Graphic Novel Mythologizes Southern West Virginia, Criticizes Impact of Coal Industry

Jun 6, 2014

Credit Caliber Comics

West Virginia writer and filmmaker Danny Boyd’s latest graphic novel Carbon tells the story of an ancient race of people and their effect on the coal industry thousands of years later as an evil coal baron tries to mine a super form of coal. 

In an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, here's a few things Boyd touched on about Carbon, the development of the story, and his evolving beliefs on energy and the environment:

On the Development of the Concept and Story

Five years ago, Boyd began exploring the genre of graphic novels as another creative outlet for his work. After releasing Death Falcon Zero vs. the Zombie Slug Lords and a re-imagined and expanded narrative of his 1987 cult film Chillers, Boyd quickly saw the viability of a career outside of film. Yet, long before those projects came about, he was developing another graphic novel: a mythological story set in southern West Virginia mixed with modern-day corporate greed at the cost of human life.

"About 10 years ago, it finally hit me 'always go back to the beginnings, go back to the beginnings,'" Boyd said.

"Coal is carbon. We are carbon. Coal is formed by plant and animal life--us--over the course of millions of years. What if you reverse that process? It's that 'what if?'"

Boyd also explained that Carbon was supposed to be his big Hollywood film but that the impending budget for such a project kept it from hitting the big screen.

"I just never got to the circles where we could put this kind of budget together. When I fell into graphic narrative five years ago, it was like 'holy cow I can do this now because it costs the same amount,'" he said.

Credit Cabon by Danny Boyd / Caliber Comics

On the Timing of Carbon's Release

With January's Elk River chemical spill and newly-released rules from the EPA aimed to cut carbon pollution, Carbon comes at a time where the conversation about coal and industry is in the national spotlight. But, Boyd said the fact that there was so much discussion around the book's release was mostly by chance.

"The book had been delayed. It was supposed to come out in January and delayed again. The publisher kept seeing Charleston, West Virginia on world news and he called me and said, 'Since we've been delayed, I'm seeing this water thing. Would you like to add something to your afterword about that.' And I said, 'Heck yeah, I do.' So I sat down and wrote that piece there at the end."

Boyd also said the timing of the book could have come with mine disasters like Sago or Upper Big Brach, as the concept was there before those events happened. He said he didn't want to exploit those incidents for personal gain. 

On Stepping into the Political Arena with Carbon

Boyd said he purposefully stayed away from being political with his work because he feels it's "presumptuous of entertainers and artists to [make their politics too blatant.]"

And although Carbon is highly politicized, Body said he's not anti-captialism or anti-industry. He sees his views on coal and the environment as coming from somewhere in the middle.

"Any normal-thinking human has to realize the last two industries you want to regulate themselves are coal and chemical. I'm sorry, greed is going to win out. We need safe guards there," he explained.

While those views are sure to spark controversy for those with industrial interests, Boyd said he wasn't fearful of any commercial or critical backlash for expressing his views on the subject. But, that's not to say he wasn't careful about it. 

"What scared me the most was offending my fellow West Virginians. I can take the heat.," he explained. "People don't like my work? I've been in show business, I can take that. They don't want to buy my stuff? I can take that. But, what I worry about the most is losing the friendship, because West Virginia has been awesome to me."

Credit Carbon by Danny Boyd / Caliber Comics