Saturday, October 17, 2015

Artist Interview: WINSTON BLAKELY

Interview with WINSTON BLAKELY

You have just released a new graphic novel for Little Miss Strange; it had been in the works for quite some time before it was finally completed. Provide the readers with information about this new release; plot, storyline, characters?
Little Miss Strange 2 is called Curse Of The Chameleon God. It is available right now at Amazon.com and so is the first graphic novel. It is somewhat of a follow-up to the first novel, with characters that help Scorpia (aka Little Miss Strange) in her initial quest to protect her home world. In this storyline, we have Pluta the Dragon Girl and Taura the Demoness playing key roles linking their consciousness to the sorceress of Satu. Also, the storyline features Kotas the Dragon and special guest star Faustina the Vampire Warrior. Plus the regular supporting cast is back for more as well. There is a book trailer up on Youtube that gives a brief summary of the main villain who is named Merlis, the Chameleon God.

How long has the book trailer been available for viewing on Youtube, and how much exposure has it gotten the new novel?
There are two trailers. The first is a teaser trailer and the second is the official trailer for the book. I generally put up the teaser trailer up on YouTube two to three weeks before the actual release of the book. But nevertheless, the official trailer came out the same day as the graphic novel did, which was the beginning of February to be exact. Both trailers have been making their rounds on different social sites such as Facebook and Black Science Fiction Society. It was even put on Little Miss Strange's fan page also located on Facebook. It is with great pride and appreciation that I want to thank all those share my enthusiasm for the mistress of magic and her new adventure. So far there is a dynamic and positive reaction to both trailers. Let me also take the time to thank my constant collaborator Jemir Johnson for his support in helping me complete this project with all its bells and whistles.

Provide information about Black Science Fiction Society and how widespread it is in the comics and sci fi communities?
Thanks to Jarvis Sheffield who is the owner and creator of this site which is dedicated to all things black science fiction, it's receiving a great response from a lot of creative people of color. This website also highlights and celebrate sword and sorcery, horror and every other known genre. They have a wonderful radio program every Friday that I was blessed to be a part of twice. Mr. William Hayashi is the host and main interviewer for this speculative fiction program. Facebook is all the rave now and they are located on it as well. I am sure everyone will have no problem finding it and joining their page.

Who is Jemir Johnson and how long had you been corresponding with him before the release of Little Miss Strange 2? How much input did he have into the production of Curse Of The Chameleon God?
Jemir Johnson was originally a client who hired me to do coloring for his line of books but as it turned out he found out I was more than a colorist. And so the great collaboration began which led to my illustrating various projects for him. When I had a writer's block he pitched in to help me finish Little Miss Strange 2. The most significant thing is that Jemir knew the element of style that Scorpia was created in and the co-writing turned out as if I had done the whole story all by myself. I often tease him about how prolific he is and that he is the Stan Lee to my Steve Ditko, if you know what I mean. There are upcoming books that Jemir and I will be working on, including Little Miss Strange 3, Immortal Fantasy 2 and the 1930's pulp Hero, The Midnight Phantom. Every artist needs a coach or a good muse to inspire him and Jemir is the perfect solution for a creative block until that energy starts to flow and put you back in the zone.

What is your forthcoming project The Midnight Phantom supposed to be about? What elements of 30s pulp are part of it?
The mystery man called Midnight Phantom is a vigilante in 1930's Harlem fighting all sorts of bad guys and themes that are classic to that era. There will be mystical things and homages to The Lone Ranger and The Shadow in one fell swoop, both pulp heroes Midnight Phantom is based on. Ninjas, magic bullets, hit men and mobsters will definitely highlight these nocturnal adventures. This is another collaboration between myself and Jemir Johnson who created this hero and did the original designs which you see in this volume of Pulp and Black Fist Action.

