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March 13, 2017


CR Monday Conversation: Ronald Wimberly

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*****

Ronald Wimberly is an artist and comics-maker with as high a ceiling as they come. His prodigious skill set as displayed on the page is matched by a formidable ability to explain, dissect and present to others his strategies and reasons-why when making art. Just his influences, what Wimberly is looking at and processing at any single time, could fuel a week of lectures. I greatly enjoy looking at his comics pages, and knowing the amount of effort channeled into them is a thrill.

Last Fall saw the Image Comics re-release of his 2012 breakout hit The Prince Of Cats, a street-level view of Romeo and Juliet from the point of view of Tybalt. Prince Of Cats is fun as all hell to read, beautiful and intense, situations and characters extrapolated and put into play with a delicate hand.

imageLast month Wimberly welcomed into print through Image Black History In Its Own Words, which was well-received in its on-line iteration.

I look forward to everything yet to come. If you have a chance to read his works or experience the artist himself in support, seize the opportunity. The next big one should be the limited series Sunset Park announced in 2015.

Wimberly and I originally did this for the CR Holiday Interview series, to which it will be added in collection. We found space to talk at a classroom at the Billy Ireland back in late October at the tail end of his graphic novelist residency at Thurber House/Columbus Museum Of Art. Wimberly came back to Columbus In February related to his well-received art show at CMA, and I was embarrassed enough to scramble to get this together. Sorry, Ronald. Sorry, audiences.

I'm going to include a chunk of conversation that happened after we began recording and before we moved into what ended up being a pretty tightly focused talk about Prince Of Cats. Wimberly's interesting on most subjects and it's clear from my babbling that I'm intimidated by him. The interview starts as we try to find a place to sit down without crushing a piece of valuable original art. Directly in between us as I play with the recorder is an illustration by the cartoonist Greg Evans. -- Tom Spurgeon

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TOM SPURGEON: I think we're good to go. I'll put the recorder by you and use "booming fat-guy voice" from over here.

RONALD WIMBERLY: [laughs] There's this thing about cartooning, man. Finding the symbol between symbol and representation. [pauses to look at art] I feel like that character is a representation of the author.

SPURGEON: I'm guessing that's Greg Evans, his three main characters and strip's dog. It's definitely the Luann characters. I'm old enough to remember when Luann showed up in the newspaper, and it was marketed to my Dad's paper as simply "For girls." There were apparently few strips that the syndicate thought girls would want to read. "Hey, maybe girls would like to read about a girl, and maybe she has boy trouble..." Comics can be weird when half your population is seen as a specialized sub-group.

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WIMBERLY: That's the thing, though, with character design or design in general. Working with narrative. You have She-Hulk or Spider-Girl. Part of the design element is the gender of it. [laughter] In advertising, too. The niche is that this is for women. So it's automatic othering. [laughs] It's silly.

SPURGEON: The conventional wisdom about She-Hulk, and I have no idea if this is true having never gone and researched it, is that there was a quirk in trademark/copyright law where it was seen as a good to do those character to protected the general concept's ownership.

WIMBERLY: Really? Like they could do a She-Hulk?

SPURGEON: I'm not sure how far it went, but yeah, that the character was somehow in danger unless you were the one to do those specific derivations. I did a book on Stan Lee once.

WIMBERLY: I've heard some things. [laughter]

SPURGEON: If you read what was being said about him in the late 1970s, very little of it was the kind of thing you hear people say now. That characterization of him as a lesser partner taking more credit than he deserves hadn't fully gained momentum. His reputation then was basically that he used to care about the comics he made but 15-20 years into the new Marvel era he and his company was hacking it out. Something like She-Hulk reinforced that. So you have guys saying "Why would you create the Fantastic Four and then take the time to do She-Hulk." And part of the reason is that he didn't fully create Fantastic Four, at least not by most reasonable measures. [laughter]

WIMBERLY: It was business, too.

SPURGEON: Definitely. Stan also focused on the ideas because that was a skill he thought he could take to Hollywood, being an idea man. So anything that was conceptually sound was appealing to him. The 1960s Marvels don't care as much if they're portable. They're kind of out-there and many are less than film-able as a result. It's not about the IP.

WIMBERLY: I think that's why they work.

SPURGEON: I agree.

