In the world of St. Forget, a prehistoric magic has a hold on the dispirited, washed-up fishing town. The townspeople wander through their daily lives in a haze, and except for the witches among them, they are unable to remember their reincarnated selves in ancient times. Roo, a young, introverted boy who ironically dresses like a Boy Scout, becomes a hero; Aurora, a witch who harvests magical stones, befriends Roo in order to help him find his identity and restore the town. Roo has puzzling dreams of being a creature from antiquity, and once Aurora gives him the green stone, he changes into an alligator form—which connects him to his true self.
This is the world of Troy artist Ira Marcks’ graphic novel, Witch Knots, which will be published in late May or early June. It is a mix of Marcks’ childhood favorites, an “S.E. Hinton coming-of-age tale, stuck inside a dystopian world of Ray Bradbury’s, with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft mythos.”
Growing up in a home of artists, Marcks has been drawing since grade school. His first comic was a collective work with his friends. “The characters were based on kids we knew and then turned into objects based on their personalities,” says Marcks. “The jock became an army tank, a sweet girl an ice cream cone, and our hot-tempered friend became a boiling beaker that liked to blow things up.”
Marcks studied design and animation at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After Witch Knots is released, he plans to adapt parts of the graphic novel into live performances with musical accompaniment.
Witch Knots started out as a web-based series of comics in 2009. Those drawings were much different from the versions on his website now. “I had to go back and change the style when I got confident in my work,” says Marcks.
In 2011, Marcks decided to turn his web work into a 135-page graphic novel. With a clearer story in mind, he started over. As the story of St. Forget unfolded, he added new places on the town map according to each character’s interactions with each other.
“Sometimes, my characters will walk by each other and others they will meet and reveal a new truth to the story,” says Marcks. “Then I have to go back and make changes and add to the story in a way that’s believable.”
Marcks’ favorite character in Witch Knots is Winston, a weasily looking kid with a gang of ruffians to do his bidding. He describes him as “ambitious but not necessarily social.” In some ways, he’s a reflection of the author. “There were divorce issues,” says Marcks. “My father and I had issues too.” Winston wants to be a hero and save the town, but ultimately wants the love of his absent father.
The drawing style of Witch Knots favors sharp outlines with limited color and a simple or white background. Each color is important in the story. Purple buildings represent the wealthy area of St. Forget, whereas the dingy green is for the slums. Marcks decided not to use speech bubbles. Instead he colors the character speaking and leaves the rest of the cell black-and-white.
The caves, the origin of the magic stones, are Marcks’ favorite place in St. Forget. “It was fun to draw,” says Marcks. “I drew an Escher-type scenario with the caves. It’s the most surreal place compared to the jagged edge buildings.”
Marcks drew inspiration from M.C. Escher’s dreamlike images. Visually, however, he followed the simplicity of Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, creating strips with three cells featuring more attention to character details than the background. As a kid, he listened to a lot of radio drama and watched Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. The narrative of Which Knots “combines anthropology with mythology.”
“I created these lifelike scenarios with a sci-fi fantasy,” says Marcks. “Then I ask how would humans react in this situation.”
To make his graphic novel a reality, Marcks turned Witch Knots into a Kickstarter project. Marcks started with a goal of $1,000, but the amount of financial support he actually received was five times that. His 171 project backers donated $5,182, which funds the book’s printing and publishing and made it possible to do a hardcover.
“I knew I wanted to make a book, but I’m not big on social networking,” says Marcks. “Kickstarter is a great place for a solid idea that needs help.”
When he’s not busy with the last chapters of his book, Marcks teaches art enrichment classes in Troy. Among these are video-game design, visual storytelling and special-education art therapy. “I like watching people find choices in art that they couldn’t find in real life, says Marcks. “In art they have simple choices.”
Marcks’ next project may be a cartoon. “I want to get more into animation,” he says.
His dream job is pretty close to what he does now, part-time teaching and part-time creating. “I like to have a balance. I enjoy teaching just as much and influencing people in the community,” says Marcks. For some of his students, the art class may be the only constant activity they have during the day.
“Teaching motivates me to finish my work,” he says.
UPDATE: The book release for Witch Knots will be July 27th at Troy Night Out with the live performance and music.