August 2018 marked the 150th birthday of the Chisholm Trail. It was a month of celebration and commemoration of the trail that brought thousands of cattle north from Texas to the Kansas railhead.
Instead of cramming 150 candles into a cake, Jay Price, director of the public history program at Wichita State University, decided to make a series of graphic novels to commemorate the trail.
“Luke the Longhorn” is a trilogy. The books follow Luke, a fictional longhorn, and his journey on the Chisholm Trail. While traveling, Luke meets historical figures like Wichita founders James R. Meade and William Greiffenstein.
“We asked ourselves what a story would look like from the cow’s perspective,” Price said. “Thinking about it on the drive home, Luke wandered into my life.”
Each book covers time-specific moments from 1860 to 1880. Book one focuses on the establishment of Wichita as a settlement, the creation of the Chisholm Trail and cattle drives. Book two covers Wichita’s fight to get the railroads. Book 3 will be about cowboys and the life of Wichitans.
researcher and writer for "Luke the Longhorn"
Each novel takes about a year and a half to complete. During that time, the writers spend extensive amounts of time researching and storyboarding.
Alicia Duran and Andrea Wilson are the researchers and writers for the graphic novel series. Before working on “Luke the Longhorn," they primarily wrote historical papers. They enjoyed the challenge of learning how to go from historical to narrative writing.
“We had to adjust our expectations of what could fit into the story and how we could tell the story,” Duran said.
Wilson and Duran maximized the amount of information on each page by leaning on the drawings to tell large portions of the story.
Depictions were difficult to create because reference photos are scarce. Instead, “Luke the Longhorn” artists based all their drawings of characters, locations and culture on descriptions from old diaries and newspapers.
“There is lots of guesswork,” Miles Foley said, artist and writer.
To create Jessie Chisholm, the writers used descriptions from his family and even used family members themselves.
“We modeled Jessie Chisholm after his grandson and were able to get some perspective on how Jessie Chisholm would have walked and sat in a saddle,” Wilson said.
Price said he and the other creators behind the graphic novels hope to invigorate middle-school students’ passion for history.
“We wanted to make it informative, thought-provoking and entertaining,” Wilson said.
As the third and last installment nears release, Jay Price is looking forward to how they can share other moments in history through the lens of a graphic novel.
“We are looking into a Wichita State history graphic novel,” Price said.
“Luke the Longhorn” comics can be found at the Newton Historical Museum, Watermark Books & Café and the Wichita Shocker Store.