Great article by Matt Hirst!
Comic Book City of Hate, About Dallas Law Enforcement, Is a Love Letter to the City
By: Brad Lacour
The visual most people have of a comic book is of a brightly colored superhero flying over the city, fist-fighting an equally brightly colored supervillain. A fan of the medium is already aware of the amount of personal, story-driven works present in modern comics, but a large part of the audience only sees comics as Superman or Archie. Dallas-based Unearthly Comics' new series, City of Hate, is neither.
City of Hate follows special agent Watts, a new transfer to Dallas, as he’s assigned to his first major case, what looks to be a regular bank robbery. As the details of the robbery start to connect in all of the wrong ways, Watts has to quickly learn who he can and cannot trust within the ranks of Dallas law enforcement. In an age when public perception is as important as the facts, Watts tries to uncover the corruption at play before he’s counted as another victim of it.
Jason Nancarrow, writer of City of Hate, has been writing for Unearthly Comics about five years, starting around the time Mike Wolfman and Scott Beecher formed the comic company. Nancarrow originally conceived the crime story to be one comic, but artist Beecher spread the narrative over three issues. Nancarrow estimates the process of writing and drawing the series took two years.
“I wanted it to be kind of a love letter to the city,” Nancarrow says, "even though it critiques a lot of areas of the city that I see faults in. I think I tried to make it a three-dimensional area.”
“I wanted it to be kind of a love letter to the city, even though it critiques a lot of areas of the city that I see faults in. I think I tried to make it a three-dimensional area.” – Jason Nancarrow
City of Hate reads like a spiritual cousin of the popular HBO series The Wire, with infighting in law enforcement almost as much of an obstacle to solving the crime as the criminals. Fans of the show would feel at home within the pages of the series.
“I consider it the best TV show of all time,” Nancarrow says. “I made a subtle callout to the show during the scene where Watts goes to the property room. He is greeted by Les, a reference to Lester Freeman of The Wire.”
Beecher made sure to capture the look of Dallas although he lives in Rome, Texas.
“I wanted to go for more realism with this project,” Beecher says, “just to expand on my skills. To stretch my storytelling technique and add more details and backgrounds. Make it more of a lived-in world. A lot of it starts with a lot of references, but then I’ll go back and, depending on how I want the scene to look, use a little more artistic license to change a couple of things here and there.”
Unearthly’s plan for the series is to have it printed in one volume for purchase in stores, and it is submitting City of Hate to Diamond Publishing, the main vendor comic book stores use. The process from submitting the work to seeing it widely distributed by Diamond takes four to six weeks, Beecher estimates.
Until then, the creators at Unearthly Comics are busy working on other projects.
“I’m working on a horror — think Con Air meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre," Beecher says. "It’ll be fun. I want to stretch into us producing either larger one-shot comics or stick to the two-three issue miniseries format. So it’s like a movie in a book type of thing; it’s a complete story people can pick up and have faith they can have the whole story without having to wait six months.”
Unearthly Comics can be found in local independent-friendly retailers such as Keith’s Comics and Awesome Comics, but the easiest way to purchase copies of City of Hate and other Unearthly is through the company's website.
Con Gran Poder: Dallas Is an Epicenter of Latino Indie Comic Artists
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2017 AT 4 A.M.
Comic book artist Hector Rodriguez talks with UT Dallas students at welcome week book signing.
Hector Rodriguez says he finally heard his calling to become a superhero comic artist and publish a superhero story that he created in college when a student came to him in tears. His father, the student said, had been deported. "He’s crying and that kind of hit me,” Rodriguez says. “What do you say? ‘Well, whatever you need, I’ll be here for you,’ and I tried to comfort him.”
Rodriguez, then a teacher of fourth-grade bilingual math and science teacher at the Dallas Independent School District's Anne Frank Elementary School, became a teacher on the advice and in the footsteps of his father. Rodriguez attended Texas Woman's University as a sociology student but found himself frequenting the campus’ art department. He always loved comics and wrote the script for his most famous superhero comic, El Peso Hero, when he was an undergraduate.
