Forming a Collective

'Where am I? And what the hell am I doing here?'
By ALEX IRVINE  |  January 7, 2009

MAKING PROGRESS Developing images from storyboard to final page for Joel Rivers’s “Beyond Belief” chapter.

When your intrepid correspondent walks into Arabica Coffee to meet with the members of a shadowy group rumored to be executing a graphical Exquisite Corpse the likes of which Portland has never seen, he finds out that the group is in fact so shadowy that its members aren't quite sure how many of them there are. Four sit around the table, talking about washes and tints: Ben Asselin, Ben Bishop, Ryan LaMunyon, and Joel Rivers. A fifth, Michael Connor, might be participating, as might some guy named Jay who just moved to Philly.

However many of them there are, the project is called The Collective. It began, according to Bishop, with a conversation he and Rivers had not too long after Rivers won a 2003 Xeric grant for his Along the Canadian. "I'm pretty sure that's where the Collective idea first began in the bottom of my brain," he says. He took it to a couple of Maine College of Art friends, Asselin and LaMunyon, and things developed (slowly) from there.

Bishop's chapter is called "The Crash and the Crowd." In it, "this guy wakes up in a taxi cab, and doesn't know how he got there," Bishop explains. His first line of dialogue is the sub-headline of the article you are now reading. Menacing three-fingered men are driving the cab; it crashes, and when our unnamed protagonist gets out at the bottom of a snowy ravine, the three-fingered men are gone and he is standing there with a dead girl in the trunk of the cab — whom he met the night before, and who gave him an envelope full of ... well, we shouldn't spoil it.

"It's going to be really neat to see where it ends up," Bishop says, "and to not get too attached to the characters," since someone else is going to take them in other directions anyway.

Joel Rivers, going second, has brought some pages to Arabica. He's calling his chapter "Beyond Belief," and it takes the story to "a science fiction, kind of horror place, which is where I'm coming from. I'm not holding myself to what Ben is trying to do."

LaMunyon chimes in. "That's an exciting aspect of it, taking it where you want it to go."

Not so exciting is waiting for the guy before you to finish his pages. "It's terrible," LaMunyon says, and Bishop adds, "Every time I see Ryan, he's like 'Where's it at?'"

Rivers shows the rest of the group his storyboards for the first time, and the next guy in the order, LaMunyon, sits back and says, "Now I have something to think about." The storyboards narrate an action sequence with a couple of surprising twists, and LaMunyon muses aloud about maybe slowing it down a little. Then revelation strikes, and he announces, "Mine's gonna take place underwater."

Then it will be off to either the mysterious Michael Connor, or Ben Asselin, the anchor of this relay. "Yeah," he laughs. "I don't know how I got that job."

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