A vibrant Chicago skyline fades to sepia. The skyscrapers shrink, sailboats float lazily around Lake Michigan. The familiar bustle of the city falls silent. It’s the turn of the twentieth century in Chicago.
Page one of Loyola alum Scott Larson’s upcoming graphic novel Visitations welcomes readers to historic Chicago at the end of the 1800s. The graphic novel is expected to be released officially at Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo on Mar. 18.
Despite exploring other majors such as physics and history during his time at Loyola, Larson’s enthusiasm for comic books as a child drove him to pursue a visual communications major in Loyola’s Fine Arts program. “I ended up going back to artwork, I can’t get away from it,” says Larson.
As a student, Larson drew a weekly comic, “…In College,” for the Loyola PHOENIX. The title of Larson’s comic changed from week to week, one strip was titled “Partying in College.” Some others were “Sleeping in College,” and “Roommates in College.” Larson’s “…In College,” ran until his graduation in 1997. His final piece was titled “Graduating from College.”
Larson was also involved in various student organizations at Loyola. During the Gulf War, Larson was a member of Students Supporting our Soldiers. Students involved in the club wrote letters and sent care packages to U.S. soldiers.
Larson was also a member of Campus Life Union Board (CLUB) and designed their logo. According to Larson, CLUB merged with some other organizations in 2007 and became part of the Department of Programming. He was also a part of the College of Democrats.
After graduation, Larson joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps where he worked at a soup kitchen in the Bronx. He returned to Chicago and pursued a second Bachelor’s of Arts at the American Academy of Art.
“What I’ve found is everything I’ve done has contributed to what I’m doing [now],” says Larson.
Visitations is Larson’s latest project. The novel opens with Chicago’s rebuilding after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Visitations combines historic Chicago with elements of the supernatural. “Everything in our culture right now seems to be the same thing over and over again,” says Larson, “I wanted to do something that no one had seen before.”
Visitations certainly lives up to Larson’s vision for something different. The first issue, titled “The Menacing Phantoms,” is set in Gracehill Cemetery, a fictional combination of Chicago’s historic Graceland and Rosehill cemeteries. Larson chose to combine Rosehill and Graceland cemeteries because “cemeteries are where people are laid to rest. They [have] families, they [have] lives, and even though [he’s] borrowing a little bit from it…[he doesn’t] want to be disrespectful to what is there and the lives that were lived.”
“I had gone [to Graceland] to actually see where my ancestors’ graves were and in typical family fashion they had no headstones,” recalls Larson. Larson and his wife went to Chicago’s Gast Monuments (a family-owned business that created many of the monuments in Graceland and Rosehill cemeteries) to inquire about purchasing headstones for his ancestors. During the process, the plot for “The Menacing Phantoms,” came to Larson in a “half-awake-half-asleep” dream state one morning. “A lot of the things that I saw [at Graceland] really inspired my story,” says Larson.
“The Menacing Phantoms,” introduces the reader to Piper Boy, Nellie McCullough and her undead steed Kincade, Clayton Blackwood and a wealth of other characters. Blackwood, buried alive after a run-in with Diamond Jim Colosimo’s men, makes a Houdini-like escape and wreaks havoc on his imprisoners with the help of the cemetery gang.
Larson already has plans for the second and third issues of Visitations. The second issue, titled “The Great Balloon Disaster,” occurs during Chicago’s 1908 White City Balloon Race. Larson plans to use an online-fundraising site for the second issue so he can realize his visions of a reader-interactive printed issue. Larson envisions a double-page spread issue that requires the reader to change the orientation of the book while reading.
Issue three, titled “Mayhem in the Levee,” will focus on Chicago’s Levee in a first-person point-of-view story. The Levee, located around the modern-day Cermak redline stop, was Chicago’s red-light district.
In “Mayhem in the Levee,” “the camera is the person and the panels are what the person is seeing,” says Larson, “the person is going to walk through the neighborhood and basically see everything that is going on there. He’ll encounter the Piper Boy and all kinds of different things.” In the third issue, Larson aims to highlight the criminal underground of the Levee and of Chicago today: “it’s stuff that still goes on in the city, it’s just well-hidden now,” says Larson, “all of this stuff is basically being done to line the pockets of criminals.”
The stars of Gracehill cemetery will participate in Larson’s four-part series beginning with the turn of the century followed by the Prohibition/Great Depression era, the birth of the atom bomb at University of Chicago and finally the election of Barack Obama.
You can receive a free early copy of issue one of Visitations by emailing email@example.com.