El Peso Hero is a big belt-buckled, bulletproof freedom fighter who uses his superhuman powers to protect Mexican laborers and families from extortion and violence caused by deadly drug cartels, human traffickers and an endless cycle of government corruption. Rodriguez didn’t fully illustrate and publish this creation until at least a decade later, when he faced that distressed student. He wanted to give kids and other people like that student a superhero.
“Seeing their struggles firsthand, I told myself that El Peso Hero needs to happen,” Rodriguez says. “I need to do it now. ... Picking up [comic] books in the library and seeing how they weren’t represented, that gave me that catalyst to get up and do it.
El Peso Hero started as a web comic in the summer of 2011. Rodriguez released a new hand-drawn page every two weeks, and by the following spring he had enough material to release a 30-page comic book. So far, he's released and sold thousands of digital and print copies of his comic through his Rio Bravo Comics publishing house based in McKinney. He now works there as a fifth-grade bilingual reading teacher at Burks Elementary.
“I was in a comic book writing workshop, and this guy who worked for Marvel and probably still works there, he advised me to do El Peso Hero in English,” Rodriguez says. “He said, ‘El Peso Hero should speak English if you want to make it big.’ Well, that’s why I’m independent."
The story of Rodriguez’s comic book creation is a being repeated in the Dallas comic book community and is a reflection of a national trend. Latino artists and writers are using the medium to tell stories that range from serious to silly about superhuman characters who can deliver a sense of humanity to real issues like immigration, ethnic identity and violence inside the community.
This comic book community has grown so large that Rodriguez was able to help found the first Texas Latino Comic Con in July in Dallas. It featured a number of budding and influential Latino voices from across the state and the country.
“In the cast of Spider-Man when he was created in the early '60s, he was a young kid in high school, and he had issues that a lot of kids identified with in high school, and I think the same goes with El Peso Hero and Hector’s character,” says Sam de la Rosa, a longtime Marvel and DC Comics artist from San Antonio who was one of the keynote speakers at the Texas Latino Comic Con. “There’s an opportunity for Hispanics and Latinos to enjoy it, and here’s a character who’s similar to them and to us. He’s righting some wrongs and getting involved in some of these situations to make things better. Almost anybody can identify with that."
Casting realistic characters of various ethnicities as heroes in comics is a relatively new concept among mainstream publishers such as DC and Marvel. The industry dates back to the early 1930s, but Weldon Adams, a comic book art specialist for Heritage Auctions of Dallas, says nonwhite characters were a rarity in the golden age of American comics.
When they were introduced, they relied on ethnic stereotypes and became second- and third-tier heroes. “One of the things that made me crazy was if someone was Hispanic, every word balloon they had would say it in Spanish and they’d repeat it in English,” Adams says. “And what’s worse is the thought balloons. These were characters who were thinking things in Spanish and then again in English. That made no sense whatsoever.”
A new crop of artists is still breaking that mold, and North Texas is an epicenter. Richard Dominguez is a comic artist and writer behind the long-running El Gato Negro: Nocturnal Warrior series, which he publishes through his Azteca Productions publishing company, headquartered in Dallas.
"Some people ask why does he not have an ‘EG’ on his chest. Because he’s not a cheerleader." – Richard Dominguez, writer of the comic El Gato Negro: Nocturnal Warrior
Dominguez grew up reading all the comic staples like Batman, The Incredible Hulkand Capt. America, and created El Gato Negro in 1993 while working as an artist for an ad agency in Mesquite. He says he wanted to create his own comic because there weren’t any characters he could identify with that weren’t blatant Latino stereotypes who “came from the other side of the railroad tracks and had to redeem themselves to do good."
“I wanted to come up with one who had a decent upbringing and didn’t join gangs,” Dominguez says.