WIMBERLY: Wasn't that their process even? He would get a general idea...

SPURGEON: He might have a general idea and then take it to one of the core artists... you could say Kirby and Ditko and Romita frequently did a lot of the writing work itself, deciding what happens to get from point A to point B. Kirby even suggested dialogue in the margins. They called it the Marvel Method.

WIMBERLY: That's what I heard.

SPURGEON: You can go back and look at pages of Fantastic Four and at times the dialogue didn't quite work because of a misapprehension or miscommunication.

WIMBERLY: [laughs] That's a question I have. The lettering is done on the page. I'm being silly, since I ink my own work. But would he give the pencils to someone to place the bubbles?

SPURGEON: Honestly, I don't know off the top of my head exactly how that broke down. You're right, that would make a difference. In a comic strip guys would frequently place their balloons first so they'd know how much space they had to draw. But if you're adding dialogue later, I don't know if you just leave dead space, or use substitute dialogue or what.

WIMBERLY: It's almost how they do anime, where someone puts the dialogue into it.

SPURGEON: Comic strip people will sometimes rewrite to existing art in order to catch up on deadlines, too.

WIMBERLY: [laughs] See, okay, that's part of it, though. I think part of what you have to do with anything, part of what makes the work -- I was talking about this at the museum last night -- is constraints. You have panels. I don't know the history of it, but at some point in America people started to go crazy: like a Steranko doing all these weird page layouts. There was a complete throwing out of constraints. I think for some people, wow, they can do it, they work with the panels doing whatever they're doing. But the vast majority? I don't know if they ever get to the point where they can still tell a story without any constraints. [laughs]

SPURGEON: Even the modern stuff that works in that now very commercial realm. You read comics that are being done right now like the new Black Panther and they seem to be working out of a very, very specific thematic and tonal approach to that material. It's not formal constraints, but it's this style that developed five to ten years earlier that has this force to it because of its commercial success. A formula. And it works. Good writers can find their place within the most highly developed constructions.

WIMBERLY: But the writer isn't thinking... however you're thinking about the structure or the gag or whatever, if you're not thinking about how the page works visually... it's funny; I wasn't even thinking in terms of story structure. I was thinking in terms of panels.

SPURGEON: Gotcha.

WIMBERLY: If you were to say all of Yonkoma comics will have four panels, it's a structural thing. When you have that, working with that, even if you choose to play with it or break from it, you're always working within that. Going back to Kirby -- he had certain grids for telling his stories.

SPURGEON: Even within that he had tricks. He had a way of doing a row within a larger grid that emphasized a three-panel progression: very strong, maybe silent moments within the larger storytelling point. He had a four-panel page that he used a lot. He would space out the single pages a certain way.

Charles Schulz on Peanuts' dailies went from doing mostly four-panel progressions to three. This is an amazing thing to adapt to as your default structure following decades of four-panel strips. But he marshaled on.

WIMBERLY: There was less space on the page.

SPURGEON: I'd have to double-check but my guess is that it was thought three panels might look better on the page, there was no longer a lot of strips or perhaps none being offered vertically, and there was that always-shrinking space. When he made this shift in the 1980s, it was kind of exciting to see him adjust to this, although I wonder if he wasn't better suited to four panels. A lot of classic strip offerings have this kind of thing with their Sunday, where there's a panel or two that can be dropped, which most cartoonists usually make a small joke or just the title-panel.

WIMBERLY: That's how I cheated on that Nike comic. It's Yonkoma but I used the title box to contextualize the four panels. So I'm cheating by having sort of an extra panel. [laughs]

imageSPURGEON: So this new Prince Of Cats. I don't know where my copy of the 2012 edition is, but I think that was standard Vertigo-trade sized and the Image version is physically bigger?

WIMBERLY: I should have brought one. [laughs] Yeah, it's the same size they did Sentences in, that they did that one... what is that gentleman's name? It's a futuristic mod story. Was it [Dave] Gibbons?

SPURGEON: Probably. I remember scooters. Those Brits and their scooters.

WIMBERLY: [laughs] They're cool, man. I don't know if I could pull it off. So yeah, it's in that format. It's almost A3. Close to this size. To tape recorder "I'm pulling out a copy of Buddy Buys A Dump."

