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14 year old with North Bay connections set to publish a graphic novel

This spring UK comics publisher Markosia will release Johnny Recruit, a new graphic novel written by a North Bay 14-year-old, Theo Behe and illustrated by Canadian artist Tom Muzzell
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Theo Behe with his new graphic novel

A 14-year-old, originally from North Bay but studying in London England, has created a fictional Second World War graphic novel and gained a publishing deal from a top UK comics company.

Theo Behe recently wrote Johnny Recruit, and it will be available later this spring. Both of his parents are born and raised in North Bay and return to spend the summer with family where Theo plays on North Bay's rep soccer team. 

"I really like seeing my family in the summer," he told BayToday. "Staying with my grandpa is the best - he has many interesting stories to tell. Here I can always enjoy the outside - my favourite is cycling through the Cranberry trails with my aunt.  And of course, playing soccer with the rep team is great, I get to represent North Bay whilst also having a good laugh with my teammates. It's peaceful and relaxing in North Bay, no bustling London streets - and of course no homework in the summer"

The comic is set in 1941-2 England, Germany and Manitoulin Island - where the central character Johnny grows up learning to hunt and fly bush planes. It's made up of only double-page spreads and no words in the tradition with allied and German comics/propaganda posters of that era.

"He’s only 14, but when Big Johnny learns his uncle’s been captured by Nazis during a WW2 air battle, he’s sure there’s only one person who can rescue his best friend - himself!"

See: Johnny Recruit Graphic Novel Facebook page.

The comic definitely has a North Bay flavour.

"The first pages of the book are very prominent with Canadian things, " says Theo. "This country has definitely influenced the book very much. The landscapes at the beginning, of course, are very Canadian. The bush plane landing on the dock early on is an idea that I took from Trout Lake - as is the page where Johnny is playing ice hockey after the snow is scraped off when the lake freezes over."

The artist of this book is top comics illustrator Thomas Muzzell - who's from just south in Mount Forest, Ontario.

"He's done an amazing job," says Theo. 

Theo is set to become Markosia’s youngest ever published writer and publisher Harry Markos had no hesitation signing the young boy to a book deal.

“Johnny Recruit is full of emotion, energy and lots of fun. This is an exciting project, an excellent story from a very talented team,” says Markos.

Both the writer and artist are fascinated by 20th century war – and soon after meeting discovered they each had a great uncle named Bert who fought in WWII: Theo’s was a distinguished Canadian RAF flying ace whilst Tom’s a heroic soldier who spent three years in a German POW camp.

“We all have great relatives in our family trees, people who’ve lived amazing lives and done amazing things, says Behe. “My great uncle Bert was one of them. He shot down lots of enemy planes – even got shot himself. He has made our family proud. So I wanted to write some fun adventures around him – create some new characters and heroes that might match up to what he did.”

Their approach of inking a retro WW2 comic in a black and white double-page scenic spread fits nicely with the overall vibe of the story.

“I love the challenge of having no words and single landscape panels to tell this story,” says Canadian artist Tom Muzzell who’s been creating comics for over 40 years. “There’s lots of detail in the script, plenty going on each page – so lots of planning needed. And I love the story – this book would be on my shelf even if I wasn’t working on it.”

“I like to read pretty much everything – comics, novels, history books, Insta posts,” says Behe. “Now my friend Tom has made this story into these amazing comic pages – they’ve turned out great, just the way I imagined.”

The Johnny Recruit concept was originally a school project submitted years ago in primary school - the inspiration coming from his great uncle's heroics in WW2.  Theo sought to explore how far any 14-year-old would go to save a loved family member He hopes his published work will show others kids putting an effort into school projects and hobby projects could result in something even more rewarding.  

"From doing the comic, my planning and creativity skills have definitely improved which will help me in school for the next few years or so," added Theo. "I learned that you have to start with the structure of the story and the plot. And being patient is really key. You shouldn't get worried about future details and ideas not forming right away. The PR part is also an exciting new thing to learn about. Social media is such a big platform for promotion and as is being in the newspaper!

Johnny Recruits is a term used by seasoned troops in reference to soldiers new to the war - Camel cigarettes ran a successful ad campaign around the term.

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Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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