This week, MECCAcon Weekly was lucky enough to be blessed with an interview by well known comic book and graphic novel artist, Shawn Martinbrough. This was definitely a treat, and I’m happy to share with all of you! As MOST of you know, I am in no way shape or form a real journalist, nor have I ever PRETENDED to be. I’m just a sista trying to show love to the art cultures that I so very much love, as well as being traffic and energy to MECCAcon and Detroit as a WHOLE. Interviewing Martinbrough was severely intimidating, from beginning to the very end.
Martinbrough has done work with Image’s Thick Of Thieves, Marvel’s Luke Cage Noir, X-Men, Morlocks, Black Panther: The Most Dangerous Man Alive, and Captain America, DC’s Batman: Detective Comics, Batman: Gotham Knights, Challenges of The Unknown, Milestone’s Static and Shadow Cabinet, Vertigo’s Angeltown and DMZ, Michael Davis’s GUARDIAN company, as well as a few Hellraiser issues.
Those are just… A few, lol. Martinbrough is a seasoned penciler, inker, colorist, and co-founder of Verge Entertainment. He is prolific in the style of Noir, and has a well published instruction book that has been translated in many languages.
It is truly amazing to be given the honor of doing this EXTRA LONG interview with a man I’ve admired for quite some time now. It’s even better of a feeling learning so much about him, and not PRETENDING to know for the sake of questioning, lol.
What is your creative process like? Do you listen to music, meditate first, chew three sticks of Twizzlers? (I’ve heard many interesting stories, lol)::
Occasionally, I’ll listen to soundtracks and film scores. It’s always fun listening to Howard Stern or The Breakfast Club while I draw. Typically, the television is on while I’m at the art table. I’m a news junkie so I start my day with a cross section of news shows then segue into dramas and reality shows.
What was your favorite comic book series as a child, and did it influence your art into adulthood?::
I was more of a Marvel fan growing up, although I did collect a few DC comics titles. “X-Men”, “Fantastic Four”, “Avengers”, “Daredevil”, “Powerman & Ironfist”, “ROM” (to name a few) were part of my monthly buys from my local candy store in the Bronx. These books were definitely an influenced my drawing and storytelling while growing up.
Tell us about VERGE ENTERTAINMENT, and what inspired you to branch out on your own and create your own company::
The idea came to me around 1999. I was the regular artist on the flagship batman title “Detective Comics” which was a dream job for this Black kid from the Bronx. However, despite all of the characters and details I might contribute to that universe, I would never have any ownership of it. That, and the desire to feature more diverse characters and different types of stories led me to form Verge Entertainment with partners Joseph Illidge and Milo Stone.
I have been eagerly anticipating the debut of your graphic novel series, The Ren. Can you give us a description?::
The Ren is about a romance between these two teenage artists, one of whom is a musician and the other a dancer, set against the backdrop of the Harlem Renaissance and it’s adult criminal underworld. Joseph Illidge and I wrote and the story. Joe ‘s writing the script and Grey Williamson is the artist. The historical significance of the period and the journey of finding ones voice as an artist makes this is the most personal graphic novel project that I’ve ever been a part of. Hopefully it will have a far reaching resonance with the audience.
When will it be premiering? “Inquiring minds wanna know” lol.::
We just turned in our second draft of the script to our editor at First Second Books so we’re awaiting her feedback. Due to the scale and drama of the story, it’s been a real challenge to get all of our ideas in and make the narrative work. As a result, we had a to cut a number of characters and plotlines and create new ones to better serve the story. It’s all part of the writing process. We’re pretty happy with the latest draft so we’ll see what Calista Brill, our editor says. She’s tough but fair and most importantly, knows her stuff. Hopefully, if all goes smoothly, this would debut sometime in 2016.
