I’m hoping to make a few interviews a weekly part of Black Future Month ’10. I thought about doing the usual rigamarole–”How you doing, how’s it feel to be a black artist in the predominately white comics industry, have you ever been a victim of racism, have you ever been shot, so whatchu think about Obama?”–but I’m having trouble thinking of anything more boring/depressing/terrible. Why interview anyone if you’re going to ask them the same old questions?
Instead, I want to focus on the work. These cats are people who you should be watching out for. This isn’t a comprehensive list, obviously, just a few people whose work I dig and who deserve your attention. Given enough time and knowledge, I’d hit up everyone I ever liked for interviews.
My (loose) plan is to follow each interview up with a piece that is related in some way. The first of those hits on Saturday. It may provide some continuity, it may not, who knows.
I think the first work of yours I saw were the covers for Vertigo’s old Hellblazer: Papa Midnite miniseries. You’ve done work on a few other books for Vertigo, including an OGN, and you’re working on Gratuitous NInja, too. When you add in the magazine work, you’re wearing a lot of hats when it comes to art. Why such a diverse body of work? Is it so you can flex different artistic muscles?
I get bored easily. That’s the long and short of it. I also have alot of ideas. Usually if I am working on an idea I didn’t come up with I am a little unhappy as well, so I have to get my kicks somewhere else. I’m just trying to make great work and be happy. I hope that doesn’t make me too difficult to work with.
I like hats.
Another thing is I gotta eat.
I want to talk about Gratuitous Ninja for a minute. Its title describes the series perfectly, but where did the series come from? Was it something you did on a lark one day and kept up with or was it more planned out than that?
Gratuitous Ninja started in the Static Fish, Pratt University‘s Student Comic Magazine. We had a talented group of contributers on that run, cats that are really ill, of whom you may or may not know. Raphael Tanghal, Ted Lange, Dan James- really talented individuals came together on these books. I was fortunate to be a part of it.
I always loved Ninja. GratNin was originally a love letter to one of the great loves of my life. A woman I met in college. The original run of GratNin is a silent comic wherein a kunoichi saves this shinobimono from the belly of a walking prison. It’s also a love letter of sorts to Moebius, the original that is, the latest rendition not so much.
GratNin: Loan Sharks is the latest volume of Gratuitous Ninja and is running weekly on your site right now. I get a real Jet Set Radio feel from it, with the mixing of Japanese aesthetics and mythology and American storytelling, particularly when combined with the addition of real youth culture- something that crosses color lines and and country borders. How’d you develop this style? Is it a synthesis of things you’re into or did it spring fully-formed from your head?
Yeah… uh… weekly.
…the answer to your questions is, “Yes”
Ted Lange IV is a writer, comedian, comic book artist from LA that I went to school with. Our bugged world meets somewhere in the center. He gets the sublime mundane. He’s a creative catalyst AND he seriously brings the funny.
GratNin is also a great way to keep up with a friend who is far away.
Flipping through your site shows that you have a number of different styles, or maybe disciplines, at your beck and call. I’m thinking of the graphic design-y Metrotaur piece and the pencils and inkwash Miracle at St. Anna drawing here in particular. Is there a definitive “Ron Wimberly Style,” something that you consider the ultimate expression of your talent or do you prefer to mix things up?
I’ll let others decide what my style is …if that’s how they want to spend their time.
If labels help, I’d say I’m a designer/artist who currently makes his living creating images, mostly comics, with his hands. (metatext: right here, I imagine Sanjuro walking into the town in the first scene of Yojimbo… that town is comics) So I solve problems, feel me?
For me the problem and the tools I use to solve the problem largely shape the look or style of the work.
I had a muay thai instructor who escaped Vietnam in the seventies with a boat full of refugees and landed in the US only to live in poverty, eating squirrels and boiling the bones of sparrows to make soup, before finally receiving a grip of awards and becoming a martial arts instructor for the military… but before things went to shit in ‘Nam, he was the child of an affluent military family getting an education in Paris and all through Southeast Asia, all the while, training and picking up different bits of martial arts knowledge. He prides himself in the many elbows he has at his disposal. He has an elbow for every situation. At 60 some odd years, he is the strongest man I’ve ever met.
