I’ve known Julian for a few years now, and he’s even contributed to a couple of posts I’ve done here. We came up around a lot of the same stuff, though several states and a couple years apart, and his perspective is always something interesting and engaging. I’m pretty sure I spent most of one New York Comic-con chilling at or around his table while he was hustling to get some commissions done and chatting about ’90s rap, superheroes, and where comics need to go. Pay attention.
His style is something like modern pop–something you could describe as “ripped from the headlines” if it wasn’t just slightly ahead of the curve. Bright colors, bold design, and slick composition make up his Guns’n'Honey series, while his figure work is part-manga/anime, part-superheroic style, and part-something else. We’ll call it Future Pop. Right now, you can check his website or his webcomic Ants. Click any of the images in this piece to be taken to his Flickr account. If you see him at a con, hit him up and get on his list for art. You won’t regret it.
We’re around the same age, though I think you’re a little older than I am. What’s your genesis? How’d you get into comics and what made you pursue in art? Basically, who is Julian Lytle, and how did he come to be?
Yeah, man, I’m getting old. It’s all mental though. When I was little, I wanted to be an “everything scientist.” I can’t tell you what that is, but then I saw the original weeklong Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. That got me hyped. I started drawing really back then. I could draw a perfect copy of the cartoon-style Turtles. I also used to watch this show called Secret City on PBS. It was like a personal art class everyday. I used to tape it. I loved to watch Bob Ross, all the landscapes and happy trees.
I didn’t fall in love with comics or anything until X-Men #1, which I think is one of the best superhero comics ever made. Jim Lee was gully on that book. The opening with the training to this day looks beyond what I can do to me. I was hooked on X-Men from that day. I had all the trading cards. My first comics were DC though. But, comic books wasn’t my thing until 12. Before that, the comic strips were my thing.
Another thing that got me into art was popularity to a degree. I wasn’t an athlete or the smartest or the best looking, but I could draw the best. And as a kid, being the guy that could draw a Ninja Turtle was some juice. Even girls liked them. The schools always pushed me, like them kids who could play basketball and stuff. I never felt like the ostracized fanboy, I guess ’cause I liked video games and sports. I think that helped my art, I try to stay with what’s current, what’s poppin’.
Your style is pretty distinct. If I had to describe it in terms of genre, it’s like “retro future pop.” Your style brings throwback designs, trends, and styles into the future, updating them for the modern day and adding a splash of bright color into the mix. I’m thinking specifically of the Jubilee picture you did a few years back and your Guns’n'Honey series. They aren’t in a typical pinup style, but still manage to work extremely well. How’d you develop this style?
Well, my mom died in the summer of 2006 and I didn’t draw for a couple of months. I was watching some videos on TV and it got me thinking. My friend gave me the line “guns and honey” and I started drawing a cute woman from a picture and she had a gun. I changed some stuff that I didn’t like. I did another one and another.
Those are the first Guns N’ Honey. Kind of just experiments and getting my feet wet again. Then I started thinking about what I was seeing in rap videos. The things you see the most are women, usually objectified. They also, most of the time, talk about violent acts. Rap also has a need to boast about things, particularly fashion–Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Vuitton, all of that. So I mixed all that up, but instead of men with guns, like others have done before, I used women. But I wanted it to look like a fashion spread you’d see in Vogue or V.
I used design elements and typography to set apart my pieces from the most. I want to use bigger, coloured, zip-a-tone style shading. I started taking lyrics from songs I listened to. I got “Talk to the Cannon” from Weezy on that Dedication 2 mixtape. The piece made itself. I found the reference on my computer that I knew would work, changed some things, had my colourway set, and laid out the type and bam, it was done.
Over time I started trying to make them look like old genre movie poster or pulp novels. Robert McGinnis is a big influence, but so is Hype Williams. I’ve also always wanted to get into fashion illustration since I was really young. So, this is, in a way, me just doing stuff on my own for myself.
I’ve been told I draw the type of girl I want. I don’t know about that, but I do try to draw women that look strong and dangerous, but not all naked for any old reason. Not every woman has huge breasts, and, you know, a woman with a B-cup and a t-shirt on looks good too. I also like taking poses of men and flipping them with women, like Malcolm X’s window picture and James Bond’s Quantum of Solace newspaper ad.
So, you could say that my style is from consumption and regurgitation. It is pop culture because that is where it comes from. What’s funny is that I couldn’t draw a female without copying from a comic book until I was like a senior in high school. I sucked at drawing women until college. Now, that is all I draw.
It’s 2010 in America. We’ve got a black president, Luke Cage is running the Avengers, and Jay-Z is one of the biggest entertainers around. Black culture permeates the fabric of America at this point. We’re inescapable. I know you read a whole lot of comics, probably more than I do, so I’m curious: are you happy with where mainstream and indie comics have ended up with regards to black people? Is there anything you wish you could change?
