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Yesler Terrace has a supporting role in "Coiled" webcomic

By Tyler Roush, editor of The Voice

SEATTLE — August 3, 2011 — The Yesler Terrace neighborhood is playing what may seem an unlikely role in a sci-fi webcomic. The world of "Coiled" includes a winged jaguar, headsets that analyze brain waves, references to the rivalry between inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla, and a space station that exists in a virtual realm.

It is a very fun and at times quirky piece of science fiction. (In one early scene, an obviously paranoid general creates a map of said space station out of silverware.)

Coiled comic

A panel from Coiled webcomic which features Yesler Terrace as a backdrop.


The webcomic is the work of writer Peter Gruenbaum and illustrator Amanda Kingsley, and it's one of literally thousands that can be found on the web.

"If you don't know about them, you don't realize how huge they are," said Gruenbaum of webcomics.

A technology writer and teacher by day, Gruenbaum had previously worked in the Yesler Terrace computer lab, which is how the neighborhood found its way into "Coiled."

He had originally written the story as a novel for young adults. But after getting about two-thirds of the way through, he realized the format wasn't working.

The idea of creating it as a webcomic had intrigued him, and with the unfinished draft of the novel, he had a template for the story.
There was just one problem — he didn't consider himself to be a very strong artist.

Enter Kingsley, an illustrator from Port Townsend. Kingsley, who had drawn editorial cartoons for a local newspaper, answered an ad Gruenbaum placed seeking help in creating a webcomic.

After exchanging e-mails and discussing the project, Kingsley and Gruenbaum began collaborating on Coiled in the spring of 2010.
Despite communicating exclusively via phone and e-mail when working on a page and rarely meeting in person, their partnership has flourished.

"I respect his ear a whole lot for the writing, and he has great ideas about what frames work well," Kingsley said. "It's turned out to be a wonderful surprise that we work well together."

Of Kingsley's ability to illustrate a panel from a written script, Gruenbaum said, "It's amazing how good a job she does of getting what's in my head and getting it out there on the page."

The comic is published online at coiledcomics.com, at a rate of one panel per week — a manageable rate for Gruenbaum and Kingsley, if a bit slow for regular readers. Plans are in the works to print a hardcopy of the first part of the series later this year.

Gruenbaum said he has an outline for the main plot arc. To keep up with the pace of publishing online, the duo tries to work about three chapters ahead.

The main protagonist of the story is Joshua, a 12-year-old boy living in Redmond with his father, and who is drawn into a search for his missing mother. The return address on an envelope addressed by his mother leads him to an apartment in Yesler Terrace.

There he meets and befriends two East African teens, Ayana and Bakka, who, Gruenbaum hints during our interview, will join Joshua on an adventure into a virtual world that will drive the main plot of the story.

The characters of Ayana and Bakka are based on people that Gruenbaum met during the time he spent as a teacher in the Yesler Terrace computer lab.

Ayana is a bright, charming and outspoken Somali girl, who happens to live at the address on Joshua's envelope.

Bakka is a bit of a prankster and has a mischievous streak. From an Oromo family, he likes to adopt an embellished accent, though he's never left the United States.

In creating the characters of Ayana and Bakka, Gruenbaum relied in part on his experience working in Yesler Terrace. He and Kingsley also researched their respective cultures. While they tried to be faithful to both cultures, they also let the characters develop on their own.

"I try to portray it as real as I can, but I don't pretend to be an expert in those particular cultures," Gruenbaum said.

To recreate the Yesler Terrace of their series, Gruenbaum and Kingsley visited the neighborhood. Kingsley took numerous photographs, hoping to capture the look and feel of the community.

Though not the only star of the series, "Coiled" returns frequently to Yesler Terrace. The diversity of the location is one of the things that appealed most to Kingsley, who grew up in Seattle's Central Area.

"That area is such a mixing pot of immigrant populations coming in from all over the world," Kingsley said. "It's particularly a new take on things for Joshua, our protagonist, who's from Redmond. 

"I think it's a particularly rich part of the fabric of Seattle."

To read "Coiled," visit coiledcomics.com.

Used with permission from The Voice.