Stuff I Liked in 2013: Black Is

January 3rd, 2014 Posted by david brothers

The thing about the black condition is that it’s exhausting. If it’s not major stuff, like living in fear of police brutality or struggling under the weight of being born behind the eight ball, it’s smaller things, little aggravations like realizing that “ghetto” is a code word or googling to make sure you got a joke right in an essay and accidentally finding a white supremacist site. You gotta keep your guard tight as you bob and weave through your everyday life, and that makes it easy to miss things. You find yourself trying to weather the storm and forgetting about the sunshowers.

As a kid, my knowledge of what Black People Did was limited by my education, my family, my region, and my society. “Black People Don’t” do this, that, and the third. I’m sure you’ve heard a few. Sometimes it’s spoken outright, but a lot of times, it’s an assumption. If I didn’t know that black people were specifically doing something, if there wasn’t some obvious signifier, I’d assume they didn’t. Milestone Media in the ’90s was a revelation because it made it very obvious that black people did, in fact, make comics, and excellent ones at that. Sean Combs and Master P did own record labels. Barack Obama did become president. Spike Lee made movies. There was a wall here before, but it’s gone now. Now it’s become a door. It’s become an option.

In December 2013, cartoonist/animator LeSean Thomas shared this post on tumblr, which featured these images, plus a few more:

LeSean Thomas

Ron Wimberly

Roni Brown

That’s LeSean Thomas himself (in an ill One Piece shirt), Ron Wimberly, and Roni Brown. Thomas is the Creative Producer/Supervising Director of Black Dynamite, Wimberly does character design and layout assists, and Brown is Production Coordinator on the show. There are several more people through the link, too.

Black Dynamite is a brutally funny show, a worthy successor to an excellent movie. It’s a cartoon, a good-looking one, and it airs on a popular channel. As a kid, the thought of a team that was all, a majority, or even partly black probably didn’t even cross my mind. Cartoons were from Japan or Hollywood, and black cartoons were Fat Albert. (Were there more cartoons starring talking cats than blacks?) But this, and The Boondocks, where black people aren’t just on the ship, but guiding it through the waters? Outfitting it with all types of guns and accessories to make it the biggest, baddest ship on the block? It was unimaginable. But it’s beautiful.

As an adult, the tumblr post struck me. I know Ron, Ron’s a friend, but it was more than just “that’s my man doing big things.” It’s bigger. It’s an example, and it’s something that I hadn’t necessarily seen put into one place like that. It’s a reminder that black people do, and do it well.

It’s the flip side to the black condition, the narrative that gets tamped down in favor of slaves and graves. We’ve got rock’n’roll, wild sci-fi tales, ancient civilizations, rap music, soul music, R&B, Richard Pryor, Milestone Media, all types of wild and unbeatable innovations and creations.

I wish I’d had it as a kid, or at least that that idea was easier to access than it was back then. I was talking about this with a few friends the other day, and we were all…not in awe, we’re all grown-ups here, but we definitely felt something warm. “This is good. This is right.” Our news, our culture, delivers a constant stream of misery, condescension, and death, so it’s nice to have reminders that black is, and has always been, more beautiful than I ever realized.

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THUG LIFE: Manhood, suicide, and love

September 19th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

Almost ten years ago now, Cameron “Killa Cam” Giles, one of my favorite rappers, launched an assault on the rap industry. He came out wearing pink polos and pink fur coats while driving a pink Range Rover. It was a dare and a dis, all wrapped up in one incredible package. The dis was that Cam was so much more secure in who he was than every other rapper that he could co-opt pink, a feminine color, and rock it like it was all black everything without losing any of his manhood. It dared other rappers to say something about him, so that he could turn any of their attacks back on them. “I dare you to test me over what I’m wearing,” the pink seemed to say. “We’ll see who the real man is.”

Killa Cam botched the dis from word one, though, by clinging to “no homo.” Any power his pink swagger might have held over insecure rappers was utterly defused by Cam’s own insecurity and fear of being seen as feminine or homosexual. He went from alpha male to typical punk over the course of three short syllables, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

One of the worst things about having a rough year are those moments of clarity that come along every once and a while. They aren’t respites from pain so much as a quick gasp of air before returning to drowning. They give you a chance to understand exactly how far in over your head you are.

I had one twelve days ago, and it hurt. It hurt so bad that I had to sit down and write out exactly what’s gone wrong and how I could fix it. It started as something I thought about putting on the internet and quickly turned into a conversation with myself. No, it quickly turned into a heated and honest conversation with myself.

