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Baker's Dozen
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 04/26/2006
40 pages and An American Mule

Adam Wallenta on American Mule's Public Enemy comic series

I've known Adam Wallenta for the better part of a decade now, I believe. I met him very early on in my own then-budding career as a journalist covering the comic industry, and I remember more than a few good talks with Adam at various cons. At the same time, I followed The Retributors, American Mule's flagship title of the day, with more than a little fondness. However, things do change, and it suddenly occurred to me last year that I hadn't seen Adam for a while. I'd just really begun to wonder what he'd been up to since we'd last spoken, when unexpectedly I received an email from Adam that dropped a pretty huge bomb in my lap: American Mule would be publishing a Public Enemy comic series.

I remember that moment quite distinctly. My first thought was, "Damn! How cool is that?"

The second, of course, was, "I gotta talk with Adam about this for Baker's Dozen!"

Public Enemy 0

Bill Baker: Just so everyone's on the same page, how would you describe Public Enemy the act, and more importantly to our purposes here, what are you telling folks who ask, "What's this Public Enemy comic series about, anyway?"

Adam Wallenta: Public Enemy is a progressive, forward thinking, mind expanding musical, HIPHOP group that has combined social commentary, political awareness and intelligent, hardcore lyrics that speak to everyone from the urban youth to college professors over aggressive, genre spitting beats. Not only are the members of Public Enemy musicians with something to say but they are global activists that support their communities, participate in change and help motivate and educate anyone and everyone that will listen.

Now the comic book series combines the reality of who the members of Public Enemy are, and what they have done for over twenty years with a fictional element of high octane action and adventure. The characters in Public Enemy are underground heroes, rebels without a pause, similar to what the X-Men used to be in my opinion. You won't see Public Enemy praised by the government or corporate America. They fight against a corrupt system in the name of justices and equality for all, not just the select elite. They are the people's heroes.

So while Public Enemy is performing their hit songs and lecturing around the world, they are also acting as secret agents for a global organization of freedom fighters called the Underground Railroad that is out to stop the evil New World Order who is hell bent on world domination. Throughout the series an array of allies and rogues will be introduced that make up the supporting cast and deadly adversaries.

Public Enemy

BB: So, how'd this all come together for you and American Mule?

AW: Besides being an illustrator, I also write and record songs and around 2001/02 I was introduced to Chuck D who invited me to release some work trough his new SLAMJAMZ record label. Around that same time I was invited to perform with another one of his groups and we toured with Public Enemy, Blackalicious and Dilated Peoples. During this time Chuck and I spoke about ideas for a comic book. He was aware of the indie books I published and thought I was the perfect guy for the job. I also became very close with Professor Griff and we worked on an educational project together and he became a big champion of the comic book idea, helping to push it along and bring it to life. It took some time because of scheduling but it's now in full gear.

BB: I'm pretty sure I know the answer, but was this a no-brainer for you, or did you need to think about how you'd approach doing the book, etc., before jumping on it?

AW: It was a no-brainer in regards to knowing that the idea and characters of Public Enemy would fit perfectly into the world of comic books. I knew what the approach would be. I wanted it to have that feeling of traditional comic books where you knew who the good guys and bad guys are, where there was a positive message of right vs. wrong and good vs. evil. I didn't want to preach but I didn't want to be scared of touching important issues like the new modern slave trade, drug addiction, poverty and racism. I wanted to incorporate fantasy, action and adventure without having to give the members of Public Enemy superpowers. All that being said, it is not a difficult task to make something both realistic and fantastical.

Public Enemy

BB: What, if any, hurdles have you guys had to overcome on the journey from planning the book to now? And how did those influence or effect the project's final shape, if at all?

AW: We are still very much developing the book and I think the first year's worth of books will see a lot of growth in both the story and art. As a fan I like books that grow and progress forward, always remaining fresh and new so I would like to have that opportunity to experiment and try new things while remaining true to our ideas. There haven't been any real hurdles other than scheduling. The group is extremely busy, recording, touring, lecturing and acting, so the toughest thing to do is get everyone together. But it's been going really well so far. It took some time to get off the ground but time goes by so quickly you hardly notice when you're doing all the work.

BB: So who's involved with creating the book? I know that Chuck D has contributed a short story to the preview issue; is that something we can expect throughout the title's run, and will any other members, past or present, be adding something later?

AW: I will be co-writing each issue with Chuck D. James Bomb from the S1W's and Professor Griff will also be contributing concepts and providing editorial support. I'm also working with legendary DJ/Producer DJ Johnny Juice who was an original member of Public Enemy's production group, the Bomb Squad, to create a segment called "True Tales of Public Enemy" (or something like that) where he tells about real life adventures, incidents and experiences they have. This would be something for the hardcore fans to get an insider's look as to what has gone down historically behind the scenes. Public Enemy has toured with everyone in HIPHOP along with groups like U2 and Anthrax, so you know there are some wild stories to tell.

Public Enemy

BB: Well, how are you guys creating the tales for the book? What steps are typically involved in the process from conception to completion of an issue?

AW: It's not that complicated really. Chuck and I brainstorm along with James Bomb and come up with the concepts and direction of what we want to do and say. The first arc is going to be more action oriented and it's more of an introduction to the main characters. As time goes on we have plans to introduce a lot of supporting characters and tales that revolve around more current events and world issues as well as that fantastical element. Once we have an initial idea, I revise it and put it together in a way that is accessible for an artist, either myself, or anyone else I work with. When I have it formatted, Chuck and James look over what I put together and make any necessary edits. It's a lot of give and take but it is a very open creative process and as we go we are learning how to work together to tell the best stories possible.

