As a film student at Ithaca College, Michael Watson aimed to portray his stories through motion pictures. It was all he dreamed of doing, literally. While he was a student, Watson experienced a nightmare which became the central idea for his latest work, a comedic-Lovecraftian Ithaca-based comic book series titled Ithaqa.
Though Watson’s primary medium for art was filmmaking, the Ithaqa story demanded a film adaptation with too big of a budget for Watson as a student filmmaker. He continued with the development of the story until he decided to take it to the comic book realm, a world he already had experience with through a college thesis.
“When I was in college, I did a transmedia thesis,” Watson said. “I had a short film and a webcomic that expanded on the story, then I had a website to further expand on the story. I had fun playing with the limitlessness of a comic book medium where you can just tell artists to draw the world ending and they can do it.”
Watson’s Ithaqa currently has two completed issues with a third nearly finished. The story follows Mookie Smitts, a filmmaker who uncovers a plot to destroy the Spacetime Continuum as he struggles to produce his latest film. The story takes place in 1920s Ithaca.
“It's kind of the collapse of the end of the Wharton film studio,” Watson said, referring to the silent film studio that made Ithaca a hub of filmmaking in that era. “A series of misfits find themselves stumbling upon this horrible Eldritch conspiracy. They're forced to work together, kind of like 1920s Avengers or something.”
The story, which began in the comedy genre, is now classified by Watson as a Lovecraftian horror story. The Lovecraftian genre incorporates the horror and mystery realm in Watson’s work. It is also the source of inspiration for the spelling of the Ithaqa title.
“I wanted to set [the story] in Ithaca but one of the kind of cool little coincidences is that in the Lovecraftian horror genre, one of the horrible Eldritch spirits is the Ithaqua,” Watson said.
Though Watson’s work does not include the Ithaqua spirit, it and the city of Ithaca are alluded to in the comic title’s spelling with the change of the “C” to a “Q,” as seen on the comic’s cover which was designed by Watson’s team member Lucas Gattoni.
Gattoni is a professional comic book letterer Watson met after posting an online advertisement for a letterer for the first issue of Ithaqa.
“[Gattoni] did this amazing trial run where he dropped little droplets of ink onto a paper to make creepy splotches then he incorporated them into the speech bubbles,” Watson said. “They were this weird, drippy looking speech. It was really really cool, really evocative, and I was like, yep, nailed it.”
Theresa Chiechi is the illustrator for Ithaqa and met Watson through an online advertisement for issue one posted to DeviantArt. Chiechi and Watson’s ideas surrounding aesthetics for the comic book clicked immediately, so they developed a team.
“Sure the writing is important, and that's what's gonna keep you invested, but if someone looks at [the book] and picks it up off the rack, it's because the art is so powerful,” Watson said.
For his writing, Watson consults his college friend and editor Lisa VillaMil. VillaMil has storytelling experience as a playwright, actress and play director.
“I realized that I was going to need an editor if I was gonna be serious about this because you need someone to bounce ideas off of and someone to talk to that knows the story intimately,” Watson said.
Watson also received assistance from Diana Riesman, the executive director and co-founder of the Wharton Studio Museum throughout the writing and publishing process. The museum was able to provide Watson with information regarding the Wharton brothers, Ithaca and cultural details of the 1920s.
“Diana put me in touch with people who were researching, or she would just have the answers to my questions herself,” Watson said. “I got a lot of really useful details that made their way into the comic and some of the major plot points towards the end of the first major story arc.”
Riesman also reached out to Lisa Swayze at Buffalo Street Books on Watson’s behalf to begin selling Ithaqa locally. The community’s response to the first issue of Ithaqa has been enthusiastic, with the books selling out twice.
“To kind of triumphantly return to Ithaca with a comic about Ithaca feels really great,” Watson said.
Watson was expected to hold a press tour for the first two issues of Ithaqa this month, but due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the physical events scheduled for the tour, including Ithaca’s comic convention, Ithacon, have been canceled. Watson’s work can still be supported online through his Kickstarter fundraiser to raise $10,000 to finish the artwork for issue three and print physical copies of issues two and three. The Kickstarter will run from March 16 to April 6, 2020 and can be accessed through the Facebook page, “Ithaqa Comic Digital Book Tour,” a site which will also host online events including a creator livestream Q&A on March 20 at 6 p.m. Watson and the Ithaqa series can also be found at “Ithaqa Comic Book” on Facebook and @IthaqaComic on Twitter. The comic’s official website is ithaqacomic.com and features a subscription option to provide an email address for a free digital copy of issue one.