Local author draws his own animated adventure
by CHRISTY ARMSTRONG, Banner Staff Writer
Dec 09, 2012 | 581 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Animated adventure
LOCAL ANIMATOR Christopher West is creating his own world of original characters for his upcoming graphic novel series, “Kizmit: An All-Ages Adventure,” in his home office. West describes each of his graphic novels as “an animated film in a book.”
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Animator and author Christopher West doesn’t see things the way others see them. While some people go to coffee shops to sip macchiatos and relax, he can be found writing and drawing new worlds from his seat a few feet away.

His latest project is called “Kizmit: An All-Ages Adventure” and follows an original character named Kizmit who thinks he has a boring life until he gets caught up in a big adventure. The young character, a made-up creature that resembles a yellow dog with antennae, grows and matures along the way.

The Charleston resident describes the story of Kizmit as being what would happen “if Walt Disney produced a Jules Verne version of ‘Lord of the Rings.’” The hope is that his story will spark the same sense of adventure as works written by Verne and “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien, he said.

The project started with the idea of creating a series of six graphic novels following Kizmit’s adventures, but he soon decided to write a more traditional youth novel as well. West describes each of his graphic novels as “an animated film in a book and said he likes to think of creating the graphic novels as making his own adaptation of the book. West was chosen to present at this year’s Tennessee Reading Association conference and plans to create lesson plans that teachers can use to help students read through the youth novel.

The graphic novels and books will be written under the pen name Carl Walt — Carl was chosen because it was the name of a favorite college professor and Walt because of Walt Disney and cartoonist Walt Kelly.

Choosing to use a name other than his own was his way of trying to follow in the footsteps of literary greats like Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams who also used pseudonyms, West said.

“I enjoy literature,” he said. “I enjoy the stories. I’m trying to take the idea of good stories and pair it with Disney-style animation.” 

He said he was inspired by works of animation he saw when he was a boy. He said his favorite films to see growing up were Disney productions because he liked the style of the artwork.

“I grew up on Disney,” West said. “I’ve always been a geek with behind-the-scenes animation.” 

As an adult, West said he now has a greater appreciation for the way stories were told in Walt Disney’s films.

“He made stories that appeal to all ages,” said West. “That is what I want to do.” 

He would later turn his love of animated storytelling into a career, and several life events would lead to him starting his very own project.

West is originally from Tellico Plains, but moved to Charleston with his wife in 2006. He graduated from Maryville College with a bachelor’s degree in art in 1998. After that, he spent several years working on a variety of video and film production projects.

One of the most well-known was an animated children’s television show called “Danger Rangers” that aired on PBS. He said he helped develop the characters and multiple storylines for the show. West said that later sparked a desire to work on some new projects of his own.

The first was earning a master’s degree in digital media from East Tennessee State University and graduating in 2005.

After that, he married his wife, Dr. Lori West. The couple moved to Charleston in 2006 when his wife was hired as a biochemistry professor at Lee University, and he continued to do freelance media design work from home. In 2009, West began teaching as well. He taught at Lee University as an adjunct professor during the spring of 2009 before being offered a full-time position at McMinn County High School. He taught media arts classes at the school until the end of the 2011-2012 school year.

The following June, West made it his full-time job to write and draw for the Kizmit projects. He said his wife agreed that he could devote a year to working on his writing and animation full-time.

“She believes in the project, and she believes in me,” he said. “If it doesn’t work out, I will go back to teaching.” 

West’s daily routine usually includes finding a place to work on the Lee University campus or at a library or coffee shop to get him in the mindset of going to work every day instead of staying at home. He often writes on his laptop and parts of the graphic novel with a tablet display connected to the computer.

For now, he plans to self-publish the first editions of his graphic novels with the future goal of getting them onto the shelves of bookstores and comic book shops. He has been trying to raise money to cover the printing costs on a website called Kickstarter that allows people to contribute to a financials goals for a creative projects like West’s. However, neither of his two attempts to fund Kizmit on his site have been successful. But that was just one option, he said.

“I’m not relying on solely the crowd-funding option,” West said. “There are a lot of options.”

He said he has other ideas for funding the project and plans to carry out his goal to the best of his ability despite inadequate funding. West has already released a prelude to the graphic novel series as an eBook and plans to eventually release more as he searches for a publisher.

Further spurring him on are his 6-year-old son, Adam, and his 4-year-old son, Jonathan. He said he wants to create things that can be enjoyed by children as young as they are and can also be appreciated by adults without including crude humor.

In the future, West said he hopes “Kizmit” might be featured as an animated series or film. Until then, he continues to create the stories in books as he sits down to work in Cleveland coffee shops, colleges and libraries.

“I’m not one to give up, I guess,” West said with a smile.

For more information about West or his company, Westtwin Entertainment, visit his website, www.westtwin.com.