Public Enemy

BB: How easy is it to mix hip hop with graphic narrative? Does it seem like a natural fit, or does it take some real work and thought at times to meld these two art forms?

AW: One of the original elements of HIPHOP culture is graffiti, a narrative art form that originates from ancient hieroglyphics, the original comic books. It's definitely a natural fit. Now my style isn't straight up graffiti nor is it traditional superhero art. It's somewhere in between but it still conveys the same ideas. I don't find the creation of any art to be really easy. It's something that has to be worked at and it takes creating it on a regular basis to become a master. You're going to see the style of the art change and grow a lot over the first year I hope. But conceptually I believe that HIPHOP and comic books are a natural fit. If you look at many of the traditional heroes like Spider-Man and the X-Men, they are very HIPHOP oriented in that they are originally outcasts, underground rebels feared by the man, living and fighting crime in the mean streets of NYC. Turn on a Public Enemy record and read a comic and you will see how well they go together.

Chuck D

BB: What can we expect from Public Enemy, the comic series, in the near future? How about the long term? Any hopes, plans or wishes?

AW: The immediate future brings our special preview # 0 issue in June and our giant sized 40 page # 1 in July. Once the convention season is over we will be on a bi-monthly schedule and we will really start to get deep into the series. As I mentioned the first story arc is an introduction to the group and what they are about. As time goes on we want to introduce our supporting cast and most importantly a great cast of rogues. We also hope to combine current real world issues with high adventure and lots of action. The first story arc is going to be collected as a trade that will also include a soundtrack of new Public Enemy material produced by Professor Griff and myself that features a lot of special guests. If all goes well we will do that with each collection.

In the long term I would like to do a spin off book featuring Professor Griff and the S1W's because, in regards to the Public Enemy mythos, I think they are often overlooked in the eyes of the mass media, especially since in large part they are responsible for the look and feel of the group. If all goes well you will be able to catch us on the second season of Flavor of Love airing this July. I had hoped to arrange a free Public Enemy concert at Comic-Con in San Diego like the Jack Black show last year but they didn't think it would be a good idea. It's too bad because I know there are a lot of comic book fans that are Public Enemy fans and it would have been nice to give them a free show.

As for wishes...I hope and wish that the book does well so we can continue to release adventures. So long as there is demand we will continue to supply.

Flavor Flav

BB: What about Adam Wallenta? Is this going to be occupying the majority of your time, or might there be some new creator owned projects coming from you in the near future? How about revisiting some of our old friends, reviving some of that past Mule magic?

AW: Well this will definitely be occupying the majority of my time for awhile but there are a lot of things I would like to do. Chuck is very interested in working with Marvel and we are trying to make that happen. Wouldn't that be cool? We have some great ideas and it's just a matter of making it happen now. I also have several creator owned properties I hope to develop in time. Time is the main factor. It goes by too quickly especially when you're working like a dog. As for revisiting some old friends...I can definitely see a Retributors series in the future, as for Adam and Bryon, stranger things have happened, but my old partner in crime is too busy living the good life I believe to throw himself back in the miserable trenches of the comic book industry.

James Bomb

BB: What do you get from doing projects like the Public Enemy comic? How about from doing comics generally?

AW: An ulcer. I'm kidding, kinda. The Public Enemy project is a labor of love. I've wanted to do this series since 1987 when I got their first album, Yo Bum Rush the Show and I heard Chuck rapping about Namor and Thor. Later when I interned at Marvel and they were doing a P.E. book and dropped the ball I knew I had to make it work somehow. I guess it was a matter of me proving something to myself. I come from a shitty little town where most people don't accomplish anything never mind follow their childhood dreams to success (or failure), but I never give up and for me it's about giving it my best shot. I love P.E., their music and their message and if I can help spread that message through graphic stories and this medium I love with all my heart, then what's better than that? The comic industry in general is one of the toughest businesses I have ever seen. Leave it to me to only have a passion for two things, comics and music and breaking in to either is next to impossible, but here I am. This is what I love and I can't see myself ever doing anything else.

BB: What would you like readers to get from this new series? Is it all about entertainment, or might there be something more there for those who want it, just like in PE's music?

AW: There is definitely something more than just entertainment. Of course entertainment is key and vital to the series. People get a lot of joy out of being entertained and that is not a bad thing. However don't expect mindless entertainment either. I'd like to open some minds with the series, introduce people to new worlds and opinions and maybe even get people talking that normally wouldn't talk. Public Enemy has brought people from all walks of life together through their music and I would really love to continue that legacy through the comics.

New World Order Agents

BB: Anything else you'd like to add before I let you get back to work?

AW: Definitely stay tuned to www.americanmule.com for up to date info. You can also check out our Myspace account at http://www.myspace.com/americanmuleentertainment and sign up to be our friend.

Public Enemy # 0 is now available for pre-orders through Diamond Comic Book Distributors. You can order your copy of Public Enemy # 0 from Diamond's April Previews catalog on page 225, which is in stores now. Public Enemy #0 will be in stores in June. Make sure to tell your local comic book retailer that the item code is APR062899. Issue # 1 will follow in the May catalog and be in stores in July. Make sure to stop by the American Mule booth in the small press section at the San Diego Comic-Con and say hello. Hopefully Chuck and Flav will be there to sign autographs for you all.

Oh yeah... Bill Baker is one of the nicest guys in comics!

P.E.ace!

<< 03/29/2006 | 04/26/2006 | 05/10/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum.
Read my weekly blog, Speculative Friction, on my website BloodintheGutters.com.


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