Wonder Boy

 

Written by Lindsay Whelchel in the September 2011 Issue

Here’s the good news: A handsome superhero is to thank for a world without crime. The bad news? He’d be the first to tell you so.

In a modern day re-creation of the dime novel, Edmond author Charles Martin, who also writes under the name Will Weinke, has created Wonderboy — a superhero with a super ego, who, despite his flaws, is trying to do good deeds. And Martin could be considered a sort of “wonderboy” himself.

He first began writing in fourth grade and has always been fascinated with storytelling. “Writing is more compulsive for me than it is anything else. It’s really a way for me to keep my mind straight. If I don’t write, then I have issues,” Martin laughs. And when it comes to the writing process, “I guess I like playing god. I like being able to create a world and control everything inside of it,” he says jokingly.

And so it was only natural that Martin should pursue the craft professionally. He studied journalism and creative writing at Oklahoma Baptist University and worked in journalism before attempting to publish his first novel. “I waited until I felt like I was writing at a level where I could justifiably charge somebody to read it,” he laughs.

That first venture was a novel that told the story of a musician-turned-cult leader. When the writing was complete, the next step was getting the book out to readers. And like many authors, Martin sought publication in the traditional ways and found it in a local publishing house. But circumstances forced him to change his game plan. When that publisher fell victim to the economy, the company essentially had to give Martin back his book and send him out on his own.

Martin explains that he made many mistakes in the early days of self-promotion but adopted an “indie” style and learned how easy it could be to push the book on his own. “It’s a lot easier and a lot cheaper than people realize,” he says. “Everybody growing up, myself included, thinks you need a publisher to make this kind of career work, and I’ve just found out over time that’s not the case.”

And throughout the process, Martin has had a chance to write several books. Two of these, “Charles and the Island” and “The Dominant Hand,” have been released and two more are on the horizon. But the time is now for “Wonderboy.” The first and second issues have recently been released with a third issue releasing September 9.

The fictional narrative is styled in a serialized comic-book format and is currently seeing success in the online world of e-books. “I’ve wanted to write a superhero novel since I started writing. It’s kind of something that’s been banging around in my head for years and years,” says Martin. But Martin didn’t just want to write a typical save-the-world story. He wanted to embrace the real-world strains of being a hero. So, the character of Wonderboy was born.

“The world has depended on him to keep the peace, dispense justice, all of the kind of stuff you’d expect from a superhero, but after 20 years of doing it, he has started to emotionally degrade, just as any person who is worshipped for that long,” Martin says and likens this premise to that of our real-life tendencies toward celebrity worship. It’s the story of a superhero that has spent his life saving the world and now finds himself put in the position to do the greatest harm.

“As Wonderboy starts to evolve into a less thoughtful person and really, in many respects, a self-absorbed jerk, there is really nothing that the world can do about it, because he is still all-powerful,” Martin says. And he explains that this type of storytelling is not always easy. “The story itself is a very different challenge because it’s not something that I’ve ever tried before.”

But Martin likes unusual ideas and “Wonderboy” is certainly a new take on things. “I haven’t seen people do dime novels directed at a more mature reader, especially with a superhero motif. In comic books you see it all the time, but you don’t really see it in fiction as much.” He adds that this story allowed him to create and experiment with a whole different world.

And speaking of worlds, Martin’s literary-world-saving efforts through subculture publishing venture Literati Press come at an interesting and innovative time. The Oklahoma-based publishing company was developed more like an artist co-op, according to Martin, and it came about from his experiences as a struggling writer. “We do a lot of outreach with young authors coming up, whether or not we’re going to work with them, we just want to do everything we can to promote more of that ‘do it yourself’ culture,” Martin says of Literati Press’ mission. They work with authors who are exploring unique ways to tell stories and they model the idea of self-promotion in a way similar to that of artists in the independent music scene, Martin says. He sees Literati as a stepping-stone for writers who will move on and find bigger publishers and successes.

The organization tries to “build up the awareness within the Oklahoma reading populace to the interesting and innovative voices that are out there right now and just don’t know quite how to get their work out to the public,” says Martin. And part of getting the work out there will no doubt involve embracing the new technological world and the vast sea of online readers. So, like many authors, Martin is pairing his own work with the power of the Internet. The “Wonderboy” series is taking advantage of the ease and accessibility of e-books. Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad have started to offer the downloadable books at a lesser cost than print books.

He sees the future to be in this type of medium but is quick to explain that there will always be value in the print books. “The benefit of art being a physical product is, not only is it something you consume, but also display,” he says of the ability to get to know a person by the books they read. “When guests come over, they spend a little time looking through your bookshelves and get a little slice of your soul.”

For more about Literati Press and their upcoming work, visit www.literatipressok.com.

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