The Brick City BunchA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Egg Embry
I first met Justin Bleep while stumbling around Wizard World Texas looking for my booth (which he helped me find). He had a sweet, sweet setup there and was very friendly. When I told him that I worked for Arcana Studios he immediately said, “Yeah, you do 100 Girls, Todd Demong’s book!” That’s the type of thing that makes comics fun, having someone recognize a book you’re associated with!
Over the course of the con we hung out along with Ryan Walsh, one of Justin’s writers on his comic, The Brick City Bunch. During the show we talked about his project extensively and since issue one is on the shelves, I decided to conduct an interview with Justin to see how his self-published odyssey is going!
What?! You didn’t think this interview was just going to be about the guy that helped me find my seat, did you?
Egg Embry: First off, other than a guy that helped me find my chair, who are you?
Justin Bleep: I’m a comic book artist turned DJ turned comic book artist. My name, Justin Bleep, comes from my days as a turntabalist. “Bleep” referring to the computer sounds of techno music. As my Midwest scene died, I took shelter in my first creative outlet, comics.
Embry: And for the uninitiated, what is The Brick City Bunch?
Bleep: The “Bunch” are an icon of underground culture, in G-rating. It is a light story in a heavy environment. The kids represent the “four elements” of hip-hop culture: DJing, MCing, Breaking, and Graffiti. The fifth member of the “Bunch” is a skateboarder, another “element” which I thought necessary to represent urban culture. The book is intended for everybody. The story is targeted for an audience of kids and young teens, say 8 to 15. The genre, urban, appeals to a slightly older audience, teen and young adult, my generation. If I just covered those two demographics I’d be happy, but to add, the characters have timeless personalities. Eddy Boom, the group leader and DJ is your daydreamer, always reaching for unrealistic goals, always searching for Nirvana. Artists and musicians will love this character, as they will see qualities of themselves in his subplots. Dabble, the MC, is so talented, but is unsure of himself. You will see lots of inner dialog for this character, debating and second-guessing himself. Something we all do. Kinda like Cyclops from X-Men, he’s unsure of his “power.” Dabble’s the conscience of the group. Jade and Lobee are exact opposites… Both love what they do, but for very different reasons. Jade loves breaking, loves the way it makes her feel, while Lobee loves skateboarding, but not for the rush it gives him; he loves it for the attention! He loves feelin’ the crowd, and getting their reactions. Lobee is the crowd pleaser, and Jade has no idea the crowd is there! Then there is T.K.one, graffiti girl. What’s interesting about this character is not how she feels inside, but how others feel around her. Seeing how the characters react off of her is how you get to know her… kinda like the “looking-glass-self” literary theme. She’s mysterious in that way too. To get all these personalities together, then see how they react off each other, it’s gonna be a rush!!!
Embry: Where did BCB come from? And why do that story as a comic book?
Bleep: Comics were my roots, and electronic music became my passion. When I started DJing, I dropped sequential art altogether, not even realizing how perfectly the two work in harmony. The Brick City Bunch is the perfect realization of these two mediums coming together. However, after returning to comic fandom, I realized this was quite a common combo. Comics and urban culture, that is. Bunch is unique, at least I hope in the way the project is presented. A lot of books in comicdom start with a story, or story concept, and everything is built around this idea. Bunch starts with the characters. What happens to them is not as important as their reaction to the happenings. The series is a journey to get to know the Bunch. Much like a friendship or a date, a family vacation, or a concert with a friend, even a lunch with a co-worker. It’s not the event that sticks with your memories, it’s the relationship gains and falls that you’ll always keep with you, and will always mean the most to you. I am hoping the Bunch sticks with the reader in that same way.
Embry: So you have a VERY character driven story that you created. Yet, you don’t write it… how do you mesh the ideas that it’s all about your characters but someone else scripts them?
Bleep: Funny thing, when I proposed this project to Jason and Tanya (writers for Brick City Bunch issues one and two), I gave them complete freedom to create the story and character personalities. I didn’t want to give them any restrictions, limiting their creativity. I had concept sketches listing race, age, creative outlet (DJing, MCing, whatever) and that was it! After they delivered the first finished script, we had a conversation. Both writers felt that they hadn’t come up with any of the characters unique personalities. They continued to tell me those details had already been written. Written into my drawings, that is. I guess I had put so much personality into each concept sketch, you could read them like a book! Jason and Tanya just wrote what they saw, which was surprisingly exactly what I had in mind. Truly the most amazing event that has happened to me, in all of my collaborative projects.
Embry: Now, you have a very stylized type of art, where did that come from?
