A Local NH Comic Book for Charity

Super nerds to the rescue!

Once upon a time, these mild-mannered outcasts lived on the fringes of society, waving their plastic lightsabers and exchanging secret buzzwords. Now, with nerd culture on the rise, bringing technological advances, blockbuster movies and even geek-chic fashion trends, will they use their newfound powers for good? Ask the boys at Manchester’s Double Midnight Comics and they’ll tell you the heroic saga has already begun.

It’s Free Comic Book Day and the line outside Double Midnight Comics stretches for the equivalent of a city block. Costumed characters of all ages are clamoring to get their claws (some do have actual claws) on free samples, ranging from traditional Batman and Superman titles to the less-menacing SpongeBob and My Little Pony. Few suspect that the guys behind the goodie bags have a secret agenda. They are about to unleash a new breed of “underage” superhero — one who fights the evil scourge of middle school bullies and who can potentially make terminally ill children feel like they can fly.

Across the street from Gill Stadium, the Maple Valley Plaza parking lot hosts a delightful mash-up of cosplay, or costumed role play, perfect for nonstop photo-ops. Sitting picnic-style on a blanket, Iron Man and his Iron Girlfriend romantically share a two-liter of Mountain Dew while playing Magic Cards. Spider-Man crawls on the hood of the Ghostbusters Ectomobile, a few minutes after flirting with Catwoman. Mr. T from “Rocky III” and “The A-Team” fame (hey, a whole generation of kids didn’t grow up with him) gives a bear hug to The Tick, lifting him a few feet off the ground. The Tick soon returns the favor, carrying the burly Mr. T as if he were his svelte bride.

On the sidelines, a cavity-plagued Zombie Stormtrooper generates lots of oohs and aahs by gently cradling a Baby Ewok in his arms. The decaying Daddy Deathtrooper is Brian Anderson, a 37-year-old engineer from Waltham, Mass. “Even though they are an hour away from home, Double Midnight feels like my local shop,” he says, revealing that the Ewok is his 16-month-old daughter Mina. “They are extremely active in the fan community and that is appreciated. They don’t have to throw an enormous party for us, but they do.”

Scriptwriter Brett Parker, TV producer Allen Pinney and Double Midnight Comics overlord Chris Proulx are teaming up to bring "Tyler Worth, Underage Superhero" (illustrated above) to life in print and on the big screen to benefit a good cause.
Photo by Violet Marsh Photography

Creating a New Hero

These kind of character block parties as well as their everyday workplace banter have inspired Double Midnight Comics founders Brett Parker and brothers Chris and Scott Proulx to embark on their most ambitious project yet — launching a New Hampshire-born superhero. Here’s a sneak snippet of that new hero’s inner voice:

“I have it on good authority that the world is going to end. The same good authority insists that I will be the one who will stop it. There are so many more qualified. MetaHawk, Defiance, HydroStorm, KnightDevil, Reflex. None of them, apparently, are up to the task. It falls on me, Tyler Worth. I mean, I don’t even have a cool hero name. Yet. But for now, I have more important problems than stopping the end of the world. Like a bloody nose. And the wrath of my Dad.”

Tyler Worth is a middle school superhero, a fearless seventh grader who saves a classmate from four ninth grade bullies in the opening scene. The 13 year old gains one of his first fans in the school nurse, who is helping him recover from a bloody nose. Tyler, the superhero without a “cool hero name” later meets with “The Stranger,” a supernatural mentor who gives him a mysterious black wristband that magnifies his speed, strength and agility.

Are you ready for Tyler Worth the Movie, Tyler Worth the Comic Book and Tyler Worth Happy Meals and video games?

