Richard Fairgray sees life in two dimensions.
The 23-year-old is legally blind, with only 3 percent vision in one eye, so his world is made of two-dimensional images, like panels of a comic book or frames of a film.
So it seems only natural that the artist has chosen comics and film as his life's work and passion. Working diligently from within his home, the writer/artist has self-published several titles, including New Zealand's only monthly comic, Blastosaurus.
Debuting to American audiences this fall from American Original and Top Cow publishing, Blastosaurus tells the adventures of a raygun-toting dinosaur who fights crime. The comic and its unusual creator were discovered by Jeff Katz, founder of American Original, who was immediately impressed by Fairgray's level of creativity and commitment.
"This kid is going to write for the big two. It's inevitable," Katz recently told Newsarama. "It's a name to remember. This is a kid I met when I was in Australia on the [Wolverine] movie. And Hugh Jackman's dialogue coach came up to me and said he had a friend in New Zealand who writes and publishes comics and is a huge Booster Gold fan, and he wanted to come visit the set."
Katz had lunch with Fairgray, who shared his work with the former 20th Century Fox producer. Not only was Katz impressed with what he saw, but he immediately asked to publish several of Fairgray's properties in the U.S., signing the artist as one of his first clients for American Original's management division.
Fairgray's passion for cartoon and comic book characters began early in life. Although he was blind, Fairgray started drawing when he was very young, watching cartoons because, he said, "I don't see in 3-D, so I never saw them as any different from live action shows, just in a different style." What followed was a passion for two-dimensional art that he developed in art school.
"I've always been useless at creating anything physical but with a flat surface, I cut out the problem of forming a focal point, which is near impossible with just one working eye," he said. "I started in comics when I was 14 and started self-publishing when I was 16 and have not really stopped since (despite trying to a number of times). I know I'm never going to be a great artist, I just can't see enough detail to improve like that, but I hope I can do okay."
Co-written with his friend, Terry Jones, Blastosaurus seems to have a simple premise, but Fairgray said it works on more than one level.
"At the outset it's a simple concept – 'Dinosaur with raygun fights crime' – but what I'm trying to create is a world where I can tell any kind of story I want to tell," he said, "and an umbrella concept like this is really useful for that. In many ways, the comic is more an exploration of the limits of the mutant genre. For instance, how does a mutated triceratops function as a pseudo-human being? How does he function as a detective while being such a visible public figure? He doesn't get the superhero luxury of having a secret identity to go home to at the end of his shift, and that fascinates me."
One of the things about Fairgray that impressed Katz – and amazes most people who know him – is how driven and creative he is. The origin of Blastosaurus illustrates this, although Fairgray calls it an "embarrassing story."
"I was asleep in the middle of the day and my wife had been cleaning and put a soft toy dinosaur and a model gun on the bed next to me," he said. "My friend Emma (who the Emma in the story is based on) came in to invite me out to lunch and saw them and said 'Congratulations Richard, you are the coolest 6-year-old I know, hanging out in Fort Dinosaur Gun.' I responded, sleepily, 'A better name would be Fort Gunosaurus.'
"The idea actually grew from there, at first as a parody of '90s cartoons, as a piece of background culture in another story, but then into its own concept. I think any genre can work as a vehicle for incredible storytelling – it just depends what you do with the initial idea," he said.
The idea grew into one of the best-selling comics in New Zealand, as legions of fans follow the adventures of Blastosaurus. The wise, fun-loving and sarcastic triceratops still doesn't know – despite being recently mutated from a standard dinosaur – why he is able to speak English and limited French, yet he has a full understanding of most parts of the world around him.
In the comic, "Blasto," as Fairgray calls him, is joined on his escapades by four kids: Richard, the 12-year-old genius that the artist admits is named after him; Alana, who can battle Richard in both fists and wit; Emma, the mature one; and Sam, the 10-year-old who has an incredible ability with machines and technology.
Naomi Fenton rounds out the cast of good guys as Blastosaurus' partner on the Freak Out City Police Force, but the villains are many, including the mutated Raptors who killed Blasto's mother in the prehistoric age.
While Fairgray created the characters and the story premise, he gets help with the scripting each month from Jones so it keeps him looking at the characters with a fresh set of eyes. "I still do all the art, but Terry and I script every issue together," he said, "and I think that's a really important part of writing, because so often you get so close to the work that you can't see the flaws and someone else to bounce ideas off really helps with that."
Fairgray said he thinks Blastosaurus works so well because the premise gives the writers the scope to have fun and make the comic exciting while working within a structure.
"I created this because I like dinosaurs, I like rayguns and I like fun, dialogue-driven, action comics," he said. "I'm hoping other people feel the same way. I never know whether anything I do will be a success or not. It sounds clichéd, but I just write what I would want to read."