I met Julian Lytle at New York Comic Con last year and we’ve became BFF’s on Twitter every since. He’s one of the few people I know who have a love for trap music and comics. Other than that connection, I’m a big fan of his art. What sets him apart from others is how he often mixes urban/street culture with comics and geek culture. For those who are fans of both, it’s a match made in heaven.
Interview with Artist Julian Lytle
It can be hard for some aspiring artists to make the first step towards pursuing art as a career, how did you know that’s what you wanted to do?
Well for me it was something I was good at from an early age. I drew a lot and I got into this PBS children’s show called Secret City hosted by Mark Kistler. Along with Joy of Painting and the debut of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really helped me to do it. But what really kept me into art really was the people around me. A lot of my elementary school really pushed me in art. Looking back my pursuits in art weren’t that much different than kids who were in sports. Art is what people knew me for. My peers loved what I did and so did the adults so it’s really the only thing I have ever known that I would do. The thing is actually doing it is something else entirely.
As comic book fans, I feel like we all have that one series that changed the way we viewed comics. For me it was Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. Is there a series that did that for you?
Hmm for me it’s hard because I started off reading more adult fare. I read DKR when I was 7 and Year One when I was 10. I was reading Concrete and Elfquest instead of all those books other kids were reading in 5th grade. So the comic the melted my brain was X-Men #1 by Chris Claremont and Jim Lee. It’s the comic that made me say I want to collect and read comics all the time. It’s what made read Wizard Magazine each month. It’s serious what made me want to draw comic books. Now as an adult and I’ve become more and more jaded it has been Grant Morrison’s work that keeps me interested in Superhero books. I think that right now the whole 10 years or so of what Morrison did at DC is what changed my thoughts on what you can do with the standard ideas of a how to tell a superhero story.
What’s the origin story of your webcomic, Ants?
So I made up the Ants in 9th grade (1994 was a good year) for a comic me and some friends of mine were doing at the time. We never finished the comic because one of us moved away but I still drew them all throughout high school. I always saw them as comic strip characters since before I got in to comic books I was super into comic strips. I high school they never really did anything but just hang out and that’s really all I did. When I was in college and part of the Pratt Institute comic I decided to bring them back out and do strips that along with doing nothing they would also explain urban or hip things to people who aren’t up on that stuff. So after college I’d go through times of drawing it and then just starting over. Then as time went by I got closer to 30 and Biggie’s Real Niggas lyric “Being broke at 30 give a nigga the chills” rang out in my head. Now Ants doesn’t make me rich nor did I expect it but I did need to just do it and not worry about how or try to get syndicated. So I decided to make a comic that was about them hanging out (which is in a meta way about me) while keeping the explaining certain trends and slang for people who aren’t into it and then add in some current events. The current events came from Doonesbury because I loved that comic as a kid until I was an adult so I thought I could put some of that in my comic. I also didn’t want to be as preachy as the Boondocks. While I love it he went in on Bush heavy. I see both sides as worthy of poking. On the internet I have full power over it and I really didn’t see or don’t see a webcomic like mine.
Well it’s always been in the back of my mine and my homie Sean Causley so we decided to make a Tumblr with these mashups called Longboxes on 22s. For a long period we were going hard in the paint but then life caught up with us. If you listen to rap there has always been references to superheroes or cartoons all the time. We just decided to take it to another level. Also I’m not going to lie Marvel did some 90s inspired covers and they had War Machine live Kurt Cobain in “It Smells Like Teen Spirit” video and I was nah both him and Iron man is Wu Tang this is wrong. Why is it always rock that they characters are turned into? A Drake album fits a pre-new 52 Superboy (Conner Kent) than most other types of genre especially if you read that character for a while. So that’s where it came from and the Tumblr has over 58k followers so I guess some folks really like the idea.
I’m completely in love with your Guns n’ Honey series (and currently have one as my computer wallpaper). Can you share with us how that series came about?
