When author Jason Gusmann began posting his semi-autobiographical novel Return to Snakeland on his blog in 2012, he never expected a stranger would ask to illustrate it or that a groundswell of support would help turn it into a printed graphic novel. Artist Aaron O’Brian discovered that Gusmann had written about his shared teenage obsession — Buffalo’s abandoned grain elevators, particularly one nicknamed “Snakeland”—and immediately contacted the author. Snakeland was a notorious teenage party location, but O’Brian was more interested in the artistic possibilities provided by the dilapidated structure and the Satanic graffiti that littered the place. Gusmann and O’Brian immediately set to work on telling a story that previously lived in legend and gossip: that of the several murders and suicides that took place in Kenmore, NY, a suburb of Buffalo, in the mid-1980s. Using Snakeland as a symbolic backdrop, Gusmann and O’Brian had managed to detail a macabre history lesson that has startling relevance today.
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After publishing the Return to Snakeland graphic novel, both Gusmann and O’Brian came to the realization that the story was far from over. Taking a much more objective view than Gusmann’s previous personalized, poetic text, O’Brian and Gusmann embarked on creating a podcast which would fully coordinate all of the murders, suicides and Satanism at the small high school, and perhaps find some sort of understanding along the way. As of now the podcast is a Limited Series at 10 episodes, but the plan is for the creative duo to expand that number if more information comes in and more perspective is added to the memories of Kenmore, NY in 1985.
Praise for the RETURN TO SNAKELAND Graphic Novel
“RETURN TO SNAKELAND’s superpower is conjuring a nagging curiosity in the mind of the reader for a place and time that one has never visited. My favorite moments, both written and drawn, are the ones that either zoom way out, surveying an entire remembered town and community in one all-encompassing bird’s-eye view; or zoom way in, focusing on one meaningful song, joke, or maddening fragment of a dream.”
– Joan Reilly, comics-maker, Amongst the Liberal Elite, The Big Feminist BUT (ed.)
“If you grew up in the suburbs north of Buffalo in the 1980s this book is like a time capsule… it covers teen age angst, anxiety and the overall apathy of the adults at that time…(they) did not make themselves available to step in like many tend to do now. We were on our own. It was liberating and frightening at the same time. Somehow most of us made it through. But as the book covers, some tragically did not make it and we will likely never really know why.“
– Emily, reviewer, Goodreads (5 star review)
“I marvel now at (Jason’s) ability to capture this twilight period – and those creepy fever dreams that actually happened – with both perspective and loyalty to the past…Aaron O’Brian’s angular illustrations and rich textures capture Jason’s story vividly. Aaron’s art imbues the text with both a gravity and humor I had initially missed. His work is alternately opaque, as fitting the story, and clear, providing much needed relief in this shadowy tale.”
– Mark Norris – Kenmore West, Class of 1990