The movie, a 20-minute short, is slated to be shot this summer with as many New Hampshire actors, producers, directors, editors, artists, costumers and other theatrical professionals as possible. The catch? The plan is that they’re all going to work for free — to raise money and awareness for Florida’s Give Kids the World Village, a 70-acre “storybook resort” offering week-long Disney vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

Free Comic Book Day has become an annual rally for fans of the graphic storytelling medium. Above is Double Midnight co-owner Scott Proulx with Macdaniel Macleod (as Mr. T).
Photo by Darren Garnick

Parker, a diehard Walt Disney World buff, first heard about the charity on his way to work while listening to the DIS Unplugged Podcast, now running a “Power of 10” campaign to raise $1 million for Give Kids the World.

“The biggest misconception about being a filmmaker is that you need money,” he says. “You don’t need money to make a movie. You need stuff. It is very liberating to not be roaming around asking your friends for money.”

Scriptwriter Parker’s currency-free utopia might work for the actual production, but money needs to come back into the picture once the film is made. The business plan is to raise donations for Give Kids the World through special screenings, digital downloads, sales of a companion comic book (offering bonus material, not a rehash of the film), T-shirts with the yet-to-be determined hero logo and by auctioning off original artwork from popular comic book artists in their network.

Chris Proulx says the recruitment of volunteers will combine the best aspects of Kickstarter fundraising and outreach with the simplicity of a wedding registry: “We need a make-up artist. We need a DP. Maybe your uncle owns a pizza place? We’ll need lunch for our cast and crew.”

The Double Midnight team is hoping that their movie’s philanthropic spirit attracts cameos from some of New Hampshire’s most famous celebrities. That irreverent school nurse who roots for the bullies to get beaten to a pulp? Hello, Sarah Silverman. Wouldn’t “Glee” dad Mike O’Malley be the perfect superhero dad? How about Sam Huntington, who played Jimmy Olsen in “Superman Returns,” as the mentor for Tyler Worth?

The call is out to NH celebs like (clockwise from top left) Seth Meyers, Sam Huntington, Sarah Silverman and Mike O'Malley to volunteer for roles in the Tyler Worth movie. (Silverman would also make a great Catwoman.)

And if Saturday Night Live’s Seth Meyers shows up at 245 Maple Street in tights, expect the director to create a new sidekick — perhaps a guidance counselor or curriculum specialist?

Casting fantasies aside, the success or failure of “The Amazing True Life Adventures of Tyler Worth, Underage Superhero” doesn’t depend on its audience being starstruck. Parker says they are banking on the same kind of compelling storytelling that draws customers to their store in the first place.

“The joke is that our working title is actually longer than the film,” he says.

Growing Against the Odds

This month Double Midnight celebrates its 11th anniversary. The shop doubled in size three years ago, taking over a vacant space next door — a remarkable development given that national comic book sales have been experiencing the same dramatic declines as the rest of the print media industry. A blockbuster comic 20 years ago used to sell more than a million copies. Now a hugely successful title might sell in the tens of thousands.

At the top of the media food chain, where Disney recently gobbled up Marvel, comic books are no longer considered a lucrative business because of the books themselves. It’s the role of the comic book as a creative incubator for tomorrow’s blockbuster movies and licensing deals.

But the Proulxs and Parker do make their livelihood off the comics — a testimony to their understanding of the niche market and willingness to try almost anything to bring in new readers. The trio is also the brain trust behind the Granite State Comicon, which this September will increase from one to two days at the Radisson Manchester Downtown.

“People think it’s all about hanging out and getting to read comics all day,” says Scott Proulx, who is also an eighth grade special education teacher at Manchester’s Middle School at Parkside. “What they don’t realize is that there is so much to do behind the scenes: cleaning, organizing events, paying bills and ordering product that we don’t get to return. So ordering is almost a science. But getting to bring the books home to read is a great perk.”

Manchester artist and illustrator Dan Larson is providing the concept sketches and storyboards for the superhero movie. You can see his work at the top of the story – that's a photo of his illustration of "Tyler Worth, Underage Superhero."
Photo by Violet Marsh Photography

“Our goal is for Double Midnight to be a comfortable place to hang out even if you don’t buy something every time you’re here,” explains Parker. “When you walk in here, right off the bat you have something in common with us and other customers. We want this place to be like (the sitcom) ‘Cheers.’”