Dominguez says he decided to publish his comic independently when he saw that works like Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlescould find an audience without relying on either of the two big comics publishers. El Gato Negro is inspired by the urban crime-fighter model; he doesn’t use supernatural powers to save the day.
“I can’t stand brightly colored superheroes,” Dominguez says. “They look like circus performers. Some people ask why does he not have an ‘EG’ on his chest. Because he’s not a cheerleader. I think the master that represents the cat is his emblem.”
El Gato Negro’s alter ego is Francisco Guerrero, a social worker living in the McAllen and Rio Grande Valley area of Texas, whose grandfather hands him the mantle of his luchador persona to fight crime. His chief nemeses are drug kingpin El Graduado and his bar-brawling henchmen, Pitbull and Rockwaller.
Dominguez based the grandfather on his grandfather, Jesus Molina, a Mexican native who worked as a West Dallas community leader in the '60s. He “would speak nothing but Spanish because he was proud of where he was from," Dominguez says. “[Guerrero] was raised by his grandfather and started off as a crimefighter, and he was practically brought up by the community. So he’s giving back what the community gave him: protection.”
Dominguez published four issues of his comic in the mid-1990s, and they sold quickly, but he put his comic on hold when he saw the comic book slump that crippled sales across the board in the following years. He decided to relaunch El Gato Negro, Nocturnal Warrior in 2005 when fans kept asking when they’d get another issue.
The internet also gives comic creators a new way to publish their work and fund their creations through crowdfunding. Dominguez says he’s close to launching a Kickstarter to publish a full-length graphic novel of his superhero’s newest adventure. An Austin filmmaker also made a short film based on his comic, and he says he’s working on turning his creation into a television series.
In 2013, Jose Garcia and Jose Ramirez envisioned a comic about a “big, wacky, hairy luchador character” named El Cinto. The pair came up with the idea in a comic book art course at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
The result of this is El Cinto: King of the Ring,an indie comic from the Dallas-based publisher Unearthly Comics, which also uses heavy doses of Latino culture and flavor to decorate its panels and stories, but offers a sillier take on the superhero genre.
Mike Wolfman, a consultant for the school who heads the class and also co-founded Unearthly Comics, was so impressed with the idea that he commissioned Garcia and Ramirez to do a four-book series of the character. El Cinto uses a belt as his weapon of choice and teams up with a sidekick named La Chancla who beats his enemies with sandals.
“The name El Cinto is kind of an inside joke with him because in the Latin community, when you’re raised and disciplined, you’re hit by the belt,” Garcia says. “So I chose the name El Cinto because he disciplines the bad guys with justice.”
El Cinto started as a web comic, but the creators built a fan base at comic book conventions. They made a print version, and El Cinto quickly became one of Unearthly’s top three highest-selling comics. “It all comes together,” Wolfman says. “It’s the fact that they have these similar dynamics like Batman and Robin, but I think it’s a little more dynamic.”
Garcia was born in Dallas but split his childhood between Texas and Mexico. His exposure to WWE wrestling, Japanese anime and Lucha Libre wrestling, in which some of the sport’s biggest stars starred in cheesy horror and adventure movies, helped lay the mental foundation for his comic book’s stories and sensibilities.
His love for iconic comic artist Robert Crumb also shines through in some of the comic’s more cartoonish panels. El Cinto makes his enemies’ eyes bulge out of their sockets and their limbs defy the basic laws of human anatomy and gravity.
“I just want to tell a universal story that everyone can enjoy and it just happens to have all of these cultural influences,” Garcia says. “Dragon Ball Z is a very mainstream anime and manga series that have a lot of cultural stuff from China and Japan. But it’s liked universally. That’s something I’d like to achieve with El Cinto. Even though El Cinto is pulling from Latino, Japanese and Chinese influences, I want to create something that everyone will like.”