In what ways was Jemir Johnson inspired to start work on The Midnight Phantom. Is it going to become an ongoing series of a sort?
Jemir grew up with a fascination with classic pulp characters like The Shadow, authors such as Chester Himes (writer of the Harlem Domestic series featuring Detectives Coffin Ed and Gravedigger Jones), Crime fiction, Oscar Micheaux films, Harlem's underworld and the historical based fiction popularized by Max Allan Collins and Midnight Phantom was him blending all of those influences to create something grand in scope and very unique. He wanted to create a 30's inspired radio program with some contemporary flavoring and a somewhat historical backdrop on paper and I think he's succeeding with it. The first MP will be an illustrated anthology featuring the character in different adventures and that will be followed by a series of full length graphic novels and spin-offs set in the 30's and 40's. I also understand that the saga, overall, has a beginning, middle and end in terms of scope so I'm very excited to be a part of it and can't wait to contribute what I can.

How historically accurate is the backdrop to Midnight Phantom and how are the characters and situations of the tale going to fit with the backdrop?
The accuracy is all there. Jemir did a lot of research in creating this hero. I helped a tad bit with names for excellent supporting characters and designing weapons and such which the phantom will use in various chapters of this first edition of his mostly nocturnal exploits.

Describe the Scorpia character’s background and history as an extraterrestrial sorceress to those just hearing of her.
Scorpia's first installment was originally printed by Millennium Publishing in 1997. There was only one issue at that time which was about 32 pages. But I wanted the story to be seen in a more expanded edition so I began to get involved in self-publishing and other endeavors to promote and keep the magic going, so to speak. Back then, there was even a special distributor's premium package featuring a special ashcan comic in Diamond's Previews magazine. She was billed as the world's first black alien sorceress and it did get a buzz but the world of independent comics is tricky, thus the stage where I am at now. Incidentally, the character was created as a homage to Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange: Master of the Mystic Arts while I was a freelance artist at Rich Buckler's Visage Studio located at that time in Manhattan. I am also gearing up soon for some conventions with the return of my lovely live action model, Nicole Bowen who appears at shows as Little Miss Strange.

What was your earliest inspiration to create Scorpia, and how was the process to flesh out and develop her character?
As a homage to Marvel Comics’ Doctor Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts, Scorpia is miles apart from her inspiration. Being a Black Alien Sorceress who lives in a temple that is based on time can make for some interesting storytelling right off the bat. I always tell this flashback with my hot tube time machine in motion that while in Visage Studios headed by Rich Buckler, who created Deathlok for Marvel Comics. Hmm. So I have to illustrate my favorite hero but do a female version of her? Mr. Buckler immediately interjected his input about Jimi Hendrix and Dr. Strange and I loved the idea and within ten minutes the Sorceress of Satu was created and thus Little Miss Strange was born. There were also early sketches with a Morgana Le Fey vibe from the King Arthur Legend as a basic for her level of power which grew beyond my wildest dreams.
   
What was the storyline of Scorpia’s debut installment? How did self-publishing help get the first book around?
The Alpha - Omega Triad Saga was introduced as a one shot Millennium comic printed by publisher Paul Davis. Thinking that a plot about Scorpia saving her homeworld from destruction was a good start for a first issue. This was a quest story plot that took Little Miss Strange to various dimensions and a planets with a whole lot of interesting characters that could be spun into future solo adventures. As mentioned before self- publishing is tricky but necessary to establish a mythology and basis for an original heroine. To me Scorpia is like family, hence the thought her having attributes like she is my wife, daughter or niece. Protecting your creations is also a plus when dealing with self-publishing as well, let's make sure you character turns out to who want her to be. I've done my best and hope the audience think so as well.

How long were you freelancing at Visage Studios? What work were you undertaking while you were there?
I would say about a year and a half. I entered the studio as my assignments from Valiant Comics were winding down. Visage Studios was a good experience in turns of networking with comic conventions all across the USA. I met a lot of great artists and writers that I would not have met otherwise. The usual day at the studio was full of various happenings such as promotional artwork for pitches for independent movies, designing baseball cards for Topps or Fleer both of which are popular card companies, you name it, we did it. Previously as stated it was here that the brainstorm for creating Little Miss Strange was established and that is something I am very proud of.  Her creation has taken me to new heights of artistry and a self-exploration that is fulfilling on an all levels. Of course, you have to take the good with the bad and the happy with the sad but hey, that's show biz (laughs).

