Bluff City-based illustrator Matt Bowers loves Memphis. It's why he set his new superhero comic book here. “I love this city,” Bowers says. “I want to tell stories that I would want to read, and set them in this city.”
Bowers, a freelance comic illustrator and letterer, has written, illustrated, and lettered a comic book ode to the little city on the big river, and he’s releasing the first issue of the ongoing series — which he calls simply Memphis — with a book-signing at 901 Comics, Saturday, October 26th, at 10 a.m.
Of the book, Bowers says, “It’s basically my take on ‘What would it be like if there were superheroes in this city?’” And, true to the funky nature of the city, the superheroes it breeds in Bowers’ books aren’t the run-of-the-mill variety. Memphis intertwines three storylines following a trio of vastly different characters. “They’re all in this area, but they don’t necessarily know each other,” Bowers explains.
Bowers has been working on Memphis for some time. He has released some issues digitally, but he’s given the issues some extra attention for the original print run on the Bad Dog Comics label. “I re-lettered it. It’s kind of like a remastered version,” Bowers explains. And though Bowers writes, illustrates, and letters the comics himself, he happily admits he has had some valuable assistance from a source close to his heart — his wife, Kristin Heath.
“When I finish each issue, I have my wife read it. And then she gives me notes, and she helps me with the dialogue,” Bowers says. “We went to middle school together in Bartlett,” Bowers says. “And reconnected like 30 years later. Now we’ve been together 10 years.”
“She got diagnosed with cancer, and we’ve just been focused on getting her through that, getting her treated and out the other side,” Bowers says. Happily, Kristin is now cancer-free, which, it turns out, helped give Bowers the push he needed to publish in print. With more time on his hands, Bowers says he was primed for 901 Comics co-owner and Bad Dog Comics owner Shannon Merritt’s suggestion that Memphis was perfect for print. “Shannon started publishing,” Bowers says. “One day, I was walking around the shop, and he said, ‘You know, you ought to let me publish your book,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s do it!’”
“It’s just really good work,” Merritt says. “The art’s really, really good. It’s on par with anything else on the shelves.” Merritt adds, laughing, that it would be a missed opportunity for the comics company with “901” in its name not to jump at the chance to publish a book called Memphis.
“Memphis is in each story,” Bowers adds. “That’s the one thing that’s always constant.” The illustrator has taken pains to be sure that the book pays homage to its namesake, as he has included familiar landmarks in many of the backgrounds.
Of Memphis, one more thing must be said: The art is stunning. Bowers' style will surely appeal to fans of alternative comics of the ’80s and ’90s. The marriage of his indie style and more mainstream, superhero-based content creates an interesting contrast. And Bowers shows no signs of slowing down. Issue No. 1 is on stands now, with the second issue slated for a December release. And after that? “I’ve got the first 50 issues plotted,” Bowers says with a laugh.
And that unmitigated ambition? Yeah, that's pretty "Memphis," too.
Matt Bowers signs copies of his new, ongoing comic, Memphis, at 901 Comics, Saturday, October 26th, 10 a.m.