Drawing to a Close

Shawn Boyd’s ‘Winona Forever’ evolves from movie pitch to graphic novel series, and now to its own reality

If the fourth season of Stranger Things left you thirsting for even more kitschy and gripping ‘80s nostalgia, you might celebrate the release of the fourth and final installment of local screenwriter, actor and producer-turned-graphic novelist Shawn Boyd’s series, Winona Forever.

The series follows four nerdy eighth-graders—Darby, Boots, Sci-Fi and Pretty Boy—in Boyd’s hometown of Winona, Minnesota. On Halloween 1987, they join forces with a group of popular kids to hunt down a mysterious relic. Things get creepy.

The series was originally conceived as a screenplay, but when the pandemic hit in 2020, throwing the film industry into chaos, it turned out to be kismet. Boyd’s idea lent itself almost seamlessly to graphic novel form, so he teamed up with LA-based illustrator Elijah Henry. Winona Forever was born.

Now, the series is coming to a close. We won’t spoil it, but we promise it’s worth the read (and, at a hefty 52 pages, a satisfying finale).

Boyd says there are many parallels between writing for the screen and his experience producing the series, but doing it in comic form has given him more control than he would’ve had otherwise—the pacing and style are in his hands rather than a director’s, for example; with Winona Forever, “the pages are the shoot,” Boyd says.

He’s gained confidence directing on the page, too, and the illustrations have changed subtly over the course of its run. As the series progressed, he’s noticed another parallel between movie-making and comicking:

“Acting is much like being an illustrator,” Boyd says. “As an actor when you first get the role, or an illustrator who’s coming to the characters for the first time, you’re just putting on their clothes or drawing their clothes, feeling what their energy is.”

But as he and illustrator Henry progressed through the series, Boyd noticed an evolution.

“[Henry] really knows the characters more clearly, how they would respond in a certain situation. It’s probably subtle—I don’t know that anyone but the two of us may notice that, but for certain I feel it’s different.”

Boyd built a couple of soundtracks for himself when he was writing the series, meticulously curating them with music that came out in 1987 or before. Some of those made it into references in the book—like Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and Mister Mister’s “Kyrie.” Other songs simply inspired him during the process, and he describes them as “little treasure boxes” that he opens to transport himself back to the feeling of the time, and his own memories.

The finale drops this week, and Boyd will be celebrating with a book party at George RR Martin’s Beastly Books on Friday, Sept. 2. We’re told there will be a cash bar, snacks and an art installation showcasing three years of work on the comic series: in-progress illustrations and sketches, pages from the original movie pitch (which was going to be called Winona Forever: Unless Satan Gets Us First, referencing the Satanic panic of the 1980s) and more.

“I want to do something that puts an exclamation point on the completion of this,” Boyd says. On Saturday, Sept. 3, he’ll hold a book signing and reading at Beastly Books.

What’s next? Boyd is working on collating the series into a compendium, which he plans to release for Halloween 2023. He’s now working with a book designer to give it a special twist—while the four installments are designed to look like kids’ yearbooks, complete with inscriptions and doodles, the compendium will have a fresh look.

For Boyd, the most surprising part of the process is the fan base he’s built since the series’ beginnings. Total strangers ask him when the next installment will come out.

“They’re fully in it,” Boyd says. “These characters are really real to them.”

He did a book event in Winona in the spring, for example, and some of the kids from his alma mater—the very same that’s featured in the series—attended.

“They were talking about the characters as if they’re real,” Boyd tells SFR. “That was a very cool experience because as a writer, it’s very real to you, but when other people see it and reflect it back to you, it’s really humbling.”

Winona Forever Party and Installation: 5:30-6:30 pm Friday, Sept. 2. Free.

Winona Forever Signing and Reading: Noon Saturday, Sept. 3. Free. Beastly Books, 418 Montezuma Ave., (505) 395-2628

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