— By

Staff Writer

A failed romance has turned into comic book immortality for Portland.

DC Comics artist Sean Murphy, a New Hampshire native, based scenes in his new comic book, ”Joe the Barbarian,” on the views and vistas of Portland.

Murphy, 29, visited Portland when he was dating a woman with Maine ties a few years ago. The romance didn’t last, but his mental images of Portland did.

So when he was teamed with the award-winning Scottish comic book writer Grant Morrison on ”Joe the Barbarian” — the story of a diabetic boy with an active imagination who is bullied mercilessly at school — Murphy thought of Portland’s red brick buildings and seaside vistas as the perfect setting.

”I liked the feel of Portland. (Morrison) just described the town in the story as any American town, so I sent him some pictures and asked him if Portland would be all right,” Murphy said. ”Growing up in New England, I’ve always felt like New England is under-represented in media, so I was glad to do this.”

Murphy will sign copies of ”Joe the Barbarian” and answer questions from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Casablanca Comics, at 151 Middle St. in Portland.

The first issue of the eight-issue limited series was released by DC Comics’ Vertigo brand in January, and Murphy is now on a ”mini-tour” in New England to promote it. He lives and works in Brooklyn.

Having Portland as the inspiration for a comic book setting is a big deal — to comic book fans, anyway. Rick Lowell, who owns Casablanca Comics with his wife, Laura O’Meara, said it’s the first time he can think of that Portland has been the setting for a major comic book.

”I think a superhero might have stopped into Maine for a panel or two, but there’s never been a whole book,” Lowell said. ”And it really looks like here, which is so cool.”

Plus, its creators are stars in the comic book industry, making this a high-profile project. Murphy’s other art credits include ”Batman/Scarecrow” and ”Teen Titans” for DC. Morrison has worked on ”JLA” and ”All Star Superman” for DC, and ”Fantastic Four” and ”New X-Men” for Marvel Comics.

The scenes in ”Joe the Barbarian” are not exact copies of Portland locations. But many buildings look a lot like those scattered around Portland’s Old Port and East End, and there’s a hill that looks a lot like Munjoy Hill. One scene, of a cemetery overlooking a harbor and a downtown skyline, looks similar to Portland’s Eastern Cemetery, which overlooks Portland Harbor.

Murphy grew up in Derry and Meredith, N.H., and went to the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. He was in college when he began doing assignments for major comic book companies. He is now under exclusive contract to DC.

While creating comic books keeps him busy, Murphy has an idea for his own graphic novel: a science-fiction story about a clone of Jesus Christ who stars in his own reality TV show.

So if you see Murphy on Saturday, be sure to ask about that.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

[email protected]

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