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TR-1 Studios

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Put Down That Camera and Pick Up a Pencil

How a 50-year-old video editor changed careers in a slumping economy.

Montgomery, IL, March 06, 2009 --( For 30 years a #2 pencil sat on Byron Wilkins' desk next to a small pad of paper. On occasion he'd take the pencil in hand and doodle small sketches of people or things that captured his interest. Then, one day in 2007, he decided to keep that pencil in his hand and to start drawing a comic strip. Thus was born "1977 the Comic," a humorous webcomic based on Byron's life back in 1977 as a free-spirited rock and roll bass player.

But it actually started much earlier. In 1969 Wilkins moved to Lombard, Illinois (the comic home of the "1977" characters as well) and took his first drawing lessons at the local Park District. This was followed by a variety of drawing classes in high school and even in college at Illinois State University. But it was a simple scheduling error that placed Wilkins early into the Television courses at ISU and launched his career in video production -- a career that lasted 30 years.

Then, in February of 2007, at the half-century mark in age, Wilkins was at a crossroads in his video production career. With the economy starting a major slide, he wanted to shift gears and try something different. It was then he looked back to his first love: drawing cartoons. An afternoon's doodling resulted in the creation of Bud Chambers, his alter ego in "1977 the Comic". After taking a page full of notes based on his life's experiences back in 1977, Wilkins set up to draw his first comic. The video camera was soon to be put away for good.

"It was then I realized how rusty I was," Wilkins commented. "I hadn't drawn steadily since 1976 and I needed both practice and instruction." The instruction came in the form of his eldest son Justin, who was enrolled at a nearby art college. "Justin was already taking drawing courses, so I followed along and looked at his study guides. I quickly found myself back in the drawing mode."

That "drawing mode" has resulted in over 200 comic strips found on the "1977" website. But Wilkins no longer relies on his trusty #2 pencil. "I do everything on the computer now," he commented. "I draw using the modern version of a pencil and paper; this stylus and drawing software." The steps are the same. Draw a sketch in "pencil" mode in the software. The switch to "pen" mode and start inking. "But with none of the spills!" he grinned. Then shading and lettering is all added digitally. The final step is adding color in Adobe PhotoShop. "Color is free on the internet, so when I see a webcomic still done in Black & White, I have to ask myself 'Why?'" Old habits die hard, it seems.

The comic now boasts a large and steady stream of readers from all over the world. "To have your comic read worldwide without using a distribution syndicate wasn't possible 10 years ago. Today, it's almost commonplace," Wilkins added. He noted that the trend of comic readers was now concentrated on the internet, but that traditional printing of books and anthologies was still the primary source of income. "The old way of selling your comic was to have a syndicate buy and distribute it. Then the syndicate created t-shirts, books or coffee mugs to sell and you as the artist were paid a percentage. Today, that is all handled solely by the comic artist."

Juggling the demands of his freelance consulting business with working on "1977," Byron spends a few days a week drawing the next installments of his comic and assembling exclusive bonus materials for his subscribers. "It's great to have readers along for the ride who are willing to pay for desktops, screensavers and custom comics. The subscribers help me continue the day-to-day operations of the comic," Wilkins said as he doodled on his ever-present pad of paper.

To take a look at "1977 the Comic" and see the comic antics of Byron Wilkins' past, check out the website at or just Google "1977" and the comic will show up on the first page of results. "Another benefit of the technology-driven age," Wilkins said as he pointed to his computer's monitor. "You don't have to wait for the paperboy to deliver your comics!"

About W. Byron Wilkins: He is the owner of TR-1 Studios, a multimedia consulting company. Graduated from Illinois State University in 1979 with a BS degree in Mass Communication/Broadcasting, he spent much of his college years playing in local rock bands that performed at various local establishments. In addition to playing electric bass, Wilkins also built from kits many accessories for recording his bands, including audio mixers and a series of synthesizers from PAIA Electronics. Today, he and his son Justin create webcomics and long-form fiction stories.

Contact Information
TR-1 Studios
W. Byron Wilkins
1730 Afton Road, Sycamore, IL 60178

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