Alter Egos is a column that highlights talented geeks in the Chattanooga area, tracing the origins of their favorite pop culture obsessions to their present-day hobbies.
Tara Hamilton’s love of reading and creating comics started in middle school when she was trying to outdo her cousin at drawing.
“It happened organically when I didn’t make the volleyball team,” Hamilton said.
While her cousin moved on to sports, Hamilton kept drawing and discovered American Comics and Cards. In between buying comics, she also tuned in to anime and cartoons on Adult Swim and Toonami.
Today, Hamilton sees being a geek as the norm, although many old-school geeks aren’t happy about it.
“There are so many options in media aimed at geeks that even casuals are going to conventions and finding things to enjoy,” she said. “Old geeks are furious. I sat next to one at a con and he told me as such.”
“Tabling at cons is my favorite thing to work toward,” Hamilton said. “The amount of people there, all of the merch you can’t get anywhere else—it is a huge mob of like-minded people.”
Hamilton took that idea one step further with the creation of Chatt Comix Co-Op, a collective of artists, writers and storytellers who discuss ideas and projects, and make them a reality.
“I planned for [the group] to just be on the internet, but then I was hanging flyers around town and Jason over at Infinity Flux was all, ‘Hey, I was wanting to make something like this!’ and I was like, ‘What? Let’s join forces!’ and then we did,” she said. “It was amazing, finding another person to get things done with.”
The group has produced four anthologies so far with the assistance of Infinity Flux and WonderPress, a local printing press that Hamilton calls “a gem in this town.”
Artists and writers interested in checking out the group can drop by Infinity Flux at 6 p.m. the first and third Thursdays of the month.
The art of collaboration
Collaboration is a constant theme for Hamilton. From her middle school days of drawing what she called a “mix of anime-magical-girl” comics to adulthood as an artist and graphic designer, she has constantly been creating comics but was looking for the perfect writing partner who could offer additional depth to the stories Hamilton was sketching out on the page, as well as thoughtful feedback.
“I remember working with a lot of writers before that would disappear or not accept critique and say, ‘It has to be just like I wrote it’ or, worse, let me do everything and just say, ‘That looks fine,’” she said.
That changed when she met Alison Burke through a mutual friend and the two started creating.
“ARRO” tells the story of a group of people hired by the American Research and Recovery Organization to search the Southeast for signs of life after a waterborne disease wipes out most of the civilization. Together, the two have worked on “ARRO” for seven years and published multiple books in the series, with a decidedly different spin from other post-apocalyptic tales.
“When Ali and I met up, she said that the zombie thing was sort of overwrought, and we needed to world-build a lot to make this different from the other stuff you see,” Hamilton said. “Finding a partner that you can truly collaborate with and really understands how to write to your strengths is like finding true love.”
Rachel Stewart grew up in the ’80s on a healthy diet of pop culture. In 2005, she discovered “Doctor Who” and never looked back. Since then, she co-founded the Tennessee Who Authority—a “Doctor Who” fan group—and has served as a panelist at fan conventions across the Southeast, including Con Nooga, Wholanta, Hurricane Who and ConGT. She also reviews “Doctor Who” novels and “Big Finish” audios at “The Oncoming Storm” podcast. Want to show off your alter ego? Email Rachel at [email protected].