Teen sets out to save jazz musician’s soul in Chicago man’s debut graphic novel

‘Every step of the way I was almost like, “This isn’t actually going to happen,” ’ Austin Paramore said of his journey to get his graphic novel published.

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Austin Paramore, who debuted his first graphic novel entitled, “Malcolm Kid and the Perfect Song,” holds his graphic novel while sitting outside the Henry B. Clarke House in the Near South Side neighborhood, Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Austin Paramore holds a copy of his graphic novel “Malcolm Kid and the Perfect Song” while sitting outside the historic Clarke-Ford House on the Near South Side.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

He did it.

Austin Paramore is now the proud author of the just-released young adult graphic novel “Malcolm Kid and the Perfect Song,” about a high school musician on a mission to help a cursed jazz musician whose soul is stuck inside a keyboard.

Paramore, 30, grew up in Bronzeville learning the jazz saxophone and drew inspiration from his experience, as well as the history of the neighborhood — which fostered such legendary musicians as Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke and Herbie Hancock.

And, like a jazz artist, Paramore found himself improvising to get the story he wanted to tell out of his head and onto bookshelves.

He began writing six years ago to get out of a creative rut while working as an insurance salesman for his father.

“I love my dad, but I didn’t particularly love my job, and I needed creative projects to try to keep myself sane,” said Paramore.

He also leaned into poetry, which was one of his loves from his days at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was part of the school’s music and spoken-word scene. Paramore compiled his best stuff and self-published it into a book of poems that became part of what landed him an internship at Leo Burnett, an ad agency headquartered in the Loop.

All the while, his story about Malcolm Kid — who lives in “New Bronzeville” — continued to come together. He enlisted an artist to bring the character to life in a few sample drawings.

Austin Paramore shows pages of his graphic novel.

Austin Paramore shows pages of his graphic novel.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Armed with youthful confidence and a what-do-I-stand-to-lose attitude, he headed to McCormick Place in 2017 to see if he could enlist the help of his favorite graphic novelists, who were greeting fans at a booth at the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo — better known as C2E2.

Author Ananth Hirsh and illustrator Yuko Ota — the creators of “Lucky Penny” — politely caved after about 30 seconds of Paramore pleading, took a look and quickly concluded: “Oh, this isn’t too bad.”

The duo said they’d show Paramore’s work to their editor.

“I didn’t expect them to actually do it. But they did. And she emailed me and actually became my editor,” he said.

“It’s almost like a blur. Every step of the way I was almost like, ‘This isn’t actually going to happen.’ ”

Paramore, who lives in the South Loop, recently went out with his fiancée, Julia Cartledge, to STK Steakhouse downtown to celebrate his birthday and the book’s publication.

Cartledge has something to celebrate, too. She finished her residency at Rush University Medical Center last week and is starting a new job at Swedish Covenant Hospital as an obstetrician-gynecologist.

Paramore’s book, which is illustrated by Sarah Bollinger, was published by ONI Press and can be found at local comic book and book stores, as well as on Amazon.

Reviews have been positive.

“It’s nice to see something I put out in the world that’s making people smile,” said Paramore.

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