Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 01/14/2004
Send Me an Angel
Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca on Street Angel
I first discovered the work of Jim Rugg at the very fine S.P.A.C.E. comic con held early each year in Columbus, OH. A good buddy of mine -- writer, artist and Arrow Comics publisher Randy Zimmerman -- was reading a small pamphlet entitled Suicide for Dummies which was provoking an ever-widening evil grin on his face. Seeing my curiosity, he enthused, "This is a great book!" Well, he told me no lies, ladies and gents. That is a truly funny and enlightening tome, well worth the price of admission.
However, it was another title by Rugg [who was then working under the pseudonym Dick Troutman] that really captured my interest. That book, a wild ride of a tale that mixed a homeless teenage skate punk with liberal doses of social satire, ninjas, and weird plots to take over the world, was a showcase for Rugg/Troutman's stunning visuals and writer Brian Maruca's deadpan narrative which only left me demanding more Street Angel. Over the next few months I found myself going back to reread this book, and recommending it to just about anyone who asked me if I'd discovered anything of interest on the con trail during the year. I also kept in touch with the creators, intent on doing my part to alert a wider audience to the existence of this fine book, and was more than a little happy to hear that it had been picked up for a mainstream debut under the Slave Labor Graphics imprint.
Now you, too, can discover why this angel is a killer. Ignore her kung fu at your own risk.
Bill Baker: Who's the Street Angel, and why do a book about her?
Jim Rugg: Street Angel is the alter ego of a 13-year-old homeless girl named Jesse Sanchez. Sanchez lives in the worst ghetto of Angel City called Wilkesborough. She is an orphan, a skateboarder without peer, and a master of the martial arts. Unfortunately for her, she's too young and immature to use her gifts in a capitalistic, advantageous fashion and therefore suffers from malnourishment and skips far too much school. Instead she fights crime, ninjas, drug dealers, would-be world conquerors, and nepotism, and defends the denizens of Wilkesborough, most of whom are far too poor and beaten down to defend themselves.
The reason she gets a book is because Slave Labor agreed to publish it. I enjoy drawing the character and I find the stories entertaining.
Brian Maruca: We wanted to give homeless people someone to look up to and something other than drugs and alcohol to spend their money on.
BB: Who are some of the more important characters in Jesse's life, and what kind of world do they inhabit?
JR: Mayor Watson - corrupt ruler of Angel City. He's a dirty politician, drunk on power who hates the poor. Consequently he ignores Wilkesborough and its people unless he needs something from them, like Street Angel's help.
Brittany Watson - the mayor's only child. She is about Jesse's age, but stuck up, selfish, and superficial.
The Bald Eagle - a homeless guy in Wilkesborough that has one arm and no lower body. Despite this setback he remains a talented skateboarder and eternally optimistic.
Trixie - one of Jesse's classmates and a friend.
CosMick - Ireland's first astronaut.
Inti - the Incan Sun god.
Krigmore - a devout Satanist, and leader of a band of outlaw Satanists who destroy churches in Wilkesborough.
BM: The only important character is Jesse and maybe her cat.
BB: Where'd this book come from? Is this a case of a wild idea just appearing from the cultural zeitgeist and your own particular obsessions, or is it more grounded in reality than that?
JR: At the time of its creation I was receiving a number of scripts from aspiring comic book writers. Some were okay but a lot of the scripts were terrible to the point of being impossible to determine whether they were parodies and sincere. They also shared a number of common elements - standard superhero genre conventions and also a similar authorial voice. Street Angel began as a mockery of these derivative, unoriginal, unimaginative, naïve, yet passionate, energetic super hero scripts. Other major influences include: Heat Vision and Jack, Mignola's Amazing Screw-On Head, Dan Clowes' Eightball 22, and Jack Kirby.
I think there may be similarities in the way we approach the material with the way the creators of Wet Hot American Summer appropriated and drew inspiration and ideas from their source material.
BB: How'd the series grow and develop over time from that initial impulse, and what kind of input did Brian have on that process?