I think with all this progress we’ve gotten in the real world I think comics is at times, especially the mainstream books going backwards. I like Bendis’s Luke Cage; I like how he’s so important right now. But a lot of other characters are like missing, or like Bishop in the X-books: made insane.
And random hair growth bothered me too. Brother Voodoo grew the quickest dreads ever. Cloak magically got a perm, then got thin dreads, too. Cloak had a close almost baldy the last time we saw him. Firestorm is just used for tragedy in Blackest Night, Mr. Terrific got shanked in JSA. I don’t know what is really happening to most black characters in DC. A big Green Lantern event and John Stewart has really done nothing. Like, he is the most known GL right now. Not Hal. Not Kyle. Heck, Guy has some more buzz in actual use than those two. Now, that will change once the movie comes out, but JLU still comes on Saturday nights on CN. So, John is still that dude.
I think they really don’t have any creators that know how to write black characters, or really even minority characters, well. So they don’t. The writers who do kinda get driven out. I guess it’s because the middle of the country won’t buy a minority book (that includes women too) but that won’t change if they won’t try.
I think even when a creator like Morrison will make some minority characters, the creators don’t use them and the fans complain about them. I want a Manhattan Guardian book with a Newsboy Army co-feature. How come no one pitched that? If someone did, why can only Morrison do it, why did the editors pass on this? That pitch writes itself. Shoot, I have a whole one in my head. One for Mister Miracle, too. Maybe you don’t even publish it as a regular comic, try another way and market it somewhere else. They don’t promote any of this stuff in other places that an audience that might buy it.
I can’t really speak on indies. I buy a couple and it’s so diverse in terms of content that I can’t say “There are not enough blacks in indies.” Then people might say, “Then look at this and this,” and those books might sell like 1k copies, but it’s out there. Webcomics are also out there and they cover everything.
Webcomics are the new indie comics, the place where aspiring creators can make their name without having to go through a major publisher or sign over any rights. Your Ants has been going for several months now. Do you want to do print books or are you going to continue to make headway on the web? Do you want it to stay digital?
I want to stay on the web. I don’t want to print. It costs too much. My mind might change, maybe for shows, but I don’t plan to print until I can do some comic strip style Treasury books. Like them big Calvin and Hobbes joints, where it had the watercolour cover. That is what Ants will come out in. Maybe if there is enough demand one day. I’m more pumped about doing something for the iPad.
I know we share a lot of common interests, from video games to X-Men. As far as pop culture and mass media goes, what are you consuming? Do you ever find things creeping into your work, intentionally or unintentionally?
Man, I consume a whole lot of stuff. I’m trying to see most of the movies nominated in the Academy Awards this year. I’m about 65% there. I won’t see most of the foreign films, I know that.
I’ve been watching some good TV. Mad Men was great this year. I think that is going to influence me. I have some plans. I’ve also been re-watching The Wire and I think you can tell in Ants, by little inside jokes in Ants. HBO is always holding me down; Big Love is great this season. The new show on HBO, How to Make it in America is going to be the new thing, like THE hustle show. Aspirational for young folks in this recession. Just watch.
On music, I just got onto Jay Electronica. Man, he is good. Exhibit C is the best hip hop/rap song last year. Lupe is doing some good work. I’m glad Mos Def is steady putting out verses. Shoot, I think people are seeing my stuff. I think that new Rihanna video for “Hard” looks like stuff I draw.
I’m also reading One Piece, thanks to you, and now I’m hooked. Naruto is still my favorite thing to read and Bleach is still good.
I think this will be the year of Drake and Kid Cudi. They are going to get bigger. I’m loving the return of fighting games. That’s the genre of gaming closest to my heart. The fighting game was like the first real social gaming. You had to go out to play and even when you had it at home you had to have people come over to test your skills. Then everyone goes out to the arcade to battle.
You’re given a blank check and complete creative control. I don’t necessarily want to know the idea behind it (though if you can share that, dope), but what’s your dream project look like? What format is it in? Is it something sized oddly like Wednesday Comics? Something that’s just ideas on the page, James Jean’s Process Recess? A multi-volume epic that puts Homer to shame?
Well, I do plan to do a story where each released chapter will be called a single, and some singles will have a B-side. And arcs will be called “EPs” and the whole season will be an “LP” or Album. And when I release it, it will be like an old vinyl album with the liner notes you pull the book out of with a record look on the cover. So each season will be like a slipcase. With dope art on that. With an unlimited budget I’d make a movie and an animated series. All my stories will have endings to a point. The story is essentially a mashup of Kung Fu/Wuxia stories with modern urban culture and rap music, and I mean rap not hip-hop. I’m talking 8Ball and MJG, Jeezy, Wu-Tang, Lil’ John, Swishahouse, and stuff like that. I’d also have every season have a series of mixtapes to go with it, like a real one with real DJs and artists. I’d make it the hottest comic book of this era.