El Cinto will fight again this February in four new issues that Garcia is currently working on in between other jobs. Ramirez moved on to his another comic after El Cinto’s initial run, and Garcia says it takes “a lot of grinding” to write and ink a comic book from scratch.
“I just feel a lot of satisfaction from people who look at my stuff,” Garcia says. “The artist side of me wants to show them everything I do and maybe inspire them to do their own thing. I also want to show people you can bring cultures together and create this completely new thing that’s bigger than our own collective.”
Whether they are called comics or graphic novels, comic books have a huge audience with a very wide age range. Many people read them as children and became adults who propelled Hollywood to release an endless stream of big-budget action movies based on Marvel and DC Comics’ properties. Others like Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize winning Maus books found audiences mature enough to deal with heavy themes like the Holocaust.
"Hispanic culture has always produced their own comics, and there are some long-running comic companies that publish books that are still available in the U.S., primarily from immigrants who bring them to the U.S. with them," Adams says. "The Lone Ranger started publishing here in the U.S. by Del Comics before they stopped making them and Mexico picked them and made some gorgeous covers. In Mexico, The Lone Ranger is still so popular that they keep publishing them.”
“One of the great things about comic books is that the format puts the reader in somebody else’s shoes,” Rodriguez says. “They put you in a different perspective. It’s a strong format that creates the narrative and visuals to really help tell a story.”
Adams says comic books and graphic novels have a unique opportunity to inform and enlighten by the nature of the medium. “Comic books are an art form and a very unique art form in that they are a combination of words and pictures,” he says. “It’s a mixture of the two, and just like any other art form, the purpose of art is to enlighten, entertain and educate. Having more cultural awareness in comic books makes comics better for people and more entertaining, enlightening and educational for people.”
Although some comics tell superhuman stories about unbelievable struggles, Dominguez says superheroes such as El Gato Negro can be relatable characters who talk to their readers in powerful and meaningful ways. “I get letters from fans who says that my story hits home because of a scene in there where the grandfather’s giving advice to his grandson, and the room where they are communicating is a kitchen, and they’re discussing current events over a little hot chocolate with sweetbread,” Dominguez says. “That’s a typical Latino upbringing right there. A reader with that kind of background will look at it and go, ‘Man, that’s me and my grandfather talking,’ and that hits home.”
Comics and graphic novels can also give the creators opportunities to express themselves in ways that are fun and accessible. “El Cintohas a lot of themes about family and taking care of your family and working together as a family,” Garcia says. “One of the important story points of El Cinto is that he wants to better himself so he can protect the people he loves.”
These stories can reach people in ways that debates, lectures or rallies fail to because they inflame opinions or harden hearts instead of showing how real people are affected.
“One of the things that make El Peso Hero stand out is we don’t take a political stance,” Rodriguez says. “Just at the Texas Latino Comic Con, I had a border patrol agent approach my table and thank me and say, ‘I appreciate what you’re doing’ and ‘This is what’s really going on.’ You’re not taking a stance, but you’re telling the story.”
North Texas Comic Book Show
The North Texas Comic Book Show is a quarterly event that will take place from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 9, at Doubletree Dallas Hotel, 2015 Market Center Blvd. If there’s a word to describe it, it’s “intimate,” according to artists James O’Barr and Arvell Jones, who’ve discussed how at this show, they’re able to really talk to fans and get to know them. Mike Wolfman of Unearthly Comics says it reminds him of shows “when [he] was a child,” which is high praise given the gargantuan “sharp elbow cons” you find yourself in more often than not. This show features not only rows, boxes, board and bags galore (some comics as low as a dollar), but also special guests like movie-monster master-painter Basil Gogos; former Marvel Comics editor and artist Carl Potts, who will participate in a panel on visual storytelling; artist Larry Stroman; former Marvel and DC inker Doug Hazelwood; Corcid Cosplay; and more. Cosplay also gets two dedicated panels as well as contests for adults and kiddos. Admission is only $10, and kids 11 and younger get in free. For more details on guests and schedules, visit comicbooksdallas.com.
