Jefferson man pens full-length graphic novel
The release the Jefferson comic book artist’s first full-length graphic novel, ‘‘Plastic Farm: Sowing Seeds on Fertile Soil,” found Roberts sipping soda and waxing philosophical behind a folding table with fans, close industry friends and collaborators, and his supportive wife, Nan.
The fully illustrated, 300-page book, which he calls a ‘‘corruption of the natural world,” tells the tale of Chester Carter’s descent to madness.
The book, which he calls a ‘‘love story,” is replete with hillbilly cannibals, zombie cops and dinosaur horses. It explores themes such as ‘‘what it means to be a real person – to be completely self-aware without the pressures of a society telling you what you should be – making your own reality.”
The heady book, whose release party fell on Roberts’ 32nd birthday, comes from the mind of a man whose wife describes as ‘‘a twisted genius.”
Growing up in New Jersey, Roberts read Fantastic Four and other Marvel titles. He created his first comic in fourth grade. He earned a degree from Clemson University and now works as a pre-press operator at Phoenix Color Corp. in Hagerstown.
He moved to Frederick County in 1999, and has led a life that allows him to spend hours at a time working in what he and Nan call ‘‘the office” – a cluttered, comic-packed room in their home with an antique drawing table.
‘‘Frederick’s diverse culture enriches Rafer’s abilities, while the rural setting enables him to focus on his craft,” said Takoma Park illustrator Jake Warrenfeltz, a longtime friend of Roberts’ who did the artwork for some ‘‘Plastic Farm” issues that Roberts chose not to draw.
And Roberts’ craft is honed, though it manifests itself in a form that readers tend to either love or hate. He has a host of loyal readers and fans, but critic Johanna Draper Carlson, of industry blog Comics Worth Reading, had the following to say about the twisted comic: ‘‘I still don’t get it ... and what I do get disgusts me.”
Roberts shrugs off such criticisms, saying that ‘‘Plastic Farm” refuses to be limited by standard comic book expectations, and instead explores today’s world in unconventional ways.
‘‘What if Jesus came back as an 18-year-old drug addict?” Roberts asked as a thought exercise. ‘‘Nothing is off-limits in ‘Plastic Farm’.”
His work has also garnered rave reviews from heavy hitters in the comic world, including one of his main influences, fabled comic writer Dave Sim, of ‘‘Cerebus” fame, who reads every issue and called ‘‘Plastic Farm,” ‘‘a really strange, really engrossing good comic book.”
The book is a compilation of his individually released comics, accompanied by about 40 pages of new and un-released material. Roberts publishes his work independently, and is not employed by any comic company or label.
‘‘I do it myself. I’m 100 percent self-published,” he said. ‘‘That’s the beauty and the curse of comics. It’s very open and anyone can make them. If you have an idea for a comic, there’s no reason you can’t make a comic.”
Nan, who met Roberts online, said she sees little of him when he’s getting ink under his nails in ‘‘the office.”
‘‘Art is his life, and I’m kind of like a baseball widow or a football widow. I’m just a comic book widow. I have to have interests for when he’s doing comics, which I do,” she said. Nan writes poetry and has published a book called ‘‘12 Angry Love Poems.”
Roberts, who wore a shirt promoting Ween, one of his favorite bands and obsessions, and a colorful, cone-shaped party hat to the release party, said he will no longer print single-issue ‘‘Plastic Farm” comics, as printing costs are prohibitive.
Instead, he plans to release the series’ second feature-length installment as another graphic novel.
‘‘Plastic Farm: Sowing Seeds on Fertile Soil” is available at Beyond Comics in Frederick and at www.PlasticFarm.com.