SPURGEON: [laughs] That's a pretty standard trade size. So this is the way you wanted it. You wanted it to breathe more, I take it. This is the most basic question in the world, but why this size? Why is this the ideal size?

WIMBERLY: For better or worse when I was breaking down the book, the pages -- a lot of them are dense. Most pages have at least six panels on them. It's kind of like bandes dessinees intensity on most of the pages. So it just makes sense for it to be around bandes dessinees size. I think that's particularly true of the gag ones; they only work that size.

SPURGEON: It's brutal to read BD at a slightly smaller size. It's crossing the line into intolerable. [laughter] It's like three percent intolerable. Is there anything else you wanted production to reflect this time around? Someone with your artistic inclination, and the skills that you have, I imagine you can control a lot of what you do with an individual piece of art. But working with mass production is really different.

WIMBERLY: That was interesting. It's frustrating, but it's great. No, I think the more I'm involved in that portion of the work, the more illuminating it is from just writing. Even before I start to draw I can start to think about the materials. If I know I'm working in color it might be, "Hm. Well, maybe I don't want to do this. Maybe this will make it difficult for the colors to come out in the end the way I want them to."

Also it's like... [laughs] maybe if I work with an editor again it's going to make me more of a dick, because now I know exactly the work that's required. [laughter] There's no excuse. I know what's required for the job. It might make me difficult. It's probably hard enough to work with me as it is. [laughter]

SPURGEON: I'm told this was kind of a pain in the butt to get out there. You switched editors.

WIMBERLY: Oh, the original. Yeah, yeah.

SPURGEON: Yeah, the original. It also seems like maybe that wasn't the strongest period historically for your publisher, Vertigo.

WIMBERLY: They were going through some things.

SPURGEON: What sticks out now? You have to remember that time period with an element of closure seeing as there has been so much work since. Seeing as it was a major attempt for you to find a voice, how do you look at it now?

WIMBERLY: I think I was very lucky. I don't know, man. Sometimes I think I can have a bit of a caustic personality. I was lucky to have bumped into Karen [Berger]. I was lucky to know Casey Seijas. Have guys that really looked after me and took an interest in my doing this work. That's kind of how I look back on it. It's the sort of thing where if I had some problems... I forget who said it, the woman who just passed away. She did a lot of magical realism, not Toni Morrison but the most obvious poet. When you tell me who it is you're going to say, "See, I knew he had mental problems."

SPURGEON: Maya Angelou.

WIMBERLY: Maya Angelou. She said you don't remember all the details, you just remember how you felt. How someone made you feel.

Looking back, I kind of have that where I was learning a lot -- and still am -- about how to relate to people in the editorial process. I'm a guy that goes into a room and does it by himself. You know? That's how I remember looking back. "Oh. Okay. This is a bunch of people each with their own volitions and things that they need to do." The fact that can even work? And not even just that but a sub-division of something even larger. DC Comics is downstairs. All of these people are up here: I think Will had a detective line at that point. I think Shelly [Bond] was trying to find something for young women. Karen's trying to hold that together. She has friends, probably, that want to do some work but maybe they don't even have ideas right now.

Thinking about that, seeing all of that coming together, it was like "Wow, man." On the outside, when you hear fans talk about stuff, it's like "Okay, we have our ethics, and we have the things we care about. Maybe we're vexed a book comes out poorly or late. Being on the other side -- and this was my first time on the other side -- what I remember is seeing things come together. Maybe seeing something in its death throes is very interesting.

SPURGEON: I don't have a ton of questions about the research you must have put in, the reading. And it's been a while since I closely read Romeo & Juliet.

WIMBERLY: Me, too. Now.

SPURGEON: [laughs]

WIMBERLY: It's such a shit show, the human brain. We think the way we remember things, that's how it truly happened. Photoshop has been great because we're now even more aware how fake everything is. [laughter] It's just perception. Now that it doesn't require someone that's great at gouging, or working on something with a knife, now that a teenager can put Hillary Clinton's face on Snoop Dogg's body, we know everything's fake.