The Design, Painting and Jewelry Exhibit and Reception will showcase works created this year in 2D, digital and 3D design classes, as well as our Painting and Jewelry studio classes. In addition to showcasing these artworks, the Sequential Art class has collaborated with Keith Colvin, owner of Keith’s Comics and Mike Wolfman from Unearthly Comics Publishing to create Vision Ink Magazine #1. The publication of Vision Ink Magazine #1 effects the comic book industry greatly, with its portrayal of young fresh ideas, it gives insight to what the younger generation is interested in.
Another indie title joins the ranks of the sci fi/horror comics on the stands with the first issue of the anthology ATOMIC TALES. I have to admit, I’ve got a soft spot for both this genre and the anthology format, the granddaddy of both being EC’s classic TALES FROM THE CRYPT, WEIRD SCIENCE and their respective brethren. Over the half a century since EC made the mold and proceeded to break it, there have been many slavish disciples and shameless imitators that have come and gone, and I’m always on the lookout for new comics trying to fill the sizeable shoes worn by Gaines, Feldstein and their cadre of exceptional artists. ATOMIC TALES, to be blunt, is a far cry from the high standards set by its forbears. But what the comic lacks in terms of execution, it makes up for in sheer style.
Four science fiction stories and one horror tale make up this premiere issue (plus a nifty pin-up). I’ll give the writers points for coming up with plots that eschew the space-adventure clichés; the stories in ATOMIC TALES feel more akin to the New Wave sci fi that emerged in the late 1950s and early ‘60s than the gung-ho space westerns that popularized the comics and pulp magazines of yore. The stories here are all pretty trippy—tales of astronauts mutated by alien environments, having their consciousness scattered into the infinite by singularities in space, and being transformed by unexpected extraterrestrial encounters. This mood is enhanced by the book’s artwork…which is a decidedly mixed bag.
The actual linework ranges from serviceable to amateurish—in short, what you’d generally expect from an indie book these days. What saves the artwork and elevates the lesser pages is ATOMIC COMICS’ sense of style that I mentioned earlier. This comic fully embraces the retro sci fi aesthetic in its color and text design. I’m a big fan of fonts, and ATOMIC COMICS (especially the title lettering) is a great example of using interesting and appropriate fonts to add to the overall tone of the book. And the coloring is also done with a retro-flair, with halftone patterns used throughout. Are they a little heavy-handed sometimes? Sure, but I’ll give the artists an E for effort here.
The best thing about this issue of ATOMIC TALES is that the series shows definite promise. The creators obviously have a unique vision for their work, and having a vision is what sets great comics apart from the mediocre masses. ATOMIC COMICS isn’t great yet, but I’m willing to give it time to see how it grows.
When released from his bottle, the Imp transforms into Stephen Andrade, an artist/illustrator/pirate monkey painter from New England. He's currently hard at work interpreting fellow @$$Hole Optimous Douche's brainwaves and transforming them into pretty pictures on AVERAGE JOE, an original graphic novel to be published by Com.x. You can see some of his artwork here.
COMICS: Hit Image indie comic GHOSTED by Joshua Williamson (supernatural heist), Oni Press' LETTER 44 by rapidly rising star Charles Soule (politics and aliens) and THE AUTEUR (more on it in a sec), full on independent issues from MotionPicturesComics.com, Super Duper Ham, and an ashcan from Dallas/Ft Worth's UNEARTHLY COMICS. Of the "indie label" comics, THE AUTEUR is the one I hadn't encountered yet, and it's insane. It starts as the story of a producer recovering form the biggest flop in Hollywood history and gets really weird (in the best ways). GHOSTED and LETTER 44 are two of my favorite series of 2013, bar none.
The I&C Blog had the opportunity to interview Mike Wolfman of Unearthly Comics.
Behind the colorful descriptions and eye popping designs, you can find that Unearthly Comics is all about pushing the creative envelope.
