CANBY — Stories and pictures have been flowing from the pencil of Canby's Mitchell Underwood since he was very young.
And as the years rolled by, his passion for storytelling and creating colorful contexts grew, his skills improved, and his ultimate goal was soon within reach. Underwood is a full-fledged comic book creator at the age of 20, and he's loving it.
"It has been my life's dream since I was a kid," said the 2017 Canby High graduate. "My grandparents ran a booth at a swap meet and they always had tons of comics."
Underwood delved into the world of comics early and often, quickly discovering that the characters, stories and colors appealed to him in a unique and fascinating way. And within the comic book realm, he found inspiration in the Vigilante comics series.
"This was one of my first comics and I have basically been drawing them ever since," said Underwood. "I knew from a very young age that this is something I wanted to do. I have been a fan of Batman my entire life and knew that I kind of wanted to do comic books within that gritty realm of reality."
Well, he's done it. Underwood's first major comic book release is out. "Wraith" is a colorful, yet gritty look at an anti-hero character who tries to do the right thing, but will use methods that people may not agree with.
And that's just the kind of character Underwood has been looking to develop since he discovered comics at the age of 5.
"This specific character really came to mind in about 2014," he explained. "I really wanted to tell stories with Batman, the Shadow or Vigilante, but can't legally do that, so I realized I needed to create my own character that's kind of influenced by those kinds of characters. I had been experimenting with different ideas to see what worked best. It took a long time and was a long and difficult process."
Underwood sees Wraith as a very gritty, grim, realistically grounded character. Keeping his character set in reality, as if it could actually happen, was key to developing the comic. With the first comic out, Underwood said he's hoping to add supernatural elements to the character as the run moves forward.
It would seem that all points were leading Underwood to this time in his creative life. As a child he used to draw comics and then staple pages together to make his own little comic books. His love of the genre only grew from there and he credits the support he received from friends and teachers at Canby High, as well as the support from his family, for pushing him ever closer to his ultimate goal — comic book creator.
Since high school, Underwood has been taking classes at Clackamas Community College to not only refine his craft, but to learn about the behind-the-scenes aspects of comic making. Simply drawing a comic isn't enough — there are business considerations and copyright laws that are part of the puzzle, he said, and he was thankful to finally learn about.
"I really needed to learn more about the steps to doing things legally," Underwood said. "I took a course at CCC about how to make comic books and was able to really delve into the things most people wouldn't normally think of. There's a lot more to it than just drawing it."
But drawing Wraith is something that's become pretty special for Underwood. It is the culmination of about 15 years of preparation, practice and patience.
"It's always thrilling for me to draw him," Underwood said. "It took a long time to come up with his design, but once I landed on it, it was perfectly what I wanted to capture."
The actual Wraith comic book took about 18 months to produce, but Underwood noted that when all the work was done, the actual printing of the comic and getting it into his hand seemed to happen quickly.
When it arrived, "it didn't feel real," he said. "I was amazed that after all these years, here was a full book. I just couldn't believe it, it was amazing."
So, now what?
The first issue of Wraith is out and selling nicely at Underwood's Etsy page, the Book Nook in Canby and Comics Adventures on McLoughlin in Milwaukie. He also has it available digitally through comiXology.com.
"I do have a story set from beginning to end," Underwood said about Wraith. "I really want to do this for the rest of my life. I'm really trying to focus on just this one long ongoing story to get this character fully rounded out.
"I think I want to keep it independent, but if an opportunity to work with Darkhorse or Image Comics were to come, I would jump at the chance," he added, noting that once all the comics are gone from this printing, he'll likely do another, but with a different cover.
Underwood does the penciling, lettering and writing, but gets help with colors from fellow CCC student Maria Martinez and Charis Pollard, who resides in the UK.
"I'm just very grateful for all the support I've gotten," he said. "Friends from high school, teachers, parents — even people I've never met have been supportive and I really appreciate it."
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