Monday, February 6, 2017

Not Forgotten Interview

Who are you? Eugene Randolph Young

What story are you working on for the book? Jet Powers: Ghosts From the Past by Jared Rosmarin

What history do you have with comics, both as a fan and as a creator?

I have been a (very) casual reader of comics from around age seven. My first comic book was an issue of Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. The cover had a guy with a rifle riding a motorcycle and shooting at a flying red dragon! It probably painted in oil like the old pulp fiction novel covers. Other early favorites included Ghosts, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Shogun Warriors, Avengers, X-Men and The New Teen Titans. As a kid, I frequented the 7-Eleven on 37th and MacDonald in Richmond back when it had a full rack of comics from Marvel, D.C. and a couple of other lesser-known publishers. My picks were random, often based on cover art or an interest in discovering a new character. Avengers King-Size Annual #10 encapsulates what drew me to superhero team and villain stories. It had crossovers, subplots and a lot of drama between the characters. The pencils and inks were the best! They had weight and grit and made the most of a limited color palette. Books like that one taught me how to “read” the many nuanced, symbolic cues used in comics to denote everything from movement, light and shadow to depth, emotions and cosmic energy. I was into the art more than the stories. Focusing on reading was always hard for me, and the all-caps format made reading comics even more frustrating. So, I was happy to just skim the pages, especially when the text got too dense.

The title that held my attention the longest was G.I. Joe. I started reading Larry Hama’s epic sci-fi military adventure comic at #17. The first page of that issue had the Joe leader, Hawk, bleeding from the chest while a H.I.S.S. tank sped off into the distance. Cobra Commander held the smoking gun. Hama, being an Army veteran, brought a lot of authenticity to the story’s use of weapons and jargon. He also had a futurist’s eye for envisioning new technologies and military hardware. G.I. Joe had the most culturally diverse roster characters I had ever seen in a mainstream comic.

Comic Relief in Downtown Berkeley was one of my favorite haunts through the late 80s. There, I discovered McFarlane’s work on Spider-Man, which impacted my interest in styles that deviated from the Marvel/D.C. house styles. During the 90s, rising prices and a greater emphasis on splash pages, T and A and eye-candy pushed me toward manga and titles from other companies. Mark A. Nelson’s work on the first Aliens mini-series from Dark Horse was an example. Painted stories like Wolverine and Havok: Meltown got me thinking differently about how a comic could look. Steve Epting’s run on The Avengers in the early 90s because the style and writing reminded me so much of the Avengers in the early 80s.

Around 1988, manga and anime were quickly becoming hugely influential and more accessible. The art was what hooked me more than anything else. Translated issues of Appleseed (Masamune Shirow), Outlanders (Johji Manabe) appeared sporadically. My late teens and early 20s led me to the work of European artists including Milo Manara (Click, Little Ego), Alex Varenne (Erma Jaguar) and Elutri Serpieri (Druuna). Comics from Europe and Japan raised my standards for realism, imagination and design in storytelling.

I worked on my own space epic The Convoy Battles from around age 8 up through my senior year of high school. It included substantial number of characters, locations and vehicles and over a hundred pages of illustrated story. By age 15, I had also written and illustrated the first pages of my urban cyberpunk concept Def Squad X (later “The Strong Oaklanders”) after attending my first Wonder Con at the Oakland Convention Center in 1989. Def Squad X earned me a regional ACT-SO award for drawing from the South County chapter of the NAACP, which let me compete at the 1990 national convention in Los Angeles. The experience taught me that my work and interests were an awkward fit for such a traditional, socially conservative and deeply Christian organization. They celebrated work focused on faith, history, identity and culture. Superhero comics were at the margins of all of those things. Fine art drawing and painting had to fit mainstream art market and educational trends.

In 1993, I collaborated with writer Perry D. Clark on his creation Guila: The Dark Stranger. We independently produced a four-issue mini-series in black and white. The work was reduced and photocopied onto tabloid sheets, folded and saddle-stitched into letter-sized booklets. In 1995, I redid the first issue and released it as a standard-sized comic with digital colors and lettering. While I was happy with the results, I lost interest in creating independent comics because of the tedium and the amount of work involved.

Around the same time, I became an editorial cartoonist for The Guardsman at City College of San Francisco. At CCSF, I took graphic design classes while still leaning toward illustration as a possible career choice. The cartooning gig kept my gag writing and cartooning skills sharp. I often got the assignment late in the evening and had to delivered the next morning. The hard work earned me two awards from the Journalism Association of Community Colleges (JACC).

In 2013, I was invited to curate A Show of Power: Africans and African Americans in Science Fiction at City College of San Francisco. The African American History Month exhibition included a selection of comics, books, prints and toys from my private collection that featured black characters and themes related to various aspects Black Experience. I was nearing the completion of my MFA in illustration at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and slowly finding my way back to my old love of superhero comics.

What attracted you to this project?

Jared Rosmarin had already shown me two scripts before Jet Powers: Ghosts From the Past. We collaborated during the summer of 2016 on his ten-page short story Just Push the Button, a story focused on a dysfunctional single mother-and-son relationship and a rigged game show. I learned from our first project that Jared is a keen observer of human behavior and well-versed in the mechanics of a good storytelling. He is a dedicated writer with a strong interest in exploring comics as a storytelling medium. His knowledge of classic and contemporary film is also impressive.

I am also a big fan of early comic book art from the 50s. Their craft and beauty happened under strict technical limitations. From an early age I tried to emulate that style, and to some extent, I still do in my current work. My goal is to bring some of that brush and ink look and feel into the art and the limited color palette from the before the mid-80s. Montana Manalo’s inks really bring my pencils to life and I’ve been really lucky to have her on board.

What public domain characters are you using in your story, and what did you like about them?

Jet Powers is straightforward character without the cynicism and nihilism I’ve come to dislike in mainstream popular culture. I don’t mind a little social critique and political commentary here and there, but frankly, Jet’s a breath of fresh air. I like the guy. He is focused, mature, a brilliant inventor, worldly, and loyal to country. He also finds himself vulnerable in this episode, so we get to see his cool and calculating side. Without giving too much away, he has a bit of his world turned on its ear in these fast eight pages, so I am excited to see how his hard stoicism evolves in future stories. Jet Powers is a classic hero vs. villain story with lots of potential for fun storytelling on Earth and beyond.

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