Karen Green asked me something. She had read the book. When I'm thinking of names, I always give myself a game or a problem to solve to come up with answers. So the tape at the beginning, at first they were listening to the Stooges or something. Then I was like, "No that contextually doesn't make any sense." What would they be listening to? How is this tape a microcosm of the entire world? What if Milton, a contemporary of Shakespeare: he had written this poem about Shakespeare when he died. So Rammellzee and Milton, I mashed them together, and that's what in the tape in the tape deck. But I totally forget about that! I had come up with a name pulled from one of the prior authors of a Romeo & Juliet. Karen, being the genius she is, is like, "Oh, that's such a great thing you put in there. I can't believe you did that." And I was like, "Oh, yeah. Thanks." [laughter] I totally forgot I had done that!

SPURGEON: Here's my question. When I go over what I remember about Romeo & Juliet, the questions people tend to have, the issues they have, they'll talk about things like, god, I don't know... Mercutio and Romeo start out as co-leads and then Mercutio sort of drops out as Romeo surges forward. Or how the dance, or a couple of other things, part of why they're there is to expand the play into a slightly different form. I don't remember a damn thing about Tybalt, ever.

WIMBERLY: [laughs] Oh, wow.

SPURGEON: He's not only a blank slate, people have seemed reluctant to write on that slate. Was that appealing to you? The license the lack of speculation and attention might have given you?

WIMBERLY: He's just a ball-breaker. He wants to kill shit. [laughter] The funny thing, too, I always thought, "Your cousin died and now you're good?" The way she treats it. There has to be some conflict there. For Prince Of Cats, I don't solve that question because it's over when he dies. So we don't get to see how Juliet reacts in my version.

SPURGEON: You get into that relationship a little bit. You also give him a relationship with Rosaline, a character that doesn't exist.

WIMBERLY: They say her name, right?

imageSPURGEON: She's there but sort of as this object of attention that sets Romeo up for the real thing. That's just... really clever to use those hints and notions and whispers and build Tybalt quickly into a real force on the page. How early did you pull in Rosaline?

WIMBERLY: I wanted to do Tybalt. Who else? Petruchio is mentioned, but we don't ever see him. Rosaline likewise. That was kind of like wow, okay. What are the B-sides of Romeo & Juliet. The first piece of writing I did, and what I think sold the book to Karen, was the scene with the girls in the bathroom. Two girls I made up, and Juliet, in the bathroom. Karen's smart. I hope I did it justice for her. Women are a part of my life, so they should be more a part of the story than what Tybalt was, an agent to move things along.

For Shakespeare I think so much of it was the large ideas and the language. The formal constraints. In Romeo & Juliet, maybe one of the reasons why they give it to you to read when you're in high school is that it comes across as a simple moral tale. But what he doing playing with the language and formally with it [laughs] it's just as complex as any of them. I think in school I don't know if they teach you that. They don't teach you the way someone is speaking there's a history behind it. That Romeo is speaking in sonnet form is almost an inside joke. The way he's speaking, he's sentimental. The form that Mercutio takes, the way he's using his language, it's different; it says something about him as a character as well. I wanted to play with that, too. Just to give Shakespeare an out, I don't think it was as simple as people say. Subjectively it was straight-forward but formalistically it's much more complex.

SPURGEON: There's a whole way of looking at Shakespeare where you find which plays were popular at what times and kind of dissect why this was so. In the 19th Century there was a death obsession, there was much greater use of public cemeteries as a place you went to in the course of a month, and that drove which plays were performed.

WIMBERLY: There's a book about America and Shakespeare that this scholar -- I forget his name, he works at Columbia [James Shapiro]. I asked him to do the foreword for Prince of Cats and he said he wasn't interested in anything that wasn't "the theater." [laughter] It's not Shakespeare if it's not performed.

SPURGEON: Did you think in terms of performance? It seems as if you do, that there's something beyond a straight-ahead interpretation of text. It feels like it's being seen. There are big chunks of Romeo & Juliet that are set pieces, episodes, that get you from one place to another so that you don't have to do the entire play. There's a ballet, right? The dance?

WIMBERLY: That's when they meet, though. [laughs] Are you thinking about the play or the ballet?

SPURGEON: I'm a little muddled. They meet at... the ballet?

WIMBERLY: [laughs] There's the play and then there's the ballet. That's Prokofiev. I don't know about the play -- what would I drop in the story? Maybe... there's so much great language, though. You could probably drop some of the language in Act 1 Scene 1, you could drop that, but I don't know what you would cut?

