Steve Hamaker prefers to write - not draw - with a beer or two, and not to get all spiritual or New Age-y, but he prefers to write with this beer in the places he's writing about, so he can more authentically inhabit his surroundings.

Steve Hamaker prefers to write - not draw - with a beer or two, and not to get all spiritual or New Age-y, but he prefers to write with this beer in the places he's writing about, so he can more authentically inhabit his surroundings.

"It's not so much about the beer as it is being in a relaxing and comfortable place," Hamaker said. "I like having people around me. It helps me; it's part of the organic nature of how I'm writing this story. I want to feel in and around it, like I'm absorbing it. That's a very spiritual approach, I understand, but I do feel spiritually connected to this city, and especially this story."

Throughout Hamaker's web comic "PLOX," panels of Columbus landmarks are used as pauses, deep breaths between scenes with Chad, Roy and Kim, but the city also serves as a character itself. Indeed, half the joy of reading the comic, ostensibly about three people in a "World of Warcraft" guild, is the love of Columbus Hamaker shows throughout. There's Caffe Apropos! There's Club 185! Here's a joke about the Budweiser brewery! Hell, even a panel of street signs elicits a certain glee.

"People identify with things, and just because you're writing a good book or a good story, that only goes so far," Hamaker said. "You need people to be able to latch onto other things, whether that's iconography and things like that."

The comic didn't start this way. Hamaker's original ideas for the series had all but one of the characters living in Flint, Michigan, Hamaker's hometown, or in some generic city. Hamaker joked that he moved the setting because he didn't want to draw moving trucks for multiple characters, but in reality, "PLOX" was always destined to be as much about Columbus as it was the "World of Warcraft" community. It had to be. The city's as entwined in Hamaker's life as comics are, and he considers his move to the Arch City to attend CCAD in the '90s to have been a creative rebirth.

After graduating from CCAD, Hamaker worked a series of dream jobs in Columbus, starting with an action-figure design company (making toys for "Duke Nukem," "Speed Racer," and "Quake"), before eventually meeting up with local comics icon Jeff Smith. Hamaker's multi-hued reworking of Jeff Smith's masterpiece "Bone" was nominated for a Harvey Award and an Eisner Award, two of the most prestigious honors in the industry.

All along, Hamaker had designs to make his own comic ("I just didn't have the means to do it or the understanding of how to do it"), and would absorb whatever lesson he could from working closely with Smith.

"It's been kind of a slow burn over the last little over a decade now of just being in his presence and learning what I could from him; not just making comics but marketing and publishing and all that fun stuff," Hamaker said.

Aside from coloring Scott Kurtz' book "Table Titans" (and a few other similar projects), Hamaker's all-in on "PLOX." He's currently preparing a Kickstarter to collect the first chapters into a physical book, and planning for a future where he grows old with "PLOX" characters Chad, Roy and Kim.

"I could do this comic in my free time - whenever that is - and just post it online, but I want to do it more committedly, I want to put more into it. That's another lesson from Jeff: raising the bar for yourself and having that level of production value for something.

"That's my general goal now, to grow the comic in a different way. I want to do this comic for the rest of my life because now I've realized I could just write stories forever. These characters could grow older, they can change. Now I know who they are and they can tell me what to do and I can just make new stories. That's a very exciting thing to me and I've previously never had the opportunity to experience that for myself."

Photo by Meghan Ralston