What if Stranger Things was set in Winona, Minnesota?
That’s the question actor and author Shawn Boyd asked himself before getting started on the new graphic novel Winona, Forever. Boyd wrote and self-published the story of Darby, Boots, Sci-Fi, and Pretty Boy, four schoolkids from Winona, Minnesota, who hunt down a mysterious relic on Halloween of 1987.
The story is, in Boyd’s words, very specifically Winona. The plot follows these four social outcasts as they team up with three popular kids to find a magical item in a haunted monastery and save their friend’s mom. Along the way, they find adventure, first loves, and a secret society, all against the backdrop of Winona in the ’80s. For example, the journey takes them through the Winona Public Library, the Basilica of St. Stanislaus and St. Stanislaus School, and the former St. Peter Martyr Priory on Stockton Hill. One of the characters, Darby, even lives among the Latsch Island boathouses.
As Boyd says, “You can leave your hometown. But it never leaves you.”
Boyd attended middle school and high school in Winona, making Winona, Forever something of an homage. His father is a former Dominican brother who lived in the Dominican Priory near Winona. After he left the order, his family moved to the southeastern Minnesota town, where they befriended the caretaker of the priory where Boyd’s father had once lived. Over time, the caretaker began coming to dinner on Sunday nights and sharing ghost stories about the priory.
Years later, Boyd now lives in New Mexico, but he couldn’t shake those childhood ghost stories. When reflecting on what stories he wanted to tell, he kept coming back to his experience at Catholic school, feeling like an outsider with a small, close-knit group of friends. The nostalgia of his grade-school years collided with the ghost stories, and thus the idea for Winona, Forever was born.
“As a kid, I always thought the mark of a good writer is making everything up. But now I think that’s only half of the truth.” Boyd says. “I think that great writers take something from their own experience and fictionalize it.”
Boyd says he is a storyteller at heart (as an actor, he’s appeared in TV shows Get Shorty on Epix and Chambers on Netflix), and he realized that to be able to work on projects he really enjoyed, he needed to write his own stories. So, he taught himself screenwriting and then turned to copywriting and advertising work.
He originally wrote Winona, Forever as a movie screenplay, but when show production shut down due to the pandemic, Boyd realized that it could take on another form—so he literally flipped the script.
“In many ways, a graphic novel is almost like a storyboard for a movie,” Boyd says. “If you were to hand someone a graphic novel, you would be basically handing them a blueprint for a movie. Maybe that’s why we’re seeing so many graphic novels and comics become movies.”
Boyd connected with illustrator Elijah Henry through a mutual friend, and the two of them got to work.
Henry has never been to Winona, Boyd says, so Boyd would make Pinterest boards and pull photos to show Henry what the town looks like and make it authentic. As Boyd’s childhood-inspired story came to life through Henry’s illustrations, Winona, Forever took on both a familiar and fantastical feeling.
“We’re creating a version of Winona that’s our own.” said Boyd. “So in some ways, it’s really accurate and in other ways it’s a total place apart.”
From there, Winona, Forever’s journey from idea to print reflects a spirit of homegrown excitement. Boyd knew he needed to find an audience and account for the costs of self-publishing, so he turned to Kickstarter in February of 2021. Boyd originally asked for $800 to help cover the cost of printing and shipping for the first two books. But on the first day alone, he received almost $5,000.
“I was a little overwhelmed. I thought only in my wildest dreams could we raise even $2,000 in total.” said Boyd, “It was a lot to take in.”
The interest in Winona Forever continued to grow on Kickstarter and by the end Boyd had raised almost $8,000. Now, Boyd is able to take Winona Forever to LA Comic Con this winter.
“It’s incredible that I can now go share the book with strangers in person.” Boyd says. “It will be really fun to see comic fans in person and see if it’s of interest to them and why.”
The first two Winona, Forever graphic novels are available at winonaforeverbooks.com, the Winona visitor center, and can be checked out at the Winona Public Library. The third and final installment in the series will be available in spring of 2022.