COLUMBIA — The first appearance of Superman, in 1938’s “Action Comics” No. 1, linked the comics community to the Midwest. The Man of Steel was raised in Kansas as Clark Kent and co-created by Cleveland native Jerry Siegel.
At that time, the world of comics was based in New York City. DC Comics, the company that published the first Superman comic, was founded there in the late 1930s and remains one of the top names in comics. Marvel Comics, DC’s biggest competitor and the company behind heroes such as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, sits a relatively short jaunt south through Manhattan.
Almost 70 years later, Superman is set for a homecoming of sorts — not to Smallville but through writer B. Clay Moore, who makes his home in Kansas City. Moore, 36, is part of a small but productive cadre of comic book writers and artists who are building on each other’s creativity and putting Kansas City on the national map of comic book creators.
What makes this possible is the ease of communication technology affords and a special magic that can happen when a community of like-minded people is formed, however unintentionally.
“There is no such thing as a geographical disadvantage,” said Axel Alonso, an editor at Marvel Comics. “If you’ve got a computer and can e-mail documents, you’ve got a ticket to the game.”
Moore, who has lived in the Midwest since the eighth grade is taking the reins for Superman with DC Comic’s “Superman Confidential” No. 11, set to hit stores in January. He gained recognition with his creator-owned comic “Hawaiian Dick,” the story of a 1950s detective living in Hawaii, and he is one of many professional comic book creators making Kansas City his hub.
“I wish I could explain to you why this has been the case,” Moore said. “You’ve got me, Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron, who’s starting to do a bunch of stuff for Marvel and DC. Tony Moore, actually, is an artist who moved to this area because we were here. He just wanted some kind of fellowship among comic creators that he could hang out and associate with. Jeremy Haun is in Joplin just a couple hours down the road.”
Moore, Fraction and Aaron each entered the comics world by producing independent comics before taking on work from major publishers Marvel and DC.
“We’ve all sort of entered the business on our own terms,” Moore said. “I was doing (and still do) creator-owned work. Matt Fraction did his own thing. And Fraction’s books for Marvel don’t read like Marvel books; they read like indie books almost. Jason Aaron’s entrance was two Vertigo books that he created, “Scalped” and “The Other Side,” and now he’s doing ‘Wolverine’ and some other things. But they have a distinct, separate sensibility from mainstream comics.
“I think that’s why we all at least sort of associate with each other and have hung together,” Moore concluded, “and I think we all kind of feed off each other, too.”
Fraction, a 31-year-old writer who originally came to Kansas City to attend the Kansas City Art Institute, said the relatively inexpensive cost of living is a perk not available near major publishers in New York City.
“Well, traditionally, the publishing world came from New York — newspapers and newspaper syndicates who first started to run comic companies and printing presses and all that stuff were centralized in New York,” Fraction said. “But the advent of cheap air travel and Fed Ex and the Internet have really made distance irrelevant to comic creation.
“American comics were born in New York, and it’s only natural that as it reaches its young adulthood, we go out into the world to move far away from ‘Mom and Dad,’” Fraction said.
Jason Aaron, who’s 34 and lives in Prairie Village, Kan., near Kansas City, said he initially thought he was in the wrong part of the country to make a career.
“That was one of the things that always held me back.” Aaron said. “These days, I don’t think it matters at all. In some sense, it might even help, as a writer, to have a perspective or regional flavor that’s different from the editors in New York, since they’re always looking for someone with a new and different voice.”
Alonso, a Marvel editor who has worked with Fraction and Aaron, said the Midwest talents are just “normal guys” — unpretentious and cooperative.
“Fraction is a peach of a fellow, and Clay was also a pleasure to work with,” said Warren Simons, another editor at Marvel. “Jason Aaron also seems like quite the gentleman. As a group, these guys all have been great to work with.
“We have freelancers from all over the country and the world working for us,” Simons continued. “It doesn’t matter if you’re in Kansas City or Portland or Scotland or Brazil. Geographical boundaries usually don’t play a role in the production process.”
Still, in an industry where talent is scattered across the globe from Britain to Brazil, concentration of young talent in a Midwestern city is something of an anomaly.
“I go to (conventions) and I talk to friends, and I get a lot of people who go, ‘What the hell is going on in Kansas City?’ Because, to most people on the West Coast and East Coast, Kansas City is just another Midwestern city,” Moore said.
“I think it helps all of us when one or two of us are recognized. It lends a little more credibility to what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s like, ‘There must be something special going on out there.’ It’s pretty cool.”