It’s actually has a sad beginning. See my mother died in the summer of 2006 and after that I really didn’t draw much at all for little while. It wasn’t until the late fall until I started drawing again using cool picture of women in magazines I bought. From that a cool phrase a friend of mine gave me popped in my head. He said I should do something with it. So the first ones I did were in black and white and they looked pretty good. All my art school buddies that I still talked to thought they were good. So I decided to do some more this time in color. The thoughts behind the early Guns N’ Honey were the image I saw at the time in a lot of the rap videos at the time. They were very glossy; scantily dress women are all throughout, a lot of grandstanding about violence and criminal acts, and a lot of emphasis on high end fashion labels. So I thought what if I mashed up fashion illustration with guns and the words from the more gutter rap music. With it I also enjoyed playing with graphic elements and trying to keep things to very limited colors. As time went on I got into other influences like sixties and seventies movie posters and old crime novel cover illustrations. Also I noticed that females I met at cons or other places seemed to like my pieces not only because of what they looked like aesthetically but also they like seeing a female in that type of stance like the protagonist of something that’s tough. From robbing a bank or getting revenge. Now my plans are to mix up some more of old comic iconography with more trill rap though to change it up.
We have some great Twitter convos about hip hop, particularly our mutual love for trill/trap music and southern hip hop. Is there an old or new hip hop track you’d love to illustrate and put your spin on?
I’ve literally been trying to figure out how to turn Slick Rick’s Mona Lisa into an Ants strip since before I put the strip out. I also in my brain have a reboot of Marvel’s Gen X in head where an issue would just be Ghostface Killah’s “Run” line for line with Synch for GFK’s verse and Skin for Jada’s verse. I have a lot of ideas for comics and series with certain rappers’ catalogues as inspiration though. I can’t say them cause then folks is going to steal them. Because I know they are that fresh. I do plan on one day somehow making a screwed and chopped comic story.
If you could choose three writers (dead or alive) you would love to work with, who would it be?
This is a very hard one because some of my favorite writers are artist themselves. But I’d love to work with Grant Morrison one day. I think I found out about him later than a lot of his diehard fans but it was one of the first times I thought that ideas in my head about superheroes weren’t weird. I finally saw someone not living in the past but using elements of the past and what is actually going on in the world to make fresher comics. I’d love to work with Naoki Urasawa. That man makes the tensest comics in the modern world right now. It’s has so much suspense. I’d like to work with Matt Fraction because going by his twitter and interviews I think he would get and know all my random rap and slang references. Like we could title a comic Trill and he’s know what it meant in an interview, feel me?
Are you working on any upcoming projects?
Right now I’m still putting out Ants twice a week well when I don’t get overwhelmed by my life and get too tired and miss an update. I hope to have a printed comic version for NYCC this fall and I’m slowly working on laying out a collection of Ants for the near future. The Ants comic I plan have at the cons is the first 20 pages of Ants vs. Blilluminati (or Black Illuminati). Also I’m checking my reserves to see if I can do another comic for the con in a completely different style and structure. I really want to do something digital using HTML 5 on the web and Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite and get some interesting comic apps out there on both iOS and Android that aren’t tied to Comixology and can use some different techniques besides just screens with stuff popping up and no use of changing panels or text and maybe pop ins. Some cool information or a different way to do note and thought balloons. So much more can happen. I think so of the Batman ’66 stuff Jim Lee announced might do some of the ideas I had so I better hurry up!
Do you have any advice you have to aspiring illustrators?
That’s a really hard question. I’d say take opportunities when they come at you. I’d say diversify and use this new tech world to the fullest. Use instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Start things that make you draw each week along with whatever jobs you get. Really push and get work and get your stuff seen. I’d say that from what I’ve learned in the last few years you need to blend what is thought of as the fine artist with what you expect of the commercial artist. You should attempt to get into group shows and solo shows along with doing great jobs for companies. It’s all about building your brand. With everything being so democratized in terms of creating things it’s more important to cultivate who you are to get people into your stuff. Make a dope identity.
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