JR: The book started with a character sketch of a punk girl. I wanted to draw a comic with her and Brian and I brainstormed a bunch of ideas for that purpose. Eventually those ideas became Street Angel. Many of our stories came from that initial creative period. We develop the ideas that we like into script form by writing the story, adding to it, revising it, until we have something that we're happy with. Then I draw it.
BB: I have to ask, since Street Angel first saw the light of day as a self-published piece, how did it end up at Slave Labor, why did you choose to go that route with the book at this point, and what kind of changes did it have to go through once they'd picked it up?
JR: The mini comic met with a terrific response. While we were thinking about the second issue, we decided it might have some commercial potential. So we sent Slave Labor a copy. Much to our surprise Dan Vado, SLG's publisher, actually liked it and offered to publish it. Neither of us wanted to self-publish on a big scale, so Slave Labor seemed like the perfect solution. They have been very hands off in terms of editorial direction. The only thing Dan recommended was that we make the book a standard comic size and that we create a more readable title (the original looked like graffiti). The size change ultimately meant redrawing the entire first issue, but I think that turned out well.
BB: What do you have planned for Street Angel and her crew in the future, near and long term? And is this a project you think you could do for a long run, or is it more contained than that?
JR: Each quarterly issue will be self-contained. Issue 2 features Conquistadors, Pirates, Incas, Ninjas, an Astronaut, time-travel, and an Incan god. Issue 3 finds Jesse down and out in the care of a homeless shelter/church. Unfortunately that church happens to be under siege by a deadly band of Satanists. Issue 3 gives readers an opportunity to see how Street Angel copes with adversity and also how the people of Wilkesborough view their unlikely heroine. Issue 4 will focus on Jesse Sanchez, the 13-year-old homeless girl more than her super heroine alter ego.
We do have an ending planned, but we'll have to wait and see whether the series reaches that point. I plan to spend some time working on this series. How long depends on a couple of factors. I'm sure sales will partially determine how long Slave Labor is willing to let us go. And my own enthusiasm for the book could burn out. Right now we have about 10-12 issues worth of material that we'd like to do. But we'll see. That could be 2 or 3 years total and that's a long time to commit to anything.
Plus there's always a chance I'll finally give Brian the ass-kicking he deserves. That could spell trouble for the book.
BB: Jim, what do you get from doing this book, specifically, and from doing comics and art generally?
JR: I have no idea how to answer this question. I hate most comics. Street Angel is my attempt to create a comic book that I don't hate. Why I spend hours hunched over a drawing board making comics is anyone's guess. I suppose it's more rewarding than watching television and cheaper than drugs?
BM: I get a creative outlet and something to do at work.
BB: What do you hope readers get from Street Angel?
JR: I hope readers get their money's worth. The price of comics has risen disproportionately to other forms of entertainment and in many cases I don't think the quality of the reading experience has kept up with the rising expense. The book should be entertaining, at times thought provoking, and occasionally life-altering. I hope the characters become well-rounded, 3-dimensional personalities and that Wilkesborough becomes a familiar place that readers look forward to visiting every few months. Hopefully readers get a book that they can add to their list of "comics that don't suck."
I'm sick of comic books being just another chapter in an upcoming trade paperback. No wonder people buy them less and less. I hope readers pickup a copy of Street Angel and feel like they've gotten a complete story.
BB: How about you, Brian? What do you hope readers get from the book?
BB: Anything you'd like to add before I let you go?
JR: To keep up to date with Street Angel, you should check out www.awefulbooks.com and www.slavelabor.com. I try to update the site regularly with new reviews, interviews, show appearances, bonus art, and anything else I think of. Other than that, if you see me at a show, ask for a sketch. I'm never very busy at shows and I like doing sketches for all the nice people. Peace out.
You'll find Street Angel #1, which received a coveted and well-deserved "Spotlight", on page 206 of the January, 2004 issue of Diamond's Previews magazine. Catch the wave, my friends.
<< 01/07/2004 | 01/14/2004 | 01/21/2004 >>
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