I wrote out where I’d been lying to myself, what I’ve been doing wrong, what’s gone wrong, and how I got here. I wrote out where I wanted to go and why I’m not there yet. I cussed myself out and smoothed myself over. I admitted that the best I’m able to do lately, physically/emotionally/mentally, is “I’m maintaining.” I tried to work out solutions to the things I could handle and a gameplan to treat water until I could handle the things I currently can’t. I made it a point to make myself uncomfortable, to be even more unfair to myself than I generally am, so that I could get the job done.

The solutions, such as they were, weren’t the hardest part, but they were close. I don’t have many, but I wrote down a lot, just to see how they tasted. Reasonable ones, unpleasant ones, unthinkable ones, I wanted to know how they all felt jockeying for position in my head. So I wrote them.

I looked at a certain subset of those solutions and said, “No. These are weakness. Unacceptable.” And I crossed them off my list and put them out of my head. Accepting them would have drastically changed who I am and how I live in ways that are uncomfortable to think about. So I rejected them. I don’t want to be weak.

Malcolm X, 1965: We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.

I latched onto Malcolm because he didn’t beg or plead or ask. He told. There’s something attractive and powerful about that, when you’re small and unsure. Something real manly. Something strong.

“I am a man. You are going to treat me like one, or you — not me, you — are gonna have a problem.”

I’m an ’80s baby. I was born in 1983. My mother raised me. My father didn’t. Without a template to follow, my idea of manhood is a patchwork affair. A little Tupac, a little Malcolm, a little Denzel by way of Malcolm not much Martin at all, a little of my grandfather, probably a little of Shawn Corey Carter, a little of my uncles, and a little more from here and there. Instead of being shown, I had to figure out manhood for myself. Trial and error. What skin fits the best? What school of thought will get me killed? How hard do I have to try to get this right? Can I get this right?

I know where I stand on a lot of things. I avoid passive-aggression at all costs. If it’s important enough for me to want to pass-agg somebody about it, it’s important enough to be worth naming somebody’s name. I frown when my friends go pass-agg over something. I believe in being direct, because that is what a man does. No dilly-dallying, no fooling around. You get it done as efficiently and cleanly as possible. I learned to work until the job is done, no matter what it takes, from my grandfather. I learned to get in somebody’s face when they treat you like trash from my mother.

I still don’t have it figured out.

There are a lot of men like me.

Kendrick Lamar, “Chapter Six,” from Section.80: There’s a more important topic I’d like to discuss: the dysfunctional bastards of the Ronald Reagan Era. Young men that learned to do everything spiteful. This is your generation. Live fast and die young. Who’s willing to explain this story?

When interviewing Ron Wimberly about his graphic novel Prince of Cats, I said: “Tybalt, like the world of Prince of Cats, feels so familiar. His suicidal rush toward manhood and respect reminds me of… honestly, almost every black man that I’ve known, myself included.”

“Suicidal rush toward manhood and respect.”

I don’t know if I stole the turn of phrase from somewhere. I probably did. Regardless, it’s an apt description for what I’m trying to talk through. We want to be men, by any means necessary (“by a very specific set of means, all of which are necessary,” maybe), and that means proving ourselves against other men. “Give me the respect I deserve or I’m going to take it by force.” “Time is running out, tick tock, like the grains of sand. Every man sharpens man, like steel sharpens steel.” Boys, desperate for the attention of men so that they might be seen as peers, as equals, instead of children.

Live life reckless.

Part of that suicidal rush is rejecting the soft and the feminine. In figuring out what it means to be a man, you define your manhood by specific absences. You discard forgiveness for vengeance, defeat for victory. Death before dishonor. Being a man is inviolate, and anything that tests your manhood, that shows you anything less than the respect you feel you deserve, is targeted for destruction.

Cee-Lo Goodie, on Goodie MOb’s “The Experience”, from Still Standing: So many black men out here trying to be niggas, keeping it real to the point that they dying to be niggas.

I look at Wimberly’s Tybalt and I see a man that’s uncomfortable expressing love directly to his loved ones, but eager to show his love by demonstrating exactly how much he’s willing to hurt whatever threatens the object of that love. “I love you” is hard. Putting a blade to someone else’s throat is easy.

Romeo’s intrusion into Tybalt’s life, and attraction to Juliet, is an insult. He’s a rival, someone to be defeated, not someone to love as a brother. So, instead of having a conversation with Juliet after he discovers that she’s married a man he hates because they’re in rival crews, Tybalt steps to Romeo. “Thou art a villain,” he says, and dies a man.

But imagine what happens when your new husband kills your beloved cousin over petty beef. Imagine the trauma, the hole that would leave behind, all for the sake of manhood.

Big Boi on OutKast’s “Return of tha G” from Aquemini: Man, a nigga don’t want no trouble. A player just want to kick back with my gators off and watch my lil girl blow bubbles. But still ready to rhyme, standin’ my ground, never back down, willin’ to rob, steal, and kill anything that threatens mine.

