Most people know Jekyll Island as a beach getaway on the Georgia coast, about a five-hour drive from Atlanta. In the graphic novel series “The Jekyll Island Chronicles,” it provides a base of operations for a team of do-gooders after World War I, with fictional but extraordinary veterans working alongside such historic figures as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and Nikola Tesla.
“The Jekyll Island Chronicles” sprawls from the trenches of Belgium to the skyscrapers of New York and Chicago but has deep roots in Georgia. “This is a uniquely Atlanta project,” says Steve Nedvidek, who writes the series with Ed Crowell and Jack Lowe. “All three of us are Atlanta-based. Our artists are from SCAD, our publisher is based in Marietta and it’s partly set in Georgia.”
With the publication of the second book, “A Devil’s Reach,” “The Jekyll Island Chronicles” marks the success of its three authors, who freely admit that they were flying blind when they started. “We’ve known each other for 20 years, having met at a Sunday school class when our kids were young,” says Nedvidek. “We were three dads with full-time jobs, starting a hobby of writing graphic novels. We had no idea of what we were doing beyond the initial idea of a band of action heroes after World War I.”
The project began at a Christmas party in 2012, when Nedvidek, seeking a more creative outlet, mentioned the idea of doing a graphic novel to Crowell, and then Lowe soon thereafter. “The first time Steve mentioned it to me, we talked about a new set of superheroes around World War I, but not as powerful as the Marvel or DC characters,” Crowell says.
“No mutants!” Nedvidek interjects.
Crowell continues, “Given the time period, the first thought I had was that they’d need funding, and out of general historical knowledge, I knew about the Jekyll Island Club, because famous financiers used to hang there.”
“The Jekyll Island Chronicles” has a little steampunk flavor, offering an alternate history with slightly more advanced zeppelins and other machines, but reflects the era as a historic tipping point. “The time period itself served our purpose perfectly,” says Lowe. “It was a very narrow window when a lot changed. World War I started on horseback with one-shot rifles and ended with tanks and airplanes. It served us well for our veterans to take advantage of technology that would help shape them into the new superheroes that we had in mind.”
Using index cards to flesh out a story in which President Woodrow Wilson and some of the era’s corporate titans enlist fictional heroes to fight anarchistic terrorists, the writers acknowledge having some creative conflicts, but no hard feelings. “We’ve all been recipients of each other’s criticism. That’s never fun,” says Nedvidek. “I’ve thought, ‘Now I know why the Beatles broke up!’ But we’ve been friends long enough to know that we’ve got each other’s best interests in mind.”
With none of them having the artistic ability to realize the book’s visuals, Nedvidek suggested they reach out to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta. “We sponsored a class with 10-11 students,” he says. “We gave them the story arc and the characters, and they created a visual pitch-packet for us to take to publishers.”
Through the class, held in spring 2013, they connected with illustrator J. Moses Nester and colorist S.J. Miller, who have continued with the books to this day. And they soon met the approval of Chris Staros of Marietta’s Top Shelf Productions, who said “Let’s keep this in Georgia,” offering to publish on the completion of Book One, “A Machine Age War.”
To pay for the completed art of the 176-page book, they turned to Kickstarter. “My son got me familiar with Kickstarter, where there are hundreds of comics and graphic novels,” Crowell says. The group set a goal of raising $25,000, despite being advised that it would be too high.
“There is some anxiety, because if you don’t reach the goal, you lose it all,” says Lowe. “There’s anxiety as you watch the clock tick up, but that quickly turns to elation. You have friends that are funding your dreams. They helped get us to $33,000.”
Following the first volume, published in May 2016, the sequel has been released on Nov. 13 of this year, with a special commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the war’s end. “Through the end of 2018, a portion of every purchase of ‘The Jekyll Island Chronicles,’ whether in print or digital, will go toward helping complete the National WWI Memorial in Washington,” says Staros.
The three authors have a personal connection to the war beyond seeing it as a rich backdrop to their tales. “We all had grandparents who fought and participated in World War I,” Crowell says. “We wanted this to be an homage to all veterans, what they’d done and sacrificed for.”
The Jekyll Island Chronicles Book Two: A Devil’s Reach
By Steve Nedvidek, Ed Crowell, Jack Lowe, J. Moses Nester and S.J. Miller. Top Shelf Productions, $19.99, 176 pages.