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Local artist will have comic published this fall

Elaine Will was just 17 when she had what she called "a nervous breakdown". She didn't sleep for a week. It was her last year of high school and she worried endlessly about getting good grades and going to a great university.
Elaine Will with her graphic novel Look Straight Ahead. The semi-autobiographical story will be available in October.

Elaine Will was just 17 when she had what she called "a nervous breakdown". She didn't sleep for a week. It was her last year of high school and she worried endlessly about getting good grades and going to a great university. She also had to deal with bullying at school."I basically went nuts," she recalled, "went insane."Then something interesting happened. Instead of wandering around the house like a zombie, Will was charged with a sense of manic creativity the likes of which she'd never experienced before. That creative burst came to a crashing end when she was prescribed medication. However, it was during those first sleepless nights that Will came up with the idea that became Look Straight Ahead, her graphic novel that is set to be released in October, a full decade after her week of insomnia. "It was simultaneously the scariest and most fascinating thing that has ever happened to me, and I thought it would make really great material for a story," Will said.The 27-year-old, who moved to Humboldt when she was three, began her career in comics as a serial plagiarist. As a seven-year-old she would draw copies of her favourite comics, but none made a bigger impression than Sonic the Hedgehog. "I read it in the mall while I was waiting for my mom to finish grocery shopping," she remembered, "and I never wanted it to end. When it ended I was like 'I want to do comics for the rest of my life.'"Sitting at her parent's kitchen table, Will brings out a stack of brightly coloured comics. They spill out of their manila file folders, Sonic and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and even some of her own creations, of which she is a bit embarrassed. "Please don't print those, they're horrible," she said. Will was more eager to talk about Look Straight Ahead, which tells the story of a young man trapped by depression and the drugs he uses to treat it. The cover art shows the main character, Jeremy Knowles, trapped inside of a prescription bottle. Scattered around the bottle, so close but out of reach, are the tools of an artist - pencils and note pads.A 17-year-old artist struggling with bullying, depression and the deadening effects of medication? If that sounds familiar, it closely mirrors Will's own experience. She called the book autobiographical, but admitted it needed a touch of fiction to put it over the top.After three-and-a-half years of writing, rewriting, drawing and redrawing, Look Straight Ahead was done. In the world of publishing, finishing the book is, at best, half the battle.Will's hopes were buoyed by a $5,000 grant from the Xeric Foundation, a non-profit founded by Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles co-creator Peter Laird to provide comic book authors with the opportunity to self-publish. Another $6,000 from the Saskatchewan Arts Board and over 1200 copies of Look Straight Ahead were published in Saskatoon. Now there was the question of how to get the books out of boxes and into stores. Will fired off an email to Alternative Comics, a distributor based out of California. She was shocked when Alternative quickly agreed to a distribution deal."Her book was something different. She was doing comics in an interesting way," said Marc Arsenault, general manager of Alternative, in a phone interview from California. "I couldn't think of many other comics similar to it." With a distribution deal in place and a future home for those 1200 books, Will was free to focus on promoting Look Straight Ahead. That meant a recent trip to the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, where she once again got a hand from Alternative Comics (they gave her a seat at their table). The Toronto experience was great for Will, but it was at a convention in Seattle where the power of her work hit home."There was a woman who came up to me and she was in tears the entire time," Will said. "She said, 'Thank you so much for doing this comic. It couldn't have come along at a better time for me because I'm going through a really bad bout of depression.'"That sort of testimonial has Arsenault hoping to work with Will again in the future - "we try to have long relationships with our authors," he said - but nothing is guaranteed. Will is currently working on several projects and hopes to break away from her history of dark themes and maybe write a comic for kids, seven-year-olds that are just like she once was. Unfortunately, writing fun and light children's comics isn't what Will is all about, at least not now."I've figured out what it is I do," she said. "I make stuff that is scary and beautiful at the same time."