Drake first hinted at an upcoming Aaliyah project during an interview with Tim Westwood in March. “I have some great Aaliyah news coming soon,” Drake told Westwood, adding, “You know it’s hard for me to ride around to a female singer because at the end of the day, you’re a man, but she always kept it so G with the writing and the melodies. It was something to ride to, especially when it was chopped and screwed. That’s when I used to love.

Aubrey Drake Graham on Aaliyah

Drake is either playing a role here — and by that I mean lying — or he’s insecure. That’s the only excuse for what he’s saying here. The idea that Aaliyah was more of a gangster than other singers (she wasn’t, that’s silly) and is therefore more appropriate to rock in your whip is insane. Who thinks like that? It’s a parody of thugs, which Drake is most definitely not.

This is what happens when you grow up spiteful. This is what happens when you are obsessed with being seen as, not just a man, but more of a man than most men. You reject your own history and your own softness. You define yourself not as a man, but as not-female, and you reject anything that feels female to you.

Drake is implicitly dissing Aaliyah here, and more than that, he’s dissing every woman singer and rapper that came before her. He’s dissing Lauryn Hill, Sade, Janet Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Toni Braxton, Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston, and everyone else who helped provide the soundtrack to our lives and history. He’s lumping them together as something soft and not-gangster, something I think those women would be pretty surprised to hear, considering the nonsense (nonsense just like this quote!) they had to fight through just to be heard.

Drake once said that he was the first rapper to successfully sing and rap as a style. It’s a boast, another desperate grasp at a thin vision of manhood. “Nobody’s as good as me, you know? I’m just the real deal.”

Lauryn Hill and Missy Elliott would beg to differ.

Andre 3000 on OutKast’s “Return of tha G” from Aquemini: Return of the gangsta, thanks ta them niggas who got them kids who got enough to buy an ounce but not enough to bounce them kids to the zoo or to the park so they grow up in the dark never seein’ light so they end up being like yo sorry ass, robbin’ niggas in broad ass daylight, get down.

It’s a cycle. The average black man only influences a small number of people over the course of his life. Children, friends, cousins. Coworkers maybe. They can give people poison or peace, depending on who and what they are, and those that are influenced in turn influence others. I didn’t become a man and suddenly know exactly what manhood entailed. I had to be taught, I had to figure it out, and at some point, I’m going to end up passing that on. Actually, I already have. I have younger cousins who looked up to me when I was growing up, and I’ve undoubtedly influenced them already.

I can look at my mother and see my temper. I can look at my father and see my distance. I’m an amalgam of what I’ve learned, and those that I will influence are the same thing. We feed off each other and others. Each one teach one.

Drake has an audience who listens to his words and are piecing together their own fragile manhood, too. My audience is maybe two dozen strong. His is larger, much larger. And when Drake demonstrates his insecurities in public, people don’t see a small man desperate to be seen as something larger. They see a famous, successful man, a man women want to sleep with, and they digest his words in that context. I did it with Jay-Z, Mos Def, DMX, and the Dungeon Family. I internalized a lot of poison because it seemed like the right approach to take. I worked some of it out. I absorbed some of it. Work in progress.

This cycle won’t ever end. It’d need a seismic, or apocalyptic, shift in society to force that change. But the cycle is a vicious one, and it results in stunted and deficient men. Men who have no idea how to be men and keep picking the wrong route on their way to an early grave or a poisoned life. Not always, obviously, but too often.

We’ve got to change the situation, but that’s a tall order, isn’t it? There’s so much inertia, so many ingrained prejudices and ideas to work out. I don’t know how to fix it, but I do know that I can’t support these fakes.

But then, even though I don’t support these fakes, I definitely get down with a few others who are fake. So maybe it’s all bad. Everything. I’m not man enough to make a decision I can consciously recognize as being the right decision for whatever reason. So, in a way, I’m propping up and perpetuating the same thing that I hate.

Tupac Shakur: The Hate U Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.

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Taking Part In Battles Without Honor and Humanity

September 13th, 2012 Posted by david brothers

My friend Sloane Leong is putting on an art show at Floating World Comics in Portland. It’s yakuza movie-themed, which has been something near and dear to my heart probably ever since I saw Takeshi Kitano’s Brother for the first time. I was young, it was cheap, and I don’t think I’d ever heard of Beat Takeshi before I found that DVD in a BX. Here’s the trailer, if you’re curious:

It’s easy to see why I got into this stuff.

