Well into middle age, Troy Brownfield still loves comic books. He's made something of a living from his passion, writing for the likes of Fangoria, Zenescope and DC Comics. And his latest creation, which debuted February 29, is his largest undertaking yet.
Called Sparkshooter, it's a long-term web comic about his other core interest - live music. Specifically, the series chronicles the ups and downs of a fictional rock band in a real-life music scene: Indy circa 2003, an "alive time" for the local music scene, according to Brownfield, when indianapolismusic.net was a core online gathering space for artists and the Midwest Music Summit vied for SXSW-style relevancy.
As an undergrad at ISU, Brownfield got into organizing shows and festivals. After moving to the Indianapolis area, he managed bands, including Samsell, and played in others, such as the Frank Booth Project.
Managing bands at that juncture, he found the mechanics of booking shows and getting them into contests fascinating.
"You have your dramas and arguments, but you can't ever say you didn't have a good time, at least for part of it," says Brownfield, noting there was always a lot more going on behind the scenes than most people merely attending the concert would ever imagine. It's those stories - both his and others he's heard - that are woven into Sparkshooter.
"There's lots of material big archetypal stuff and individual anecdotes," says Brownfield. "I've tried to do it in such a way that the characters are broadly relatable, but the people who know (this scene) can immediately identify the characters."
One page of the comic is released every Wednesday at sparkshooter.com. It'll go up to two pages a week once Brownfield and his graphic design partner, Sarah Vaughn, have enough material for the transition.
"She's incredibly well-suited to this kind of story," Brownfield says of Vaughn, whom he met when she was a student of his at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Terre Haute. "Not just her ability, but the kind of stuff she was into before, that feeds into the vibe I wanted for this."
For all of Brownfield's immersion in comic book culture, he's strictly a writer.
"If I drew (Sparkshooter) it would be a bunch of sticks stalking each other," he says. "I recognize my limitations."
Vaughn deserves a lot of the credit for lending a sense of authenticity to the comic, beyond Brownfield's stories. Brownfield cites one page of Sparkshooter - a streetscape of Guilford Avenue in Broad Ripple - as evidence of her eye for detail. People familiar with that area, particularly with the way it looked in the early 2000s, will recognize the street immediately, he says.
"I'm a bit familiar, only because Troy basically created a whole class for me - 'Indianapolis music scene circa 2003-ish 101'," says Vaughn, who now lives in Washington, D.C. "I've always liked the look of thicker lines and flat and monochrome tones and texture, which is a big part of the look for Sparkshooter."
Readers should expect cameos from actual people who populated the scene.
"It will be in a fairly organic way, kind of woven into the story where it makes sense," says Brownfield. "We're not going to force it."
Themes explored in Sparkshooter include the dynamics of a male-oriented band having a female lead singer and the struggle to meet grownup obligations like family and jobs.
"The age of these characters is roughly 25," says Brownfield. "Some of them sense this is it, that if they're going to make it this is the last chance. Once you introduce marriage and children, it becomes infinitely harder to (succeed), let alone practice."
That sounds serious, but Brownfield assures that the focus of Sparkshooter is humor.
"The main thing I want it to be is a good time," he says.
As for its ending, Brownfield has ideas, but for now Sparkshooter is an evolving storyline. When it's done Brownfield and Vaughn could have more than 400 pages. Whether it ever gets printed or remains a digital collection is up in the air.
"The idea of not shutting any door is really more of what informs it rather than any immediate plans," says Brownfield.