A comic idea, turned into reality

Shaun Keenan, in his Gisborne home studio. (Damjan Janevski) 255988_07

By Oliver Lees

Shaun Keenan is a self-confessed comic book nerd — and he wears that like a badge of honour. But he doesn’t just read comics, he produces them too, as he explained to Oliver Lees.

Since starting his own company COMICS2MOVIES in 2007, Shaun’s work has evolved from designing sketches based on movie posters, to creating his own anthology that is currently the number one selling independent comic in Australia.

Next year, the Gisborne resident will release a graphic novel adaptation made to accompany the Occupation film franchise, a trilogy of sci-fi films available to viewers on Netflix around the world.

“Everytime I talk about it, I can’t help but smile,” he said.

“The comic book industry in Australia is not very easy to navigate. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way. That’s why I’m really proud of COMICS2MOVIES.

“To have reached this point, and to have these things next to my name, it feels like we’re starting to reach that next echelon.”

Growing up in Melbourne’s north in the 1980s, Shaun feasted on the classic comic books of Jim Lee from an early age.

“I always struggled to read, and I think it was my Mum who first gave me a comic book. I would have been about seven,” he said.

“I think being a teenage boy who was into comics, but who also wanted to fit in with the cool kids, I kind of ventured away from it a little bit.

“It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s and early 30s that I made a change.

“I was working as a store manager at Optus. My wife came up to me and asked what I wanted to do with my life. I remember being a little taken aback.

“So I thought about it, and I came to the realisation that I’d kind of just plodded through life and got roles that came to me.

“And so I started to think about what I really enjoyed. I have always been a massive movie fan, and so that’s where I came up with the idea of COMICS2MOVIES.”

With the backing of his family, Shaun started attending regular comic book conventions.

“I was very, very naive,” he said.

“It was a pretty barren landscape, but that was exciting because it felt like there was a gap in the market.”

As Shaun describes it, the first challenge became learning the ins and outs of what goes into writing a comic book.

For example, unlike a novel, which is written with minute detail, comics are shorter in length and captured through individual frames.

Another speed bump in Shaun’s grand plan was that he was not a confident drawer.

“I can’t draw to save my life, so I usually do the writing,” he said.

“Now I have several different artists working and I discovered I had a knack of picking up good talent.”

Shaun found the best path forward was to take his knowledge and management skills to seek out talent that could bring his ideas to life. And as he started to build his business from the base up, graphic novels themselves started to enjoy a spike in popularity.

Popular sci-fi, fantasy and action film producers started to employ graphic novelists to bring script ideas to life. Films such as 300 and The Umbrella Academy were all investing in comics to accompany their releases.

Shaun said the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter became a new space for creatives to gain financial backing.

Earlier this year, Hollywood star Keanue Reeves launched his own comic series BRZRKR on the platform, and it has since become the most pledged item in the site’s history, with over $1.4 million earned in donations.

“Since 2017, the graphic novel industry has increased year-on-year faster than any other printed material,” he said.

“You used to only be able to get graphic novels in comic book stores, but now you can get them anywhere. That misconception of it [comics] being just for kids has also been broken.”

Therein lies the next exciting challenge for Shaun, as he describes it.

Following the success of his original anthology The Xtreme Champion Tournament, Shaun is now in a position where he can employ Australian artists to get the job done.

With the work starting to pile up, Shaun said he’s eager to make his publishing company an avenue for fellow comic book enthusiasts, one that didn’t exist when he was finding his own way in the industry.

“I’d really love to do more of that mentoring side,” he said.

“There is no clear pathway at the moment, and a lot of talent ends up going overseas. The idea is to be able to retain that talent, and I’ve always prided myself on making sure my artists are paid for their work.

“There’s that misconception that when you talk about comics you’re only talking about superheroes.

“But what people don’t realise is that comics and graphic novels can be just as diverse as people are from one another.”

COMICS2MOVIES’ Occupation graphic novel series is expected in March next year.

For more information, visit: www.comics2movies.com.au