LeSean Thomas is onto something.
The up and coming artist, with a quickly expanding body of work that includes stints on Dreamwave’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Arkanium, and a background in animation and storyboarding that includes Warner Bros’ new Teen Titans cartoon, is gearing up to launch Cannon Busters, a creator-owned series shipping from Devil’s Due this November. Melding his love for animation, comics, video games, and hip-hop into an unmistakable creative blend, LeSean is poised to permanently alter the face of the fantasy adventure title…whether he realizes it or not. This week, he stops by the friendly confines of Ambi to discuss the upcoming series, his various influences, and why the comics industry has forgotten all about the kids.
Ambidextrous: You’ve worked professionally in both comics and animation over the last few years. Walk us through a typical day in the artistic life of LeSean Thomas.
LeSean Thomas: Come on man, people don’t wanna hear about that. They wanna know if I’mma be late or not, haha. Well, I’ve been having a bad time trying to get my sleep patterns on point, mainly because I’ve been taking on extra side gigs, and it’s required me to run some extra hours here and there outside of Cannon Busters. Right now I’m playing a major role in a new animated series for Adult Swim, so it’s taken up all my time outside CB.
But usually I get up, walk about a mile or so to get some exercise, then come back, and hit the agenda for the day. Knock out a page or 2 of thumbnailing, then spend the rest of the day laying them out, and handling other illustration chores. My days usually consist of about 15 hours of drawing, but that’s usually minimized when the lady gets home from her job late in the eve. Gotta spend time, so I’ve tried to set my day up around her. But yeah, 15 hours a day drawing, sometimes more. Man, that was boring explaining all that. Ask me some questions to make me sound cool.
Ambi: What’s the story of Cannon Busters, and what types of things influenced its creation?
Thomas: I’m glad you asked that question B! I was just thinking about CB! Seriously though, Cannon Busters is the story of Samberry, a robot who’s trying to get back home. Samberry has never experienced interaction outside her kingdom’s walls, but that all changes when she’s violently separated from her kingdom, due to an attack from a mysterious and powerful sorcerer, during a time where magic is extinct. Along her journey, she comes across the paths of three other individuals who also wish to get to where she’s headed, but for their own reasons. You can call it a tripped out version of the Wizard of Oz. The spine of the story is very high concept, but it’s the journey and the characters that will be unique.
As far as influences, I’ve always been a fan of simple stories that contained interesting characters that interacted, and as a result, made the ride worthwhile. I love cinema, things like Seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress, Sanjuro, those are simple story lines turned classics because of the characters. I also love videogames, and came up playing Phantasy Star, the first hardcore three meg RPG for the Sega Master System at the time, and since I played that as a kid, I’ve always wanted to do a fantasy story. As a child of Hip-Hop, growin’ up in the South Bronx, I always imagined what would happen if I had the opportunity to fuse the two. Cannon Busters is the result of that. That and animation. Cannon Busters is my ode to all those things, in a “Kill Bill” sort of approach.
Ambi: How do you make sure you’re bringing something new to the idea and/or structure of the “quest” story, and not creating something that’s too much of an homage?
Thomas: I’m just doin what I think is cool, and what I would have read when I was 16. I’m not here to change the game, just merely contribute to the medium in creating entertaining content for fans of the genres I’m conveying in the story. I leave the “game-changing” to the aspiring artists and purists, I’m just pulling a “Tarantino” with fantasy as far as I’m concerned. In terms of storytelling, I think it will be a fun ride. J. Torres has worked up a fun script, and although it starts off conventional in issue #1, it will make a turn for the dynamic by the end of it and going forward. I think it’s the characters that will ultimately make it unique.
Ambi: So, in addition to Samberry, who makes up the main cast, and with any story like this, there’s always someone or something standing in the way. Please tell me there aren’t flying monkeys in this…
Thomas: Haha, nah, fam. Although, there are a legion of minions akin to the flying monkeys, but they are gun-headed creatures. They roll deep. There’s a plethora of subplots of course, but like any character-driven story, they are all bound together into one single spine. In regards to the characters, the main cast, who will be appearing one new issue at a time, will be Casey TurnBuckle, a lone grease monkey droid who lives on the edge of HollowWood forest. Then there’s the ever-popular and wildy sought after Philly the Kidd, a lone outlaw with a tremendous bounty on his head. There’s also a mysterious drunken swordsman named “9ine”, Prince Toji, who is the object of affection for Sam, and Lock, the powerful magic user. They all need Samberry, but for their own reasons.
Ambi: With J. Torres providing final script over the series, is there anything about the collabo that’s surprised you so far?
Thomas: That he’s doing it, hahaha! I’m a big fan of the dude, so, for the writer of Sidekicks to be emailing me with dialogue suggestions for my project makes me geek out. J is the man, an awesome writer and awesome person in general. Hanging out with him this past summer at Wizard World and the Toronto con was a joy. And actually, the story was already written, J is just scripting it into issues. I’ve learned a lot working with him and seeing how he translates my outlines into final script.
Ambi: With the stands crawling in books, what sensibilities and approach will set CB apart from everything else?
Thomas: That it’s a comic book. I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel like a lot of the comics on the shelves try so hard to be taken seriously, due to the stigma surrounding the culture that comics are for kids. As a result, a good amount of the industry has gone through great pains to make comics for adults, and we forgot about the kids. I mean, you know, the fun aspect of comics in some ways.
Cannon Busters is an action-fantasy with laughs and really cool-looking characters and designs. It’s actually considered a “guilty pleasure” in today’s industry to enjoy a comic that’s just fun, insanely drawn with style, and isn’t “serious” or “ultimized” or is actually just campy, without a deep, moral message. And that’s what’s kind of lost to me. Cannon Busters is just entertainment that doesn’t take itself too seriously and with a solid story and wild characters with heart. It’s one of the first few sword and sorcery fantasy series “hip” with “style” just from looking at it.
