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Comic book HERO

Bluewater Productions leader finds Beaverton the right fit for his comic book empire


by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bluewater Comics President Darren Davis has developed a number of comic books and graphic novels, including one based on Sable of the World Wrestling Federation, called 'The Tenth Muse.'Growing up in the Westlake section of Los Angeles, Darren Davis thrived on energy from beloved childhood TV shows — “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Wonder Woman,” “Galactica 80,” “Charlie’s Angels” — being filmed practically in his backyard.

“I would see the General Lee go by all the time,” he says of Westlake, home to a wooded Hollywood film set outpost. “The ‘Muppet Movie’ was filmed near my house.”

While his older brother developed a quite normal fascination for baseball cards, the quirkier Davis was drawn more toward entertainment-industry heroes: small-screen network Svengalis such as Brandon Tartikoff, Fred Silverman, and “Happy Days” creator Garry Marshall.

“I liked people creating stuff,” he confesses.

These days, Davis creates his own stuff — and plenty of it.

The president of Bluewater Productions Inc., Davis recently relocated the headquarters of his independent mini-empire of comic and young adult books and graphic novels from Vancouver, Wash., to Beaverton. From a small, fancifully decorated upstairs room at his Steele Way home, Davis dreams up book concepts and themes while taking care of business.

With help from a talented, mostly freelance stable of illustrators, colorists, letterers and graphics designers, Bluewater cranks out five new titles a week.

If that seems like a hefty load, well ...

“It is,” he admits. “It’s a lot of juggling and doing stuff in advance.”

Essentially an ongoing, for-profit Valentine to American popular and political culture, Bluewater publishes comic books and graphic novels in partnership with acting icons William Shatner, “Batman” star Adam West, daredevil cyclist Evel Knievel and suspense novel author John Saul, among many others.

In addition to best-selling titles such as “Wrath of the Titans,” “10th Muse” and “The Legend of Isis,” the publisher carved a niche for whimsical biographies of A-list celebrities from Jennifer Lawrence and Tina Fey to Sarah Palin and Steve Jobs.

“We have gotten a lot of notoriety for creating biographies of politicians, celebrities and business executives,” he notes, Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, and former General Electric Chairman Jack Welch among them. “We have already reached out to Nike about doing a biography on the founders, since it is right next door.”

Complementing Davis’ unhurried, yet relentless work ethic is the 45-year-old’s knack for sniffing out the Next Big Thing.

“I’ve always been a pop culture nut,” he says. “The one thing I think I have as a skill, is I can tell what’s going to be hot tomorrow. I have really good timing.”

That wasn’t exactly the case in his formative years, as he struggled to find his place next to an over-achieving brother.

“I was not a very good student. Nobody ever thought I would graduate high school, much less college,” he admits. “I had a problem getting into books. One day my parents threw a comic book in front of me, and I gravitated to it.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bluewater Comics President Darren Davis recently moved his home and business operations from Vancouver, Wash., to Beaverton.

Character development

Drawing inspiration from Hanna-Barbera and “Superfriends” television cartoons, 1970s sitcoms and a rapidly growing collection of action figures, Davis found a way to parlay his childhood fascinations into a viable career path. Lately he’s noticed his whimsical obsessions are creeping toward mainstream respectability.

“Schools are starting to teach this stuff in classes,” he says, noting Bluewater’s biographical comics can be compelling learning tools. “Some kids don’t gravitate toward (traditional) books. If you give them a bio of what (someone) does, it kind of inspires them to read more.”

When featuring famous folks in Bluewater publications, Davis does what he can to contact subjects and obtain their blessings — legally and spiritually. He’s enjoyed positive phone interactions with Ellen DeGeneres, Betty White, Carrie Fisher and Barbara Walters.

“I try to contact them first. I’ll offer to donate proceeds to a nonprofit of their choice,” he says.

Not everyone is so hot on being transformed into a Bluewater character, however.

“If we didn’t get an occasional cease and desist order, our legal team wouldn’t be doing its job,” he notes. “We’re within our First Amendment rights. If (celebrities) choose to be part of us, that’s always nicer.”

No boundaries

Davis moved Bluewater to Beaverton in late 2013 based on factors including access to affordable health insurance, proximity to his father, who lives in Newberg, and being a bit closer to Portland’s verdant comic book climate.

“I like suburbia,” he admits, noting he’s withdrawn from the hipper scene in recent years. “I’m kind of that round peg in a square hole. Of course, when I do a Hillary Clinton comic book, CNN is going to cover it. There are some people who think we don’t warrant the attention we get.”

Regardless, Davis is integrating into his new community, presenting free Comic Book 101 workshops for children and teens at local libraries in Beaverton and North Plains.

“I’ve always tried to reach out and support my community,” he says, noting he plans to hold more workshops this summer. “I should charge for them, but I don’t.”

Admitting the comic book and graphic novel market is not the financial gravy train it was in its digitally lighter 1990s heyday, Davis is grateful for his loyal audience.

“Luckily, we jumped on the bandwagon years ago, so we’re ahead of the game,” he says.

With Bluewater’s latest, a bio comic of the late Queen frontman Freddy Mercury, hitting the shelves this week, Davis’ biggest challenge is figuring out how to slow down.

“I’m always juggling 50 books at a time,” he says. “I work all the time, pretty much. I don’t set boundaries for myself. I should do a better job at that.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Bluewater Productions President Darren Davis talks about his time in the comic book industry in front of his large wall of memorabilia.

Drawing the line

What: Bluewater Productions Inc., publisher of comic books, young adult and graphic novels, biographical comics on celebrities

Where: Relocated from Vancouver, Wash., to Beaverton

Founder and president: Darren G. Davis

Website: visit bluewaterprod.com