Utah writer generating buzz over '5 Senses' comic

By Nate Traylor

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Nov. 10 2011 6:28 p.m. MST

"5 Senses" is a Stephen King-ish creeper but with tamer dialogue.

Viper Comics

EAGLE MOUNTAIN — Writer Jake Black makes a living spinning tales for kid-friendly comics and TV shows. But he recently took a surprising turn by trying his hand at horror for Viper Comics' fall release, "Five Senses."

The result is a critically acclaimed new title, which could be creeping its way toward the big screen thanks in part to a Bradley Cooper-starring viral video.

The Eagle Mountain man is also working on another project that will be a departure from his cartoon and comic-book roots: an inspirational book looking at cancer through the lens of Mormon spirituality.

Meanwhile, "Five Senses" continues to generate a buzz since its digital release in September. The Stephen King-ish creeper about a man who didn't have the sense to come forward after witnessing a violent murder and is therefore cursed to lose his — as the title suggests — five senses garnered favorable press from Wired and USA Today, among others.

"It's definitely the best reviewed thing I've done," said Black, 32. "I'm astounded at how well it's been received.

When Viper Comics commissioned him to pen the chiller, it was an opportunity to put his own stamp on a genre he hadn't explored professionally before. As expected in horror, there's violence, but the dialogue is decidedly tamer.

"I tried to pull back on some of the language they had in the dialogue, mainly because of my reputation as a kids writer," he said.

Still, it's not the sort of thing he'll let his 3-year-old son read.

"He's the reason I write kids stuff. I want to mostly write stuff he can read," said Black, who made a name for himself in such properties as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Batman: The Brave and the Bold."

Like most comics these days, "Five Senses" has Hollywood's attention, thanks to a nifty marketing gimmick designed to simultaneously hype the title and pique film producers' interests.

A phony movie trailer conned many at July's San Diego Comic-Con into thinking "Five Senses" was destined for a theatrical release and it would star none other than actor Bradley Cooper. (See the trailer at iamsenseless.com.)

"While at SDCC, we had people stopping at our booth and asking when the movie was releasing," said Viper Comics president Jessie Garza.

Pieced together with scenes from Cooper's earlier work, namely "Alias" with a pinch of "Midnight Meat Train," the mash-up for the would-be feature has some filmmakers giving "Five Senses" serious consideration.

"We've taken a few meetings and (are) exploring options," Garza said.

Black isn't sure what a "Five Senses" film would mean for his career, but he sees its potential as a major studio project. "It'd be the perfect release for Halloween 2012 because it's suspenseful and creepy," he said.

Black is toiling in more familiar grounds — he wrote Cartoon Network "Action Pack" issue No. 66, out in January from DC Comics, as well as an episode of "Generation Rex," set to premiere on Cartoon Network early next year — while collecting first-hand accounts from those affected by cancer within the Latter-day Saints community for a book that will explore how faith offers comfort in the face of death.

Cancer is a subject Black is all too familiar with. He was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in 2009.

The health scare put him tens of thousand of dollars in debt. But it could have been worse. He was approved for health insurance only days before finding his first lump.

Utah's comic book community rallied around Black with fundraisers at Salt Lake City's Dr. Volt's and Dragon's Keep in Provo to offset medical costs. And Black's best-selling novelist buddy, Brad Meltzer, tweeted about his cause, helping raise thousands of dollars more through charity website giveforward.com.

Combined, these efforts knocked Black's bills down from about $40,000 to $10,000.

Black chalks it up to divine intervention.

"I was definitely seeing the hand of the Lord in things like getting approved for insurance before finding the first lump," he said.

And he suspects others who share his Mormon faith have similar stories to tell.

"My hope is that, if somebody learns that their Mormon neighbor has been diagnosed with cancer they can say, 'Here's this book. Hopefully it will increase your faith and strengthen your heart.' That's my hope."

He aims to have the book published sometime next year.

"Five Senses" is available as a digital download at iVerse, Graphic.ly and Comixology.

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