Ambi: I can’t really speak on that, considering all the curse words lacing my last script, but, and I’ve always thought about this because I think I’ve done it to a certain degree, but does the online community encourage an elitist mentality that dictates what comics should and shouldn’t be?
Thomas: No disrespect to the online community, but I think it still all boils down to the retailers. Elitists are not popular because they are just that: elitists. They don’t have an effect on the direction of the comics market, anymore than you and I have an effect on increasing the amount of African-American characters in comics. No matter how much we whine online, it still ends with the retailers. If they feel a book won’t move enough to keep their store afloat, they won’t touch it.
So, in answer to your question, the answer to me is no. And on a side note, not to get too off the question asked, but I think the forum community, on a whole, while having its benefits, has tricked a lot of people into thinking that 20 or 30 forum responses will somehow produce sales of 40 or 50 thousand copies on a book. It doesn’t by itself, and anyone who thinks that are mistaken.
Ambi: Since the online community can’t single handedly save and promote books, what steps are you and your publisher taking to let retailers know this is a book they can and will want to sell?
Thomas: Well, in regards to Devil’s Due, I think they are doing a solid job. They’ve put Cannon Busters #0 inside Diamond Dateline, making it available for tons of retailers across the nation free, with their copies of Previews. I think that’s a big push to get it out there. Also, I’ve been hustling myself, playing businessman, making moves and putting things into place with future coverage inside Wizard Edge, the UK’s Comics International, Lo-Fi magazine, PLAY MAGAZINE, and even coverage for Cannon Busters on G4-TV’s “Electric Playground,” where I’m interviewed at San Diego Comic-Con about CB and when to look for it. There’s also a host of other coverage on Cannon Busters in future outlets I can’t reveal right now. I’m on my Grizzly.
UDON’s support has been great as well, with upcoming CB promotions inside Darkstalkers, Rival Schools and Street Fighter, so we’re trying to take advantage of as many opportunities for publicity as possible.
Ambi: Moving onto a couple other things you’re involved with, how’d the Artxilla collective form up, and what are the benefits of sharing space with other artists?
Thomas: Well, there’s no physical studio, Artxilla is actually a virtual art studio. The main illustrators consist of myself, Ed McGuinness, Keron Grant and Sanford Greene. The benefits are simply power in numbers. We could all do our own thing individually and make noise, and that’s obvious, but one of the reasons we decided to form together is for clients to see a wide variety of styles and flavors across the board, giving them a sense that we are a production house. It’s also to help create a community with up and comers who want to someday do their own comics, or work for the big companies.
We were all peeps on the phone, with mutual friends at the time, before we decided to form the studio. We each wanted to do it, but just never thought about it being us four. I felt it was a privilege, because on the real, I have such huge respect for Sanford, I’m a huge Keron and Ed fan from waaay back wit Keron’s Kaboom and Ed’s
Mr. Majestic. So, to be a part of something with these three guys was a blessing. I’m just tagging along as far as I’m concerned, hahaha. To be in a studio with these monsters, with them sending me new stuff via email….whew. Man, I get exclusives from Keron’s new project, Ed’s new JLA:Classified pencils emailed to me and Sanford’s new secret projects. Man, with all that every week, it’s just hard to be wack. On the real. They keep my game up, and that’s important.
I don’t even look at what’s going on in the mainstream these days. I get my reminders of what’s expected from me every week from just these 3.
Ambi: Besides your Artxilla crew, what artists are keeping you honest?
Thomas: Claire Wendling, Takeshi Koike, Kazuto Nakazawa, Paul Pope and film director, Luc Besson. In that order. They are producing some amazing stuff as of late that really gets my juices going.
Ambi: Cool, cool. Want to pick your brain a little bit before we wrap things up with a couple of terribly ambiguous questions. In your experience, what do you think comics need more of?
Thomas: Positive portrayals of women, as leading, empowering characters. Don’t get me wrong, sexy is cool, but there needs to be a balance. Also more positive portrayals of Afro-Americans in comics, less clinging to the popular stereotypes.
Ambi: I was hoping you were gonna say that, based on the good vibes that I left The State of Black Comics panel with, at the San Diego Con. It seems the females in particular have been having a tough go recently in our favorite comics, killed, beaten, tortured, raped. What does the future hold for the under-represented audiences in comics, and do you take any personal responsibility for doing what you can to advance things?
Thomas: I’ve always made it a responsibility in my own creations to rep what I know in terms of race and creed. Ever since my first project, BattleSeed, a creator-owned Flash-animated webseries done some 4 years ago, I’ve made it my business to try to present African-American women in a positive light, not objectified, or widely accepted in American comics for some time now, in bondage. I have two younger sisters who have daughters and sons, and I’ve always felt a responsibilty to try and convey to them and my niece and nephew that yeah, there are positive approaches to African-American women in comics.
I mean, I don’t know what the future holds for the matter in American comics in general, as far as the mainstream goes. I think it’s up to independent creators to make things happen, if they choose to. Why wait for Marvel or DC to throw bones in their 40 plus year old franchises? Why point the finger? There will be a future for it when the creators, African-American or whoever, decide to make it so on a whole, not when mainstream publishers decide.
Ambi: And with that sentiment, I’d like to thank LeSean for stopping by, and encourage everyone to check out Cannon Busters when it hits this November from Devil’s Due/UDON. For more info, check out the recently “live” Cannon Busters website and Lesean’s own personal site.
I’ll be back next week with a few trade reviews, warming myself up to tackle that Bone one volume edition.