Also I’d draw a Little Nemo sized hardcover of Peter Pan. I’ve wanted to do a like a comic/storybook thing with that since I was in college. All set in today’s time frame.
Do you want to work for Marvel and DC, or companies like them? What are you aiming for, as far as a career in comics goes? Are you a hardcore “Maintain creative control at all times” guy or are you down for work-for-hire?
I’d work for the big two, I don’t think I can do what they like and my storytelling needs work really. I also don’t want to do most of what they want. Or the fans either, at least the LCS crowd. I don’t want to draw Batman, Superman, or Spider-Man. I don’t want to draw the X-men people love a lot. I liked Generation X and X-Force (old version). I kind of hope that one day I can do little side projects with their characters like Paul Pope did with Batman Year 100. I like the characters no one else does, like Jubilee, Dazzler, Hawk, and Dove. I see potential in them. I think the older I get the less I want to play in their playground. Maybe if I would’ve broken in 5 years ago I would care. Vertigo seems like a cool place. They do interesting projects, yet are still mainstream. Like a comic book Miramax before the Weinsteins left.
One thing I dig about your style is that you draw actual clothes. A lot of comics types have generic clothes that they’ll pull out– a blue boy’s shirt, a pink baby tee for the ladies, and jeans that look suspiciously like spandex with a belt on top. The stuff you draw looks like things people might actually wear. Do you follow fashion or people watch? What makes something cool?
Man I follow, but not super close because I’m broke. But yeah I keep some mags in the crib like Complex, GQ, W, and some others. I look at sites and ads for clothing. Videos have stuff in them I like. I look at people a lot; I bet people think I’m a weirdo. I was never that big on spandex, it just doesn’t make sense. Like, does anyone like to wear that much of it? You know some leggings on women can be really dope, but usually what I see in comics is kinda lame. Most of really cool looking gear is on the streets and runways. I want people to see my drawing and almost be able to dress up as them. Like these could be photo spreads on a billboard in SoHo or Times Square. And whoever is styling Rihanna, I think we share the same astral plane apartment, cause I’ve thought up some of those looks.
For your money, what are the comics or creators that people need to be checking for right now? Do you have anyone in mind as being the next big thing? Is there somebody toiling in obscurity who deserves major buzz?
My friend D-Pi, he’s been dope for a long time now. I like Brandon Graham a lot. Corey “Reyyy” Lewis is really dope, his work has a serious energy. Harvey James‘s work is excellent. Marcos Martin is probably one of the best artists Marvel has and he’s not pushed to me at all. My friend Mike Norton has been doing solid work for years and I think he’s not getting the shine he deserves. He’s not late. EVER. A friend of mine, Dave Wachter, is doing a great western webcomic called The Guns of Shadow Valley. It’s really dope. And I think the western fans need to really look at the big manga-ka, I think they are ahead of us in terms of serialized pacing. Like a whole new level.
What’s your process look like? I want to say that you work with pencils, blue line, and then inks, but you also do post-production and design in Photoshop. From idea to sketch to finished product, how do you work?
I kind of go from a note or a line I heard or read, and then I sketch it out really small. I then blow that sketch up and draw it out in blue pencil. Then I scan that and print it out on some Bristol in a light magenta or cyan and go to inks. So, by reading this you can see I like draw one piece like 3 times. Then I scan it, and go into Photoshop and start to colour it. I don’t plan my colours out, but I have an idea of a scheme in my head when I think it up. Sometimes I have more than one, like colourways for Nikes. That’s how I think. I then work out the text and the layout and add some wear or texture to the piece and it’s done. I have a bunch of different ideas that are still in the sketch stage and I plan to start painting a few this year. You know, to get my artist game up.
Do you have anything you want to pimp for the future, any projects we should be watching out for? What’s your plan for 2010?
Well, this year I plan to start up the Bud Wonder and Tony Gogo webcomic. It’ll have the whole original single issue I printed in 2006 and all new stories. The site is up now, but I’m working on the final design and plan to have a real launch around spring.
I’ll be the artist spotlight in the May issue of Heavy Metal. It comes out the last week of March. That really surprised me.
I have been working on a Zuda pitch called Crush City for a while now, but I might not go that route. It might be too much fire for that crowd. We’ll see.
I might put out comics like Weezy mixtapes this year. I’ll be making more Guns N’ Honey so check the site for those. Hopefully, I’ll get an Artist Alley table at NYCC, I’ll also be at CGS Super Show in March, maybe Baltimore and maybe SPX. So far, that is all I have planned for the Twenty-Dime. Oh, keep reading Ants! There are no plans other than finishing up the Eggo Asgard Saga then it’s back to just regular old talking mess about the world.