Bleep: Well, its probably pretty obvious at this point: underground DJ culture. While still in my first phase of drawing comics, I worked a multitude of rave fliers, many of which had figures that resemble my characters in my comics today. When it came time to give the project a design theme, I went to the rave flyer for reference. My website, www.UrbanSequence.com, and the non-sequential pages of Bunch were created to mimic those designs, almost giving my book a CD insert feel.
Embry: I get that CD booklet vibe, it’s very cool.
Bleep: Wow, so I pulled it off! Thanks.
Embry: What’s some of your favorite comic books that are out now?
Bleep: I buy comics on a creator basis. There are a few names I follow, Francisco Herrera is my fav. Humberto Ramos, Skottie Young, Khary Randolph, are others. Not to forget your very own Todd Demong. As Brick City Bunch pans out you’ll see who I like, just look at the alt covers. Issue one has Randolph, two is Skottie Young, and Demong is working up a cover for issue three; can’t wait to get that!!! It’s better than Christmas to get a piece with my characters rendered by the best!!! I’ve also got my eye on Joey Mason with Howard Shum inks, Sanford Greene, and Sean Galloway.
Embry: That’s a crazy line-up of talent! Do you just dig their work or does what they do influence your style?
Bleep: What comes in is what comes out. It’s always been that way for me… when I was being bombarded with techno music, techno is what I produced… these guys are my entertainment now, and I’m turning out similar comics as a result.
Embry: And what’s your favorite comic from your childhood?
Bleep – What's interesting is my favorite comic as a kid was probably not one I owned, but one that I wanted to own. I was definitely into collecting comics in bags and boards, not the actual literature itself. Searching for the “holy grails” sounds like something a child wouldn’t understand and enjoy. But then again, I guess I didn’t start collecting until the age of 11. My fav (being part of the Liefield generation) was New Mutants #87.
Embry: You are a brave, brave man for admitting that and I salute you! The Brick City Bunch #1 is in stores now. What has been the response to it?
Bleep: MORE!!! The story in the first issue cuts a little short. The story for issue number one and number two were originally planned for a single issue. But the cost of self-publishing led to the splitting of the story, so you are kinda left hanging around at the end of issue number one.
Embry: Let me pull out one of my editor questions: Where is this story going? I mean, this is the tale of some teenage slackers hangin’ in their neck of town… what’s the hook?
Bleep: Well, there are no superpowers, no big guns, so ya, what’s up hook??? I have kept this idea close in mind while plotting the Bunch and the direction of the series. I know people want heroes, they want villains… they want great characters and conflict… and this is a definite theme in each story. So expect the Bunch to be running into a multitude of unforgettable villains in each adventure. Each character, hero and villain, will be an icon, something readers can relate to and enjoy.
Embry: What conventions/store signings do you have planned?
Bleep: Hopefully LA in March. Mos def Detroit in May, Philly in June, San Diego in July, and Chicago in August. I’ll try to hit the new Boston Con in September, and Dallas again in November. Issue number two is going to be solicited in the July issue of Previews so promotion during the summer is going to be huge!!! I’ll be handing out a spectacular 18x24 poster promoting issue number two. It’s going to be a collage of images from the second story featuring artwork by myself and Skottie Young.
Embry: Speaking of bigger “name” artists, who are some of the cooler illustrators you’ve gotten to meet in your comic odyssey?
Bleep: Well, the “coolest” creator I know is Stuart Sayger. I’ve got a very close relationship with the creator of Shiver in the Dark (Stuart Sayger’s terribly excellent book). We both live in Indianapolis, so it's easy for us to occasionally get out to the bar. He’s on my list of most influential people in my life, fo sho. Other artists I’ve gotten to meet include Sean Galloway (nicest guy you’ll ever talk to), Howard Shum (also originally from indy), Taki Soma (nicest girl you’ll ever meet at a convention), and Skottie Young. There is a bunch… too many to remember, so if you’re reading this and you didn’t get a mention, I apologize!!!
Embry: Any closing thoughts?
Bleep: Sure, I want to thank everyone that has supported me and the Bunch on our journey! You know who you are. And for the rest, I really look forward to meeting you at the shows this summer! I hope you get a chance to meet the characters from the Bunch soon. They’re an interesting group. Remember, you can order issue number one through your local retailer (Diamond Order Code NOV033008). Or go to www.UrbanSequence.com and shop the store there. You know I had to plug!!!
Embry: Justin, thanks for taking the time! We appreciate it!
Bleep: Thank you, oh Jewish One!