Comic book HERO
Bluewater Productions leader finds Beaverton the right fit for his comic book empire
Growing up in the Westlake section of Los Angeles, Darren Davis thrived on energy from beloved childhood TV shows The Dukes of Hazzard, Wonder Woman, Galactica 80, Charlies Angels being filmed practically in his backyard.
I would see the General Lee go by all the time, he says of Westlake, home to a wooded Hollywood film set outpost. The Muppet Movie was filmed near my house.
While his older brother developed a quite normal fascination for baseball cards, the quirkier Davis was drawn more toward entertainment-industry heroes: small-screen network Svengalis such as Brandon Tartikoff, Fred Silverman, and Happy Days creator Garry Marshall.
I liked people creating stuff, he confesses.
These days, Davis creates his own stuff and plenty of it.
The president of Bluewater Productions Inc., Davis recently relocated the headquarters of his independent mini-empire of comic and young adult books and graphic novels from Vancouver, Wash., to Beaverton. From a small, fancifully decorated upstairs room at his Steele Way home, Davis dreams up book concepts and themes while taking care of business.
With help from a talented, mostly freelance stable of illustrators, colorists, letterers and graphics designers, Bluewater cranks out five new titles a week.
If that seems like a hefty load, well ...
It is, he admits. Its a lot of juggling and doing stuff in advance.
Essentially an ongoing, for-profit Valentine to American popular and political culture, Bluewater publishes comic books and graphic novels in partnership with acting icons William Shatner, Batman star Adam West, daredevil cyclist Evel Knievel and suspense novel author John Saul, among many others.
In addition to best-selling titles such as Wrath of the Titans, 10th Muse and The Legend of Isis, the publisher carved a niche for whimsical biographies of A-list celebrities from Jennifer Lawrence and Tina Fey to Sarah Palin and Steve Jobs.
We have gotten a lot of notoriety for creating biographies of politicians, celebrities and business executives, he notes, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, and former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch among them. We have already reached out to Nike about doing a biography on the founders, since it is right next door.
Complementing Davis unhurried, yet relentless work ethic is the 45-year-olds knack for sniffing out the Next Big Thing.
Ive always been a pop culture nut, he says. The one thing I think I have as a skill, is I can tell whats going to be hot tomorrow. I have really good timing.
That wasnt exactly the case in his formative years, as he struggled to find his place next to an over-achieving brother.
I was not a very good student. Nobody ever thought I would graduate high school, much less college, he admits. I had a problem getting into books. One day my parents threw a comic book in front of me, and I gravitated to it.
Drawing inspiration from Hanna-Barbera and Superfriends television cartoons, 1970s sitcoms and a rapidly growing collection of action figures, Davis found a way to parlay his childhood fascinations into a viable career path. Lately hes noticed his whimsical obsessions are creeping toward mainstream respectability.
Schools are starting to teach this stuff in classes, he says, noting Bluewaters biographical comics can be compelling learning tools. Some kids dont gravitate toward (traditional) books. If you give them a bio of what (someone) does, it kind of inspires them to read more.
When featuring famous folks in Bluewater publications, Davis does what he can to contact subjects and obtain their blessings legally and spiritually. Hes enjoyed positive phone interactions with Ellen DeGeneres, Betty White, Carrie Fisher and Barbara Walters.
I try to contact them first. Ill offer to donate proceeds to a nonprofit of their choice, he says.
Not everyone is so hot on being transformed into a Bluewater character, however.
If we didnt get an occasional cease and desist order, our legal team wouldnt be doing its job, he notes. Were within our First Amendment rights. If (celebrities) choose to be part of us, thats always nicer.
Davis moved Bluewater to Beaverton in late 2013 based on factors including access to affordable health insurance, proximity to his father, who lives in Newberg, and being a bit closer to Portlands verdant comic book climate.
I like suburbia, he admits, noting hes withdrawn from the hipper scene in recent years. Im kind of that round peg in a square hole. Of course, when I do a Hillary Clinton comic book, CNN is going to cover it. There are some people who think we dont warrant the attention we get.
Regardless, Davis is integrating into his new community, presenting free Comic Book 101 workshops for children and teens at local libraries in Beaverton and North Plains.
Ive always tried to reach out and support my community, he says, noting he plans to hold more workshops this summer. I should charge for them, but I dont.
Admitting the comic book and graphic novel market is not the financial gravy train it was in its digitally lighter 1990s heyday, Davis is grateful for his loyal audience.
Luckily, we jumped on the bandwagon years ago, so were ahead of the game, he says.
With Bluewaters latest, a bio comic of the late Queen frontman Freddy Mercury, hitting the shelves this week, Davis biggest challenge is figuring out how to slow down.
Im always juggling 50 books at a time, he says. I work all the time, pretty much. I dont set boundaries for myself. I should do a better job at that.
Drawing the line
What: Bluewater Productions Inc., publisher of comic books, young adult and graphic novels, biographical comics on celebrities
Where: Relocated from Vancouver, Wash., to Beaverton
Founder and president: Darren G. Davis
Website: visit bluewaterprod.com