For years, Christy Hans' friends told her she should be making comics.
Hans, 28, had always had her heart set on becoming an illustrator, creating fantasy art for role-playing games.
'Your art would be great in comics,' she says people would tell her.
One day she finally broke down and started thinking about how she had liked to write when she was younger. Then she enrolled in a comic illustration class at Lansing Community College, where she was introduced to a whole new world.
It's better than I wanted to do, Hans says. I get to develop the characters — their lives, their stories. They live longer this way.
Through the LCC class, Hans, who writes as Avadrea, made acquaintances with a handful of other talented artists, including Joe Haines, of Mason. They started talking about putting a book together and Haines got in touch with his friend and fellow artist, Jay Jacot.
With Jacot taking on the role as editor and publisher, the group of eight writers and artists from the greater Lansing area, all in their 20s, have met Sundays at Gone Wired cafe on Michigan Avenue since June, critiquing each other's work, swapping advice and developing a business plan.
In December the group released the first issue of Comics Obscura, with a party at Gone Wired. Plans are in the works for a second issue to be published in March.
Jacot, 27, and a self-described mild-mannered phone jockey by day at an incoming call center, says independently funding the project was never as scary as it might sound.
Everything I've done has led up to doing this, Jacot said, citing his background in art, illustration and graphic design.
Though they think many great small press comics and zines have been produced on copying machines, Jacot and Co. had their sites set a little higher.
I didn't want to make what's known as a 'copier comic, he says.
The end product is a high-resolution, glossy, 40-plus page black and white book with full color front and back covers.
Initially the group intended to print 300 copies, but Jacot decided if he was going to put this much time and money into it, he may as well do a full run of 1,000. Two hundred of them have already sold.
After considering printing out of state, Jacot says he was happy to keep more of the process local by finding a better price at Spartan Printing in Lansing.
Local retailers have also given Obscura a boost, with books being sold at several Lansing-area retailers including Everybody Reads, Clem's Collectibles, Comics Utopia, Capital City Collectibles, Schuler Books and Music, Way Station Books and Gumby's Pizza, where a few of the artists work.
The high level of local support has been encouraging to the artists.
This is just unanimous, Haines says. No one has said 'no.'
By combining their efforts, contributors are able to reach a wider audience of friends, family, comic fans and curious readers.
Each strip gets anywhere from one to 11 pages in the book — just enough space to tell a short story or hook the reader and make them want to see what happens next.
The range of material is as diverse as the individuals involved. Pages are filled with tales of violent penguins, chemically imbalanced teen-agers, delusional elephants and futuristic space-noir. Simple line drawings and sketchbook masterpieces are followed by super-detailed realism and psychedelic streams of consciousness.
Each of the artists comes to the medium from a different background. Some are comic junkies like Jacot, who grew up on The Amazing Spiderman and quotes comic-theorist Scott McCloud in conversation.
Others have found their way here from an interest in other media, such as film, graphic design and writing.
If I could hang out with people and talk to people, I'd probably be a filmmaker, says Dale Vowels, AKA Dookie.
They all agree that the comic is a unique form that allows them to best tell their stories.
It's the only place you can have total control over an entire universe, Haines says.
Comics also can provide a greater level of interactivity between the reader and author, Hans says.
I look at a drawing or painting, but as good as it is, I always want to know what happens next, she says.
The recent release of several comic-related films and the ever-expanding subject matter being covered, Jacot says is good reason to be hopeful about the current climate for comics.
Over the next four years, there's going to be an explosion, he says.
With plans for a full production company in the works, Comics Obscura LLC, Jacot says he hopes to provide counsel to other local comic artists, illustrators and graphic designers.
Group members have high aspirations for their own work too. The plan is to publish issues quarterly until each artist has enough serialized material to print an individual volume. One day, they hope to have national distribution.
But Jacot doesn't have any misconceptions regarding lucrative business contracts in the near future.
'Rich and famous comic book artist —,' he says, those are six words that don't go together.