"The Book of Ralph" is Creative Loafing's third comic-strip cover story in the past 15 months. It marks an evolution in our graphic storytelling endeavors -- from wildly imaginative comics envisioning, for example, a future without oil, to a fact-based and fully sourced illustrated story about Georgia's most controversial politician, Ralph Reed.
The first comic strip cover story, Atlanta, after the end of oil, was written by CL Staff Writer Michael Wall and drawn by Atlanta artist Stephen Sweny.
The second comic cover story, "Your Fun-Packed Rapture Guide" was written by me and my colleagues at CL; drawn by Brooklyn illustrator James L. Barry, creator of "The Last Prophet" comic; and coordinated by CL Senior Art Director John Yardley.
In December, I pitched "The Book of Ralph" idea to CL Editor Ken Edelstein. He suggested that we create a fact-based comic strip, in which all the quotes were credibly sourced from statements that Reed and others actually made.
The sources used for the comic include stories from the Washington Post all the way down the food chain to Reed spokeswoman Lisa Baron's Dec. 11, 2005, column about her vagina, "My big cavernous pit of love."
You can't make some of this stuff up.
I also drove to Athens last summer to get a copy of the Red & Black stories about Reed's early plagiarism incident, and interviewed Chuck Reece, who was editor at the time.
When it came to picking an artist, CL's Creative Services Director Markus Schneider plucked Atlanta cartoonist Josh Latta's work from a stack of applicants and brought him in for an interview with me and Yardley. We clicked and got to work. I provided a rudimentary script, cutting out dozens of scenes I had hoped to include.
We worked off and on for about a month, mostly by e-mail, but meeting occasionally at the CL office or JavaVino on North Highland Avenue. "We both knew that white men in suits talking would not make for a very interesting comic," Latta says. "So Doug pushed me to be as creative visually as I could be with the material. Doug made notes in the script about Ralph Reed wearing war makeup or Jack Abramoff dressed in Indian garb, so I thought it'd be fun to treat every panel irreverently and make Ralph's life story pay homage to classic comic genres, like superheroes, war, Western and horror."
Latta drew by hand, colored the strip and wrote in the text. Copy Editor Chanté LaGon edited the text. Yardley coordinated the print version and Web Editor LauraFries and Online Producer Alejandro Leal put it online.
Latta continues to pursue comic book art on his own. Issue 3 of his self-published mini-comic series "Anxiety, Sleep Problems & Depression" -- which features bunnies, not politicians -- is due out this spring. The series has been favorably reviewed on www.cutegirldemographics.com, which said, "Josh's bunnies inhabit a world of hard-work relationships and hard-work lives. His veritè is compounded by the hilariously painful recognition of the reader that things are indeed difficult in the world of love and lust."