SPURGEON: But did you think about it ever as there being a stage? Did you think of your characters as acting?

WIMBERLY: I have to play all of the characters. I think every cartoonist has to do that even if they're not thinking about it. I don't think at the time -- sometimes you do. I find myself making the face that I'm drawing. I find myself moving a little bit. It's a type of thing that you remember you left the window open and you wonder if anyone saw you doing that while you were working. [laughter] You know what I mean? Or there's a light on across the street and someone's in their kitchen or their living room and "Did they see me making strange faces at my desk."

That part usually comes top me in the writing -- when I say the writing I mean the dialogue but also what people do. Since I'm working all the way through it, is it honest for this character... like Tybalt throws up. He jumps out of a window after a big fight. He jumps out and he throws up. I'm thinking, "What do you do?" If you're a teenager and you act real tough and maybe you're skilled, but you're surprised at what you've just done. It's fucking gross. That violence is disgusting. Right? In the cartoon world, if I were a cartoon, I wouldn't want to see what I've written and drawn. That's the performance. He jumps out of the window and it's like, "This guy is fucking cool. He's done all this cool stuff." Then he's like "Oh my god, I made myself sick." [laughs] "This is disgusting."

That's where I feel there's acting. Once I decide what they're going to do. Maybe getting out of the way and letting them decide, letting them react to what's happening to them. The performance has to come. There could be a scenario where I would write all of that and I'm unaware how they're going to perform it. Maybe I don't think about how they're going to do it, but there's something on their face... I don't know.

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SPURGEON: You have a talent for physical choreography. Based on how the physical relationship work on the page, if I didn't know anything else about you, I would have guessed you a much older man, a much more practiced cartoonist. They fighting works, and it's well-spaced and it's character-driven, and it has all the elements you want out of scene dependent on physicality. Do you write those scenes differently? What works about those scenes for you?

WIMBERLY: It's funny you mentioned it. Character is a big part of it. I don't have a lot of the tricks. I look at [Mike] Mignola -- speaking of someone who does great action. He's a lot more free with how he thinks about space. I have more of a deliberate -- maybe I'll grow out of it, where I don't lose all of my character, but I'm very deliberate about where things are. What's this room like? How are the people going to react to things in the room, and being around each other. In the club scene, he steps on this guy's show, he gets angry, Tybalt stabs that guy in the eye. And now he's a guy who's been stabbed in the eye. [laughter] If it were sound he would have been screaming the entire time. He finally starts to get it together but his eye's fucked up. He's furious and in shock, maybe not even in pain yet. He grabs this other guy's sword and he pulls it out... there's a bunch of people there! If you pull it a sword! He cuts the other guy's arm. That guy drops his sword. There's fucking mayhem! I've built the scene kind of around the idea of that.

Sometimes I think about the idea of chaos. I watch a lot of Zatoichi, too, right? [laughter] My favorite would be Zatoichi. He's stumbling. He's falling on the ground. They manage to get this perfect balance of ballet and chaos. Chaotic ballet. [laughs] That's how I like to do action. I like expressive action when I see it, too. The boxer in the old manga -- I like that stuff, too. For myself, I like weird, naturalistic but any time it goes to ballet.

SPURGEON: You use a lot of cartoon sound effects in a way I think people... might not think is cool.

WIMBERLY: I think it's really cool!

SPURGEON: [laughs] Tell me why you like these old-fashioned sound effects.

WIMBERLY: I come at it from an Eastern and a Western perspective. Cartoonists are all learning. In the West... I didn't go to school for comics. I went for advertising and illustration. I had to teach myself. I taught myself by looking. There are things you pick up. At first I may not be using those that much. Then you get something in a script and you ask why. You look when you're reading a comic you really like and you're like, "Wow."

In manga, the way the letter forms -- and maybe this has something to do with the language coming from pictures. They'll do their little onomatopoeias. And it'll be like, "That sound looks like what it is." You don't have to translate that. He tripped. I can tell from looking at the language and how it fits into the space. There's no sound in comics. Synesthesia, right? There's a synesthetic way of looking at sound. How big is the sound? Does it effect the space the character is in? Maybe it takes out the entire background. That's what sound does for us. In our space. I like that aspect of it. You see it in a lot of western comics, early western comics, when people really started to get funky with it. I forget the guy -- the Marsupilami.