Sloane’s art show sounds pretty awesome. Here’s the official descrip of Battles Without Honor and Humanity:

This exhibition will be based loosely around yakuza/crime noir films by directors such as Akira Kurosawa, Takeshi “Beat” Kitano, Takeshi Miike, Kinji Fukasaku, Seijun Suzuki, Yukio Mishima, Sogo Ishii and Shinya Tsukamoto. As a genre, yakuza films are divided into two subsets: ninkyo-eiga or “chivarly films” featuring honorable outlaws caught between duty and compassion. Then there is jisturoku-eiga, the modern yakuza films which feature the stifling brutality of a life of crime. The artists and writers in this show will explore and pay homage to this powerful and unique genre.

Sounds pretty ill, right? Here’s some of the art from the show that I pulled off tumblr:

Yowza. Lotta good stuff, especially Sophia Foster-Dimino’s homage to Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel. (New People, a local theater, put on a Kurosawa film fest and I got to see that and a bunch of others on the big screen. It was awesome.) From left to right, that’s Sophia Foster-Dimino, Ryan Andrews, Roxie Vizcarra, Ron Wimberly, Jeremy Sorese, Ian Macewan, Hwei Lim, Hunter Heckroth, and Emma Rios. The big image at the top of the post is by Logan Faerber. There’s more art, of course, and you can buy a limited edition zine called Yakuza Papers at the show or online. It’s got 23 illustrations, twenty-eight pages, and it’s eight bucks, plus shipping. You should go for it. (You should also buy The Yakuza Papers, Vol. 1, because Bunta Sugawara is on that Mitchum/Mifune/Nakadai level of cooldude.)

Here’s some vital details:

WHO: Artwork and zines by Ralph Niese, Maritsa Patrinos, Joanna Kroatka, Alexis Ziritt, Andrew Maclean, Logan Faerber, Andrew Maclean, Robert Wilson IV, Sophia Foster-Dimino, Rebecca Mock, Roxie Vizcarra, D-Pi, Ian MacEwan, Zack Soto, Morgan Jeske, Hunter Heckroth, Emma Rios, Vlad Jean, Aluisio Santos, Frank Teran, Jeremy Sorese, Ryan Andrews, Hwei Lim, Amei Zhao, Kris Mukai, David Brothers, Stanley Lieber and M. Dominic
WHAT: Yakuza film inspired art exhibit
WHEN: Saturday, September 15th, 6-8pm; artwork on display until Sept. 30
WHERE: Floating World Comics, 400 NW Couch St.

and there will be a special movie, too!

WHAT: Screening of Seijun Suzuki’s masterpiece, Branded To Kill
WHEN: Saturday, September 15th, 9:30pm
WHERE: Hollywood Theater, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd.

So the show opens on Saturday, with a movie screening right after. Wish I could be there. It sounds like a good ti–wait a minute, David who is in the art show? David Brothers? Well dang.

Sloane likes to solicit text-only zines for her shows, and she was kind enough to let me grab a spot. So: I made my first zine and now I’m going to talk about it some because I’ve never done this before.

I didn’t go into it with any type of plan, really. I figured I’d write a story, print it, and ship it. It’s that easy, right? So I wrote a story that came in around 4500 words, maybe a little more, and fiddled with it until I mostly liked how it turned out. Then I turned it over to a few friends, asked what they thought, and fiddled with it some more. (I think they call that “editing.”)

After that, I had to figure out how to make a zine. I don’t know word one about zines, beyond the fact that they exist and had words in them and involved a lot of tedious folding and stapling. I emailed Liz Barker, who creates Strawberry Fields Whatever with Laura Jane Faulds and Jen May. (Liz and LJ made a set of Beatles-inspired zines that I picked up and greatly enjoyed last year.) Liz gave me some good advice and warned me about some pitfalls, and that was enough to get me prepared enough to go at it. I poked around online for tips, too, and I found a Word template that would help me with laying out the zine properly. I also hung out and talked with Katie Longua about folding and stapling things, since she self-publishes her comics (and other art). She let me borrow her long stapler, too, which was a life-saver. (I also asked a coworker a few dumb design questions, and she put me on game, too.)

I spent some time fiddling around with fonts and font sizes, trying to get the best-looking text to fit into the most amount of space. I ended picking Georgia, size 11, from a pool of Arial, Times New Roman, and Georgia. That left every page mostly full, and was easy on the eyes besides. I meant to indent each paragraph, and even worked up a mockup with indents, but botched that when I went to print. I did a single test print of the three typefaces and took a sheet of the cardstock cover color I wanted home with me to see how it looked. I printed the story on natural-colored paper, I think it was called. The Kinko’s lady asked if I was doing a resume, so maybe it was resume paper. Either way, it’s nice.

