The Daily Tar Heel

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Friday August 19th

Chapel Hill's Hidden Comic Genius

If only his game had more spectators.

"People are so limited in what they think of," Pratt said, sitting in his Chapel Hill studio. "They're like, 'It's a comic book -- it's for kids.' Well, it doesn't have to be for kids."

With a fine arts background and a 15-year presence in the comic industry, Pratt creates both traditional art and comics. Originally working in the world's comics capital, New York City, he moved to Chapel Hill in 1998.

Pratt's studio, surrounded by woods and filled with reference material, harbors hidden treasures. After more than a decade of work in comics, Pratt's collection of original artwork by his contemporaries is a fan's dream.

Out of a bottom drawer Pratt brought a pile of art, some unpublished, some unfinished, by such legends as Alex Toth and Mike Mignola.

One sketch by a renowned Batman illustrator showed a hefty Dark Knight wearing his cape, cowl and thong underwear, smoking a cigarette from a long holder and sweet-talking a terrified Boy Wonder.

Pratt's own take on the character was somewhat different.

December saw the hardcover publication of "Batman: Harvest Breed," a mature tale of the detective's investigation into occult killings. The trail leads Batman to a veteran's journal of the Vietnam War, its entries brought to life in striking, stylized detail.

War fascinates Pratt. He's painted covers for Harry Turtledove's "The Great War" series of novels, and much of his nonsequential art depicts the topic.

"I'm still totally captivated by the first World War," he said. "I just can't shake it."

Pratt's first big success came with the 1990 publication of "Enemy Ace: War Idyll," a fully painted graphic novel about two of this century's wars. Pratt wrote and illustrated the tale, using a title character invented decades earlier for four-color comics, Enemy Ace.

Pratt wanted to craft a more mature story, abandoning the character's original, hokey elements in favor of emotionally resonant ones. He succeeded, spinning a moving tale of a Vietnam veteran in the late '60s who visits a German World War I fighting ace on his deathbed.

Fellow comics creators nominated the book for the prestigious Harvey Award for best original graphic album, and Pratt later learned his creation had been placed on the required reading list at West Point Military Academy.

Plainly, "Enemy Ace: War Idyll" reached a different audience than the character's original comics had, Pratt said. "It was adults that picked it up, mostly. That was really gratifying. And secondly, it was people who didn't normally read comics."

Following that success, Pratt went in a more experimental direction with "See You In Hell, Blind Boy," a story about a black boy who witnesses a Klan gathering and loses his eyes as a result. Perhaps because of its subject matter, "See You In Hell, Blind Boy" is yet to find a publisher.

But Pratt's next project is already under way. Later this year, Marvel Comics will issue "Wolverine: Netsuke," a miniseries about the X-Men's iconic warrior's past in feudal Japan.

The sketch on Pratt's table -- take a look at the photo -- depicted Wolverine in traditional Japanese garb, holding two swords. You'd never know previous artists gave the character yellow latex.

That's the way George Pratt works.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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