Cartoonist fights real villain: boredom

Cartoonist fights real villain: boredom
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

A Prospect Heights artist has a simple question for the comic book industry: why so serious?

Brooklyn cartoonist Fred Chao is here to save readers tired of the violent torrent of antiheroes and overused end-is-nigh story tropes with his whimsical, all-ages-friendly tale “Alison and her Rainy Day Robot.”

It’s a big transition for a medium where fighting and bloodshed are rampant — just look over in the Marvel universe, where Professor Xavier was reportedly killed by one of his students, or at DC, where members of the Justice League beat each other bloody in the streets.

Instead of framing his narrative as fight between good and evil, Chao’s new text is about an even greater conflict: the battle against boredom.

“To have fun, she decides to build a robot — a funbot of sorts,” said Chao, the acclaimed mind behind the four-time Eisner Award-nominated graphic novel “Johnny Hiro.” “Unfortunately this robot has boring sensibilities, which doesn‘t make Alison very happy. But there is a happy ending. As well as penguins. And a monkey.”

And some beautiful artwork. Chao’s lines are clean and delicate, the characters’ expressions are charming, and the palette is soft and familiar.

In a medium where violence in ubiquitous, such a family-friendly narrative is a big departure — one that publishers might avoid.

That’s why Chao turned to crowd-funding — a growing comics trend in which artists and writers solicit pledges in return for copies of their books, artist sketches, or other perks — in an attempt to raise $5,000 to publish his 64-page, full-color, hardcover graphic novel.

“If not for Kickstarter, it might be shelved indefinitely,” he said. “I had it mostly finished just over a year ago and didn’t know what to do with it. I was waiting for the right opportunities in both publication and distribution to come about, and now, I feel like it might be approaching.”

The 34-year-old’s shift to crowd-sourcing isn’t the only untraditional move he has made as a writer: eight years ago Chao followed the tried-and-true literary path of moving to Brooklyn to work on a novel, and he only switched to comics after a bizarre turn of events.

“It wasn’t until [my apartment] got broken into twice and I got two laptops stolen and I lost all my writing that I decided to use my drawing ability creatively,” he said. “I figured no one would steal comic book pages.”