Northwestern alumni honor former classmate by turning screenplay into comic book series

Jason Coffee (Communication '97) died in 2008 following surgery to remove a brain tumor.

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Jason Coffee (Communication '97) died in 2008 following surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Amy Whyte, Reporter

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Jason Coffee (Communication ’97) was an avid fan of television and film who dreamed of one day bringing his own words to life on the big screen.

Upon graduating from Northwestern, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream of becoming a screenwriter. But after a few years, his health began to decline, and he died in 2008 following surgery to remove a tumor from his brain. Although Coffee is now gone, a group of his friends think they have found a way for his words to live on.

This group, which includes alumni Doug Cohen (Communication ’97) and Todd Carney (Medill ’94), are currently working on a comic book series, titled “Warhawks,” based on a screenplay of the same name that Coffee wrote after graduating from NU.

“His mom told us he had asked her to make sure his voice was heard after he was gone,” Cohen said. “So that’s what started all this.”

The group pored through the collection of screenplays and television scripts Coffee had left behind, and “Warhawks” stood out as one that really “sparked,” Cohen said. But to stay true to Coffee’s vision for the film would require producing a multimillion-dollar blockbuster, for which the group would have needed the backing of a major studio. Instead, they looked to other mediums, eventually deciding to create a comic version.

“Comic books were a medium he really enjoyed, so it just seemed like a natural idea both for a memorial for him and a way to get the story out there,” Carney said.

Carney and his younger brother, Wade Carney (Communication ’97), who both became friends with Coffee while they were all attending NU together, were responsible for adapting the screenplay into comic book form. Although Carney had never written in comic book format before, he is a regular comic reader and said he and Coffee used to have lengthy discussions about comics.

“It’s one of those things where I kind of kick myself because I wish we had collaborated when he was in better health and when we were all living out here,” Carney said. “This way I got to learn the process of adapting a comic book from his screenplay and just kind of imagine what our conversations would be like while I was working.”

Joel Gomez, the comic book’s interior artist, said he signed on to the project because he thought the screenplay concept was a “unique story.”

“It felt very comic book,” Gomez said. “And I was attracted to the idea of what they were doing, trying to honor their friend. Sometimes getting something new and unique published in the comic book world can be a struggle, but I think this project is worth it.”

The screenplay, which Carney and his brother divided up into acts, will span six issues. Currently the group is focused on raising funds to publish the first book, but their ultimate goal is for the series to continue even after Coffee’s story has been told.

“We want his characters to live on forever, basically, to become this universe of characters that other writers can write stories for,” Cohen said. “And that way we can feel like we fulfilled our mission, which was for his voice to be heard, for his voice to live on.”

The group’s fundraising efforts have centered on Kickstarter, a website that allows potential backers to pledge donations toward their $21,000 goal.

“We decided to do this kind of online crowd funding instead of traditional fundraising because our mission is to spread Jason’s creative voice as widely as possible, and we thought we could reach the most people this way,” Cohen said.

If the group successfully reaches its goal before the April 18 deadline, they plan to attend comic book conventions to distribute the completed book and try to get it into stores.

“It’s been a wonderful project,” Carney said. “When people met (Coffee), they remembered him. He was very memorable, he was just such a character and so smart and so imaginative … and to be able to introduce him to a new generation of friends and fans, it’s just fantastic.”

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