Comic Book 'Eben07' Gains a Wide Following

Cleaning up the mess left by America's super-spies is a dirty job, but someone has to do it. 

    That job belongs to Eben07, the unassuming janitor at the center of the comic book series of the same name. 

    The comic book, which plumbs the misadventures of the bespectacled Eben07, is the brainchild of the local creative team of writer Eben Burgoon and artist-writer D. Bethel. 

    The duo's work is highly regarded in local comic book circles. The Web comic version of "Eben07" is even more popular, boasting thousands of followers. The book has fans in every state, and fans read online from as far away as Germany, said Burgoon. 

    Things have been going very well for Burgoon and Bethel, who attended the same high school in San Luis Obispo and met in Sacramento years after college. 

    Non-comic book fans have begun to take notice. Recently, Burgoon and Bethel were added to a list of 10 artists who will participate in the first "flywheel creative economy incubator" program launched by the Sacramento Arts and Business Council in collaboration with Sacramento's Urban Hive. 

    The goal of the incubator is to give interesting startups mentoring as well as a work space from which they can network. 

    Sharing a conversation with Bethel and Burgoon is akin to falling into the comic fog of a breezy story meeting with two comedy screenwriters. It is not unusual for one of them to end the other's comic point. It's as much a friendship built around the same comic sensibility as it is a serious professional partnership. 

    "The idea for 'Eben07' originated in high school as a story about undercover spies at a high school," said Bethel, who has been drawing since seventh grade and now produces the crisp and dynamic panels that move along the story. 

    "Originally, we wanted to vilify teachers we didn't like," he said. 

    That is a fitting story line, especially for Burgoon, who said administrators at his high school barred him from running for school president because of his 2.5 grade point average. The result was a forced hand count, since many students added Burgoon in as a write-in candidate. 

    This happened about the same time that the Kim Possible comic series -- which shared the same story line -- was growing in popularity. 

    The two felt compelled to nudge the story in a different direction. The birth of the comic book world's first secret-agent janitor was the result. 

    As they now have conceived him, the character Eben07 carries a gun with a toilet bowl plunger sticking out of its barrel. 

    The chatty Burgoon and the circumspect Bethel bring a dry wit to bear on the comic form. This is part of Eben07's special appeal, said Ben Schwartz, owner of the local comic book store Empire Comics Vault. 

    "There aren't many comedy books out there," said Schwartz, an avowed "Eben07" fan. "There is a lack of fun in the comic book world. Right now there's a lot of dark comics -- like the 'Walking Dead' and '30 Days of Night' ... so it's great that you can point people to 'Eben 07.' " 

    The comic book not only fills a niche, it is an example of the quality of comic talent working in the Sacramento region, he said. 

    "There's a lot of comic book talent here -- you'd be surprised," said Schwartz. "We've filled a rack here in the store just devoted to local artists." 

    Comic book artist and writer Christopher Alvarez believes there are 20 to 30 comic book writers working in the area -- and that the scene exists way below people's radar. 

    To increase visibility, Alvarez recently curated the first edition of the Guilded Castle Quarterly, an anthology reflecting the quality of what is going on locally. 

    That anthology includes an "Eben07" installment as well as Alvarez's "The Forever Endeavor," "Travels in Time" by Jon Williams and Ben Robinson, Alex Cady's "God Hates Dads" and Clave Fourie's "Committee of Chaos." 

    The quarterly has sold well, said Alvarez, who is store manager at Sacramento's Big Brother Comics. "We sold out the first print and also the second print run," he said. 

    The second edition is comes out today. Alvarez believes "Eben07" will be a big draw. 

    "I think 'Eben07' is an incredibly entertaining read," Alvarez said. "Over the years their talent has increased. The stories and art have gotten better and better. From the point at where they started to now, the comic has gotten deeper story-wise ... and they have more backstory." 

    Story is essential to Bethel and Burgoon. The two meet weekly to discuss story angles and character arcs. Burgoon writes out the first half of the book using screenwriting software and then the two meet. 

    "This is when we argue for what you want to keep," said Burgoon. "There are no bad ideas." 

    Placing a janitor at the center of the story also has allowed the two to make a statement about class. 

    "These are the working class of the espionage world," said Burgoon. 

    In this world, the arch rival is an organization called the Smithsonian Institute. That rival is at odds with janitors who try to hide facts, not display them. 

    "Preservation and secrecy is a major theme that keeps cropping up," said Burgoon. 

    The two complete about a page per week. Thirty-eight pages will be done in eight weeks, Burgoon said. On the Web they release one page per week. 

    This timeline differs vastly from what is done when a comic book is written for one of the major publishers like DC Comics -- where 24 pages are finished in one month. 

    The endeavor brings in some money, especially the Web component, said Burgoon. Their goal is to create and get production money for an animated series. 

    Until that happens, they are happy with the progress they have made with "Eben07" and the fact that the Web comic has given the two an international fan base. 

    One international fan is comic book aficionado Jason Tudor, who works for the military in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, and has been following the webcomic for years. 

    "I really like what they do and the angle they've taken," said Tudor. "It's a layered story that allows the reader to dip back and enjoy older issues and still be consistent. 

    "I think 'Eben07' stands alongside works like Penny Arcade as trendsetters of the format."

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