“Eve takes place during the 1820s in Newton County — a place uninhabitable to most civilized people. The Osage population had already been run out, and only the occasional French fur trapper wandered through. It’s a place where folklore is real; at least in the eyes of an 8-year-old adventurer…”
By Terrah Baker
When I first opened the e-mail containing the comic strip “Eve of the Ozarks,” the young, fairy-like girl with ruffled hair and torn clothes mesmerized me. As I read along through her adventures with other illustrated friends — like Hieronymus, the cantankerous mountain goat — I couldn’t help but smile at her rough charm and adventurous spirit.
The storylines were based on mythical ideas from the mind of the creator, but they exhibited the tone, attitude and design of Ozark folklore passed down through generations, and almost forgotten about in our culture.
“This 8-year-old, rowdy child getting into adventures with ghosts and monsters and in this completely magical setting,” creator Gustav Carlson said. “I’d never considered doing that before. It was never in my ideas to be an Ozark comic book artist. There’s not any, arguably.”
He wanted a simple project; something he already knew about. And what does a kid from the Arkansas mountain town of Jasper — population maybe 500 — know more about than Ozark culture? Then, a friend lent him the book “Ozark Magic and Folklore” by Vance Randolf.
“It’s the history of folk remedies and stories. It has spells, myths and tons of great things,” he explained.
So drawing a girl talking to a goat about fighting the dark spirit of the mountain, or discussing logic with a halved-worm in her apple, seemed only appropriate.
This wasn’t his first drawing project. He said he’s been drawing since he can remember, and has always wanted to tell stories. Between living on a mountain and reading comic books as a child, he seemed poised to create Eve. Plus, he said he wanted to make a comic strip like they did in the old days.
“Where each issue was a fun adventure and to explore a fairly different world,” Carlson said. “Where you don’t have to have a history book summary of this character, you can just jump into it.”
Eve takes place during the 1820s in Newton County — a place uninhabitable to most civilized people. The Osage population had already been run out, and only the occasional French fur trapper wandered through. It’s a place where folklore is real; at least in the eyes of an 8-year-old adventurer.
But Carlson couldn’t make a humble career on the Eve website and books alone. Following comic book trends of going online, Eve is part of Carlson’s website Backwood Folk: The Ozark Webcomic, where his other characters can be found. There, fans can download his work for a price of their choosing — from $0 and up. He also does commissioned work from organizations, individuals, other artists and events, like illustrations for the movie The Natural State of America, about herbicides used in Newton County, the very town he grew up in; or a poster for a women’s rights rally in Little Rock last month.
One of his latest projects will be illustrations for a documentary following the events of the thousands of black birds that died in Beebe, Ark. on New Year’s Eve in 2010, called “The Night The Blackbirds Fell.” His animation will be interspersed throughout the film, linking segments to essentially tell the narrative. That’s set to be released in the near future, but it’s still in the process of production and can release few details, he said. [www.facebook.com/TheNightTheBlackbirdsFell]
His ultimate goal would be to get Eve and other Backwood characters to potential fans, which he does through his site and acquaintances or friends working on other projects. So far, he continues to receive more work after moving to Fayetteville just a short time ago; including breaking even on a print run of Eve, the first day it was released.
“My room looks like a UPS shipping room at the moment, sending out books and stuff. I’d love to have an actual publisher, and the goal is to do comics,” he said.
With some extra exposure, and the release of a film featuring his illustrations, the rest of the world is sure to catch on to the sassy 8-year-old, her fantastic world of myth and folklore, and the artist that makes it all come to life.
To see more Backwood Folk, Eve and to learn more about Carlson’s work, visit his website, www.backwoodfolk.com. Look for Eve and other Backwood Folk in future Free Weekly’s.