‘The Quarry’ Collaboration

Local author, illustrator combine forces to create graphic novel
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Detail of cover art from "The Quarry," a graphic novel.

The road to publication of The Quarry wasn’t free of rocks and ruts, but now local author Mike Salisbury and local illustrator Marvin Luna are entering the world of graphic novels with a 90-page book and a No. 1 issue sampler that was released on June 28. Releasing a section early as a special edition is a usual practice in the comic book/graphic novel industry.

“The Quarry,” a graphic novel by Marvin Luna and Michael Salisbury.

The trade paperback edition of The Quarry will be released by Scout Comics on Dec. 7, 2023, an opportune time for a graphic novel with “Christmas vibes,” according to Salisbury, who lives in Hudsonville. There are also Northern Michigan vibes, winter vibes, and coming-of-age vibes in the book.

In the novel, after a family tragedy a boy sets out with his brother’s ex-girlfriend Katie to find the perfect Christmas tree to help each other get over a loss and reclaim a bit of the holiday spirit.

“As with any coming-of-age story, you hope readers find a bit of themselves in the story, that they can relate to Katie and the boy,” said Salisbury. “And I think at the heart of The Quarry is a very Michigan story. The Michigan setting is as much a character is the characters are.”

For Luna, who lives in Holland, Michigan’s seasons played a big role. “Having spent most of my childhood in central Florida, I’m a bit of an outsider when it comes to Michigan culture and its seasons,” he said. “The falls and winters are such a shift from what I grew up with and are very distinct. I hope the visuals in The Quarry reflect that unique northern quality.”

Salisbury and Luna began their collaboration by accident back in 2013. Luna sent an illustrated postcard about a different graphic novel project to the publisher where Salisbury worked at the time. Salisbury still doesn’t know how the postcard landed on his desk, but he does know he contacted Luna about adapting his own short story “The Quarry” into a graphic novel. He had written it while at Pacific University doing his MFA and originally titled it “Don’t Call It Christmas.”

“I thought the story was beautifully written, the characters dimensional and identifiable,” said Luna. “The story was atmospherically delicate and had an economy to it that was really attractive.”

Yet Luna declined the job. Salisbury waited, tinkered, wrote and rewrote, looked at several other illustrators but nothing gelled.

Luna contacted Salisbury out of the blue years later about the project. “It took about eight years and some life experience for me to be confident about adapting this short but rich story,” Luna said.

The pair were off and running, with Salisbury trusting Luna to create illustrations for the story and Luna making the short story his own. Conveniently, both men now live in West Michigan where Salisbury works remotely for Yates & Yates as a literary agent and Luna as a freelance illustrator. Luna moved to the area when his wife took a job at Ferris State University. He has since received his BFA from Kendall College of Art and Design.

“To have a successful collaboration, the project can no longer be what it was,” said Salisbury. “The short story part is done, and the graphic novel is new and something Marvin and I share so it had to become Marvin’s too.”

Luna agrees, saying, “Mike is a great writer and I got to explore his ideas visually. His trust was so great and so big and it made me confident.”

Illustrations took several years, with back-and-forth discussion and a few changes. Salisbury had Luna change the car from a Ford to a Chevy and tweak the characters’ house a bit.

“Marvin’s talent exceeded the story,” said Salisbury. “He had brilliant ideas. My thought was to not impede his process, to let him do his thing.”

Graphic novels and comic books—close cousins that tell stories via illustrations and words—are gaining ground in the mainstream as more people realize the storytelling capabilities of the genre. They can also draw in reluctant readers who find the visuals appealing and can draw in more visually-oriented people who struggle with mainstream books.

Salisbury sees the graphic novel and comic industry as wide open to all kinds of books and stories. “I think the term ‘graphic’ creates a hurdle for some parents, but that hesitation is slowly eroding with the popularity of the novels. People are more familiar with the term, but it would be great to see more readers give books like The Quarry a chance.”

Salisbury also sees graphic novels as the “perfect marriage between story and film. In making The Quarry, it often felt to me like Marvin was directing a film. I appreciate his eye for laying out panels and creating exquisite pages. He’s a very cinematic artist.”

Both men are busy on additional projects, Salisbury working on more short stories and dreaming of a serialized comic book story. Luna is working on adapting the biblical story of Jonah into comic book form. Both are delighted at the outcome of their partnership.

Luna calls is “an ego-free collaboration” and Salisbury calls it “nothing short of a miracle.”

The No. 1 issue of The Quarry is available at Vault of Midnight, 95A Monroe Center St. NW, and at the Scout Comics website.

The Quarry is available for preorder at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and the Simon & Schuster website. Check local bookstores for preorder updates and event details.

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