Cleveland artist and illustrator Jake Kelly has released the first in what aims to be a long series of comic books exploring Cleveland’s squalid past.
“Doomsday Map” is the 24-page, primarily black and white, true crime installment of what Kelly hopes to eventually become his first graphic novel, the whole of which is self-described as an episodic tale of “Death, Destruction, Vice, & Sleaze.”
This is Kelly’s first comic since his collaboration on the six-part "Lake Erie Monster" series, co-created with friend and fellow artist and illustrator John Greiner, aka, “John G.” (He also helped with the cover of Doomsday Map. )
"The genesis of it was a series of articles I was working on…one was about a pornography poll that Cleveland Mayor Ralph Perk issued in 1976, another article was about a man named George Cicero who was bombing adult movie theaters, sex shops, adult book stores and integrated schools. I published those two in my fanzine, Rapid Transient. I always wanted to explore it more and sort of finish it off.”
In 1976 Cleveland, garnered national attention as “Bomb City USA.” Danny Greene and others became the subject of many books, films and articles.
"We were the most bombed city on the planet by a large margin," Kelly says. "I think we beat out Beirut, which was experiencing a civil war. In the 70s there was probably around 3,000 bombing. I would imagine if you stood on your roof and fast forward through the decade it would sound like popcorn was popping all around you.”
There is more death, destruction, vice and sleaze than just bombings to be covered in Doomsday Map, according to Kelly.
“1966-1983 is the scope of the book, so it covers everything from the Hough Riots, the Glennville shootout, through the Marlene Steele Murder, up to the CSU Killer and many other things — motor cycle gangs, drugs, Case professors involved in international LSD rings, so there’s a lot of things going on in this book.”
The first three pages of Doomsday Map coax the reader into adopting the legendary Cuyahoga River as a timeline for the sordid events and is an effective literary device to depict these various true crime tales. “Cleveland is a much a part of the story as any of the actual people and the (Cuyahoga) river is central to the city, so it made sense to use the river as a timeline. At the risk of sounding like I just smoked pot or something, imagine the river as multiple timelines all on top of each other. It’s flowing through history and it’s not just picking up garbage and the industrial waste but also totems and objects from these various stories. I’m working on one about a folk singer that gets shot so you might see the acoustic guitar float by you with a bunch of sticks of dynamite near it.”
The folk singer of note here is Tedd Browne, who once appeared on The Tonight Show, sang at President Lyndon B. Johnson’s inaugural ball in 1965 and is the subject of Kelly’s next issue. Part two is set to be finished and released by mid-July according to Kelly and has the working title of, “Shadows Will Fall.”
Process in important to an artist and for a project as large as this, one wonders how an artist keeps themselves inspired, engaged and productive.
“When I‘m making up the art for a poster or writing one of these comics I prefer to listen to music…but in drawing a lot of it is sitting stock-still at your desk and making a lot of little dots, dashes, hash marks and scratches so the mind tends to wonder. I like to listen to audio books so my mind doesn’t turn to mush as I draw…I’ve been listening to a lot of true crime to see what other people are doing with structure and how they are collating massive amounts of information into stories. One is The Man from the Train by Bill James, a book about a serial killer at the turn of the last century. Another great book is Days of Rage: America's Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence, by Bryan Burrough. That’s a book I’ve read and listened to several times and I put it on again because it deals with far-left terrorism in the nineteen seventies.”
In anticipation of this project Kelly has taken to creating a giant 9’ x 15’ mural of Cleveland in his studio to use as a visual reference. For the gargantuan map, Kelly enlisted the help of another local artist and friend, Madeleine Keller.
This is one of many murals Kelly has created over the years. Among these, most notable are the murals one sees inside Cleveland’s Melt franchises as well as the apocalyptic mural in the entrance way of the Grog Shop, which he has been recently selling prints of in effort to raise money for Grog employees affected by layoffs associated with Covid-19.
Cleveland is infamous in its mythology to the point at which one might have trouble distinguishing fact from legend and what falls in between. I asked Kelly what he hoped his readers might take away from this series of around 20 issues and what could culminate to “phone book-sized” graphic novel over the next several years.
“In the end what I would like the reader to come away with, if I’ve done my job, they simply are now more familiar with a secret history…and if they are able to find the contemporary echoes of these things in the modern world, that’s good, and if not, they’ve heard some crazy stories.”
To order Doomsday Map and other works by Kelly click here.