Comics BOOM! Meet Michael Watson, creator of the superhero Columbus deserves

Justin McIntosh, Columbus Alive

Superheroes are, quite literally, in Michael Watson's blood. Three of his four children are named after superheroes. There's Logan, his 4-year-old daughter named after Wolverine, Mila Jean, his 3-year-old named after Jean Gray, and Miles Parker, his 10-month-old son named after two versions of Spider-Man. (He tried to get his oldest, A.J., named after Peter Parker's Mary Jane, but, alas, was unsuccessful.)

That's not to say, however, that Watson's a lifelong comics fan. In fact, he hated the art form at first, calling it stupid nonsense in middle school. That changed when a friend lent him a huge stack of comics, including "X-Men" Issue No. 17.

In that issue, the X-Men battle Omega Red in the snow, and all are felled by the Russian serial killer, except, that is, Wolverine.

"He kept getting back up, his costume was all torn up and this dude was like 5-foot-1, this stocky dude who kept getting up and going at it with Omega Red," Watson recalled. "I was this short guy in school and people picked on me. I related to his frame and his never-give-up attitude. I read all those books that night and the very next day I came in, gave him the comics and was like, 'We're going to start a comic book company right now.'"

And so it began for Watson. The two friends made comics non-stop, sold them to classmates, and even got their teacher to involve other students in the coloring, inking and lettering.

After high school, Watson enrolled at CCAD and started attending comics conventions, two or three a year, portfolio in hand, with the aim of impressing Marvel Comics. He'd show their representatives his artwork, they'd tell him to keep working, fix this one thing and come back the next year. Which he did, for three years, until, finally, he stood in line one year, portfolio polished, like, "it's all there, and the dude looked at it like, 'Mmhmm. Mmhmm.' You know, not saying anything, and then he signaled for me to come out of the line with my portfolio, and I was like, 'Man, this is it. Let me find somebody's phone and tell my mother I am drawing Spider-Man. It is going down.'"

The Marvel representative praised his style, his drawing of faces and anatomy, and then told Watson his artwork was a little too urban for Marvel. Watson was perplexed. "Is he saying because I draw black people and I make them look black? … I was perplexed. After that experience, I was like, 'I'm going to just make my own books and make Marvel come to me.'"

He's not waiting for Marvel now. He's seven issues in on his superhero comic "Hotshot," a series based on his life in Columbus (look for one spectacular panel of Hotshot flying past CCAD's "Art" sculpture), and he's doing well enough with the book and his comics company, Freestyle Komics, along with commissions, freelance design work and his podcast "The Stuff," that he's able to do it full-time.

It's been a long process, he said, but he's since learned to be OK with the vulnerability of putting his work out there, knowing he'll improve with each issue, and, even if he fails in some regard, he's learned how to get back up again, like his hero with the Adamantium-bonded skeleton and claws. In sharing "Hotshot" with a wide audience, he can inspire the next generation for the same reasons Marvel ultimately rejected him.

"I make the book take place in Columbus because Columbus is a melting pot," Watson said. "There's all that skin tone and different sizes and variety here. I want that in 'Hotshot' so that when you look around, even if you don't see someone just like you, you see someone who has similarities. I use that to help build a connection so it's more plausible. But I've also done events speaking at schools … where I'm looking around the room like, there should be some sort of representation for these kids so they see something besides the big muscles and the over-escalated body proportions of females, so they can say, 'Anyone can be epic,' which is what we say at Freestyle Komics."

Photo by Tim Johnson

Michael Watson

Age: 33

Neighborhood: Pickerington

Hometown: Cleveland

Influences: Adam Kubert, Frank Cho, Jim Lee, "Naruto," J. Scott Campbell

Describe your work in one sentence: "Marvel Comics said it's urban; I think it's more of a mix of American comic book and anime."

Twitter: @fskomics

Website: freestylekomics.blogspot.com