Kismet to Comic Book in The Unfortunates

The Expanded Universe of The Unfortunates 
By Shannon Stockwell 
While super heroes like Deadpool, Ant Man, and The Avengers take over the big screen, the world of graphic novels also finds a home in live theater. The Unfortunates, the larger-than-life musical journey of Big Joe and his giant fists, is a visually stunning story that the San Francisco Chronicle says "could have emerged from the pages of a comic book.” 
Throughout the creation process of The Unfortunates, writer and actor Ramiz Monsef kept telling his collaborators, “We need to do a comic book for this!” To Monsef, an ardent comic-book fan, the world they were creating was perfect for the graphic-novel format. But there was a problem: Monsef can’t draw. “It was an equation I couldn’t finish myself,” he says.

But one day, after a performance during the show’s run at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Monsef was told that there was a man backstage who wanted to speak with him. This man was comic-book artist Daniel Duford, who was rendered speechless by the Unfortunates experience, “not only because it’s so moving, but also I was thinking, ‘Oh my god, that’s like my work, but onstage!”

Images from the Unfortunates graphic novel, by Daniel Duford and Ramiz Monsef.

Duford happened to be in Ashland curating an exhibit at the Schneider Museum of Art called Fighting Men, which featured the work of painter Leon Golub, ceramicist Peter Voulkos, and comic-book artist Jack Kirby. Kirby’s work was a particularly important influence for the creators of The Unfortunates, so the meeting felt like kismet. “All of a sudden, I found someone that spoke the language I’d been trying to speak with other people for a long time,” says Monsef.

That summer, Duford and his wife, Tracy Schlapp, began to produce posters featuring characters from The Unfortunates, and then created an eight-page comic book about Stack O’Lee, one of the villains in the play. The collaboration between Monsef and Duford flourished, and they commenced work on a full-length Unfortunates graphic novel that functions as a prequel to the musical. They hope that viewers of the play will also read the comic book and vice versa. “It’ll add emotional impact to what Big Joe goes through,” says Duford. 

*To learn more about the world of The Unfortunates, click here to purchase a printed or digital copy of Words on Plays, A.C.T.'s in-depth performance guide series. All proceeds go to our ACTsmart education programs, serving teachers and students throughout the Bay Area. 

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