ITHACA, N.Y. –– Following a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the comedy-turned-Lovecraftian horror comic “ITHAQA” is going on tour and making a stop in the city that shares its name to meet fans face to face and raise additional funds to grow the project.

The tour, which will take place at the end of the month, coincides with second major Kickstarter campaign which aims to raise funds to print new issues.

The comic was created by Ithaca College alumnus Michael Watson who said the seed for the story was planted “in a nightmare” while he was studying film at IC in 2013. It first started out as a script, but that got too big for a film.

Years after that, he said he and friends played the roleplaying game, “Call of Cthulhu,” which he described as a supernatural “Clue.” As part of that game, players create characters. When it finally clicked that his story should be a comic book, he began to develop characters that were loosely based on some from his friends’ gameplay in “Call of Cthulhu.”

Watson will be in the area from March 20th through March 28th.

The idea to go on tour began with a plan to simply set up a booth at Ithacon, the local comic book convention, but has since grown to include several other events.

“Because our Kickstarter was successful enough to print over 500 copies, we were able to feel that we had enough of a backstock (of printed copies) now so we can show up to conventions. And so I reached out to Ithacon months and months and months ago, they said yes,” Watson said. 

In Ithaca, Watson’s tour kicks-off with a book-signing, reading and Q&A at Buffalo Street Books on Friday, March 20 at 5 p.m.

A booth will be set up at Ithacon on Saturday and Sunday, March 21 and 22​ at Ithaca College. Watson takes ITHAQA to Comics For Collectors on Wednesday, March 25​. Then to wrap up will be a comic book creation workshop for kids with the Wharton Studio Museum and The History Center taking place at the Tompkins Center for History & Culture the morning of Saturday, March 28.

More tour stops, possibly Elmira and Syracuse –– will be announced as they are confirmed.

The ITHAQA comic weaves into the narrative the real rich history of the silent film industry in Ithaca, especially the Wharton Film Studio. The studio, whose history is preserved today by the Wharton Studio Museum, produced films on the shores of Cayuga Lake from about 1914 to 1920. It was established by brothers Theodore and Leopold Wharton, and while they were producing films they had elaborate sets and brought famous movie stars to Ithaca.

Though the film studio left Ithaca in the early 1920s, the comic “Ithaqa” toys with the alternate universe in which the Wharton brothers remained in Ithaca and got into bootlegging.

“Often having a backdrop of actual history grounds the piece in something that was real and interesting. And so, setting it in Ithaca, I wanted to learn more about the history of Ithaca at the time,” Watson said. 

The Wharton Studio Museum has continued to support the ITHAQA team not only with their research, but financially as well –– they are cosponsoring the Buffalo Street  Books event.

The comic characters have been brought to life by Theresa Chiechi, an illustrator based in Manhattan who graduated from the School of Visual Arts New York City with a BFA in Cartooning.

She said working with Watson has been a pleasure, and she really loves the world he has created in ITHAQA.

“It’s really an honor to be able to bring his characters and his story to life,” she said.

The other members of the ITHAQA team are Lucas Gattoni, a letterer living in Argentina; and Lisa Villamil, an actress, playwright and fellow alumnus of Ithaca College as his editor.

“I serve as a sounding board for him to get all of his ideas out and to form the best story that he can form,” Villamil said. 

As someone who has a soft spot for her former college town, she is excited for readers to see their city in the comics pages.

“Many of the locations are locations that people from Ithaca would recognize even now,” she said. “And Michael’s also done this great job of pulling in historical elements like the film industry and throwing that into the story of ITHAQA. So it’s very heavily tied to the city of Ithaca as a location.”

People who pledge to fund the comic via Kickstarter will not only receive physical copies, but will also be able to receive bonus rewards that range from art prints, to even being drawn into future issues.

If successfully funded on Kickstarter, I​THAQA,​ Issues 2 and 3 will be 72 pages long and continue the 12 issue story arc that kicked off last year.

Anna Lamb

Anna Lamb is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at alamb@ithacavoice.com