What work were you doing for Valiant Comics before you freelanced at Visage?
For the most part, it was inking and production art. I had to hone my skills on certain titles such as Eternal Warrior, Bloodshot, Hardcorps, Solar Man Of The Atom and Ninja. Sometimes it was special projects like Deathmate, the crossover between Valiant and Image Comics. Even highlighted premium books inserted in trade paperbacks.

Are the titles you mentioned for Visage (Eternal Warrior, Bloodshot, Hardcorps, Solar Man Of The Atom and Ninja) titles you came up with or were these projects you were contributing to? Are any of those titles still around today?
None of those characters are mine; they are strictly the property of Valiant Comics. They are still in existence to this day. There is a new crop of Valiant titles that have been around for more than a year. They added their canon of popular heroes such as the ones you mentioned before. The new Valiant Comics seems to be going at a good pace and are getting old and new fans, I am glad I was part of the original company; it was great for me and I deeply appreciate it.

How did you meet Nicole Bowen and when did she start to appear with you to help promote Little Miss Strange?
The lovely live action model Nicole Bowen was not the first choice to appear at  NYC comic conventions, there was another model who renege on the establish contract between her and my studio comrades, we all chipped in to get a uniform made and had no to wear it. As fate would have it there was a fan of Little Miss Strange who I met at Madison Square Garden who told me about Nicole.  This all took place in the late 90's early 2000's. After meeting her and seeing her enjoyment as a live action mode for my heroin, it was a done deal and she even looked like how I draw Scorpia. Now that is truly a phenomenal bit of luck. Having someone like Nicole is great for sales of any book... it’s a double blessing since she is a friend as well.

In what ways does the new book continue the saga of Scorpia from the first Little Miss Strange graphic novel?
There were some great characters that were in the first installment of this saga that were hard to resist and not to follow up on. I mentioned earlier Dragon Girl and Taura, the Demoness, now these two adventurers are the nucleus of this second story. Taura in her own right is a sorceress as well. She sends a psychic link to let Scorpia know that they are in trouble and needs her help. We also find out they were sent on their mission by Kotas, The Dragon who is the King of a race of Dragons and a shape shifter plus a superb warrior. We will learn at a future date why Kotas send the two women warriors on this quest in the first place but for now, all you need to know is that Taura and Dragon Girl are missing in action and this starts Kotas on a hunt for them. Eventually, after comparing notes, they all unite to stop the madman known as The Chameleon God.

How did you develop your new characters appearing in Curse Of The Chameleon God, and which members of the supporting cast did you bring back for this release?
Kotas the Dragon was featured in another publication called Immortal Fantasy, which was my version of Heavy Metal magazine. Bringing all these characters together was my way of showcasing The Blakelyverse as I call it. Everyone in Curse Of The Chameleon God get a chance to shine, including the vampire warrior Faustina. It is a slow buildup much like a musical crescendo in opera. Needless to say most of this was planned way in advance from the early beginnings of the first Little Miss Strange graphic novel but I had to wait until now to show them to an unsuspecting public. I hope that all you dear readers do enjoy my efforts in this flexing of creative energy to bring you this story.

