Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Hunt: A Boise Story

Local artist Chris Hunt celebrates publication of his graphic series Carver: A Paris Story


On a wall of Tenth Street Station hangs a piece of ephemera that literally outshines its dim-lit, subterranean surroundings—a framed comics page alive with fire. Look closer and it reveals a solitary man mulling tortured thoughts before a raging bonfire. The inscription at the bottom of the page reads, "For Tenth Street Station: The Official Home of Carver."

Seated a few feet to the right, in a particularly gloomy corner of the barroom, sits Chris Hunt—a pack of American Spirits and a glass of Bulleit Bourbon arrayed on the table before him.

The Carver of the page is an avatar of Hunt at the table. The latter created the former as a Hemingway-inspired "gentleman of fortune" tormented by love and war and subject of the multi-part series Carver: A Paris Story, the final installment of which was recently published by Z2 Comics. Now, after more than five years of heartache, toil and a semi-nomadic existence between France, Florida, New York and Boise, the former is in the process of establishing the latter as an up-and-coming graphic artist.

Inked in a black-and-white style that is both muscular and elegant, the story is set against the backdrop of a violent 1920s Paris filled with masked anarchists and mysterious plots. Into this dangerous world, deeply damaged World War I hero Francis Carver is called back the City of Light to help an old flame. When he arrives, however, he quickly realizes there is more to the summons—and more blood to spilled because of it—than he could ever imagine.

It's an exotic setup resplendent with Lost Generation literary references, First World War history and enough period touches to reward second and third readings. However, while Carver: A Paris Story is alive with a sweeping sense of place and time, it all started at that table at Tenth Street.

"What came to be Carver: A Paris Story was the result of relationships that were built here," Hunt said, sitting in his customary corner seat—chosen because he "likes to sit in a place where nobody can attack me from the back."

Hunt was half joking, but things do have a way of attacking from behind.

Tracing Carver's evolution, Hunt goes back to early 2010, when he traveled to France to visit his then-girlfriend—"the real Catherine," he said, referring to the fictional lost lover who drives much of what transpires in Carver: A Paris Story.

In a case of art imitating life, Hunt's relationship fell apart in Paris. At the time, he was applying for a residency with renowned artist Paul Pope at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. As part of the process, he drew a 10-page comic, which turned out to be the first time he put the character of hard-charging adventurer Francis Carver on paper—then named Archer (prior to the FX cartoon series) and placed in an homage to Hemingway's Death in the Tall Grass.

"I always loved Hemingway, and my uncle lived in Alaska, so I grew up reading exaggerated adventure stories. ... Tall tales told by hunters in a bar somewhere," Hunt said.

Jumping from Paris to Florida, where he forged a connection with Pope that would ultimately place him in New York and see Carver published, then back to Boise, Hunt again found himself in the corner at Tenth Street—this time talking to another former girlfriend, who was telling him of her impending marriage.

"Between that experience and this other person, the kind of story I wanted to write was this jaded version of Before Sunrise," he said. "So I sat down here in the most cliched manner possible and wrote the first draft of Carver: A Paris Story."

Again, things have a way of sneaking up and flipping the script. While Hunt's first foray into Carver was "a little more sappy," he said, the story took a darker turn when two of his close friends died in quick succession in 2011.

"It ruined me and everybody else," Hunt said. "I didn't know what to do. I lost myself. That's when I really started drinking, to be honest."

In grieving for both his friends and romantic relationships, Hunt found himself shifting Carver into bleaker territory—away from the star-crossed lover drinking to forget and toward a man shattered by war, fighting to regain a sense of place and self.

"What Carver has become and is, it's definitely about addressing how someone can lose themselves because of pain and how they can associate that with a place," he said.

Hunt doesn't disagree that his themes present a throughline to Lost Generation writers like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald—the latter who makes a deeply funny yet unheralded cameo in the series—but it wasn't intentional that they became so central to Carver. Rather, they were lived experiences that informed what he still regards as an adventure story, not the hard-boiled '20s noir that some reviewers have labeled it.

"This whole thing is predicated on me creating the story I wished people were creating," Hunt said, noting that he took a lot of chances with obscure references and even foreign languages.

"I love the kind of story that makes me have to work for it," he added.

As for the hard work of finding one's own place, Hunt is still hustling for it. He'll soon travel with Pope to a comics festival in Bilbao, Spain, where he hopes something sparks creatively—whether it's a return to the world of Carver or something else.

Perhaps as foreshadowing, Hunt acknowledged the scene depicted on the wall at Tenth Street, drawn long before Carver became a reality, was from an unrealized story set in northern Spain.

"I think the search for place is more the search for some sort of peace," he said. "I viewed this as kind of a pilot. This is where the story begins."