North Raleigh: Community

Granados: A new wave of comic art, close to home

Writer Jeremy Whitley, a former North Raleigh resident, and artist Heather Nunnelly launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for “Illegal,” a graphic series.
Writer Jeremy Whitley, a former North Raleigh resident, and artist Heather Nunnelly launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for “Illegal,” a graphic series. COURTESY OF JEREMY WHITLEY

Growing up, comics for me were all about Marvel and characters from “X-Men.” Wolverine in particular.

Even then, there were all sorts of alternative comics I knew nothing about, and that has only increased with the Internet and digital technology. A new wave of comic writers and artists exists, and I’ve written about one of them before.

Former North Raleigh resident Jeremy Whitley is the creator of “Princeless,” a story in which a princess gets tired of waiting for a heroic prince and decides to save herself. It’s a modern, feminist take on the damsel-in-distress tale, and it has garnered quite a following.

Whitley, who now lives in Durham, is currently working on a new series – more of a miniseries, really – called “Illegal.” He’s in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to get it funded.

It’s another modern parable, featuring a world where everybody has been microchipped for identification purposes. The main character, Gianna DelRey, is one of the few who doesn’t have a microchip, and as a result, she is illegal.

The story is something of a personal one. Whitley’s grandfather was a legal immigrant from Mexico, but he says if the laws had been different back then, it’s possible his grandfather would have never made the trip.

“I wanted to take a heroine (Gianna DelRey) who came from a similar circumstance in the not so distant future where our current fears about illegal immigration, class warfare, and government surveillance had proceeded to the point of no return,” Whitley wrote on the Kickstarter website. “Then I wanted to use that as the background to tell a story about surviving and fighting on.”

Even more relevant to our day and age, DelRey is a minority: Latina. In an age where superheroes tend to be of the dominant class, Whitley wanted to have a different kind of heroine.

“A lot of times when you see a sci-fi movie or books, it’s about a handsome, 20-something, well-to-do white guy,” he said.

Especially with all the unrest and racial animosity in Ferguson, Mo., right now, Whitley wanted to tap in to a narrative that tells a story from the viewpoint of the oppressed.

It’s not an easy story to tell, and to do it, Whitley needed a good artist. He tapped Heather Nunnelly, who is best known for a comic called “Vacant,” about an alien trying to find out what happened to the now-mostly-dead human race.

Nunnelly has been a fan of Whitley since she read “Princeless,” and she initially contacted him because she wanted to work on volume four of his damsel-not-quite-in-distress story.

He already had an artist for that, but he pitched her “Illegal,” and she hopped on board.

It’s a tough gig trying to bring to life the images a writer has in his imagination. Nunnelly spent a lot of time spitballing with Whitley, sending him different pictures of fashion styles the characters might wear, or trying to find out cities that might look similar to the setting he imagined.

“We spent a while on just the idea phase. I just essentially grilled him on his characters,” she said. “That’s probably the hardest thing – trying to picture what they picture.”

Together the two took to Kickstarter, a website in which people donate money to projects. They set a low initial goal of $6,000 to fund a print edition of the first issue and digital versions of the first five issues.

They have already passed that mark, so now they’re hoping to make enough money to fund the entire series.

But Kickstarter is hard work. Whitley and Nunnelly likened it to having a full-time job. But only a short-term one.

Not much time remains in the Kickstarter campaign, so if you want this modern sci-fi parable to come to life, you might think about kicking in a few bucks.

Here’s the website:

Alex Granados writes about people, places and traditions in North Raleigh and beyond. Contact him at