The Bookshelf

Graphic novel ‘Winona Forever’ is here just in time for the creepy season

If the pandemic left you rewatching the same three comfort TV shows and movies in rotation, bewailing the delay of some eagerly-anticipated media (Euphoria, where art thou?) you’re not alone. For Shawn Boyd, though, the pandemic was an unexpected source of creative ingenuity. Boyd, a Santa Fe-based screenwriter, actor, producer—and now graphic novelist—celebrated the launch of the second volume of his four-part graphic novel series, Winona Forever, at Santa Fe’s Beastly Books in August.

But the path to publication was thorny.

Boyd had the seed of an idea he thought would be a screenplay—a semi-autobiographical, semi-supernatural tale set in his hometown in Minnesota. Growing up in the ‘80s, a family friend was the caretaker of an old priory where Boyd’s father and uncle had lived as brothers of the Dominican Order in the late ‘60s.

“I wouldn’t have gone in there even in daylight,” Boyd says, recalling the haunting tales the caretaker used to tell him about the priory. Yet these stories gave him the idea for Winona Forever.

The story takes place in the tiny town of Winona, Minnesota (namesake of Winona Ryder, who figures in the series as an icon of hope for small-town kids to reach for their dreams). On Halloween night, 1987, four Catholic school eighth-graders are drawn into a tangle of intrigue involving a haunted priory, a holy relic and a hotbed of interpersonal drama.

“It’s a love letter to the 1980s and the weird wonder of growing up,” Boyd explains.

He’d written the script and was just about ready to shop it around when the pandemic hit, grinding the film industry to a halt.

“The pandemic—especially in Spring 2020—created a void where I think most of us were wondering, ‘What now?!?!’” Boyd tells SFR. “As a writer, I saw that I could take that as a negative: ‘Good luck getting a screenplay made now.’ Or, as an opportunity: ‘All bets are off, so I might as well take some chances.’”

Instead of letting the script gather dust, Boyd had another idea: Why not turn it into a graphic novel? The writing was there, the characters were vivid, the visuals were clear in his head—now, he just needed an illustrator to bring them to life. Enter Elijah Henry (@eliartonline on Instagram), a Los Angeles-based freelance illustrator and graphic designer just out of art school. While Henry’s style slanted more toward the macabre than Boyd had initially envisioned, it turned out to be the perfect fit.

“It was kismet,” Boyd says. “We hardly changed the characters at all from his initial sketches.”

Funding the project was still an obstacle, however.

“The chance I took was trusting that enough people would be interested in the project,” Boyd says.

He started a Kickstarter campaign to fund the first volume of Winona Forever, setting a modest goal of $800. Instead, it raked in $8,000.

The visual style pops with simple, bold gestures, gaining detail and a darker, more textured look as the series goes on. Boyd’s text and Henry’s visuals shine on splash pages where we step back from the action and get an omniscient view of the tensions running through the story. Boyd and Henry also drop in Easter eggs—Halloween decorations from Boyd’s childhood in the ‘70s and ‘80s lend an authentic nostalgia, for example.

“It’s been fun remembering what we were listening to and wearing, the slang words we were using, what we were concerned with,” Boyd says. “I set all that inside an adventure story—an adventure I wish I could have lived.”

The real takeaway, he says, is that artists no longer need to stick with traditional avenues to get their work out into the world. Instead, they can seize the very means of production, and they might be surprised at what happens when they grant themselves carte blanche. Self-publishing is nothing new, of course, but, Boyd says, “You need millions of dollars to make a movie, but far less to make a graphic novel. There’s a real creative freedom to that; with a screenplay, you sell it and it’s out of your hands—but with Winona Forever, I get to be the casting director, do the set design, the costume design...”

Still, there’s significant privilege in being able to take that kind of time and space to cultivate a creative work. But there’s opportunity for all kinds of creators.

“Without the pandemic, Winona Forever would still be a script, making the rounds in Hollywood in the hopes it would one day be made,” Boyd says. “Instead, it’s already in the hands of hundreds of people, and its audience is growing.”


Still thirsting for your creepy fix? Here are some brand-spankin’-new titles we’re watching:

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones; Simon and Schuster, Aug. 31

Phoenix Song: Echo #1 by Rebecca Roanhorse; Marvel, Oct. 6

Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw; Macmillan Oct. 19

Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood; Wednesday Books, Oct. 19

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; Harper Collins, Oct. 19


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