SPURGEON: André Franquin.

WIMBERLY: I think so. [laughs] That inspires me to no end. I'm not one of these guys who's like, "It's a storyboard." I like film too much to say that about comics. I like comics too much to say that about film. Its something different. That's something we can do. So do it.

With Sunset Park we have the opportunity to do something that you see in a lot of early film, where they were still taking things from the book or the stage without actually changing too much. The narration with the device in the detective film: "I went to the house..."

SPURGEON: The voice-over.

WIMBERLY: Yeah, yeah. [laughter] The voice-over. In Prince of Cats, I don't use that at all. But I also think it's a tool. Moving forward... that's what happens with the sounds, the onomatopoeia and the sound effects. I didn't have my way of using it. I had to learn on the page. That idea of synesthesia. I had to create a formal reason for why I'm using them and how. In Sunset Park that's me working through some of that, too.



SPURGEON: At the Metro Club community event we did to open CXC what now seems like a hundred years ago, you said something interesting about process. You refused to make a differentiation between the media you take in and the media you put out. You were very firm that a large part of your artistic process was consumption of art, consumption of media. With this project -- and perhaps others -- can you tell me what you were looking at? [Wimberly laughs] Was there ever something you had to get away from, to escape?

WIMBERLY: You mean between projects?

SPURGEON: Yeah. I mean, have you even just looked pack at something and gone, "Wow, I was reading a lot of XXX at the time."

WIMBERLY: So the pimple you get from eating a lot of fast-food.

SPURGEON: I just wondered if what you're bringing in, does it always have a positive result on your work?

WIMBERLY: No, man. It's like demons. Sometimes you get something that's just too powerful.

SPURGEON: [laughs]

WIMBERLY: You know that recording, Black Dots, that's like early Bad Brains. HR is sounding just like Johnny Lydon. [laugh] He's rolling his r's. It's so cute. At first I was embarrassed for him. Now I kind of like it. His stew was young. You still tasted the wine. Let it reduce a bit more.

There are things I don't let in the house. [laughs] I think there's a portion of your life, when you have a diet, where everything's coming in. It takes a back brace: you see the people with scoliosis that have to have something on to protect their posture. When I first got to art school -- for better or for worse; what doesn't kill us makes us stranger -- I had a lot of anime shorthand. Now I'm delighted when I see it. In college, doing a lot of figure drawing maybe forced me to lose some of that influence. But also coming back to it, that made me more aware of what it was. It hopefully makes me more aware of what they were doing graphically instead of taking it for granted. I had to purge things. The older I get, the more difficult it is.

I was talking to Paul Pope about it. I had given myself a formal constraint with Sunset Park. I wanted to do the book in six different styles. He was like, "Nah, B. Calm down. Use that when it's appropriate." [Spurgeon laughs] I envy guys like him where you're like, "Yeah. This is what you do." You never question at the start, "Which way am I going to do this one?" Brandon [Graham], too. When Brandon draws a hand, you're like, "That's Brandon."

SPURGEON: You don't feel like you're there yet?

WIMBERLY: I don't feel like I'm there yet. I feel like I have choices. When we did the live drawing [at CXC 2016] -- not only what am I going to draw, but how was I going to draw it?

SPURGEON: You may have confirmed this in an earlier interview... one way to approach Romeo and Juliet is to sidestep the focus on the two lovers as they transcend or fail to transcend -- they do die in the end -- the situation in which they find themselves, and instead focus on the play as a damning portrait of a time when people died for these reasons.

WIMBERLY: That's the original.

SPURGEON: You seem to be hammering away at an outlook on life where these truncated relationships make sense. It seems like there's a lot of sympathy from you in depicting these short and angry lives. [laughter] It does!

WIMBERLY: Yeah.

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SPURGEON: You seem aware of the sadness that at the very least provides a strong undercurrent to the foregrounded action. Can you talk about your work in depicting the overall milieu, the world you've created here? The kind of world where paying attention to your fight ranking seems like a good idea?