When was Immortal Fantasy released to the public, and in what ways does it reflect Heavy Metal? How many copies of Immortal Fantasy are currently circulating?
Immortal Fantasy was released in 2010 and I had this planned for a good while, as always there are dormant projects in any studio just laying around that need to be published. Incidentally, this was the first appearance of Kotas, The Dragon in two sword and sorcery tales. Seeing as how he was the on the cover and the lead feature, I grace him with a double dealing of high adventure. But I was not done yet, so I decided to make it an all genre publication. Hence came the wonderful idea of adding Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction and Humor to the mix. Take note also that this is also the first of Pozitron too, who is the father of Little Miss Strange... hmmmm, now there is an epic story there and will be told soon. Heavy Metal magazine was the main influence which is a multi-genre anthology much like Immortal Fantasy which is notably a tribute or if you will a homage to Heavy Metal Magazine's existence. I don’t keep up with the copies of Immortal Fantasy floating around but it has gathered enough interest for me to make a second issue. Pozitron should be the in the spotlight for the sophomore anthology edition of Immortal Fantasy and other cool heroes will follow his back up epic, and that's for sure.

How often have you read Heavy Metal, and do you have any favorite issues of the magazine in particular?
I really don't read Heavy Metal too much these days but my heyday was the early import of their stories when they featured heroes created by Moebius and Richard Corben. Den was a favorite feature that was in the early issues; it was so unique seeing superheroes that were not in some uniform. I was equally impressed that the European market was geared towards such genres, although they approach it in a different manner. They are big on Science Fiction and Horror and heroes that are weird, strange and original.

The character of Faustina the Vampire Warrior is based on the vampires who has appeared consistently on the front cover of Autoeroticasphyxium (you designed most of the cover art with her). How would you describe her appearance in the new novel and her interaction with Scorpia?
Faustina is backup for Scorpia and the rest of her crew. Although she is a vampire warrior, Faustina is quite familiar with demons, magic and dimensional travel. In this meeting she acts as a guardian to enter this plane while protecting her own realm also located near the tower of the Chameleon God. Joining Little Miss Strange is helping Faustina in many ways, including stopping a Mad God from letting all sorts of chaos enter on a universal level. It’s a win-win situation for all concerned and every hand is needed for this major confrontation against Merlis who is a timeless creature of power. Now I have to admit Faustina was a choice as special guest in a collaboration with the publisher of Autoeroticasphyxium zine. Having drawn this Gothic type character, I thought it would be appropriate for a real epic storyline with a life and death struggle hanging in the balance for all of our heroes.

Would you consider bringing Faustina into subsequent issues of Little Miss Strange if the storyline left it open, or was her appearance in Curse Of The Chameleon God a one-time deal?
Only if the script lends itself for re appearance but for now I have other avenues of storytelling that I would like to follow but the vampire warrior does have the interest of certain metal fans, Goth and horror enthusiasts. There is the possibility of a solo adventure for Faustina; something short and sweet introducing her in another publication that I will be working on. So I am not done with her yet; hopefully more will come soon.

How would you say Scorpia’s universe is unique next to the rest of the comic community in New York?
Her universe is most definitely is beyond this realm of our existence. Hidden outside a pocket of time and space in our universe stands the temple of Satu, which is located on a huge asteroid that would take up all of the states of this country and then some. I think it’s safe to say that her unique world is the main attraction to the character and what be done with all the things around her.

How would you feel about crossing over a little into the metal and goth communities and having readers from those communities begin to appreciate Scorpia and Little Miss Strange?
That was the whole purpose of adding Faustina. I am always looking for an avenue to expand readership in any way possible. Little Miss Strange lends itself to a wide audience who are classic and new comic readers who know cool stuff when they see it. This is why I love comic conventions so much; all that personal intervention with the fans is paramount to promoting your product. It is a joy but still a lot of work.

A few years back you worked on a project entitled Dark World Now, in which you designed artwork based on the original storyline. Tell the readers about the book, how well it was received and if there will be a continuation?
One of the most unique stories that I have ever illustrated. It was full of surprises and strange characters that I have never seen in a vampire epic. Werebeasts based on sharks, wolves and other exotic creatures. It was a one shot deal. The creator of the series, Jesse Kahler, never gave me another script so I moved on to other projects.