You are an expert in the NOIR style of drawing. In my personal opinion, the series Thief of Thieves highlights it best. How did you become a part of that project? Are you excited about the upcoming AMC show?::
You’re very kind. Robert Kirkman reached out to me, said he was a fan and invited me to work with him on a new series that he was planning called, “Thief of Thieves”. This was months before “The Walking Dead” TV show hit the air. Kirkman sent me some material on “Thief of Thieves” and I was hooked on the concept. I don’t believe that the show will air on AMC but that’s all I can say. It’s cool to think that one’s work might be adapted to film or television. However, my primary focus is making the monthly series as entertaining to the comic book reader as I can. Everything else is gravy.
Will you have any part with the television series that is in the process of being made?::
I’m not at liberty to speak on that. I will say that Robert was very inclusive by giving me a heads up call before the first television deal was formally announced.
Can it be difficult as an artist to constantly create characters on series when writers keep switching, or are you unfazed? I can barely keep up with Detroit’s new open mic hosts, lol.::
I’ve always stressed how smoothly the transition between writers on “Thief of Thieves” has been. Nick Spencer wrote the first arc followed by James Asmus and then Andy Diggle, who is now the regular writer on the series. All along the way, Kirkman has overseen the writing process. As the regular artist from the beginning, it hasn’t been a problem for me at all.
Luke Cage Noir had me interested as soon as I discovered it. Illegal alcohol, Harlem gangsters, and Cage? Yeah, I’m pretty sold at this point. The storyline seemed very fitting to your known style of work.::
I was really proud of Luke Cage Noir. After seeing my art instruction book, “How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling”, Marvel editor Axel Alonso, offered me “Luke Cage Noir”. The miniseries was written by Mike Benson and Adam Glass and I think we all worked very well together. It was a real treat to design the covers with the uber talented Tim Bradstreet. It was really special to re-imagine the classic “Luke Cage/Powerman” as a character set in the Harlem renaissance.
Batman: Detective Comics was brought back to life, and you had the longest run, which was very successful for you. We’re you a huge fan growing up of Batman as a whole?::
Did I really have the longest run?? Batman was one of the regular DC Comics that I read. As I got older, I tended to buy Batman depending on who drew him. Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight” miniseries and his “Batman: Year One” with the great artist, David Mazzucchelli were very influential on me.
What was it like to be given the huge task of recreating Gotham? Was that intimidating, or did you welcome the challenge head on?::
A bit of both. The esthetic guideline for all Gotham architecture, which all of the creative teams had to follow, was based on the Anton Furst designs from the first Tim Burton Batman film. Furst was immensely talented so trying to do him justice was challenging.
How much involvement do you have with the Batman film franchise as a whole? Will you be working along side any others in the future?::
Absolutely none. If they use something I created, I get a royalty check every now and then. It’s like found money when I go to my mailbox. It is fun to see characters that I co-created like “Crispus Allen” appear on the FOX series “Gotham”.
Growing up in the Bronx, did it influence your style of drawing in any way?::
Probably. As an artist, you’re always influenced by your surroundings to some degree. When I was in elementary/junior high, my parents enrolled me in a painting class. The class was held at the local community center in my old neighborhood of Co-Op City in the Bronx. Every week I would paint in acrylics for about an hour under the guidance of a very talented painter named “Emilio”. This prepared me to attend the acclaimed Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art as an art major.
What was it TRULY like working with Milestone Media?::
Working at Milestone was a blast. First off, I already knew co-founders Michael Davis and Denys Cowan and a number of the folks who started working there. All of the staff were really cool and it was great to meet and hang with other freelancers who would visit the offices as well.
The Milestone office was based on 23rd street and 6th Avenue in Manhattan, NY which, was a great location. I was an illustration major at The School of Visual Arts which was blocks away. I was working professionally for Marvel Comics, which at the time was located on Park Avenue and about a fifteen minute walk from Milestone.
I started working at Milestone as an inker over artist John Paul Leon on “Static”. I would regularly stop by the offices to drop off artwork and run into any number of folks. Milestone was a great meeting and working place for such a diverse group of talented professionals. It was like a multi-ethnic version of the TV show “CHEERS” only set in a comic book company. I have great memories of John Paul and I dividing up the original artwork for “Static” and “The Shadow Cabinet” after the issues were printed. We would sit at a table, at Milestone, and trade artwork like baseball cards. Fun times.
