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Brooklyn comic book duo collabores on ‘Box 13’

for The Brooklyn Paper
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David Gallaher’s three-bedroom apartment in Ditmas Park and Steve Ellis’s two-family row house in Kensington are separated by only a few blocks. But sometimes the comic book creators are worlds apart.

Take, for instance, their collaboration on “Box 13,” their graphic novel about of Dan Holiday, a spy novelist turned investigative author.

A re-imagining of a 1940s radio serial by the same name, “Box 13” follows Holiday as he’s sent on a harrowing journey in search of said box. Gallaher pulls on Mickey Spillane’s trench coat and pours himself a shot of “The Manchurian Candidate” with “The Bourne Identity” as a chaser in this psychological drama full of gunfire, chase scenes and a little romance, told through Ellis’s energetic art.

It’s a story that almost started on the wrong foot.

“[We had a disagreement] when we originally envisioned it,” said Ellis. “There was going to be an even more out-there beginning with Dan waking up on an island beach. It was going to be more like [1960s British cult classic TV show] ‘The Prisoner.’ At first it was hard for me to get that initial idea out of my head, but the story got more intriguing when we kept it close to home.”

Although they are two creators with definite and sometimes opposite views about camera angles or character designs or story pacing, it’s not anything they can’t settle over a few beers at Shenanigans or burgers at The Farm on Adderley.

“When we don’t agree, we work it out — on paper,” said Gallaher. “We work in a very visual medium. And we are focused on telling the best story that keeps the reader entertained.”

“Box 13,” recently published by Red 5 Comics, was the second project for Gallaher and Ellis, two longtime friends who began working together after a chance meeting at the 2007 New York ComicCon. Their first project, a Web comic entitled “High Moon,” won an “American Idol”-like contest through DC Comics’ online publishing arm called Zuda.

“High Moon” went on to win a Harvey Award, one of comics’s biggest honors.

Then ComiXology, a Web and mobile technology platform for comic book publishers, commissioned Gallaher and Ellis to create “Box 13,” which has been downloaded more than 220,000 times via the comics app on iPhone and iPad. It was so successful that a sequel called “Box 13: The Pandora Process” is scheduled to start on Aug. 13 and will be available for download through ComiXology.

“They plainly work great together because our deadlines were seriously tight and they produced a beautiful, compelling chapter every time,” said David Steinberger, CEO of ComiXology.

“Box 13” was borne out of a terrifying chapter in Gallaher’s life. He had just moved to Brooklyn after a wrecking ball accidentally destroyed his apartment in Baltimore. Then, he was walking home from a date when he collapsed and hit his head on the side of Lyric Diner in Gramercy Park on Aug. 26, 2004.

He woke up in New York University Medical Center, struggling to speak, with diodes running from his head and into a bunch of machines.

Gallaher was suffering from an previously undiagnosed epilepsy condition, but at the time, “I felt like a giant science experiment,” he said, who drew upon the experience for “Box 13.” “It was the feelings of isolation, alienation and observation — they had these cameras and microphones hooked up to me. There was this dark underlying feeling of menace and foreboding.”

Gallaher and Ellis have embarked on their third project, “Darkstar and the Winter Guard,” a five-part miniseries for Marvel. Now that the second issue is about to hit comic book shops next month, they seem to have perfected the art of collaboration.

“Essentially David comes to me with a fairly well-defined, but loosely paced, scene, we throw around ideas and thumbnails until we create a storyboard of sorts,” said Ellis. “I take this and create page layouts where all the panels are on one page and arranged to tell the story and begin to draw. David takes the layouts and begins to commit to final dialogue.”

Added Gallaher: “Collaborat­ion is actually a very pleasant experience. Outside of work, Steve and I still hang out, grab drinks, watch the occasional football game at the bar, or what have you. At the end of the day, it is really just a matter of respecting one another’s time, talent and boundaries.”

And if that fails, jokes Ellis, “It comes down to a vicious knife fight.”

Steve Ellis and David Gallaher’s “Box 13” is available at Bergen Street Comics [470 Bergen St. between Fifth and Sixth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 230-5600] and Rocketship [208 Smith St. between Butler and Baltic streets in Cobble Hill, (718) 797-1348]. For info, visit www.red5comics.com.

Updated 5:18 pm, July 9, 2018
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