USAO Alum’s ‘Bluesman’ May See Silver Screen
CHICKASHA – In a time when comic book superheroes of every form and fashion are hitting movie theatres across the country, Hollywood’s newest antidote may come in the form of “Bluesman,” a gritty, southern guitarist with a song to sing and a story to tell. If writer Rob Vollmar has anything to do with it, his graphic novel’s character will make it all the way to the big screen.
Vollmar, a 1995 graduate from the University of Science and Arts, published “Bluesman” in 2005 with NBM. A year later, movie producer Jason Koornick (“Next,” starring Nicolas Cage and Julianne Moore) contacted Vollmar with news: Koornick’s company had purchased the film option for “Bluesman.”
“It is gratifying that we were able to reach Jason as a reader deeply enough with our work that he is now willing to invest his own time and energy in taking it to a wider audience,” Vollmar said.
“We are a long way from production and filming, but he’s in the process of putting together a package to take to a studio that will include a screenplay writer, a director and the principal leads interested in the movie,” he said. “I think they are in the finding-a-screenplay-writer stage.”
“Bluesman” tells the story of guitar man Lem and pianist Ironwood, two Southern blues travelers in search of a place to play and somewhere to sleep in the 1920s. When Ironwood intervenes between an abusive white man and his black mistress, things take a sudden turn for the worse. Lem finds himself alone and on the run from a white mob through the woods of Arkansas.
The story’s dramatic climax comes in the midst of a heavy rain, a determined lynch mob and a merciful, bloodied sheriff.
Vollmar’s intense writing is equaled only by the strikingly detailed illustrations generated by comic partner Pablo G. Callejo. The Madrid-based artist creates black and white drawings reminiscent of antique woodcarvings that are emotive, poignant and altogether complementary to the story’s pace and tone.
Two years after its American release, “Bluesman” recently was nominated for three Glyph Comics Awards. According to the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, the Glyph Awards were created to recognize the best in comics addressing issues regarding people of color. Though not exclusive to black creators, the organization strives to honor those who have made the greatest contributions to the comics medium in terms of both critical and commercial impact.
Vollmar was nominated this year for best writer, and his graphic novel was nominated for story of the year and best male character. Winners will be announced in May, but readers can vote for their picks online at http://www.ecbacc.com.
Although a screenplay and cast for “Bluesman” are a ways off, one celebrity has already signed on for the project.
Multi-Grammy award-winning blues artist Keb’ Mo’ has promised to provide a soundtrack, should the movie make it to Hollywood. A modern-day bluesman, the Epic Records singer-songwriter-guitarist has sold more than two million albums. Keb’ Mo’ was featured in Martin Scorsese’s 2003 film series, “The Blues,” and has appeared on television shows such as “Touched by an Angel” and “The West Wing.”
Vollmar moved to Chickasha in 1988 and graduated from Chickasha High School two years later. Today, he lives in Norman, where he manages Atomik Pop! and continues writing graphic novels. He currently is collaborating with artist MP Mann on “Inanna’s Tears,” an online proto-historic political tragedy set in ancient Sumer. A print edition will be released in summer, 2007.
Dan Hanson, professor of music, first met Vollmar during a curriculum contest in 1990. Though he initially regarded Vollmar as an “overconfident rock ‘n’ roll kid,” he formed a strong friendship with the up-and-coming student during his years at USAO that continues today.
“Rob is a great musician and guitar player,” Hanson said. “I consider him a true ‘renaissance man’ of many talents. Rob is an example of the best education offered by our liberal arts curriculum. He has been a diamond in the rough far too long. I’m extremely happy for him.”
Hanson is one of many professors Vollmar still fondly remembers from his days as a student at USAO.
“Giants walked the campus when I arrived in 1990,” Vollmar said. “The various professors in the English department were each vital to my development as a writer and critic in more ways than I can recount. Professor Stuart Meltzer provided a wealth of information about the Greek and Roman classics as well as being someone who always made himself available for emotional support when it was needed.
“Sarah Webb and Dr. Ingrid Shafer taught me a lot about the importance of the writing process as well as encouraging the creative side of writing that often gets lost in the shuffle of essays about John Donne. Dr. Brenda Brown started teaching at USAO when I was a junior but I really appreciated the intellectual rigor of her classes.
“The interdisciplinary vision of the University also uniquely prepared me for the somewhat unconventional career path I've followed since I left in ways that no one could have anticipated. I can also recall specific classes with professors like Drs. John Miller and Larry Magrath that left a deep influence on the way that I see the world.”
“Bluesman” may be Vollmar’s first potential big-screen venture, but it’s not his first work to receive national acclaim. His first graphic novel with illustrator Callejo, “The Castaways,” was released in 2002 by Absence of Ink. The comic was nominated for an Eisner in the Best Single-Issue/One-Shot category.
Like his title character, Vollmar is an accomplished guitarist and singer in his own right. Throughout high school and college, he played guitar with local Chickasha and USAO buddies Warren Roach and Erol Coulter. Today, the group still performs regularly with local singer Shelly Phelps. In 2003, they recorded Phelp’s album, “Girl on a Wire.”
Vollmar said his love of music set the groundwork for “Bluesman.”
“My own experiences as a guitarist and musician made the idea of building a book around the blues very tempting,” Vollmar said. “In listening to and reading about its many practitioners, past and present, I perceived a theme of reconciling the secular with the divine that appealed to my sense of what kind of story the world might need right now and ‘Bluesman’ is what came out of that.”
If the world truly needs a break from the superhero genre, Vollmar’s “Bluesman” may be the cure for the common comic book.
More information about “Bluesman” and Vollmar is available online at http://www.bluesmanproject.com.