SNOW HILL – Amid the sea of cornfields and grain silos across rural southern Worcester County, a fledging comic book company with a decidedly urban edge is emerging, the product of a group of young artists from Snow Hill High School and later the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore.
With sales for their first publication picking up and a second expected to be ready for public consumption sometime this fall, PLB Comics, is steadily gaining fans around the region and the entire country. Made up of four former Snow Hill High School graduates, including Josh and Mat Shockley, sons of County Commissioner Virgil Shockley, along with Michael Carmean and Karlton Hargrove, PLB Comics have steadily evolved from a boyhood hobby to an avocation to a potential career for the young artists and writers.
The first publication, simply called “PLB Comics Presents,” featuring five short stories, has gained critical acclaim in the sequential art world. It wouldn’t do the first book justice to call it a “comic” book in the true sense of the word because the story lines and artwork have a gritty, hard edge for the most part with dark heroes and sinister villains.
The book has generated a lot of attention at industry conventions where it has debuted including major events in Philadelphia and Baltimore. It is also available at Illusions Games and Comics in Salisbury as well as the Wicomico County Public Library. Copies of the first book can be obtained directly through the artists themselves and will soon be available on-line through the company’s website and its My Space page.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on this first book,” said Mat Shockley. “A lot of people in the industry are impressed with the work considering how young we are. There are a lot of people in this industry who are much older and have been doing it for years without finding an outlet to getting their work published.”
The four young artists grew up in Snow Hill and attended Snow Hill High School before moving on to UMES. They are all artists and writers and each brings a subtly different perspective to the table, which is often literally a kitchen or dining room table at one of their homes.
“We hope to have a studio someday, but for now, we work wherever we can find the time and the space,” said Josh Shockley. “UMES has been great. They have allowed us to use their wealth of resources.”
While they come from the same home town and continue to live and work in Snow Hill, the young artists draw from different backgrounds for their inspiration. Josh and Mat Shockley grew up on a vast family farm in Snow Hill and spent hours as young boys playing in the fields and woods nearby, creating new characters and translating their ideas and images onto paper.
“We grew up on the farm and didn’t stay inside very much,” said Mat Shockley. “We rarely watched TV and when we did, it was usually Saturday morning cartoons like the Ninja Turtles and Transformers. We created our own characters and acted out different scenarios. It wasn’t like, ‘I’ll be Batman and you be Superman.’”
Carmean had a slightly different kind of childhood from the Shockleys and drew inspiration from other sources.
“I grew up right in town and was more of an inside kid,” he said. “A lot of my inspiration came from those early video games on Nintendo and Atari. We’re also all movie freaks, especially action films, and we draw a lot of inspiration from those great action movies in the 80s.”
Each of the boys has other interests and other jobs. Mat, for example, is now a teacher at UMES. Their first love, however, continues to be their comics company, which they hope and fully expect to expand in the future.
“We really don’t know how far we can go with this yet, but we are dead set on getting bigger,” said Josh Shockley. “So many people have an interest in this, but they can’t see an end where they can make something of it and they lose their passion. It becomes just a hobby for them, but we don’t see that happening for us.”
While their work looks like something dreamed up and produced in a big city, the young artists don’t have any intention, at least for now, of pulling up stakes and moving out of the local area. Modern technological advances allow them to publish and market their work right from quiet Snow Hill with the occasional trip to a big convention.
“I think we all plan to stay around here,” said Mat Shockley. “We have other jobs and families and other commitments here, and there is no reason why we can’t grow and expand from right here with all the technological advances at our disposal.”
PLB Comics’ works are currently being exhibited at the Mosely Gallery on the campus of UMES. The boys are currently working on making their first book available for purchase on the company’s website. They expect their second book to be finished this October.