Ann Arbor webcomic creator Bill Kerschbaum builds "Forge" with Hammer and Nail
Independent content marketer Bill Kerschbaum encourages his clients to consider a comics format to convey their messages.
“Video is a powerful way to tell visual stories in marketing, but comics also provide great benefits that no other medium offers. It’s a largely untapped opportunity, but it can deliver great results,” said Kerschbaum, 49, who lives in Ann Arbor with his wife and two children.
He’s also writing a webcomic series called Forge, which is illustrated by Phillip Lowe.
Based on these details, one would assume Kerschbaum’s been a lifelong comics fan, but that’s not the case.
“Actually, I came into comics pretty late," he said. "Only in the last few years. But when I discovered comics as an adult, I was absolutely floored by one series in particular: Rust by Royden Lepp. Stunning artwork and a heart-wrenching story. It’s still one of my all-time favorites."
In addition to Lepp, Kerschbaum counts comics creators Joe Kelly, Skottie Young, Karen Berger, Sara Pichelli, Fiona Staples, and G. Willow Wilson as some of the greatest influences on his work.
“Unfortunately, it’s still a male-dominated field,” he said.
A Pioneer High School alumnus, Kerschbaum earned his undergraduate degree in English from Central Michigan University and his graduate degree in educational ministries from Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Initially, he started out in youth ministry before transitioning into writing for businesses, which has led to his current work.
Throughout the years, Kerschbaum has attempted to write several novels, but he admitted he never could quite make them work.
“I loved telling stories but didn’t love the wordy descriptions novels require. When this story [Forge] came to me, something clicked on and I said, ‘This can’t be a novel. This story is a comic. It needs to be told visually!’” he recalled. “Originally, I thought I would just write a comic script, and that would be it. I can’t draw and I didn’t have a budget, so I was just going to content myself with reading a script and kind of just keeping it to myself.”
But that lasted about two weeks, Kerschbaum said: “I couldn’t stand it anymore -- I had to get it illustrated, and I had to share it with the world. Being able to see the story -- and to share it with others -- is the greatest thing.”
In Forge, Hammer and his twin sister, Nail, are on a mission to kill the gods. Their village below is caught in the crossfire of a war in the heavens. Among the casualties is their father. Hammer and Nail realize this suicide run is their only hope for survival.
“Their father has named them prophetically: Together, Hammer and Nail will rebuild their world,” said Kerschbaum. “Hammer is the main character. I wanted to create someone who sees himself as the hero -- principled, a man of action, the guy who can save the world. But it’s Nail who has a keen insight and intuitive understanding of how people work. She is thoughtful, deliberate, and crafty -- and there's an edge to her that shouldn't be taken lightly. I love the way the two of them interact with each other; each one highlights the qualities of the other.
“We all have our ideas of what heaven is like," Kerschbaum continued. "Hammer has his ideas, too. Turns out, most of them are wrong. He'll go on a journey that makes him rethink his beliefs about vengeance and justice, ultimate loyalties, and who his enemies really are. Hammer makes sacrifices to get to the heavens, but he'll make even greater sacrifices after he arrives.”
Kerschbaum declined to elaborate any further because he doesn’t want to give too much away. He and Lowe are currently finishing up Chapter 2 and gearing up to start Chapter 3.
While Kerschbaum lives in Ann Arbor, his Forge collaborative partner Lowe lives in Florida. The two were introduced through mutual connections, but they have not yet met in person.
“Phil is fantastic. I really lucked out because his illustration style is exactly what I was looking for, and we work really well together,” said Kerschbaum. “We have a video call once a week to talk through whatever the next page is -- he sends me a thumbnail sketch of the page, then we talk it through, and then he’ll send me a version that’s inked and colored. I’ll make a couple more comments, usually, then he’ll do a final version with lettering and send it my way.”
What makes Lowe stand out is his style isn’t cartoonish, according to Kerschbaum; it doesn’t look like a Marvel title.
“It has a certain realism that makes you feel like you can believe these characters’ stories," he said. "There are elements that remind me of [Fiona Staples’] unique illustrative style in Saga. He also draws inspiration from the American Western and Far Eastern art and architecture. I feel like we’ve hit a stride recently that’s resulting in some really gorgeous work. With Chapter 3, we’ll be telling a story that will involve some new visual elements, and I can’t wait to see what he does with them.”
Kurt Anthony Krug is a journalist whose articles have appeared in the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, The Ann Arbor News, The Oakland Press, Dallas Morning News, USA Today, Reuters, among many other media outlets. In addition, he has taught journalism at Michigan State University. He received his bachelor's degree in journalism/public relations from MSU and his master's degree at Wayne State University. He lives just outside of Detroit.
Visit forgecomic.com to read along.