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King of Comics: Longview native is living his superhero dream

Photo courtesy of Brandon Jerwa

Brandon Jerwa's face graces the Dragonsky action figure.

Last year, Brandon Jerwa appeared on the TV show "I've Got a Secret" with a story few other people share: He has an action figure created in his likeness.

Jerwa's face is the visage of Dragonsky, an evil Russian figure from G.I. Joe comic books. "He's dressed in purple and blue with a flame thrower," Jerwa said.

The honor was courtesy of the toy maker Hasbro, responding to Jerwa's work writing mini-comic books that accompany action figures. It's a sideline for Jerwa, who writes full-size comics that are devoured by avid readers.

Jerwa, 33, who grew up in Longview, has forged a career as a comic book writer, while continuing to produce electronic music.

He'll sign comic books Saturday and Sunday at Vista Comics on 14th Avenue. One-quarter of the proceeds from his comic book sales will be donated to the Dana Brown Memorial Fund.

The homage to Mainstage director Brown, who died March 1, stems from Jerwa's high school years. He acted in several Mainstage Theatre plays and with Brown's help, got a job as Sprocket Man, a bicycle superhero who gave safety talks to children.

"I didn't have a father when I was around Dana," said Jerwa, who went by the last name Hutchinson then. "He sort of filled that role in a surrogate sense."

After his high school years, Jerwa took courses in electronic music at Kansas State University, then returned to Longview. For several years in the late '90s, he was "Vance Astro," the morning DJ on KRQT (the name Vance Astro was drawn from a comic book character).

If you go
What: Brandon Jerwa appearance and comic book signing
When: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: Vista Comics, 1068 14th Ave., Longview.
Cost: 25 percent of comic book sales will be donated to the Dana Brown Memorial Fund.
Information: www.brandonjerwa.com

In 2001, Jerwa moved to Portland with his wife, Jessica, who had also worked at KRQT. "My wife had a job and I didn't," Jerwa said. The couple had a son, so "I agreed to stay home with the boy and do some job hunting. I decided to take a stab at the big dream, writing comic books."

Jerwa had been a comic book fan since he was a boy himself. "I had all the geek knowledge in my head."

He wrote a story line about G.I. Joe and sent it to Devil's Due Publishing, which was launching a new series of comic books because of nostalgia for that "Real American Hero."

For those out of touch with the comic book world, G.I. Joe is a special forces patriot locked in combat with the terrorist group Cobra. His story first ran as a Marvel comic book series from 1982 to 1994 and also was an animated TV series for several years.

"I didn't know anything about writing comic books when I started," Jerwa said. He studied other books to learn the format.

Jerwa writes a story line like a movie script, except that the speaking parts have to fit in dialogue balloons. He suggests what the characters should be doing in each panel of the cartoon. "I'll note where the balloons go."

Jerwa communicates with the illustrator, the letterer and their editor by e-mail.

It's a unique writing style, with dialogue and sound descriptions alternating, such as:

"Do you feel it, Snake-Eyes? Do you feel the shroud of death passing over you?"

Whupbrrumskrank!

Kreak

"We will die as we lived, eh?"

Kreaaaakkkkkk

Kakraash (as a helicopter is destroyed)

To come up with sound effect words, Jerwa watches DVDs of G.I. Joe TV shows. "I approximate with my mouth the sound I'm hearing on the screen."

Such literary output receives different responses from other writers. "Half the people take it really seriously and the other half say it's cartoon soldiers. I receive varying degrees of respect from people in the industry."

As for financial rewards, Jerwa said "I support myself on it comfortably," — his wife works as a paralegal.

Jerwa writes his action-packed stories in the peace of his home in Tukwila, a Seattle suburb.

The Jerwas moved there three years ago. The Seattle area is "a place I swore I would never live because of the congestion, but I love it and I swear I'll never leave," Jerwa said.

Writing at home is "the best byproduct of this job. I get to watch my son grow up." Orion, who's named after a character in a DC comic book series, is 7.

With the success of his G.I. Joe comics, Jerwa got the call to write a six-issue series about the origin of Snake-Eyes, a mute ninja commando hero in the series.

Jerwa has authored the Highlander comic books, about an immortal Scottish clansman born in 1518 who must use his wits and sword to battle other immortals. The comics are an offshoot of several movies.

Jerwa is also writing the upcoming "Battlestar Galactica: Season Zero" series, a comic book prequel to the TV show.

Comic books have grown up in the past few decades, he said. "If you get too kiddie-ish, you risk alienating your fan base."

The genre faces serious competition from video games and movies, however, so in the future, comic book publishers may offer the product via digital downloads, he added.

Heads often are lopped off in Highlander adventures, and Jerwa would like to write something more child-friendly. He's developing a children's series of comic books in the popular Japanese style called manga.

In addition to comic book writing, Brandon and Jessica Jerwa are two-thirds of SD6, an electronic band with relentless dance beats. Jerwa, the group's singer and writer, describes the sound as "a mix between Underworld and Depeche Mode."

The group's debut CD, "Between Noise and Transmission," came out in January, with a picture of an earphone-clad Orion on the cover. The band plans to tour the country next fall.

Neither the writing nor singing has made Jerwa a household name.

"I'm certainly not rock star famous like some comic book writers are," he said, though he gets recognition from people who come to comic book shows. "I've had people be angry at me for killing off characters they loved. I've had people say my comics touched them….A lot of people say, 'God, this book was great.'

"How rewarding is that?"

And there's always the satisfaction of being an action figure, even if it's a nasty character. "They scanned my head and molded me in plastic forever," Jerwa said. You can have a look at Dragonsky at a toy store, and a quick search of the Internet found Brandon/Dragonsky going for $4.29.

By the way, the panel on "I've Got a Secret" figured it out.

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