With all of that under my belt and in the back of my head, I was ready to go. I wanted a fancy cover originally, and reached out to a friend to see about designing one. Then I realized, wait. I’m broke and it would actually be kind of cool if every zine I printed was entirely my own. So why not do a cover myself? What could possibly go wrong?

I soon realized that I didn’t have a title, not a proper one, anyway. I like one-word titles, and the file name for the text was just “daisuke.txt.” “Daisuke.” would be cool, but I decided to go with something different: I’d just write the first sentence of the story on the cover and let it serve as a semi-title. I wanted the text to fit mostly evenly on the cover, semi-justified basically, and that meant I needed to know how to adjust my handwriting. I did a few tests with a leaky pen (the only pen I own!), none of which I particularly liked, but the bottom-right was moving in the right direction:

I moved on to Sharpie, and also began working out other front and back cover elements. The Sharpie is closer to how I write in real life than the pen, strangely. I also factored in that I would mess up, and wrote a few patch words so I could adjust the whole shebang in Photoshop:

Oh… covers shouldn’t have crooked text on them, huh? I grabbed a piece of paper and a mechanical pencil and ruled a page up right quick and rewrote everything. It ended up much better, I think. It’s not perfect, my handwriting will never be perfect, but it works.

The next step was getting it onto a computer so I could edit it and adjust a few things on the fly. Scanning is tedious. I wish I had an intern to do it every time I have to do it. Turns out the only thing more tedious than scanning is scanning paper and then having to chop out text. For some reason, I couldn’t just go to Levels or Curves or whatever and make the text dark black and the paper bright white, to ease the cutting. So I did it by hand, with the eraser, magic wand, and a 400% zoom. I eventually ended up with this, which has a transparent background:

After that, I was ready to print. I decided to go with plain type for the back cover. In part because that previous step was the tedious-est, but also because it felt like a better idea. Here’s how the front and back covers worked out after I printed:

One pitfall I didn’t expect were my own terrible math skills. I wanted to print 25 copies, in addition to my one proof I printed earlier. The story worked out to twelve folded pages. That means six unfolded, plus one for the cover. However, when planning, I for some reason counted folded pages when deciding to do 25 copies, and estimated that I’d be bringing home 300 pieces of paper to fold and staple. Ha ha ha, it was only 150. Anyway, here’s a rejected back cover copy attempt I scrawled with a ballpoint pen I found at work. You can tell when I decided it was a bad idea. I’m surprised I finished the word “and.”

At this point, I’ve got the cover, I’ve got the guts, I’ve got a stapler, and I’ve got no idea how long it’s going to take to put this thing together. Luckily, I’d been slacking on watching TV, so I just caught up on Louie, Black Dynamite, and Children’s Hospital while I folded. 25 doesn’t sound like a lot, but boy does it feel like a lot of work when you’re in the middle of it and half done.

Physically, it was an easygoing process, though I was definitely tired of it and bored by the time I hit the end. But it was nice to be distracted by tv while I worked. I usually write with music for that exact reason. It gives me something to ignore, or lets me ignore and get some distance from what I’m working on. I can work in quiet, but it’s easier with a little bit of familiar noise.

I managed to fold almost every one of them perfectly straight, too. Here’s a peek:

I had half an idea about using old polybags as a container, but the size was all wrong for that. So I figured I was about wrapped up, but there was one problem: they didn’t lay flat. For some reason, despite having an apartment full of books, I didn’t go for the easiest solution. Instead, I stacked them up under my laptop and Katsuya Terada’s Rakugaking (and Felipe Smith’s Peepo Choo apparently) overnight:

And then, the next day at work, I found out that they all would fit in a Priority Mail package and that was that.

For a long time, I wanted to get published, to have somebody cosign my talents and put my work out there for me. Then I grew up, made my own site, and lost interest in getting signed. Why do I need somebody else to tell me what I can do? And for that matter, why do I need to print something for it to feel legitimate? I don’t. So I didn’t.

I liked doing this, though. It’s not something I’d do too often, and it is super cool to be even a small part of a show with a bunch of awesome artists. I’ve discovered people whose style I like a lot, and people whose art I already dug are present and accounted for, too.

Hit the art show on Saturday, if you can, or swing by Floating World after to check out the art. I sent Sloane twenty zines, so… keep an eye out for them? Maybe?

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From Brooklyn to Tokyo

March 11th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

Ron Wimberly’s been in Japan for the past few weeks, making me mad jealous. I’ve only been once, in the fall of ’08 for a work trip. All expenses paid was nice, but staying only a week was too short. But them’s the breaks! I did buy about five hundred bucks worth of clothes, though!