I&C: How'd you get into the comic book industry? And is "cartooning," “author,” or “artist” the right word for it?
Wolfman: I have always had love for comics but to narrow it down to a specific event I would have to say I had an itch to start a horror comic with photographic noir images kinda like the old pin ups from the forties but I put a modern twist on it.
I&C: Do you create cartoons from actual experience in the world? If not, where?
Wolfman: Everything around me is inspiring and inspires new stories however I am an artist but I believe in letting other people do the illustrations for the Unearthly Comic. To me this ads variety and a uniqueness that will appeal to others than an issue of just my work.
I&C: What sparks your creativity? Do you prefer a specific work environment, space, etc.?
Wolfman: Yes, I prefer my home more so than any other place for my imagination to run crazy. However, I spend alot of time at my local comic shop (Keiths Comics) on mockingbird near mockingbird station!! Keiths Comics is a place where I myself and others go to learn about comics from the past and present. I consider the owner my mentor and look up to him as a role model.
I&C: What's your favorite cartoon topic? What's the most difficult topic you had to cartoon?
Wolfman: I like it when the hero or heroin is conflicted with a decision that with which ever he or she chooses there will be something to be lost or a serious consequence. however topics come pretty easy to me but the difficult part is trying to figure out a twist for the ending.
I&C: What are the things that you find most difficult to do? And how did you deal with them?
Wolfman: It's very difficult to manage my time with everything that is involved in the whole comic book process and working it around the radio show. I learned to deal with this by talking with my Grandmother. Every time I'm feeling stressed out I give her a call and she says " Take 5 deep breaths, calm down and focus and get out there and put your man pants on."
I&C: What is your favorite book?
Wolfman: I don't have a specific book that I would call my favorite but at the moment I'm really enjoying The Watchmen and The Spirit both are on D.C.
I&C: How often do you draw, how many hours per day, and how do you break up the day for drawing?
Wolfman: I draw almost every day to stay fresh and I always keep a sketchpad in my backpack at all times. You never know when some frumpy ass person will walk in and inspire something new!!
I&C: Do you write a script or make up the drawing as you go?
Wolfman: First I start with a storyboard and a sketchpad with thumbnails. I have attended the Art Institute in my younger days and learned alot about animation before getting kicked out!!
I&C: Do you compose the page as a whole or do you focus more on individual panel composition?
Wolfman: Individual panel composition all the way!! I mean each frame has to tell a story by itself so when it's put all together you achieve a masterpiece.
I&C: Are comics your passion?
Wolfman: Yes!! Every night i go to bed with comics on my mind and wake up in the morning still thinking about comics. It's more than a passion it's an addiction!! I dream in comic books. Also, I have to go to a comic book store everyday or my day is not the same.
I&C: Do you make comics for a living? if not, how do you support yourself, and how does this relate to the kinds of comics you create?
Wolfman: I make and sell my own comics at comic shops and metal and punk shows. I also "dabble" in selling vintage and collections of comics kinda like an antique dealer that deals Ebay.
I&C: What is more important to you; the style or the concept of the comic?
Wolfman: Both, You need style and concept to achieve a great story!! Style will help you be more visually stimulating and a great concept is definitely needed to make a great story.
Move over “King of the Hill” there is a new sheriff in town and his name is Mike Wolfman, and he is the co-creator of UNEARTHLY COMICS a rising comic book company. There is nothing these guys can’t do. I read The Terror #2 and i laughed, cried and almost lost a brain cell... in a good way!! These guys work with local musicians and fetish models around the DFW Metroplex by setting up booths like a traveling gypsy stand. That’s probably why they call him the “Wolfman”. Usually comics with actual photos don’t appeal to me, however, when i picked up this issue i opened it up and my attention was immediately drawn to the sexy yet intelligent noir style photos!! It reminded me of the early National Lampoons Magazines in the early 1980’s. Absolutely hilarious!! Three thumbs way up!!