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Drawn to Montana

Comic illustrator Daniel Lapham goes national

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Daniel Lapham has come a long way. The 33-year-old illustrator grew up in a one-bedroom house in the woods of Maine with no electricity and no running water, and spent much of his early career bouncing through odd jobs trying to justify his love of comics and graphic novels. Now, he’s finally landed a plum spot drawing a futuristic space comic for cutting edge publisher Boom! Studios. And despite his newfound stature, Lapham’s literally kept to his rugged roots by making a remote Montana town his new home.

Lapham lives in Greenough, a small community five minutes from the turnoff to Seeley Lake, past the Paws Up Ranch. It’s there he does all of his artwork for Boom!, as well as various other projects the burgeoning illustrator is working on.

“Greenough is nice, but it would be great to be around more people,” says Lapham in a recent interview at Missoula’s Muse Comics. “Pretty much all we have in Greenough is deer.”

His new project for Boom!, Blood and Thunder, is based on a tabletop game called Warhammer 40,000. In the game, players use miniatures—which they paint themselves—to conduct epic mock battles. Lapham describes it as being similar to chess, but with more complex rules and playing pieces. The comic features an army of ruthless marauding space Orks hell-bent on annihilating humans in the 41st millennium. It’s outrageously violent, highlighted by Lapham’s fantastical battle scenes. He says it’s a nice departure from the type of traditional superhero work he expected when pursuing work in comics.

“The Warhammer series is really the ideal comic for me to be working on,” says Lapham. “I grew up playing the game and collecting the figures, so I know the back story and I think there is a lot of potential for interesting storytelling.”

It also doesn’t hurt that, according to Jeff McElroy, manager at Muse Comics, Lapham’s comics are popular. In fact, the artist will be signing copies in-store on Wednesday, Dec. 19.

“It is exciting for me to have creators here in town who are published on a national level,” says McElroy. “We have several people who do their own mini-comics and that’s cool, but it is nice to have somebody that’s exposed on a national level.”

Although Lapham has landed a gig at Boom!, he’s had to work hard to break into the industry. Naturally, his rise started as a childhood obsession with comics.

“From the start they were always around,” he says. “I learned to read from comics—Tin Tin, old Jack Kirby X-Men comics and Zap Comics. And I was always drawing from pretty much as long as I could hold a pencil.”

Lapham attended Vermont’s Marlboro College and majored in visual arts. He says the head of the art department constantly urged him to transfer to a different college that was better equipped to give him the education he wanted. He also told Lapham that comics and illustration weren’t really art.

“My salvation was to approach comics from a folklore standpoint, and I had a folklore professor who was willing to work with me on that,” said Lapham. “Comics are just another form of storytelling—a fairly specialized form of storytelling in the way that they use pictures and words together. They also had a big impact on our cultural history, our pop culture mythology, with the superhero characters and whatnot. … They are pretty much ingrained into our social consciousness.”

After graduation Lapham still wasn’t sure how to put his artistic skills to use and, after a few years bumming in Vermont, he moved to Los Angeles to live with some college buddies. There Lapham got his first break when a friend got him hired as a designer on the Discovery Channel’s “Monster House,” an extreme home remodeling program. Lapham conceptualized two houses for the show: a white trash remodel of a trailer—complete with coin operated bed—and a Three Stooges themed house.

L.A. was also where Lapham met and married his wife Samantha and after having their first child, Violet, the family moved in March 2006 to Greenough, where Samantha’s family lives.

Through the magic of the Internet Lapham was able to continue working on television projects from Greenough. He drew animation and storyboards—which he describes as comics with no words—for the History Channel’s “Sharpshooters” series as well as a documentary on the Big Bang Theory.

“As long as you have Internet access you can do this kind of work anywhere in the world, from your house anywhere in the world,” he says. “The hardest part, though, is making the connections to get the job.”

Luckily, that hasn’t been a problem for Lapham. He learned Boom! was looking for artists through a comic news website, submitted his work and two months later was hired on to do spot work cleaning up illustrations for the company’s Damnation Crusade. Boom! also offered Lapham his own comic to illustrate, which became Blood and Thunder.

Now that he’s finally reached the comic industry, Lapham plans on drawing more for Boom! while still working on “Sharpshooters.”

“I’ve always been focused on the next step as opposed to the big picture, which maybe that’s kind of shortsighted on my part, but it’s been an interesting trip so far,” says Lapham. “You don’t have to live in a major metropolitan area to get your work out there. You just need the Internet and you can do your work from anywhere, even Greenough.”

The next installment of Daniel Lapham’s Blood and Thunder series, “Blood and Thunder #2,” is in stores now. Lapham signs copies at Muse Comics, 2100 Stevens Ave. #107, Wednesday, Dec. 19, from 3 to 6 PM. View more of Lapham’s art at http://cronevald.deviantart.com.

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