It is fitting that Brett compares himself to a TV bartender. During a shift a few days before Free Comic Book Day, he heard two unsolicited customer confessionals within a few minutes of each other. One guy shared how he was coping with the stress of his mother’s increasing medical bills, while another woman revealed her recent diagnosis of cancer.

Beyond those intimate customer moments, Double Midnight usually engages in far more lighthearted community building. For this year’s local premiere of “Iron Man 3,” they bought out a full screening at Londonderry’s Apple Tree Cinema and sold $6 discount tickets to their customers. The movie was prefaced by comic book raffles and superhero trivia contests.

For the 2011 premiere of the “Captain America” movie, they challenged fans to join a “Human Captain America Shield” that could be seen from the air. Customers were given large red, white or blue squares to hold above their heads and they were organized in a concentric circle to replicate the hero’s logo. The event was staged to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured troops transition to civilian life. The Proulx brothers’ father is a veteran who served in Iraq.

Time to Make a Movie

“The Amazing True Life Adventures of Tyler Worth, Underage Superhero” will be directed by Hooksett’s Allen Pinney, a freelance TV producer who currently works on the weekly Double Midnight videocasts and previously worked with Parker on an offbeat travelogue Web series.

“You don’t need to be in Boston or New York to make things happen,” Pinney says. “We have a great film community in New Hampshire, just as we have a great tight-knit comics community. First and foremost, this project has to be fun. We have to all enjoy what we’re doing or it won’t be worth it for anyone.”

For the 2011 premiere of "Captain America," Double Midnight organized this "human shield" composed entirely of fans.

“I first got to know these guys as a customer. The fact that the store is booming at a time when the overall economy is struggling is a testimony to their personalities, their connection to their customers and their openness to everyone,” he adds.

None of the Double Midnight owners will be acting in the new movie, though you can catch Parker and Chris Proulx marching as Thor and Captain America respectively in Manchester’s annual Spirit of New Hampshire Christmas Parade. No strangers to filmmaking, they are also two of the original co-founders of the New Hampshire Film Festival (formerly called the NH Film Expo) and have witnessed hundreds of examples of what makes short films succeed or flop with audiences.

Their first experience as independent filmmakers was in 1999, when they made a rough-around-the-edges 90-minute comedy called “Nowheresville.” (See sidebar below) The film suffered from a series of technical problems, but the childhood friends (classmates at Manchester’s Memorial High School a decade earlier) rented out the Palace Theatre and sold out two screenings, thanks to lots of dedicated friends.

“We have so many more connections now,” notes Parker. “I don’t think we’re going to raise a million dollars for those kids, but it would be wonderful to be able to help in any way we can. Plus, we want to prove we’re not done with our filmmaking careers. Between running the store and having families, we haven’t had much time to give it another shot.”

“We’ve learned so much since ‘Nowheresville,’” agrees Proulx. “We know what we’re capable of now — and it’s time to reinvent ourselves.”

For more information on how you can support New Hampshire’s Underage Superhero and Give Kids the World Village (pictured below), visit dmcomics.com.

Blue Ear & Beyond: Comics for A Cause

Double Midnight’s efforts to make a superhero movie to benefit terminally ill children visiting Disney World follows a long tradition of the comics community using its creativity to help others. Last year, preschooler Anthony Smith, of Salem, NH, was the model for “Blue Ear,” a new Marvel superhero who is hearing-impaired. Marvel created the character after the boy’s mother, Christina D’Allesandro, wrote that he would not wear his hearing aid because “superheroes didn’t wear them.”

Anthony Smith of Salem and the Marvel comic he inspired.
Cover courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Inspired by 5-year-old Anthony’s nickname for his hearing aid, Blue Ear uses his blue super hearing device to detect and respond to faraway cries for help. In February 2013 Anthony and his family were made honorary Avengers in New York at a ceremony hosted by Iron Man.

