Moab’s community radio station KZMU has aired the final act of this year’s radio drama, but that's not the end of the story.
Written by local playwright Jenna Whetzel, “Choreomania” is based on the true events of 1518, when a strange phenomenon that came to be known as the “dancing plague” affected hundreds of villagers of Strasbourg, France. Due to COVID-19, there will be no in-person performance of the show, but there will be a new way to experience the drama: in full-length comic book format. Local artist Jon Gottschalk used Whetzel’s script to create his own telling of the story.
“Visually, it’s completely my original interpretation,” said Gottschalk. “I wasn’t given hardly any cues on how to make the characters look.” He read through the script several times to develop a vision of what the characters looked like, and made a point of avoiding rehearsals so that he could preserve and refine that vision without being influenced by the appearance or sound of the actors.
“I’m totally satellite,” he said. “I’ve been spending so much time in the story, creating it visually, I don’t want any other kind of input.”
He and Whetzel are both excited to see the two final products that sprouted from the same script.
Gottschalk dreamed up the characters’ appearances and chose his drawing style based on the “golden age” of comic books, which overlaps with the age of peak radio drama popularity. He said the original “Superman” comic books are a good example of the style.
“There’s minimal line work and the color palette is very limited because of the print process at that time. Those are the kind of confines I put on the project,” he said.
The spareness of the line drawings and simplicity of the color palette belie the work that goes into the final images. First, Gottschalk sketches the composition of each scene in pencil; he then scans it into a digital format where he can ink in the lines. He uses Photoshop to add color and dialogue boxes.
“It’s turned out to be quite a behemoth of a project,” he said, explaining that the most difficult part of the process has been maintaining continuity in the appearance of the characters from frame to frame, and from different perspectives.
“It may be that I sketch a character’s face ten times so it matches the character’s face in the previous panel. I have to be able to draw them from every angle,” he said.
"Choreomania" will be Gottschalk’s first full-length comic book; his usual medium is paint. Moabites may be familiar with some of the murals he’s created in town—for example, on the side of the Desert Gardens building near Swanny Park. He has also donated his artistic skills to illustrate posters for Slim Pickins, a local musical group he’s been part of, and to create the poster for last year’s radio drama.
With more free time on his hands during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gottschalk said he was looking for an ambitious project to take on. He appreciates Whetzel’s humorous writing and was captivated by the concept behind “Choreomania,” so it seemed like a good candidate for a comic book, a medium Gottschalk said he’s always liked.
“When the story is really good, then you feel confident that you have something to work with, something you want to spend a lot of time working on and thinking about,” he said of the show.
The comic book will be printed at Canyonlands Copy Center—a local supporter of KZMU—and available at Back of Beyond Books for $15, which is the usual price for a ticket to the live radio drama performance at Star Hall. A limited number will also be sold at the KZMU radio station.
“All proceeds support KZMU's efforts to keep bringing radio plays to our community,” said KZMU Station Manager Serah Mead.