Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Graphic Lit: The Victorian Horrors of Old Mauch Chunk

Having grown up in the environs of Jim Thorpe -- or Mauch Chunk as it was known back in the day -- Michael Bann and Robert Caton have always been fascinated by the area's sense of history and Victorian architecture.

"The town has always held a certain allure, probably because of the geography of the landscape," said Bann, a photographer now based in Washington, D.C. "It just had this power to evoke a lot of imagination. I thought this would make a great setting for a story."

The pair attempt to capture that allure in "The Victorian Horrors of Old Mauch Chunk" a new self-published comic book series plotted by Bann and Caton, with dialogue by Caton and art by Singapore artist Allan Gallo.

Set in the 19th-century heyday of the coal barons, the comic opens with a group of miners discovering a mysterious cave that comes complete with some odd-looking crystals. Enter young geologist James Ashton, who is hired by the mining company to investigate, only to be greeted with dire warnings and ominous happenings.

Caton, now of Mechanicsburg, said the series will combine traditional supernatural horror elements with real-life historical characters and events like the Molly Maguires.

Ultimately, he said, the book is about the transition of power and technology as America moved forward from the industrial age into the early 20th century.

"For every new power there's an old power that's not going to give up easy. The older power wants to hang on to things. The old folks gotta step aside, no matter how reluctantly, to cede power," Caton said of the book's themes. "It's a battle for control of a new century."

Although Bann originally planned to present the material as a novel, he says there are some unique and helpful benefits to producing the work as a serialized comic.

"There are a number of ways we can test it as we go," he said. "We can adapt. There are things you can learn as you get an issue out that helps you better present the story."

Caton concurred. "The power that the medium has in telling a story from multiple perspectives and timelines is unmatched," he said.

Both Bann and Caton are serious about playing up the Pennsylvania angle, even printing the comic and several marketing materials via a Harrisburg company.

"We have a home-team mentality. We want to give back to the community," Bann said.

To that extent, the duo paired with a number of Jim Thorpe businesses (ads for various stores and restaurants dot the inside pages), the most notable being an online contest in which participants can win a weekend for two that includes lodging at a bed and breakfast, a private tour of the Asa Packer Mansion and dinner at a restaurant.

Bann and Caton said the current story will run about 10 to 12 issues then be collected in a trade paperback, though they have lots of ideas to continue the series.

"The town has so many more places to go, so many people that need to have their stories heard," Caton said

More than anything, though, Bann and Caton hope the book draws more attention to Carbon County and its unique attractions.

"Hopefully the book will inspire people to go to the town and learn some stuff on their own," Caton said.



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