Ron’s been busy, drawing comics and making connects. He’s got a big deal coming up, so I’ll let him (and Benetton) tell it:

On Saturday, March 13th, Benetton Japan will be hosting a live paint show by an American artist, Ronald Wimberly, to celebrate Benetton Mega Store Shinjuku’s renewal opening. During the event, which takes place from 3pm to 9pm, the artist will be painting on a big screen in the window, which will be reported live on Ustream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/benettonpress.

So, details:
Where: Benetton Mega Store Shinjuku‘s official Ustream channel
When: If you’re EST (where Brooklyn at), 0100-0300 Saturday morning. For those of us in PST (From Oakland to Sac-town, the Bay Area and back down), you can check it out from 2200-0000 on Friday evening. For those inbetween… do the math.
Who: Ron Wimberly, aka
What: Live painting

Tune in, you might see something cool. In the meantime, check out the kid’s site, revisit his Black Future Month interview, or get familiar with GratNin. You can also read the press release.

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Black Future Month ’10: Ron “D-pi” Wimberly

February 4th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

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.

First up is Ron “D-pi” Wimberly, artist of Sentences and several other works. Check out his DeviantArt and website. All art is, I assume, copyright to him.

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.

You probably can still order the reprint of the book online. It was called the Ninjaversary and it featured pin ups by Tanghal, LeSean Thomas and even a collabo with Aerosyn Lex from the KDU

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”

I love jidaigeki, chambara and I am a city kid transplanted into the suburban wasteland. The style is born from my experience.

Illumination via juxtaposition. 
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Black History Month ’10…

February 1st, 2010 Posted by david brothers

starts tomorrow.

In the meantime, check out Ron Wimberly’s Weekly Inspiration this week, which comes with a Black History theme. Look at the crazy design sense on those issues of The Black Panther.

Weird trivia- the guy who founded the Black Panther Party chapter in Brooklyn in the ’60s? David Brothers.

BHM10 is tomorrow.

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Three Webcomics You Should Be Reading

January 7th, 2010 Posted by david brothers

-I usually say “I don’t really read autobio comics,” but that’s pretty much a lie, I’ve realized. Erika Moen’s DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary is fascinating to me. She ended it yesterweek, and I’ve had it open in a tab ever since, hopping around from strip to strip. It’s really strong and very entertaining. It’s also a little baffling to me, as well. Moen is able to share things on a level I’m completely incapable of duplicating. It’s not that I’m emotionally cold (hey lay-deez, how YOU dooooooin’), it’s just that she’s open in a way that’s both foreign and appealing. It’s good reading, and her farewell strip is a beast. Plus, the series of strips about the guy who pooped on her bathroom floor was funny.

-Emi Lenox’s Emitown is also must-reading, for both similar and different reasons. What I like is that it’s almost like a highlight reel, or skimming someone’s diary. You never know if you’re gonna get a post about one subject or six. It’s a fifty-fifty draw- you’re getting either a single round or buckshot. The only surety is that you’re gonna get shot. Pardon the tortured gun metaphor, what I’m really trying to say is that the strip is entertaining and her art is great. Great emotional work and it never feels cluttered. Look at the faces in this one. I particularly like the bit where the cat laughs at her. Dope sense of humor at work there. She updates throughout the week.

-Julian Lytle’s Ants is more of a sitcom than a serial gag comedy strip. You dip in and out of watching these guys interact with (or talk about) current events, video games, music, whatever whatever. The slanguage is on point, and each strip is just a glimpse into the life of these guys. The latest is part of a series where the ants are riding on Asgard because they’re out of Eggos. Lemme tell you this: I can relate, because if EL Fudges end up shorted? I’m going out masked up, eyebrows down, and a whole bunch of guns on the backseat of the car. Julian updates on Thursdays.

D-pi‘s Gratuitous Ninja has a few episodes out right now, and it’s shaping up to be pretty cool. It’s fresh, working in that same kind of cultural fusion lane as Jet Set Radio Future (sorry kids, I copped that on Xbox and missed it on Dreamcast) ran in. There’s a strong influence from video games, music, Japanese culture, and something I can’t quite put my finger on. I think Ron and I grew up on a lot of the same things, and it’s dope to see that on the page. Check it out on Wednesdays.

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Black History Month ’09 #01: “You Are Appreciated”

February 1st, 2009 Posted by david brothers

This is for the single maternal figures beaten to the floor
And crawled back for the children and stood up for more
And watched those same kids as adults
cut bullshit vinyl kites callin’ women whores

El-P, “Constellation Funk”

Single motherhood is a fact of life for a lot of black people. I’m a product of a single mother, related to others, and I can’t really think of a time when I didn’t have friends who were also products of a single mother.

sentences19 sentences20 sentences21

I don’t know if I have to regurgitate the facts for you. We all know about the lowered expectations, an insult in and of itself, and the hardships that society puts single mothers through. We know that they get sneers at the mall, tut-tuts on the street, and a lack of eye contact in the church. It’s probably a lot like being a leper, only lepers don’t have mouths to feed.

