The Road Down Shoe Factory
By: Chris Darkes - June 26, 2014
Category : Writing
People often ask me how I come up with stories. Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, I had the unique experience of living in a very urban setting, while still living close to enough cornfields to feel like I lived in Kansas. (I heard something like 98% of the population of Illinois lives in 11% of the state.) This was really the platform that presented a unique opportunity to get the experience of living in a place that had more cabs than people, but also one of the country’s largest producers of corn and soybeans.
The infamous road presented me with a ton of ideas. I remember thinking “what if all these stories were documented…would there be any overlaps?” So I began researching all the things people wrote down in blogs, websites, and the stories I recalled in my high school. To my surprise there actually had seem to be some facts that overlapped all the rumors. Police documents, Haunted Illinois, and a few trips down the road myself — I was ready to write. So I did. I wrote ten different drafts. Finally coming up with one that I felt touched on a lot of different commentaries about the human condition.
Now the easy part was done. The hard part? Finding an artist who shared the vision of what I saw. I needed someone who had an understanding of making realistic images, but also had a sense of angles to give the reader the sense as if they were watching a movie. After sending out a post on Craigslist, I really didn’t know what to expect. People sent in all sorts of stuff. Some of it was actually quite impressive, but not the style I was going for. I finally found a very unassuming submission by a guy from Chicago. Juan Baez. He explained to me that he was familiar with the road I was writing about. He described some rumors he had heard about it. (It seems everyone in IL has heard a story, apparently.) He sent me a few sample pages and his background. I was instantly hooked. His knowledge of certain angles, details in the frame, and resume was impressive. But was he right for Shoe Factory Road?
Absolutely he was. Since I was now living in Los Angeles, it made things a bit more difficult. He sketched a few frames, and scanned them over e-mail. I asked for a few revisions and images that I wanted. We went back and forth before finally deciding on how to space out enough frames in the story, while still making it an easy read for an audience. He asked questions about tone, how important do certain thing play, and really took an interest in the story. He wasn’t just looking to draw something and get paid. There were a few things in the story, which I specifically requested he incorporate, that play out in another story, but are really inconsequential in this one. Such as:
Now that the layout and tiles of the story were all finished, there was just one more thing to do. We had to color the frames in such a way to highlight the tone, and give in that much needed polish. Juan said his colorist, Jonathan Lyons, was a great asset to his past books. Upon looking over his samples, he really had a knack for creating a mood with just a shade or two. Emphasizing certain pieces, attracting your eye to them. After going back and forth a few times, we finally came to a conclusion of the first teaser issue. What’s even more impressive about this process, was that all this was done without one face to face meeting between me and the rest of the team.
In November of 2013, I was back visiting my family, and decided to meet up with Juan in person. As we sat in that Starbucks, I was like a kid in a candy shop because he had brought with him the original drawn panels. They were actually a lot larger than I had thought, and was surprised he was able to scam them as easily as he did. We discussed the project in length and both found it ironic that we had never met until that point, but were on the same page the entire time.