By MJ Galbraith
April 11, 2014
Kelly Guillory got into comic books to impress a boy. She's since spent her art career proving herself as a woman, rejecting the imaginary boundaries others have tried to draw around her. She's making a name for herself as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated field, having just released a comic book that defies the conventions of what that industry thinks women want to create, write, buy, and read.
Once that boy in high school lent her a comic book magazine, Guillory quickly became more interested in the comic book world. After a brief foray into fine art, she re-embraced comics, forming a partnership with a writer in New Jersey, Jaime Acocella. The pair recently debuted Blood Money: The Road to Detroit
through their own publishing company, Ashur Collective
It's been a learning experience for Guillory as she confronts a number of stereotypes, including the types of art people expect women to create and the types of art women are interested in buying. With the release of her comic, Guillory has challenged all of these. In fact, she's baffled by the idea that women aren't interested in comic books.
"Look at our poster. Do you think Marvel would market this to women? They wouldn't even bother. They would assume that women wouldn't read it," says Guillory. "And I don't mean to make this a feminist story but it's about being equal. Treat people nicely. Don't assume that they aren't willing to spend their money. Isn't that an entrepreneurship story? Don't assume that your customers aren't interested. Get out there and try."
The sales of Blood Money
are proof that women are interested in comic books and, yes, even violent ones—a fact that Guillory relishes. And her book is violent. It's a tale of two cocaine dealers and one just happens to be a vampire. They come to Detroit to score a job and the story unfolds.
Using Detroit as the setting for the story was a particular joy for Guillory. Having grown up here, she was able to draw from a wealth of knowledge of the city's different neighborhoods. Living in Southwest Detroit while working on the comic, Guillory would bike around the city while listening to her headphones, coming up with ideas. Accurately portraying the city was important to her.
"There was a comic book I read when I was younger," says Guillory. "I saw that they drew the Renaissance Center and I was like, Detroit doesn't look like this. Was the area filled with Canadians on this particular day? There were no black people in the drawing. The person didn't do their research."
Detroit's dive bars, 24-hour diners, and winding, sometimes confusing downtown streets all play a role in the story. The comic was accurate to the point that when her partner's family came to Detroit for the first time, they felt like they were in the book.
The success of the comic has the pair thinking of their future as a comic book team. A novelized version of the book is almost ready and will include over 100 pages of story cut from the original comic. Also in the works are a Blood Money
collector's edition and a series of comics that continue the main characters' storyline. They may even expand into publishing other people's comics. For now, though, they're concentrating on their own work and putting it in the hands of the people who want to read it.
"There's something that's going on in the comic shops across America. Maybe they're not making women feel welcome. Maybe they're not making everyone feel welcome. Why are they turning customers away? That is a bad business decision," says Guillory. "But there's always somebody else to take your money."
All photos by Doug Coombe.