By Nicole Hennessy
At a West 65th Street coffee shop, John Greiner sits at a table in the corner, sketching.
Beside him lies the newly printed first issue of his horror and suspense comic book, “The Lake Erie Monster,” which, on the cover, reaches up with scaly skin and pointed claws — “a monster born out of the pollution from a city gone to seed,” a description of the book reads.
Along with the main title, each issue will feature at least one short backup story; in this issue it’s the “Thousand Legger.”
Having ended up at Fairview High School, Greiner remembers his time there, looking out the window.
Outside, a woman parks her car in the middle of the street and hurries to the post office, driving off just after the light changes.
“It’s kinda weird that at 31, I moved within walking distance from where I was born,” he says, turning his attention from the cars passing pedestrians and cyclists.
Inside the comic, for which he did most of the color and a lot of the illustrations, the zombified version of Commodore Perry sits atop the recently demolished Memphis Drive-In Theatre sign with a bucket of popcorn, a decrepit grin and red, glowing eyes.
“Read on,” he encourages. “If you dare!”
What follows is a love letter to the city complete with crooked cops and journalists as well as decapitations.
The Terminal Tower glowing gold, it is still the tallest downtown building in this 1973-based series, a time when Cleveland’s economy and culture were headed in a downward direction.
Greiner, who publishes under John G, says “this is something we’ve been building towards for our whole careers as illustrators,” referring to his collaborator, Jake Kelly.
While the two could have just created a general horror comic, they realized it made sense from a personal and business standpoint to focus on Cleveland, its history and the culture that has grown around it.
“Cleveland itself has fans. It’s weird to say that about a city, but there are people who just love stuff from Cleveland,” he says. “We’re doing it for those people.”
In etching out a niche, they’ll slowly spread from the city, to all of Northeast Ohio, to Pennsylvania and Chicago – basically any city built near a Great Lake – with Zombie Commodore Perry serving as the figurehead of “The Lake Erie Monster,” his Cleveland-centric adventures captured in his own one-page strip.
Like the comic series itself, Shiner Comics, the imprint Greiner created and under which he publishes, has been a long time coming.
While working for an architectural firm from which he was eventually laid off, he created mini comics that put him in the position to pitch ideas to Marvel Comics. Finally, under a new imprint being launched, his work was accepted.
His recent layoff still fresh, he thought, “Awesome, I’m gonna go do comics, see you guys later.”
Unfortunately, the project ended up getting canceled, and everyone involved, including Greiner, lost their jobs. He remembers this happening in an unprofessional manner that soured his perception of the whole industry, stalling his ambition to write a full-length comic book and leaving him wondering, “What to do next?”
What he did know is that he wanted to be independent. And soon, more and more opportunities to do posters and fliers for bands, and artwork for people, kept cropping up until he realized, “If I can book myself all these jobs, why not just do that as my job?”
Between deadlines he worked odd jobs that contributed to his self-education, such as his position at Kinko’s, where he learned about print production. He eventually landed a gig with Melt Bar and Grilled, for which he creates all their ads and posters in his recognizable, gritty style.
“Technically, Jake and I are publishing it ourselves,” he says of “The Lake Erie Monster.”
“But the idea that Shiner Comics is a publishing company extends to the fact that I do want to publish other people’s stuff at some point.”
Eventually, some of the back stories included in subsequent parts of the comic, to be published roughly every three months, will explore various eras of Cleveland history, maybe even going as far back as its founding in 1796.
With 500 copies printed, the next issue is expected to be published in late June along with a digital version that can be downloaded on reading devices, despite the novelty of the smell of fresh ink on a page.
“There’s a deep well of sources to draw from and expand on,” Greiner says, the goal being “to make it really weird.”