What was more enjoyable for you personally to produce art for, STATIC, SHADOW CABINET, or BLOOD SYNDICATE?::
I never illustrated “BLOOD SYNDICATE”. That was all done by the very talented artist Chris Cross. “Static” was the first time John Paul Leon and I worked together as penciller and inker so that was very fun. I think when we moved onto to illustrating “Shadow Cabinet”, we were really hitting our stride. We did some really strong work on that book.
Bad Boy Studios has produced a lot of talent in your industry. How do you think it benefited your career to be a former student in Milestone Media co-founder, Michael Davis’s comic book class?::
I always credit Davis as being one of my mentors in the comic book field. While he never had any direct involvement in my breaking into comics or getting me my first job, Davis opened my high school eyes to seeing the comic book industry as a Business.
Do you find a hard time of battling work periods to focus on your own projects as much as your mainstream?::
Um, YES. It’s all part of the hustle. You make time for important things.
What was your favorite cover art/project that you created for a series?::
I’m proud of the cover work that I’ve produced for “Thief of Thieves” over the course of thirty issue. Some covers I like better than others which is too be expected. I’m my own worst critic.
Diversity is a very hot topic right now in the entertainment and literature industries. Many say it’s needed. Others say it already exists. I say it depends where you’re looking as well as what you’re looking for. What is your take?::
Of course diversity is needed. The comic industry is like any other industry in this country. Behind the scenes, I know that there are a number of Black artists working as professionals in this industry. As for Black writers? That’s another story. With the exception of David Walker, I can’t think of another Black writer working for any of the major publishers. Forget about asking me to name a Black female writer. This needs to change.
Do you or do you not feel that culturally driven comic book conventions are necessary?::
This is tricky. On the one hand, we should always have venues that celebrate our achievements. On the other hand, the problem occurs when we lull ourselves into complacency by blindly praising everything that we put out just because we put it out. We must hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold Marvel, DC, Image or any other established publisher to. This applies to the writing, the art and the overall production of the books. I hear brothers rail against the “mainstream” books that Marvel or DC put out and then expect folks to pay $5-$8 for a substandard book that looks like a high schooler put it together. If we’re going to compete, it has to be on an industry standard, at least.
Do you think that sexism exists in comic book industry? (I will ask this every week, America, so deal with it, lol)::
What do you feel needs to be changed in order for the advancement of women in your industry?::
More women and women of color need to be hired as writers and editors. It’s just that simple.
What television show and movie film best describes the artwork of Shawn Martinbrough?::
I’m inspired by a variety of TV shows with great visuals, “The Americans”, “House of Cards”, “Daredevil”, “Bloodline”, “Mad Men” to name a few. The visual style that producer Jerry Bruckheimer has ushered into television and film over the past three decades has been a long time influence on my work.
If there were ANY comic book series that you could turn into a successful show, which one would it be, and who would you cast?::
John Paul Leon’s and my version of “The Challengers of the Unknown” for DC Comics hands down. In terms of casting, I can’t visualize these characters beyond how John designed them on the page.
Where can we find you online? Links, Handles, Hashtags, Bribes::
http://www.shawnmartinbrough.com and I sporadically tweet at @smartinbrough.
MECCAcon Weekly is a weekly series of features, interviews, and highlights, all focused around comics and art, mainly centered around the AFRIKAAN diaspora community. We focus on the upliftment and advancement of arts thru various mediums. #MECCAconWeekly can also be found on our sister site, DARK MATTERS.
MECCAconWeekly is also a division of Midwest Ethnic Convention for Comics and Arts – MECCAcon. MECCAcon is an annual convention every SEPTEMBER, located in Detroit, MI.
“BLOOM WHERE YOU’RE PLANTED” …This is my motto. Whatever environment you come from, whatever your surroundings or financial circumstance, there is ALWAYS room to grow, flourish, and BLOOM.
Maia Williams, also known as “Crown”, is executive assistant to many different businesses, artists, and events in the Metro Detroit area. Crown is also CEO and founder of