Valdosta Daily Times

Features

April 21, 2014

Graphic novelist draws on inspiration

VALDOSTA — A few moments with graphic artist Paul Townsend is all you need to understand that his mind swirls with stories that he’s willing to explore on paper – no matter where they take him.

Townsend is a Valdosta native and a Class of 1986 graduate of Lowndes High School. He’s a military veteran with 15 years of service in the Navy. On Sept. 11, 2001, he felt the first airplane buzz his New York-stationed ship before it crashed into the World Trade Center. His ship was one of the first sent to the Middle East to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He has a wealth of experiences that have informed who he is and how he thinks, but the inspiration for his stories and his artwork surprisingly boils down to formative moments from his childhood, close personal relationships with long-time friends and, perhaps more than anything else, cars.    

Townsend is a self-taught artist. Without a formal art education, he had to “wing it” while learning his craft. He found inspiration in fantasy illustrations and says that much of his early work falls into that category. As a kid, he loved reading and admiring the artwork in CARtoons Magazine, a publication that focused on automotive humor and artwork from 1959 to 1991.

“I can’t get away from the cars,” said Townsend. “It’s the form and the function and simplicity.”

It was a kind of dream come true when Townsend’s first-published piece of artwork was a car illustration printed in a 1987 issue of CARtoons. The magazine published more of his work in ‘88 and ‘89.

Although he never left his passion for drawing and cars, they took a backseat to his military career and family for most of the ‘90s. Still, he continued being published in other magazines like Truckin’, Mini Truckin’ and Low Rider.

Fast forward to 2005; you see Townsend laying the groundwork for his comic book and planting the seeds of an epic graphic novel set in his home town.

“I received a call from some friends who told me about a group of guys who were about to come out with a new magazine that might be looking for some artwork,” said Townsend.

German Addiction Magazine focused on German-produced vehicles, but only published two issues before it folded. Townsend’s artwork was featured in both issues, but the third issue was supposed to contain the first appearance of his now-published comic book collection, “Me & Pete.”

“The book centers around a pair of guys, their cars and their lives working together, but it all comes back to their cars,” said Townsend.

Townsend’s comic was inspired by an ongoing serial in the CARtoons Magazine issues of his youth, but the characters were pulled straight from his life.

“Pete is based on Pete Nolan, one of my best friends from growing up here. Me is based on myself, but his name is never said out loud in the book, and that comes from reality,” said Townsend. “Pete never calls me by my name, so that’s how that came to be.”

“Me & Pete’s” early issues have been collected into a single volume which is available through Townsend’s online store at www.paulbtownsend.com. The book has been a modest success, but Townsend hopes for a sales boost this summer. He has been invited to travel to Colorado for a book signing at the grand opening of a Denver-area comic book shop.

Between now and the trip to Denver, Townsend will work on another passion project, a graphic novel entitled “Dosta City.”

“It’s kind of a sci-fi Western conglomeration loosely based on Valdosta around the turn of the century,” said Townsend. “In the beginning, I just came up with the characters, and over time it has matured and taken on a whole new kind of field.”

Townsend loosely bases his turn-of-the-century Valdosta on history and almost a complete fantasy.

“It’s kind of a weird thing. There’s going to be an Indian guide, and it’s going to be kind of a fable,” said Townsend. “It’s kind of every movie I’ve ever seen combined into one.”

Townsend has envisioned how to incorporate characters from “Me & Pete” as characters in “Dosta City” even though there is a 100-year gap.

“Me and Pete will be out camping, and the Me character tells him a dream he had when he was little,” said Townsend. “Then an event happens.”

Townsend based the incident on a dream he had as a 5-year-old living off of Loch Laurel Road. His characters will discuss the philosophical, religious and dogmatic implications of the dream before the “metaphysical-time-travel-spiritual-type event” happens that transports them from the present to turn-of-the-century Valdosta.

Townsend said it will be up to readers to decide the implications of the event and its meaning, if anything.

“It’s a long, hard project to bring to fruition, and it is based on me and my friends,” said Townsend. “But I do bring in some interesting personality traits and my appreciation for Valdosta.”

Before readers can ponder the philosophical implications of characters transporting to a fantasy-fueled version of early 1900s Valdosta, Townsend must put pen to paper and continue the grueling work of making his vision tangible. It’s a tough job, but he feels that once inspired, there isn’t much more you can do other than share the story.

“Sometimes,” Townsend said, “you’ve just got to get it out.”

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