Sometimes I like to imagine comic book artists are like kenshi, mythical or historical, like Sienkiewicz would be Manji from Blade of the Immortal. Paul Pope would be like Sasaki Kojirou. Brandon Graham is Yagyu Hyougonosuke. Jack Kirby is like Ito Ittosai. I walked into comics like Sanjuro from Yojimbo and used to aspire to be Musashi, but nowadays I feel like I’d carry a revolver around in my kimono, the way Nakadai‘s character did in Yojimbo. Yowzers.
Your collaboration with MF Grimm, Sentences, is the first comic where I really felt that it was aimed not only at black people, but at my exact demographic- young black kids who grew up on ’90s rap and were into comics right when the art was incorporating all kinds of European and Japanese influences. It reflected my own personal black experience. Your visual style was a big part of that. How’d you come onto that project and did you have much leeway when it came to illustrating?
While working on various fill ins/covers I developed a mild bromance with Casey Seijas, who was then an assistant editor at Vertigo. We’d talk about hip hop sometimes when I was in the office. I had heard Grimm via the M.I.C. project, in which he was known as Jet Jaguar and also the Operation Doomsday LP. I was a big fan of DOOM, which was ironic cause apparently there was some sort of “beef” at the time. At any rate, It was to be Casey’s first and only project with Vertigo as editor and he chose me and I will be forever thankful for the opportunity because I saw the competition and frankly I would have made a different decision if I were him. I mean, why choose this little bebop/punk rocker- And back then, it wasn’t quite cool yet- it is cool now, right?
…I drew the project how I saw fit.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re like, “Yes, this is it,” either when creating something of your own or reading something new?
Uh, I guess I understand what you mean. Sure. I ain’t trying to pull an MJ though, feel me? “That which is perfect is finished.”
It seems like you prefer projects that have a finite run, like Sentences or the Papa Midnite covers or your upcoming Prince of Cats. The monthly grind– is it not for you? What’s your platonic ideal of a comics project, if format, length, subject matter, and distribution were up to you?
No one’s ever offered me work on a continuing series. I did a pitch for a cloak and dagger mini and got no love… There are very few I’d consider working on, and I’d probably rather do a pocket universe of a character …Kinda like how there were little cults that created their own versions of myths. I mean. This is probably how we got Greek mythology, as well as some other myths…
I do like for a story to end when it should and not to zombie along past it’s expiration date because there’s a dirty dime to be made off of it. If it’s designed as a narrative capsule it should be created as such and shouldn’t be shuffling through art schools in a latex onesy, knee highs and a sequined cape, preying on the ideas of the future. Someone should put a stake in some of these things.
…but I think that there are some interesting things that can be done with the perpetual format.
That said, I don’t have an ideal. I’m not sure if I believe in them.
What kind of an effect did video games have on you? Do you consider yourself part of a certain generation of gamers or an aficionado of a certain franchise? And, since influences sometimes come from the strangest places, has it had any affect on your art?
I used to work in a mall arcade in highschool; it was in Rockville, Maryland; it was my third job. We used to play X-Men vs Street Fighter and Daytona USA after hours while eating garbage bags of popcorn from the movie theatre next door. I am a proud member of the arcade cum Nintendo/Sega generation. Born from an age where you played to tilt or fail and into an age where if you died three times you had to start from the beginning or ride a shark or tame a genie to continue.
Who knows to what extent it’s affected my development… that could be a whole article unto itself.
I mean the ideas were so powerful and often very incomplete. And the images, the colors, the aesthetic born from 60′s to 80′s anime and even before that, line and color over form and modeling. I think my most powerful memories of comic characters come from video games or licensed toys or apparel… but definitely the old Spider-Man arcade game, the four player X-Men game, Marvel Superheroes… the games made me ask what these characters do. The comics could rarely hold my interest for long though. The premises were strong, but I lost interest quickly. Maybe it’s my attention span. Maybe that’s its lasting contribution.
Is it too early, or can you talk a little about Prince of Cats? I just know the broadest of broad strokes and have seen a few sketches, but I don’t know what it is. Can you break it down for us? Do you have a release date or anything in mind, or just “when it’s done?”
Prince of Cats… I don’t know if I’m supposed to talk about it, but let’s say it’s about a year away from release if I can get my ass in gear. It’s a piece of graphic narrative poetry. People will find out about it soon enough. I will start releasing desktops about a year out from release date which is… well… next month?
Do you have any projects or websites you want to push?
I’d just say for people to keep an eye on my blog for developments. GratNin wil continue to launch there until it has it’s own space. I will say that Prince of Cats ain’t the only thing I got planned in the near future.