So, single mothers are basically the original hustlers. Work twice as hard for half the reward. Keeping your nose to the grindstone isn’t really enough, is it? You’ve gotta get your whole face in there.

I asked a few friends about single mothers in comics a few weeks ago. I got a decently long list of names. I knew some of them, while others were fairly obscure. I had a hunch before I asked that none of the named characters would be black, and that hunch turned out to be pretty much correct. I’d forgotten about Rocket from Icon, but that was it.

That’s kind of surprising to me. I don’t know whether it’s out of some sense of overcorrecting for stereotyping or what, but black single mothers in comics are shockingly rare. Luke Cage, poster-child for whatever black issues you’d like to hang on his shoulders, was raised in a house with two parents.

I can’t think of a series where real attention was given to a black single mother. There are orphans, single fathers, and ones whose parents are never mentioned, ever. I think that it’d be an interesting move to make. What would a hero that came from a that kind of household be like? What about a villain?

sentences22 sentences23

I’ve found that the children of single mothers tend to turn out one of two ways. Sometimes you get what El-P is talking about above, where the kids grow up and don’t respect what came before. You get songs dedicated to whores and a generation of folks making the same mistakes their parents did. On the flipside, you have people who watched someone struggle to make ends meet for years, sacrificing a lot, and learned from that example.

Tell me that situation isn’t rife with possibilities.

It’s odd what makes it into the comics and what doesn’t. I’ve seen drug dealers, civil rights leaders, thugs, businessmen, sidekicks, crackheads, hookers, strippers, and soldiers, but not recurring single mothers. Muslim characters tend to be paper thin, if they appear at all, and I can’t think of a church-going black character who isn’t also a grandma.

In comics, it’s a relatively unexplored aspect of being black in America, and one that’s so much more common than any of the stuff I named above. You’d think that someone, somewhere, has gotten into it, but I haven’t seen it, and it certainly hasn’t happened with any of the major black characters, has it?

Sentences, by Percy Carey and Ron Wimberly, was the first book I read that bothered to give some attention to it, with a frankly hilarious and pretty much true to life scene starring Carey’s mother.

Either way, this one’s for Staci, who showed me that fighting can be literal or figurative, but never optional.

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Some Books Are Important

September 4th, 2008 Posted by david brothers

There’s a line from the Atmosphere song “Always Coming Back Home To You” that I like and reference probably too often for my own good. “I swear to God, hip-hop and comic books were my genesis.” It was true when I first heard it and it’s still true. Rap and comics have been two of the handful of constants in my life so far. It isn’t exactly a question of which one I like more. It’s more that both have had different effects on my life.

Comics helped a lot in teaching me to read. Obscure science terms, made-up words, and things that sounded like made-up words but were actually real words after all littered my early comics reading experience. So, comics taught me a love of words.

Rap taught me to love wordplay. It’s about taking a phrase you know and turning it on its head. High School Me would hate me for being about to quote Young Jeezy, but this part from his verse on Put On is great and he’s from the next town over, so suck it, 2001-me.

Passenger’s a red bone, her weave look like some curly fries
Inside’s fish sticks, outside’s tartar sauce
Pocket full of cel-e-ry, imagine what she telling me
Blowing on asparagus, the realest shit I ever smoked
Ridin’ to that trap or die- the realest shit I ever wrote
They know I got that bro-cco-li, so I keep that glock with me

And yeah, it’s typical ignant thug rap– this is still Jeezy, after all. He makes the extended food metaphor work, and for some reason, it ends up being pretty clever. There are other great examples. Big Pun had that killer tongue-twister flow (Dead in the middle of little Italy, little did we know that we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddly) and Ghostface is still rap’s very own Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Another place where rap and comics intersected for me was in that they both portrayed heroes and role models for a very young David Brothers to take in. The difference between the two is that comics had heroes, black or white, who were generally written for white guys by white guys, while rappers were generally black guys who were usually aimed at a black audience.

The majority of black comics characters were, for years, either black characters filtered through an extremely non-black lens (Storm), unrelateable (Panther), parodies (Cage), or awful (Bishop).

Rap offered a slightly different perspective. I was just old enough to sneak in on the tail end of the pro-black movement of rap. Midnight Marauders hit when I was nine or ten (along with the Malcolm X movie). I had the Wu. I had Nas. I had a ton of people who taught me that being black is awesome, having money is great, and that crime is exciting. When it came down to choosing Iron Man or Tony Starks… I went with Ghostface Killah.

