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By Terry Dean
What do Ernest Hemingway and Dark Knight have in common?
Not much, really, come to think of it — except that each has appeared in a comic book. Batman for decades in D.C. Comics, and most recently Hemingway in Our Village, a 25-page comic book that debuted in May highlighting the history of Oak Park.
Kevin Bry, an Oak Park native and attorney, published the comic. The full-time lawyer is also a part-time actor, from his days on the stage at Oak Park and River Forest High School and sporadically after college. The comic book is based on his play, Our Village, which he wrote and debuted in Oak Park seven years ago.
Hemingway is just one of the many historical figures, places and incidents highlighted in the comic book and play. Both take a historical look at Oak Park, telling the story of the village's multicultural history. It also uses that history as a prism to showcase American history, beginning with the mistreatment of Native Americans and through the present day.
He describes his play as a docudrama that highlights and celebrates Oak Park's diversity and commitment to it throughout the years.
"It's a celebration of the Oak Park experience," Bry said. "I think Oak Park has done pretty well with that. There are still some challenges but I'm proud of the progress we've made so far."
Turning the play into a comic book was the brainchild of his co-publisher and friend, Charles Moisant, himself a comic book enthusiast. Bry said the play is adaptable to other mediums, including the comic book genre. The art was done by an out-of-state illustrator, Cyndi Martin, who has drawn for Marvel Comics. Aspects of his play and dialogue were adapted into the comic book.
Like the play, the book has a narrator, who calls himself The Village Manager. But there are a few distinguishable differences between the play and book, said Bry.
On stage, scene and time-period changes are cued for the audience using lights highlighting certain set pieces. Another device was needed for the comic, Bry said. The Village Manager zips through time using his "OP Machine," the OP standing for Omni Present but also Oak Park, Bry said.
On stage, the words, or script, tell the story while in comic books the pictures dominate, said Bry, who is distributing 10,000 copies of the comic book free of charge. There's some advertising in the book but the rest of the costs to produce it came from Bry and his publishing partners. His nonprofit, Our Village Productions, is where he publishes and produces his work, but his "day job" is as an attorney.
Bry briefly gave up acting to pursue his legal career but returned to his first love. He jokes that most lawyers are closet actors or writers. "I think it's both in my case," he said.
Bry's planning a sequel to the comic book called, Haunted Oak Park, which will explore various ghost and crime stories associated with the village. He's looking to drop that book by Halloween 2013. He's eying the fall of this year to revive the Our Village play, which is inspired by the Thornton Wilder play, Our Town.