WIMBERLY: That's the whole... when you were talking about performance before. Starting out, one thing that made me think about it was growing up. That was the times. There was a lot of death around. One of the formative experiences of my childhood that got into the book was when a stepfather -- a cousin of mine, me and my stepfather -- was murdered. He was murdered by an associate in the back seat. He was shot in the back of his head. He had a pair of new... I think they were New Balances. Never used. My stepfather brought them and gave them to me.

First of all, it was weird because, "Oh, he's in the paper." Talk about hyper-visibility. Now he's in the paper. And now here's his shoes. That is the world even after he's been taken out of it. If it were Hollywood, maybe he would have been just a side character. The main character's living his life, doing his thing, hustling hard. And this guy gets shot in the head. "Oh wow, man, I'm so gangster." In the real world, that guy's Mom is crying. His cousin who he never really got to meet is getting his shoes. He's in the newspaper even though nobody cared about him enough to put him in the newspaper before. Or anyone he know. Or his neighborhood. Or anything about his life. No one cared about him until he got shot in the back of the head.

That's the sort of thing that informed the storytelling. Also the fact that Tybalt, the way he was treated in the narrative before, at least how I understood it, it was inhuman. I wanted to think about why he did what he did. Why he was doing what he was doing.

All these other characters... I think that's more like... maybe if you're trying to find something in the room. And it's an idea. A narrative idea. It's one thing. That character is your flashlight. I want to see what the room looks like. I want other lights to be on. Maybe there's something else in the room I don't even know I want. [laughs] I need more light. Even if I have to split up the intensity of the light, I'd rather have a general idea of what the world is like.

They're running numbers in the neighborhood. So okay. this paper, when I go to the bodega... when I'd go to the bodega on Myrtle Avenue back in the day, you'd see the little number things, these little papers. I was always too young to know about those when I was coming up. By the time I was old enough I was out of that environment. So I still don't even know how that works. But that artifact was weird to me. Is it gambling? What is this? It looks like someone ran it off at like the school Xerox. So I'm like, "Okay, that's part of this world."

And hip-hop. Breakdancing and stuff... this weird way that people are stabbing and killing each other and now they're dancing. And then it's dancing and people are stabbing and killing each other. Now it's graffiti, but it's also graffiti and killing each other. You know? Thinking about that. Thinking about that world. I have to make the world in order to know what the characters do in the world. That's the approach.

SPURGEON: You end with Tybalt... that's a brutal ending if you end with Tybalt. Romeo and Juliet can be interpreted as rich kids falling prey to what's soaked into the bones of Verona. It just happens that these two kids... and suddenly now it's news. The earlier deaths are just as tragic as one where we see the romance. It's a fatalistic idea; it's even reinforced by the meta in that we are super-sure Tybalt dies in any incarnation of this story. It's grim. [laughter] It's a serious way of looking at that world. The basic course of the narrative is reinforced. But man.

WIMBERLY: If someone feels sad about Tybalt, I think that's good, because he didn't get that opportunity originally. He was a plot point. [laughs]

If anything, maybe I can contribute to one of the intents of the original. Depending how it's performed or staged it can have that element. But usually not. In the prologues, it's set out. It says the same thing. It tells you what's going to happen. For this beef of the ages to rest, there has to have been a sacrifice. What my point is that the sacrifice continues to happen, and the beef doesn't stop. I'm sure in the case of Romeo and Juliet, those two houses... a generation passes... we all know Italy is a bunch of warring -- it's still a bunch of warring states! [laughter] Right? At the end of the day, it's senseless. But the life that's led isn't necessarily senseless. The light on it can be humane. It can add value to it. That's the difference between an existentialist and a nihilist right? In showing it, looking at it, living it, there's some value to it.

*****

* Prince Of Cats, Ronald Wimberly, Image Comics, hardcover, 152 pages, 1632159260 (ISBN10), 9781632159267 (ISBN13), November 2016, $24.99.
* Black History In Its Own Words, Ronald Wimberly, Image Comics, hardcover, 88 pages, 9781534301535, February 2017, $16.99.

*****

* just a panel i liked
* one of the personalities to appear in the new book
* cover to Prince Of Cats
* the bathroom scene
* from one of the very tightly-conceived action scenes
* video from the pre-CXC Metro Club appearance
* the sadness of fighting all the time
* cover to Wimberly's latest, a series of portraits with quotes (bottom)

*****

image

*****
*****
 
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