Most comics, with the notable exception of Milestone and occasional “outreach” books, aren’t aimed at me. That’s changed somewhat in recent years, but Marvel and DC are still relying on the same fanbase they’ve had for forty-plus years.

This brings me around to what I think are the two most important books in comics since… I dunno, the Jemas-era began. Nat Turner by Kyle Baker, and Sentences by Percy “MF Grimm” Carey and Ron Wimberly are books that are aimed at me. They’re by black people and aimed, if not at black people directly, at a wider audience than just “fanboys.”

Both aren’t necessarily the most marketable “comic books.” One is a book about a guy whose claim to fame was killing a lot of white men, women, and children after he was given a sign from Heaven. The other is about a rapper, but the greater message isn’t about “bitches and switches and hoes and clothes and weed,” which is what you’d usually see out of basically anything involving rap in the media at large.

Sentences was probably my favorite complete book out of ’07, including single issues, and it totally got robbed for that Eisner. I think it’s an important step in a lot of ways, and the least Vertigo-style title Vertigo has published. It isn’t a long and boring, goth-y, about vampires, religion, or your usual Vertigo cliche of choice. It’s just about a dude, his life, and the choices he made that got him to where he is now. It’s also about growing up black, falling into traps, and digging your way out of a hole you’ve dug for yourself.

There were any number of scenes and references in that book that I immediately got. I thought the bit with the mom in the beginning was hilarious. Why? Probably because I’d seen my mom swing on a grown man for messing with my little brother and any number of verbal sonnings while out shopping. I can relate to Carey’s love for his grandmother because we’re on the same level there.

In a very real way, it’s a book about me and my experiences. It’s about someone who looks like me, has gone through some of the same things I’ve gone through, listens to the same music, and even hung out with some of my own heroes. I don’t have to play down the obvious racial and class differences between me and most comics characters. I don’t have to worry about shocked stares when I say I haven’t heard of some apparently huge band. It’s the power of shared experience working in my favor. I finished the book feeling like I could go “Midnight Marauders or Low End Theory?” and “Ether or Takeover?” and get into an hour-long fight or an hour-long conversation, depending on the answer.

(Midnight Marauders and Ether are the right answers.)

Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner was my Sentences for when it came out. I recently re-read it on a long plane ride few weeks back, and finishing it prompted a few things. First, it made me realize that I had to do this essay. Second, I resolved to give the book (which I had just purchased a few days earlier) away the first chance I got, because people need to read it. And I did.

Nat Turner, the person, has been an interesting figure to me since I first heard of him. It could have been from a rap song, or from one of the footnotes in a school textbook that Baker mentions in his text pieces in the book. I know (off the top of my head) that he was mentioned on Wu-Forever, Sean Price’s Brokest Rapper You Know, and the Talib Kweli + dead prez joint off Lyricist Lounge.

Nat’s claim to fame, and I’m not embellishing anything here, is that he killed fifty-plus white men, women, and children. He led the largest slave rebellion in the States. Obviously, he was a murderer, and that isn’t something to be proud of. At the same time, though, he stood up tall and spat in the face of a system and country that believed him to be less than human. There’s a lot to appreciate in this story, though that probably makes me sound like a sociopath.

Baker’s approach to the book gives it a storybook kind of feel. There are only a few word balloons, leaving the action to stand on its own. The majority of the text is taken directly from The Confessions of Nat Turner. It comes in chunks and often relates to the scenes being depicted on the page, but its tone is jarring. The rebellion happened 160-some years ago, so the language and times are different. It’s like peeking into another world, or reading about a faraway land. The essay is very methodical and sometimes stilted. Premediated is an apt description, as well.

The art sells every emotion and scene perfectly. Sadness, determination, hate, and love all come through clear as a bell. One scene expertly shows a situation in which killing your own child is the greatest act of love you can perform. It’s depressing, it’s tough, and it’s a downer, but it’s a necessary one. It’s like medicine. You have to take it, and after you get past the taste, you’ll feel better.

I feel like it’s a book you should have to read at least once. It tells a story that doesn’t get a lot of attention, but is still well-known and loved by a lot of people. It’s a story that illuminates both universal rights and what happens when someone is pushed too far and too hard.

Nat Turner and Sentences were like comics dipping their toe into the pool. They were warning shots. They are saying “We are here, we have always been here” to the industry and “Don’t go anywhere, there is something here for you, too” to the audience. I really wish that these books had been around for when I was younger. They’re exactly what I was looking for, but didn’t know I was looking for.

It was the equivalent of one of my favorite images from the past.

“We are here.”

Now, though, I just want more. My two loves are on speaking terms. Let’s keep at it, yeah?

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