Has working on characters from the vampire world been a stretch for you as far as creativity goes? How do you add your personal touch to the genre? Are there vampire movies from any era you have watched and appreciate?
I am never daunted by any pop culture substance from the vampire world of yesteryear or today. It would be wise to read Curse of The Chameleon God to find out more on this subject matter. Dracula is at the forefront all of this charismatic vampire lore and most of the interpretations of him is wonderful and I love them all. It was shame that the NBC TV version of Dracula last year was cut short and only lasted one season. I don’t have any favorites, I love most of this vampire stuff like the classic lost boys which was a vampire version of Peter Pan. The ending was so cool and funny. I am sure that everyone has at least one of these kind of films that they don’t mind watching from time to time. I guess I fall into that category too.

How often were you making convention appearances to promote Little Miss Strange? Once, at an I-Con convention in Stony Brook, New York, you taped an interview for the cable access program Zenbock’s Forte. How did that go?
All went well and the appearances were quite numerous with Nicole as the live action version of Little Miss Strange when needed. Oh, that interview went quite good. Zenbock knew how to ask the questions to inspire you with a near perfect response. I enjoyed talking about classic heroes in science fiction and other genre, just for the sheer fact of good clean entertainment.

Do you keep in touch with Zenbock since the interview was released? Name some of the other conventions you have visited to promote your work.
It has been a while since I spoke with him. But his technique of interviewing was open enough for me. Chatting about pulp heroes, pop culture and classic science fiction characters was a good way to show my love for the genre. I have done a lot of Big Apple Comic Conventions back in the day. Now, the only ones where I appear are the EBACC shows in Philadelphia which are cool enough for a return trip every year.

How many Big Apple Comic Conventions have you rented a table at? Who are some of the personalities you have met while promoting you work there?
All of them. Had to promote and sell books. It’s always great to come to a show and have the audience embrace your work; it means a lot to me. It shows acceptance and the originality of Little Miss Strange is quite magnetic and good clean fun to boot. I've met Jim Starlin, creator of Dread Star who is responsible for some of the greatest comic book stories in history featuring Thanos, The Avengers and Adam Warlock. It’s too numerous to name here; many independent creators are floating around and I seem to have met most of them from Image, Marvel, DC and Dark Horse comics. Remember I still had one foot in Valiant and the other foot in Rich Buckler's studio. It was a hustle and still is to this day, but worth it when people love what you do.

Reveal some more about the EBACC shows. How long have you been attending those and what atmosphere is generated by the other guests and the conventiongoers?
The EBACC shows are mainly for black creators of comics but many people from other backgrounds show up there as well.  Black heroes are limited due to mainstream comics’ view of the market and what really sells. Ripping off white heroes and making them black is not going to help any cultural uplifting and people of color need their own mythology for their heroes. I have been going to those shows for a few years and it’s always a good experience for myself and other creators. It’s amazing to see so many heroes and cosplayers there; it’s inspiring and fun. I hope this atmosphere keeps and continues for a long time.

Were there any notable conventions from your hometown of the Bronx where you have guested? What new projects are you currently working on?
A few artist friends of mine spearheaded the growing and popular Bronx Heroes Con. It usually takes place on the Grand Course near east 165 St. at the Bronx Museum of Art. Incidentally this show was previously at Hostos Collage near the area called The Hub. That would be east 149 St. and 3rd avenue in the Bronx. Amazingly there are plenty of old school artists that attend this show, like the creator of the classic newspaper strip called "Dondi". Writers like Don Mcgregor who is famous for his take on Marvel Comics; The Black Panther and Killraven and independent stuff like "Sabre" which was one of the first graphic novels for Eclipse comics and Detectives Inc. Many more such heroes of the comic book industry were there and do show up in a prominent way. I've already done the early ground work for Immortal Fantasy 2 with an almost completed Pozitron story; it’s some of my best work to date. Several collaborations with Jemir Johnson are in order. Take for example, Azana who is pseudo African woman warrior. She will appear in her own one shot before we launch her in an second official .anthology book schedule in the near future. Other heroes will get the chance to shine; we won’t leave nothing out. It’s safe to say that Blakely Works Studio is on the move and proud of it.


-Dave Wolff

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