Interview: Jim Rugg Pt. 2

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If there’s one thing even more clear in Afrodisiac than Jim Rugg’s love for 70s blacksploitation flicks, it’s his passion for the highs–and lows–of books from that same decade. In this second part of our interview with the artist, we discover that the book, recently published as a single-volume graphic novel by Adhouse, was originally pitched as a 40 issue series, one that mimicked the storytelling rollercoaster ride that is an on-going comics series.

[Part One]

Between the storylines and the fake ads and covers, it seems like you’ve shoved everything you had into this book. Is there anything that didn’t make the cut?

Yeah, the biggest thing—there are a few that stand out. One was to explore the devil character, a bit, because in our mind, he was this Batman figure. If you were the mayor, or whatever, Batman was this character cleaning up crime in the poor part of town and preying on street-level characters. But if you happened to be from that part of town, he’s this fascist, brutal vigilante. If you know the guy that he beat up or left in the hospital, he doesn’t quite look the same from that point of view. So that was a character that we really worked hard to something with, but almost everything we worked on was longer than we wanted to put in the book.

It ended up with two covers, as a two-part crossover. One would take place in the devil’s comic, so you could kind of see it in his point of view, where he’s the hero, and one that would take place in Afrodisiac’s book, where Afrodisiac is clearly the protagonist. Maybe one of these days…

The other idea that didn’t make it in, that I was really interested in, was doing a story set in the early 90s. it would have been a time travel story/re-launch. It would have been volume two of the series. Volume one would have ended in the early 80s, and this would have 10 years later, trying to get him a new series, because you know how they do that.

The re-boots.

Right. And we had everything set up for that, perfectly. If he would have arrived in the early 90s, the Image books are really distinct, visually. They have really garish computer coloring. I thought that would be a really great contrast to the 70s coloring. And theb, with his nemesis, Megapute, the supercomputer, getting ready to global with the Internet. It would have been like armageddon. Even the whole world would have change. Hip-hop, by the early 90s, had expanded to the suburbs and become a very commercial pop music. I thought there was a lot of room for material there.

And also, the space stuff. We pitched the book as something longer, something like a Vertigo series. It would have been a series with a finite story ark.

A series of trades?

No. We envisioned it as an on-going series that would have run, like, 40 issues. The idea was to mimic the arc of a lousy comic series from the mid-70s, because this series would run like 70 or 80 issues—a series that wasn’t very successful. Powerman and Iron Fist seemed like it just kind of clogged along. It ran 125 issues. That’s unheard of now. In the course of doing that, they jumped the shark, they shook up creative teams, they did all of these things to try to spike sales.

You always hear about some creator taking over on a book that was on the brink of cancellation or some creator coming in and saying, “give me the book that’s selling the worst.” It’s kind of that idea. So, our thought process on the space stuff was, “if you’re going to really jump the shark with the Afrodisiac stuff, what would be the setting you’d put him in?” That would be space, because it’s the most counter-intuitive, worst place. That would be like putting Daredevil in space.

So, had we done a much more expanded version, that would have been a part of the jumping the shark moment. What if this book completely lost direction?

Is there a way to do that, while cutting out the boring bits? The slump in the middle? Could you have done a 40 arc series and cut the slow stuff out?

I don’t know. See, that’s the nice thing with the way we ended up doing the book. It’s a lot more like a movie trailer than it would be a real book. In hindsight, it probably works a lot better than it would in that format. And, even if we did another volume like this, where you’re able to condense down the storytelling and cut out those parts—another thing that got me thinking about this kind of storytelling is, one of my favorite things at shows is talking to some cartoonist and getting them on some kick about what books they liked when they were a kid. These are the storytellers I most like, so to hear them talk about some book they read as a kid is fantastic. And if you go and track down the comic they describe, it never lives up to their description.

Traditionally people do homage to those things they consider high art. It seems as though you’re as—if not more—interested in some of the low points of comics in the 70s.

I don’t think it’s just comics in the 70s. I think it’s pop culture in general. I grew up watching pretty lousy pre-cable movies on a Saturday. It was so great to just have a monster movie. But if you watch those movies, they’re not well made. You watch them because Godzilla is kicking over a cardboard building. you watch some element of the movie that attracted you—a monster or some crappy horror movie, or whatever. And you just block out the 95 percent of the movie that’s inept. And that’s what you remember.

Sometimes when I go back and watch these old movies or read old comics that I remember from when I was a kid, I don’t even recognize them. In my mind, I remember the story, but it’s not even the story that was in the old movie or the comic book.

That’s the purpose of the trailer, right? Distilling the two or three most exciting moments of the movie.

Yeah, exactly. And I think that there’s a lot of options in comics, where you can skip that dense storytelling and speed up the slow parts. People don’t do it as much lately, especially in the mainstream, when comics moved more toward the decompressed. Whenever comics started doing decompression in Marvel and DC in the late 90s and early 2000s, it seems like people hadn’t quite figure out the format.

What do you mean by “decompression,” exactly?

Whenever people started writing for the trade. I think initially there were some growing pains. What might have been a one or two issue story was suddenly a four or six part story. I think it took people a while to figure out how to ramp up the density, so that you’re using that space well.

It’s the TV soap opera syndrome.

I don’t know if I would even say it’s like that. there’s a lot of padding. The soap opera stuff is more like the Claremont X-Men, when it was all subplots. That’s when I started reading X-Men. That’s my favorite X-Men stuff, around issues 240 or 250. When I started reading it, it’s because I heard X-Men was good. In the first issue, I had no idea what was going on. It was a subplot advancement. But then, over the course of three or four issues, you have enough subplot that you can kind of link it together. I really like that kind of storytelling, I guess because it was kind of my entry point.

[Continued in Part Three.]

–Brian Heater

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