Let’s Go to Utah

Nightmares, wild-eyed vigilantes, local music cameos and a mysterious yet deadly stretch of desert are just a few of the things Dave Chisholm's comic series, Let's Go To Utah, offers. "When you're driving through the west," says Chisholm, "maybe on tour with a band or friends, stuff goes through your mind. You see a house in the middle of nowhere and you think, 'I could go in there and kill everyone and nobody would notice—nobody would know for months and months.' Or you just wonder what's in the back of a trucker's trailer and if he's really a trucker or if he's killing people and taking their goods." Chisholm smiles. "So it starts with that."

With visual nods taken from Paul Pope and Frank Quitely, it's surprising to learn that he's only begun to draw comics professionally within the last year. While he dabbled in art in high school, Chisholm opted for a music major in college rather than art. "I was going to be an art major, but the music department offered me more money," he says. "I did really well. I was a jazz major, but when I got to the end I got really bored with jazz and got into rock and pop music."

Eventually Chisholm found himself in a successful local band [The Brobecks], which came close to a national label signing several times. But as individual tastes became more apparent and the members grew distant, things fell through. "Seeing the music industry from that side really soured it for me," Chisholm says. "I learned that talent has nothing to do with success. The only thing that matters is how much you network and how much you're willing to sell yourself." After breaking away from the band, Chisholm stopped writing music altogether. "It was a weird phase for me. I was writing a couple of songs a week, and then nothing. But that's when I started drawing again."

Only seriously drawing since last June, Chisholm has already penned more than four issues in his nine issue series, releasing the first issue last month and slating the release of issue two for early April [Editors note: It's already out now!]. Despite it being his first attempt at a comic (let alone publishing) he's taken it in stride. "It's been a big learning period for me," he says. "Just trying to take as much as you can from every source—from everyone who's willing to help you.

But it didn't come easy. Once he picked up a pencil again, he wasn't sure where to start in regards to story. "Initially I wanted someone else to write the story, because I wasn't confident in my writing skill. I got to the point where everything I read (not that it wasn't good,) wasn't what I was looking for. After a while I realized that I knew what I wanted to do, and [Let's Go To Utah] is what came out. I brainstormed for about a month with my girlfriend and my friend, Pete, and came up with the idea for this book and its beginning, middle, and end, and everything like that." But while he might not be finished with the entire project, he knows where it's going. "It's mostly up here," he says, tapping his temple. "All nine issues, and that's all it is. Originally it was going to be, like, twelve issues or ten, but there were a few things that I couldn't do because of copyright stuff." And some of that copyright included music.

In the first issue alone, Chisholm features two songs from local bands: "David's Country" from Band of Annuals and "I Know, I Know" from his new group, Let's Become Actors. "Originally it was Willie Nelson and Talking Heads for the two musical cues in this first issue, and as it got closer to 'I know I want to print this,' I thought, "I can't do that. I can't sell that." I mean, I probably could get away with it for a very small number," he says with a smirk. "But if it's successful? So I brainstormed and thought to myself, 'how can I do this?' Then I thought it might be even cooler to use this to try and promote Utah bands or regional bands even." In addition to the local bands, Chisholm features Albuquerque band, Soular, in his second issue, usually opting for music to act as a comparable "Greek chorus" rather than using internal monologue.

In fact Chisholm completely avoids internal monologue altogether, something he considers to be overused and poorly done by the majority of the industry. "I hate interior monologue, and so many comics use it. There's only a few people that I feel do it well, and I'm certainly not one of them." But it's not just something Chisholm decided to do on a whim. It's an artistic decision he feels strongly about. "It forces you to eliminate that story-telling element," he says. "Forces you to be more clever with your art instead. You're putting yourself in those boundaries and it makes you show it rather than tell as much."

That's not to say the art is overkill. While the story is essentially an action/thriller piece, Chisholm doesn't fall victim to gratuitous violence and language like many of his indie-comic brethren. He censors where needed, and saves violence for the most tense of scenes, keeping his reader even more on the edge of their seat by holding back. "There's always a better way to tell a story than having really graphic violence all the time," he says. "And I think the more you put it in—the less effective it becomes. It's like if you were to have really bright colors in the whole comic book all the time, whereas you have that scene in 'Schindler's List' with that girl in the red dress; it makes that color that much more effective. That's what I'm kind of going for." From tense action sequences to breathtaking black and white washes of the Canyonlands, each turn of the page has the ability to take your breath way. "And you always want those moments to be right here on this page," he says, slamming his hand on the table, "so when you turn the page it's like, 'wow, that's awesome.'"

Chisholm has an innate ability to balance art with story, and can keep a reader's attention in check without saying a word. LGTU's third issue opens with a massive event that would take little over a minute in real-time; Chisholm spreads it over the course of ten pages. He hopes readers will 'just tear through that first half of the issue,' calling it the strongest one he's written yet. But with another month until the third release, Chisholm hopes there is story enough in the first two issues to keep readers coming back. A fan of the television series, Lost, Chisholm talked about how it influenced him in writing LGTU. "They end each episode at this super-tense moment so that you can't not see the next one. I knew I had to figure out where those moments are in my story, you know? 'What just happened?' 'Did he kill somebody?'" Chisholm ends the first issue with both those questions, but things get better from there. "The end of the second issue is pretty tense, and the third issue really ups the ante a lot more. Fourth issue is kind of a breathing point, but it's still pretty frustrating. But then by the fifth issue, you kind of have an idea of ... " What's going on in this world of his? Chisholm makes a face. "Maybe. But not everything."

With a gripping story and beautiful artwork, Chisholm's LGTU just might be the real deal, and a good introduction for anyone who's ever considered picking up a comic. "I think people who love comics will like it, but I also think that people who may be hesitant to get into comics because either the characters are ridiculous or the series is on issue six-hundred; it's just daunting, where do you start? I think this is a book that—from what I've seen—people that aren't into comics really enjoy as well." LGTU is available for purchase from Black Cat Comics ("And I want it to be on the record that they are totally awesome.") and online from Dave Chisholm's website for the series, letsgotoutah.com.