Matt Bowers’ Memphis: Superheroes in the Bluff City

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MATT BOWERS
  • Matt Bowers

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.

Matt Bowers
  • Matt Bowers

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.



There’s China Monroe, a bounty hunter and private investigator; Pigeon, a winged homeless woman with a desire to help people who, like her, have been neglected by society at large; and the Power Angels, a corporate concern culled from contestants on the popular Battle Quiz television program and bankrolled by the mysterious, wealthy Mr. Jones. “They can’t stand the name,” Bowers says of the Power Angels. “They think it’s sexist, but they want to do good. They want to be superheroes.”

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.

MATT BOWERS
  • Matt Bowers

“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!’”


MATT BOWERS
  • Matt Bowers

“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.


“In the new issue I’m working on, China takes her friends to Spillit,” Bowers says. “Kristin and I have gone a bunch of times. We even took my mom, and she loved it.” Bowers has even been working with Leah Keys and the Spillit staff to incorporate regulars into the stories.

Also fitting for Memphis is the role music has played in the comic. “Music is a huge influence,” Bowers says. “Each issue starts with a quote from a song. ... A bass line, a beat, or a lyric will just trigger something in my head.” The styles the characters wear are influenced by music and pop culture as well, with many of the characters looking like fans of punk and new wave. Though that could easily be a nod to Memphis' history with alternative music, Bowers says its as much a reference to another of his loves, the indie comic series Love and Rockets.

Bowers has also lettered comics for Scout Comics and Short Fuse Media. “That was one thing I was still able to do while Kristin was going through chemo,” Bowers says. “It’s creative, but it’s not as focused as this.” Bowers motions to a just-opened box of the first issue of Memphis.

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.


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