Middlebury man creates popular comic book

MIDDLEBURY — By day, Jeremy Holt can often be found troubleshooting computers at Middlebury-area public schools.
By night, he creates superheroes that can be seen in his original comic books that are gaining a national and even international following.
Holt, 32, began writing comic books almost seven years ago.
“I kind of fell into it by accident,” he said.
Holt attended the Savannah College of Art & Design, in Savannah, Ga., to focus on film. As he neared completion of his studies, he got a sense that he wouldn’t be sticking with a career in the film realm upon graduation.
“I remember walking across the stage, getting my diploma, and thinking, ‘I am not going to be doing this for more than a year,’” he recalled.
Upon exiting college, Holt settled in New York City, taking on a variety of jobs — mostly in retail — while searching within himself for his true career calling. During that time he would hang out with his older brother Stephen, who happened to be a comic book collector.
“I was around comics as a kid, but I really didn’t read them,” Holt conceded. “I was more into the cartoons.”
But Stephen encouraged Jeremy to peruse his collection, and the younger sibling eventually acquiesced. One of the comic books made a particularly big impression on Jeremy: Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” a chapter of the Bat-Man saga with Bruce Wayne as an older man trying to save Gotham.
“It was a very humanistic telling of a superhero,” Holt said. He realized comic book protagonists could be multi-faceted and compassionate, rather than simply the one-dimensional action figures of his childhood.
Inspired, Holt visited comic book shops around the city to get a sense of which books were hitting the right notes with readers. He began reading such comics as “DMZ” and “Y: The Last Man,” the story of the last living male on Earth.
“It wasn’t until I read ‘Y: The Last Man’ that I thought, I want to try to write a comic book,” Holt said.
He had this creative epiphany during a low period in his life.
“It was in 2008, I was living in the West Village, and my bank account was negative, my credit card was maxed-out and I had a bag of cashews to get me through three days,” Holt recalled. “I thought, ‘I’m just going to sit and write.”
He wasn’t even sure at that time of the process for writing a comic; he simply decided to ‘let it out.’”
“I just started writing, and six weeks later, I had kind of a really awful draft of a script that I sent to my brother,” Holt smiled. “It was a zombie story, ‘Death Tax.’”
Jeremy’s zombie treatise did not attract a publisher back then, but has since been rediscovered and will come out later this year. Jeremy has worked diligently to get his foot in the comic book production door. During the early days, he used college contacts (one college friend works at Dark Horse Comics) and a brother in the film industry, among others, to get his scripts to the right people in the comics industry.
He also met some comics editors through his alma mater in Savannah. And while working at an Apple Store, he helped a DC Comics editor with her computer and in the process received some good advice.
“I started going to conventions, and that helped me learn how to write,” said Holt, who also learned how to accept rejection and apply constructive criticism of his work.
Holt would do a lot of his writing late into the night after working two jobs during the day.
“It started to click,” Holt said. “When I fell into comics, it was the first time I thought, ‘I don’t have to think about this; I get up and I want to do it.’”
He and his wife, Sarah Laursen, moved to Middlebury in December 2013. Laursen is an assistant professor of history of art and architecture, and curator of Asian art for Middlebury College.
When he isn’t working on comics, Holt is toiling as tech specialist for the Addison Central Supervisory Union schools.
His latest creation, “Southern Dog,” was inspired by a dream.
“I had a dream about a werewolf fighting off a bunch of (Ku Klux) Klansmen,” Holt said. “It was very vivid imagery, but I didn’t know what to do with it.”
He let the idea simmer in his mind for a few months and thought about the broader topic of racism. As an Asian American, Holt has unfortunately had to deal with racism — even when he lived in the big melting pot of New York City.
“I decided I wanted to write about (racism), even though it was a very hard thing to do,” Holt said. “I started drafting a story.”
He researched the Ku Klux Klan and how that movement has changed through the years. His research and creativity helped flesh out the character of Jasper, the adolescent star of “Southern Dog.” Jasper and his family live in the Deep South, in an atmosphere where hunting is the top pastime and the old ways of racial intolerance are evident. Jasper faces the struggle of trying to reconcile his more progressive views on race without alienating his family — particularly his dad.
On one hunting trip, Jasper is bitten by a werewolf. His transformations into the beast occur when he becomes stressed.
Think “Teen Wolf” in the Deep South.
Holt pitched his story and 215 Inc. debuted “Southern Dog” in 2012. But production stalled. Fortunately, Action Lab Entertainment resurrected the comic two years later. They committed to printing all four, 22-page “Southern Dog” comics.
The publication was very well received.
“It did really well out of the gate,” Holt said.
He chalks up that success, in part, to the considerable talents of his “Southern Dog” collaborators. Riley Rossmo, a well-known comic book artist, did the stunning cover art. And artist Alex Diotto and Holt brought Jasper and his alter ego to life with vivid images and evocative dialogue.
All four issues of “Southern Dog” are consolidated in a recently released graphic novel. Jeremy signed copies of his publication at the Vermont Book Shop this past Saturday. “Southern Dog” can also be found on-line at Amazon, comixology.com and at various comic book shops. He has heard that “Southern Dog” has been selling out at comic book shops in Toronto, New York and London. This is not to say he is getting rich creating comics. He gets a percentage of the proceeds on each comic sold. Bigger money, Holt noted, would come if he were hired at DC, Marvel or some of the other comics publishing company. And if “Southern Dog” is ever adapted into a film, he stands to get a very nice payday.
But Holt is very content here in Vermont and feels fortunate to be able to telecommute for his comic book projects. One of his favorite creative haunts was Cursive Coffee in downtown Middlebury, where he could write and sip java with few distractions.
Jeremy has moved on to his next project, which has as its backdrop a fictional Wall Street crash in 2008.
“With each story I write, I feel I have gotten better than the last story,” Holt said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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