Collaborating with Phonak, the largest hearing aid distributor in the world, Marvel has created an Iron Man and Blue Ear poster (download here) for medical offices across the country, educating kids about the challenges faced by peers with disabilities.

Other examples of superhero altruism crossing into the real world:

  • CHaD Hero Half Marathon & Ripcord 5K: Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s main Lebanon campus hosts an annual superhero race attracting hundreds of Batmans, Supermans and Wonder Women. The fundraising event was founded by Olympic ski jumper Jeff Hastings, a graduate of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. The next race is Oct. 20.
  • Superhero Safety Net: The Hero Initiative is a nonprofit organization set up by comic book publishers to raise funds for writers and artists who have hit hard times. Recent action includes covering the medical bills for some of the creative people behind Iron Man, Daredevil, Batman, G.I. Joe, Spider-Man, Archie, Sgt. Rock and Howard the Duck.
  • Occupy Wall Street Comics: In May 2013, DC Comics launched “The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires,” a superhero story about the wealthiest one percent demographic with a twist: “Money Can Buy Them Happiness — And They Want to Share it With You!”

— Compiled by Darren Garnick

That's author Darren Garnick on the right at the CHaD Hero Half Marathon & Ripcord 5K.

Return to Nowheresville

A nostalgic look back on a film where everything that could go wrong did — but the audience didn’t care.

The casting was simple: Hey, wanna be in our movie? Show up! Chris Proulx and Brett Parker, who co-founded the New Hampshire Film Festival in 2001 and brought The 48 Hour Film Project to Manchester in 2009, had no formal training when they dove into their first feature film, “Nowheresville," In the summer of 1999.

The story could be described as “The Hangover: Manchester Edition” meets “Good Will Hunting.” Here's the plot according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) page: “'Nowheresville' is the tale of Sam, Nick, Randy and Jerry, four childhood friends that are virtually inseparable — that is until Nick decides he’s moving to Los Angeles. On the night before he’s set to leave, the other guys hatch a plan to convince him to stay. Do they succeed or do they fail? Only one thing is certain: on this last night in 'Nowheresville,' anything can happen and probably will!”

Matt Dionne (Randy), Brett Parker (Sam), Chris Proulx (Jerry) and Bill Cote (Nick) in a still from 1999's "Nowheresville"

The premiere was at Manchester’s Palace Theatre, which the filmmakers rented out and packed with friends.

“There were 800 seats and we wound up selling out the 7 p.m. screening and close to selling out the 9 p.m. show,” recalls Proulx. “Everyone was excited about seeing a locally produced film, but the film wasn’t quite finished.”

“We had sound and lighting issues throughout and about three-fourths into the film, there was no sound at all for an entire scene. But the entire cast was in the audience and they started shouting out their lines,” he adds. “We did it for the second show too.”

The Portsmouth Herald was kind in its review, comparing the irreverent antics of Proulx (Jerry) to Adam Sandler.

“'Nowheresville' is quite absurd, but no more so than many, many Hollywood films that make the big screen. Proulx and Parker wanted to explore why so many of their friends tend to move away from New Hampshire, to bigger cities such as Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Consequently, ‘Nowheresville’ is populated with poor saps who sculpt with fudge, taunt unassuming mascots and laugh at bodily functions. Nick never actually has to explain why he wants to leave, because it’s so obvious.”

Proulx is a much harsher critic.

“We had way too much cursing in the movie. Swears in dialogue are fine in moderation, but we were dropping F-bombs left and right,” he says. “But even though the movie had plenty of things go wrong, that was the best summer of my life hanging out with my friends.”

Parker’s memories are similarly split between “equal parts ecstasy and equal parts sick to my stomach.”

“Unexpectedly, there was so much stress involved in making a comedy,” he says. “In many ways, this was a lot more of a drama because some people weren’t getting along on the set. This new film is our second chance. We’ve learned so much from our mistakes and need to prove to ourselves that we’re not done yet.”

— Darren Garnick