Graphic novel ‘Carbon’ captures coalfield issues
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Daniel “Danny” Boyd will release locally this week his new graphic novel, “Carbon,” a supernatural horror story that echoes current-day environmental issues.
Boyd will sign and sell copies of the 116-page book, which retails for $19.95, Wednesday at Lost Legion Comics in South Charleston and then Saturday at Taylor Books in advance of a national release in August by Caliber Comics, a leading American comic book publisher that has published over 1,300 comics.
“I wanted to have the opportunity to share this story with my fellow West Virginians first, because while ‘Carbon’ is a fantasy story with many mythical elements, it intertwines with real issues and concerns that we are all too familiar with,” Boyd said.
Carbon, set in the Southern West Virginia coalfields, tells the story of what happens when an evil coal operator unwittingly awakens and releases a cursed and banished underground civilization onto the surface, and the only thing that stands in the way of the end of the world is a disgraced ex-pro baseball pitcher and a community of courageous coal miners.
“It’s been in my head for more than 30 years, when I started working in Williamson. I kind of got the crash course on the world of coal,” said Boyd, an assistant professor of communications at West Virginia State University.
Boyd dedicated “Carbon” to “those that toil in darkness — coal miners” and said that whatever side of the debate over the industry you fall on, miners are the often unseen heroes.
“I cannot think of any major work of entertainment where coal miners were the heroes,” he said.
Needless to say, while allegorical, the story is still a supernatural one. Boyd lays out the background:
“There was a civilization before the one we knew. There was a Garden of Eden, but it was in Mingo County. They created a god, and the only rule was balance. All they had to do was maintain balance — Nature and Man. And they violated that and they were sent underground, and instead of waiting for sunlight when they could come back, they gave up, and, over millions of years, turned into carbon.
“Well, since they had been granted immortality as a carbon, they will burn forever. And an evil coal baron 30 years ago finds a piece of it where most of the crew is killed during that time and they find that it’ll burn forever. So, he spends the next years sending in expeditions every 10 years trying to get more of it. And they get wiped out by the guardians. So it’s all about the evil coal baron’s final push to get to that seam and liquefy it.”
Meanwhile, “Our hero is a broken character, a Tom Joad type — Jacob ‘Heat’ Hatfield.”
His way out of the coalfields is as a baseball pitcher with an amazing fastball, but he screws it up playing for the Charleston Capitals.
“So he’s like many young people sent back home — the only place to go is in the mines. And he finds himself in the middle of that last expedition where they unleash that ancient, world-ending horror.”
Boyd said at the outset of the book he “sort of re-envisioned an Old Testament. I just couldn’t find a creation story that would work for this, so I sort of cobbled one together. But they all sort of agree on the same thing: Here’s your world — maintain balance.”
The book features an introduction by acclaimed independent filmmaker John Sayles, who notes:
“All the iconic elements of mountain states’ culture are here — tight-knit families and rapacious exploiters, gonzo theology, sports fever and the sad fact that being employed may mean helping to despoil one of the most beautiful spots on the planet. ‘Carbon’ is an ambitious addition to the long tradition, religious and secular, of that basic cautionary tale — be careful what you dig up.”
“Carbon” is the first book in a planned trilogy that also includes the titles “Salt” and “Gold.” “So [‘Carbon’] lights the fuse of maybe the end of this civilization. ‘Salt’ is, ‘Can this civilization survive?’ And ‘Gold’ is — I don’t want to tell you,” Boyd said.
The book was drawn by Edi Guedes, of Rascunho Studio in Brazil, who did some of the stories for the graphic novel versions of Boyd’s movie “Chillers.”
Since Guedes doesn’t speak English, he and Boyd had an interesting working relationship over the five years it took to produce the graphic novel, translating text and communicating imagery.
“I like to think I’m a pretty good scriptwriter, so I describe pretty well. There’s this other awesome tool now called Google images. So I sent a lot of Google images. The geography is so important in ‘Carbon’ — the coalfields, it’s a whole different part of West Virginia. You get in there and it’s suddenly very, very tight. So I had to help him with that. Even things like explaining baseball. There was an interesting process that we went through over the five years.”
Is Boyd afraid of the reaction the “Friends of Coal” contingent might have to his depiction of an evil coal baron? “I don’t know if I’m afraid of it — I’m prepared for it.”
On the other hand, “It’s just a comic book, we can always come back to that. It’s just a graphic novel. But art is the consciousness of people. People that don’t think that art and entertainment influence policy, they’re being very naïve.
“I always go back to ‘What would Rod do?’ — Rod Serling’s approach to it. It’s instantly polarizing, so let me create a sensationalized package of the fantastic and sort of work that theme in the back door so I can sort of take a breath and maybe enjoy it as entertainment to get a message as opposed to it just being pounded into us from sources that really aren’t very fun and aren’t very entertaining.”