For Christopher Condon ’20, few Montclair State experiences could eclipse being able to take a class on the work of John Milton with Dr. Jeffrey Alan Miller, Milton scholar and 2019 MacArthur Fellow. “It wasn’t a required course, but what an opportunity,” he says. “It was so cool to get a sense of the depth of Dr. Miller’s knowledge on the topic.”
Before he arrived at Montclair State, Condon had studied Cinema and Fine Arts at Middlesex College and attended classes at California’s Woodbury University. Internships with West Hollywood’s Renfield Productions and Trailers From Hell led to paying jobs, and it would seem that his career was on track.
But something was missing. “I always wanted to finish my degree,” he says. “Even though I had good jobs in my field, education was important to me. I really wanted to be the first in my family to graduate from college.”
When he moved back to New Jersey, Condon happened to land in Montclair. He learned about Montclair State University, visited the campus, and decided to enroll. “I started out thinking I would study film or creative writing, but those tracks didn’t feel like enough of a stretch for me,” he says. “I didn’t want to re-learn what I had already been doing for years.”
Condon brought his dilemma to one of his professors, who assured him that the University would work with him toward a solution. “I was overjoyed,” he says. “It was the first time I had experienced that kind of collaboration in a school setting.”
The result of those conversations was matriculation as an English major – the perfect choice, according to Condon.
“The classes were great – they really got you thinking,” he says, recalling the courses he took with Dr. Jeffrey Gonzalez in particular. “Even if I didn’t like the reading he assigned, I made sure I was prepared to say something in class. Sometimes the discussions were pretty heated. Dr. Gonzalez and the other professors in the program made sure that we engaged with the material.”
The inspiration for Condon’s first graphic novel soon followed. “I had ideas for the first arc of That Texas Blood, titled A Brother’s Conscience, while re-reading Hamlet for a class,” he says. “The story centered on a writer and was very much about that time in my life. The reading and research I did for my classes helped influence my style.”
Working with artist Jacob Phillips, Condon created the first story arc for That Texas Blood, which was released in 2020 by Image Comics, the world’s third-largest publisher of comics and graphic novels. The series quickly gained popularity and acclaim, described as “Paris, Texas gut-punched by No Country for Old Men” and “True Grit meets Breaking Bad.” Condon and Phillips also release Brutal Dark, an independent digital comic, directly to subscribers through Patreon.
Success has, at times, felt a little surreal for Condon. “You see sales numbers on a screen, but you don’t get a sense of how readers feel about your work,” he says.
Fortunately, Condon’s alma mater offered him an in-person opportunity to connect with fans last November, when Dr. Gonzalez invited him to give a talk for students. “I tried to stress that success is the result of doing the work – I have been developing these stories for years,” he says. “You just have to keep at it and get your work out there.”
He enjoyed speaking with the students who lined up afterward to ask questions, and was excited to learn that the English Department is beginning to take an interest in comic books as a medium. “I would love to come back to campus to talk about comic book history,” he says.
Condon and Phillips are well into developing the third story arc for That Texas Blood. “We are doing research – working on character designs, reading books and watching movies for inspiration,” he says. The first of the series’ six issues is due out in June.
It is times like these that remind Condon of his Montclair State classes. “Some days I wish I had the curriculum notes from my courses,” he says with a laugh. “I would appreciate having the professors’ lists of articles and reference materials that took us on a deep dive of whatever piece we were working on.”
Condon’s Montclair State take-aways go beyond academics, however. “Montclair State is not a gigantic school, and that is where the magic lies,” he says. “I was able to get to know my professors as human beings. They were able to draw us, the students, out to understand what we were thinking. They made us feel important.”
Condon carries that kind of commitment forward every month, when he writes personal notes to all of his Patreon subscribers. “I really appreciated how the professors cared for us as individuals,” he says. “I want to do the same for my fans.”
“You might not even realize how much Montclair State changes your way of thinking,” Condon advises today’s students. “The education you receive at Montclair State is special. Homework and tests might feel like a drag, but at the end of the day, you’ll be drawing on what you learned here. Let the experience do its work – let it shape you into who you are going to become.”