for people who are trying to draw comics,” he said. “Being a comic book artist, especially web comic, can be very lonely. And we are the worst at critiquing ourselves and saying, ‘OK, we’re awful, let’s quit.’ What we’d like to do is have a group that meets and critiques, and build each other up as artists.”

Mike Campbell, owner of Captain’s Comics, said it’s a good time for independent comics locally and across the industry, thanks to the rise of web comics such as Steen’s.

“Online, you really don’t have to have a guaranteed sales number to tell your own stories and get a variety,” he said. “So stories that wouldn’t have any financial success in a traditional market, they were able to go online and once they got attention, people in the traditional market could peak their head around and say, ‘Oh, people are interested in this stuff, let’s make sure we’re doing that as well.’”

Now, shops are carrying superhero comics by DC and Marvel alongside comic books with new genres including horror or spy stories from independent publishers such as Image Comics and Dark Horse.

“Superheros are a lot of fun but it’s definitely good to have a nice variety,” Campbell said.

Along with that era of exploring new styles, web comics also brought in a new wave of emphasis on creating more characters and storylines women can relate to.

“We didn’t, for a long time, have very good female representation. The web comics have been such a great way to show Marvel and DC and all the publishers that people want to read different comics,” Brunson said. “There are lots of independent web comics that have ended up working for the big publishers. And the female creators have been a lot more vocal and more daring about what they want to create.”

That’s been good for business, too, Campbell said.

“It’s been really nice to see comic publishers putting out good material and getting that variety through the door so it doesn’t feel like that weird hobby for grown men,” he said.

Greg Woodard, owner of Soundwave, said he thinks the industry is “in a renaissance when new writers and artists are making their mark in comics.”

That’s good news for artists like Brunson, who plans to write a romance comic and a new superhero series once “Undead Norm” wraps up.

“As a creator, I want to show that there are more powerful female characters and create stories where the girl doesn’t really need saving, she can save the guys,” she said. “I just want to be more positive about saying, ‘Not all the girls are damsels and not all the guys are macho, because you know, a lot of people like to read stories where they can see themselves in it.’ ”

Reach Abigail Darlington at 937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.