Meeting workers at Fordham
By Emma Kilroy
Welcome to Earth. It is the latter-half of the 21st century, about 36 years after World War III and a cosmic event now known as the Renaissance War… The physical global damage from these events was catastrophic, but with the help of alien technology, we were able to rebuild our fallen cities and cleanse our atmosphere. This is the Age of Heroes.
“What you’re looking at now is a project seventeen years in the making. It’s 96% done. You came at a good time. I’m actually trying to finish it in the next week so I can take it to New York Comic Con and shop it around, try to get people’s opinion.”
The speaker is Efrain Arana, a security guard at the freshman dorm on Fordham’s campus. His job includes monitoring students enter and leaving the residence hall between 10 a.m. and 7 a.m. But to talk with him is to learn of a serious life outside that work.
“I’ve been drawing since I was three years old and I’m thirty-eight now. I didn’t start reading comics heavily until the 1970s, when I could afford them. Then I was spending $40 or $50 a week on comics for about six years. I lost my whole collection in a move. I lost a lot of stuff. But six years of buying $50 of worth of comics per week…”
Efrain is in the zone. He talks in a calm, detached manner as he moves papers between two thick blue binders. He is slipping sheets into plastic sleeves and reordering the pages as I read the introduction. It’s a full-page image of our planet from outer space. Some of the landmasses glow a molten orange, and the yellow letters printed over the image make it look like a warning sign. “Welcome to Earth…”
“It” is the nearly completed first issue of Charge, by DGAF Comics. “I worked security for casinos in Atlantic City for 17 years, and that’s where I met my two partners. I was the new guy. They’d already known each other for a couple of months, and they were training me on the job. But one day they asked me to settle an argument. The one guy was a really big Wolverine fan, and the other guy really liked Superman, so they asked me who I thought would win in a fight. And I said, it doesn’t matter because Batman could beat both of them. And they knew they’d met the right guy.
“Right away we each had all these individual ideas that we had been thinking of on our own, our own stories and characters, but they all had holes. But when we brought them together they fit like puzzle pieces. And we all have our areas of expertise. The idea guy has thousands of characters, he lives and breathes them, and I have a few that I created myself, but I mostly do the drawings, and I redraw his characters. And our writer guy is somehow able to take our characters and know exactly who they are and how they would react in certain situations. He brings our characters more to life. They are so real to us now—” he taps his fingers on the painstakingly drawn panels in front of him, grabbing at both the tangible and intangible—“these characters are like our children, essentially. We take pride in them, we’ve seen them grow and develop their likes and dislikes. These are real people.
“It’s a labor of love. It’s work, but it’s fun work.” Efrain first draws each panel of the comic on a full 8.5 x 11” piece of paper, then colors it with markers. He scans them into the computer, plays around with the colors a bit, and shrinks the panels down to their final comic book size. “I don’t use any special programs, just Microsoft Word and the Paint program that came on the computer,” he chuckles. “It’s a lot of planning and reorganizing the scenes and the pages.
“I have to communicate with my partners online because we all live in different states now. I moved back to the Bronx because I was born and raised here. But our idea guy, he’s in Georgia now, and our writer guy is still in New Jersey at that same casino. We make fun of him about it a little but I understand he needs that job. I mean I’m living paycheck to paycheck even now. We all have our kids, our lives and we’re trying to make it better for them. When we got together seventeen years ago we called ourselves DGAF Comics because that was our attitude working at the casinos. We didn’t give a—”waves hand—“you know? I drew us this mascot too, of a little old lady giving the middle finger. She was based on some of the clientele at the casinos. My friend did get cussed out by a few old ladies a couple of different times. IT was too obscene to put on the cover of all our comics but I worked her into one panel where she’s in the background, sitting on a park bench.” (Her hands are folded in her lap.)
A freshman walks up the security desk to swipe his ID to get into the residence hall. Efrain pauses to exchange a friendly hello. He turns back and starts to gather the papers that have now sprawled out over almost the entire desk. “The whole story in issue one seems like ancient history to me now. We had to have everything planned out before we started writing. There are multiple storylines and superheroes and villains that haven’t been introduced yet, and they’re all going to fit together. We created an entire universe, and then a couple of others.”
The comic book is in order, but a few stray drawings still linger on the desk. “I spend a lot of time here drawing. I’m working on the comic book, but sometimes I like to challenge myself with other things. This is when I wanted to see if I could draw the Muppets as human beings. And this is Inspector Gadget. I just wanted to draw how he might look today.”