“I found a lot of common ground between superhero comics and blacksploitation,” Jim Rugg explains. “That was another thing that I connected pretty early on.” The sign of a well made piece of post-modern pop art is the ability to connect the dots between seemingly divergent cultural milestones.
Rugg found kindred spirits in the low budget films and pulp comics of the 70s, tying the genres together in a new way. It’s something that has come to define much of Rugg’s work in the medium, from Street Angel, to Afrodisiac, to the title’s the artist is currently readying for release.
Are you interested in working with some of the franchise characters?
Yeah, I guess I would be, but I’m not interested enough right now to go through expensive pitching processes. And, commercially, I don’t know if it’s that much better than doing your own material, these days. Because it takes a long time to get through the pitching. I know a number of guys who do that, and it’s like pitch and revise and pitch and revise and you wait around forever. I don’t know, I think that’s very frustrating, creatively.
There’s a certain amount of re-booting in any series, but there’s also all of that backstory that you’ve got to work with. Is that off-putting?
Yeah, right now, something like X-Men, I’ve got no idea what’s going on right now, and I have no idea how you would even figure that out, if you haven’t read it for ten years. I don’t know where you’d begin. And I think it would be frustrating to have to worry about tie-ins and cross-overs. It’s probably just beyond my creative ability, right now.
A lot of what I’ve been doing is the opposite spectrum—a four or six page story. I really like the short format. I’m surprised that more people don’t work short. Did you see the Spike Jonze/Kayne West short film that he did right after he finished Where the Wild Are? It’s about 13 minutes long. It was one of the best movies that I saw last year. It was 13 minutes. Fantastic. Better than the last three movies that I saw that were two and half hours of bloated garbage. And I realized, having four pages to tell a story doesn’t limit that story’s ability to be great.
It’s harder to package a short film or a short story, though, right?
Well, maybe. I bet I’ve done as much short work as I have long work, because, as an indie creator, whatever that means these days, there are tons of anthologies and stuff. So there are outlets for it, especially if you want to put it online.
Are you working online?
Not exactly, though I plan for my next creator-owned project to probably be online. The other thing the short work does is it allows me to see it all at once. I’m always amazed at people who do big, long graphic novels, because I don’t know how you can keep things straight. How do you figure out how things connect? I see it all as one long composition, except I can’t keep 150 pages straight in my head. I need to break it into chunks, so I can manage it. I have a one-page strip in an oversized anthology coming out at MoCCA this year.
The way Brian [Maruca] and I work is, we usually write a story that could almost be prose. Once we’re completely happy with that, I go down and break it into panels and we go through that. The first step is the story and then we worry about script formatting and stuff like that. So we write this page out—it’s like 22 x 16 inches, it’s really oversized. We write out the story and I break it into panels—it’s like 30-some panels. And then I sit down and start working on the page, and then I couldn’t figure out how to start the page.
Normally, you’ll have like four or five panels. You kind of build your page around a panel or two. Whenever I had like 30 panels, I just couldn’t visualize it. I couldn’t keep it straight. It’s a pretty interesting thing to see a graphic novel that way. it’s amazing to me that somebody that’s just starting out will come out with a 200 page book.
What turned a short Afrodisiac strip into an entire book? Did you feel as though there were just too many more possibilities to explore with the character?
Yeah. That’s part of it. You do cut a lot out. We write a story and then realize that it’s 12 pages, but we have only four pages in the book. I think it’s good to cut out. A lot of the problems that I have with Hollywood film, right now, is that they don’t cut anything out. Every movie is two hours. They should all be 88 minutes and people should be docked pay or fingers for each minute over that.
But, yeah, with Afrodisiac, we’d come up with a four page story and then end up with 30 other pages, maybe four of which were worth drawing. It kept growing that way. And then once we started thinking of it as a series, we mapped out a lot of stories and story arcs for the characters. That made it even easier to create new material that would fit in. in our heads, we could kind of see how these stories would fit together.
You feel like there is an arc throughout the book?
Yeah, I think so.
There’s a reason that even the most plotless action film has exposition. It’s almost too much to have a full movie or graphic novel that’s just all action.
Right. There’s definitely a kind of ebb and flow. You see it in long series. My friend, Tom Scioli, talks a lot about the dip points of a series. Everything has it. Preacher has it. Lost has it. It’s inevitable. That’s just the way it works. The thing is, the people watching it may look at different points as point the low points in the series, because it’s a personal reaction as to which parts are your favorites.
But it’s not going to be consistent, otherwise it would be really flat, like you said, if it was all one big car chase in an action movie, or nothing but shooting guns. The person that loves the gun shooting likes that for a few minutes, and that would be enough. The next thing we’re going to do will probably be a meditation on the action stuff.
Blacksploitation is often a subset of that genre, right?
A lot of them are action. A lot of the ones I like are probably action. It’s not quite what I had in mind. I was thinking more of the super mindless 80s action. I found a lot of common ground between superhero comics and blacksploitation. That was another thing that I connected pretty early on.
The stuff really follows the arc of the superhero comic, because, typically, you have one guy who’s facing enormous odds, whether it’s corrupt government or corruption in his neighborhood. So you have one guy standing alone.
What sort of 80s films are you drawing inspiration from? Diehard?
Predator. Predator was one of the first movies that I saw in a theater. It has been burned in my brain. The other one I love—Rambo III is like the greatest thing, ever.
Getting back to your question about working on franchise characters. I almost feel like, if I want to do a story with one of those characters, I’ll just do it, and put it online. Because once it’s online, if they tell you to take it down, you can take it down, but it’s always out there.
And you can feasibly do, say, a Batman story with one of your own characters.
Yeah, you could do that. Or you can use the exact characters. We wrote a script for a Punisher vs. Galactus story—depending on how things shake out over the course of my life, I can see myself just drawing it and putting it online. Who cares?
[Concluded in Part Four.]