Local Pair Have Drawing Power

Homegrown Artists Holden McNeil and Banky Edwards Rack Up Kudos With Their Indie Comic Book '37'

There are those stuck in low paying jobs who would rather complain about their status than reach for something better. Then there are those who can lift themselves out of what they perceive as a morass and create a new career for themselves, excelling beyond the imagination of others.

But every once in awhile, there are those who combine the two.

Former Highlands residents Holden McNeil and Banky Edwards have made quite an impression on the comic book scene with their self-published effort 37. The black and white comic has already received numerous awards in the comics field (with cute names like the Eisner, the Inkpot, and the Wizard Fun Award), and has been sighted as a fave of quite a few notables, including Jersey shore rocker Jon Bon Jovi.

"That meant a lot to us," says Holden McNeil, during a recent visit to The Two River Times offices. "We grew up on Bon Jovi."

"Nailed quite a few girls to the tune of Always," adds McNeil's coarse compatriot and partner in crime, Edwards (after which he was slugged by McNeil and cautioned to behave.) "Well, we did!"

The curious pair suggest a partnership that goes back further than the current drawing board which has brought them a degree of national attention. Raised in Highlands, the pair met at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic School, where they discovered their mutual knack for art.

McNeil recalls, "I would draw these pictures of Darth Vader and Jaws, for our fifth grade teacher, Miss Cantanzarite."

"I was more interested in the stuff that would get a reaction," Edwards throws in. "Like renderings of Jesus beating up the Buddha, topless Virgin Mary's, or the Pope giving an orphan the finger. I spent a lot of time in detention."

It was only when the pair got to Henry Hudson Regional High School that their talents were channeled into what would one day make them known.

"Jill Little, our art teacher, encouraged us to try comics," McNeil explains, doodling as he speaks. "For mid-terms and finals, she would accept comic books from Banky and me. She told us it was possible to make a living out of drawing."

But it wouldn't be for another few years before they stumbled upon what would earmark them as the next Charles Schultz.

"We were working at the Food City after a brief stint at Brookdale," says McNeil. "And we were frustrated. Creatively, we were stifled."

"It sucked hard," Edwards blurts out. "There were all these weird people - like this guy who was a guidance counselor, and he'd spend hours looking through all the eggs, trying to piece together a perfect dozen. His job had fried his brain. I spent most of my time explaining his bizarre behavior to the customers."

But it was this close observation of detail that spawned 37.

"One day I said to Banky, 'Let's do a comic book about working here,'" McNeil reveals. "So we put it together, and showed the people we worked with. They loved it. So we decided to run off a bunch of copies and sell them through Comic-Toast (a comic book retailer in the Eden Prairie Mall) and through Comicology. From there, it kind of took off."

And take off it did.

But if you tend to think of Richie Rich or Archie when you hear the word 'comics,' you might be in for a shock with the McNeil/Edwards 37 - which contains coarse, barroom language, frank sexual discussion, nudity, and even an unsanitary tryst on a milk-room floor.

"That was based on something I did while in the employ of Food City," boasts Edwards. "Me and the manager's daughter"

But again, a physical rebuke by McNeil cuts Banky off.

"I don't know how many times I can apologize for him," offers McNeil while Edwards rubs his poked ribs.

He can apologize all the way to the bank. There are rumors in the air that a major comic label is courting the pair for a new project.

"We'll see," McNeil ponders. "It'd have to be something that was as satisfying to work on as 37. Something original."

"Something profitable," adds Edwards.

Does that mean the pair will soon be departing the tri-town area for greener pastures.

"We're looking to rent some studio space in Red Bank," says McNeil. "We don't want to stray from our roots."

"There's no need," interjects the plucky Edwards. "Everything in the world can possibly need is right here. Why anyone would move away from the tri-town area is beyond me especially if you're successful like us. You can rub it in everyone's faces. Why go anywhere else?"

By Claudia Ansorge