Ka-blam: Storyboarding the comix

"I'm one of the few people who knows that Tom Cruise is secretly gay!" Colin Whitlow laughs, making a joke about the issues on his mind when he decided to write, produce, shoot, edit, and publish a graphic novel. Although his creation has nothing to do with Cruise, when reading Lavender and Other Colors, one does get the impression that the author is revealing some deep secrets.


Hollywood's transformation of a few cult classics such as Hell Boy and Sin City into blockbusters has turned the spotlight on graphic novels. But Lavender is not an ordinary graphic novel with garish colors and exaggerated drawings. In fact, there are no drawings.

Whitlow envisioned Lavender while he was a fourth-year UVA student. With his prestigious Aunspaugh fellowship, he wanted to combine his background in photography and literature in an unpredictable way. The result is the semi-autobiographical book in which traditional comic drawings are replaced with photographs.

"I wasn't really a hardcore comic fan prior to doing this," says the 26-year-old photographer. "I had to do months of research."

Five months after diving into the comic book world and honing the script, Whitlow was ready to shoot. In addition to Charlottesville residents, he photographed actors from the UVA drama department, one of the first major collaborations between students from art and drama.

"It's a good transition project for stage people who are interested in film," says Richard Warner, Whitlow's drama department advisor. "They played each part as a scene in a movie, bringing out the depth of the characters."

"I'm somewhat of a control freak," Whitlow admits, "but making the books taught me to let things go. Working with the cast opened up the characters of the story more than the lines did."

After completing Lavender, Whitlow used his own money to publish his crossover creation. His first instincts led him to comic book conventions, but he found the aficionados of that world unreceptive. "My friends into art and film have been more into my by book than comic folk have been," he says.

Last summer, Whitlow dropped by Sundance, Utah, hoping to enter a program that selects eight amateur directors from thousands of applicants and walks them through the movie-making process with established Hollywood producers and directors. Although he wasn't chosen, Whitlow snagged an art department job on a film in production and was able to generate interest in his graphic novel among other crew members.

Whitlow is now gearing up for his next big step: film school in California. Completing a project as large as a full-scale graphic novel has energized his film directing dreams.

"I learned how to go ba**s to the wall," he says. "I'm a lot less scared to jump into a project and take it on."

Colin Whitlow