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Billings: Behind the Scenes
by Greg Thelen

Billings, Montana, U.S.A., is known as the Magic City so named for its rapid growth after its founding in 1882 as a railroad town. Today, it is the largest city in the state of Montana and sits as a center for commerce for thousands of people in Southern Montana and Northern Wyoming. Now that I have the book report aspect completed, I can be more personal about Billings.

I moved to Billings in 1997 with my family when I was still in high school. I had only been to Billings a few times before, and its size always thrilled me. One thing you should know about Montana is that we consider any place with a population in five digits to be a "city." We're used to small towns and great distances between them. I had grown accustomed to cities like Great Falls and Butte, but both are much smaller than Billings. So Billings was a "big city" to me.

Now, I've grown into it, and it doesn't seem so "big" anymore. For a while, I was exactly like Chad in the first story, "James Murphy Is My Hero." In fact, a part of Chad still resides in me and many people in Billings. I've seen many close friends leave Billings for the opportunities and culture of real big cities, and every so often, that lure latches onto me. So what made me want to create a webcomic about Billings?

It started back in 2006 with a series of articles by Dirk Manning on Newsarama.com called "Write or Wrong." Like me, he was a writer trying to break into the comic book industry. He started his own webcomic and, more or less, spelled out how to do it. Write an anthology series of short, self-contained stories, and work with many artists to bring them to life. Manning's webcomic, Nightmare World, was a horror anthology, but horror is not a genre I care for. Most anthologies revolve around a central theme or genre (shows like The Twilight Show are perfect examples), and I never like to stay within one theme or genre for very long. After much contemplation, it was apparent to me. It was staring me right in the face. I would create an anthology centered around a place.

That place would obviously be Billings, MT, U.S.A. I could use the Magic City as the backdrop for my stories, sometimes making them the focal point of the stories. This freed me to write in any genre and any theme I could want. One story could be dramatic, another could be funny, another could be just plain weird. You would never know what story would come next, and that created a spark in me.

Of course, the problem with this is that most people in the internets have never been to Billings nor could find it on a map--including my artists! We're not instantly recognizable like New York or London, so that's where this page comes in handy. This page will show side by side pictures of the comics and the city.

I will update this with each story that requires it. Enjoy!


"James Murphy Is My Hero"
Art by Nick Palazzo

The first story had the most important task: introduce Billings to the outside world. The most prominent aspect of Billings are the series of cliffs that make up its northern border. We call them the Rims. As you can see, there is very little correlation between what Nick drew and what photo reference I could provide him. That's because there's no possible way to get this shot without the use of a helicopter or my superhuman ability to fly which I don't have. I coupled this with my own drawing of the city that eventually morphed into what you see in the comic. (It came complete with a guide! And no, you will never see this.) Poor Nick. There was almost no way to really get this shot perfect, but I think he did an admirable job.

"Tunnel Vision"
Art by Jose Sanchez

The final scene in "Tunnel Vision" will not be instantly recognizable to most residents of the Magic City. One day a few years ago on one of my rides around town, I found this little park on the corner of 15th St. W. and Lewis Ave., Spring Creek Park. The reason I stopped here is because of the duck signs that surround it. As the name might suggest, there is a creek that runs through here and in between some houses, so it's a natural haven for ducks. Originally when I looked at the final page from Jose, I thought the ducks were running around, but now they look like they're swimming on a pond. Since there is not pond here, I intrepret them to be running around. :)


What is Magic City? It is humor, it is drama, it is hope, it is despair, it is normal, it is weird, it is under-standable, and it is unintelligible. It is a town growing into a city, trying to find its identity. This may or may not capture that correctly nor will it attempt to do so. If it does, then all the better. Magic City is an idea sprung from the mind of one Greg Thelen. He lives in the Magic City better known to the rest of the world as Billings, Montana, U.S.A. This takes place in that town-growing-into-a-city, and it is not bound by any rules or restrictions other than what comes out of its creators' minds and hands. One story will be funny, the next will be sad, the next will leave you scratching your head, the next will give you an inexplicable emotion. Whatever may happen from here on out, we hope you will be entertained, and that you will come back for more.

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Questions, comments, praises, furious rants? Email the writer at:
greg.thelen @ gmail.com
(c) copyright 2007 and beyond, Greg Thelen. Do not steal artwork for your own nefarious purposes. It belongs to its respective artist.