February’s Artist of the Month is Khary Randolph. A phenomenal talent whose work can be seen in books like Charismagic and Robert Kirkman’s Tech Jacket. This past New York Comic Con, we got a chance to speak with him at the Image Comics Booth.
Comic Attack: So how did you get started with drawing?
Khary Randolph: Well I’ve been drawing my entire life since I was a little kid. I came up in Boston in a town called Mattapan in a single parent house and if you remember the eighties and nineties shit was kind of rough everywhere, so I spent a lot of time in the crib just staying out of trouble and when you don’t have any brothers of sisters and you stay in the house all the time your mind never stops working. So I was always reading comic books, playing video games and drawing and creating whole worlds from my head. My mom saw early on that I had a talent for drawing and she nurtured it. So she would put me in art classes along with regular school and… well I wasn’t a bad student but I would always look for ways to get out of doing shit. So if I had a French assignment and i didn’t want to do it I would draw it out as a three page comic book in French. So when I got ready to go to college at first I was looking at Black Colleges but I found out none really had sufficient arts programs so I began looking at Art Schools. Checked out the School of Visual Arts, applied, got in and I’ve been here in NYC ever since.
CA: When did you decide you wanted to get into comics as a profession?
KR: It was my senior year of High School. This like ’95/’96 and I was looking at all the image cats like Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane and I just knew I wanted to be those dudes. I wanted to be a comic book rock star. After that I just knew comic were gonna be my long term goal.
CA: Do you have a favorite character from that period
KR: It’s funny because I don’t think I have.
CA: What’s one of your favorite characters to draw mainstream or otherwise?
KR: One of my favorite characters to work on was Ninja Turtles. I actually worked on that show for a couple of years from ’03 to ’09.
CA: What would your dream project to work on?
KR: Well I would have said Ninja Turtles but I already lived that dream. Of course the Marvel or DC stuff is cool like Spider-Man or Batman but I am at a place right now where I’m really enjoying making new things. Take Tech Jacket for instance, while I didn’t actually create it, as a part of the creative team we are treating it like a new book. Superman has been drawn to death, you know? All of the mainstays have and I don’t know how much more I can add to that lineage. Maybe I can add my two cents but I feel like making new things for new readers is more important.
CA: Do you have a piece out there that you are particularly proud of?
KR: That’s a tough one because I’m always most proud of the piece I’m currently working on but I had a book come out from Aspen Comics a couple of years ago called Charismagic and they basically let us do whatever we want. My partner Emilio and I, who’s also the colorist on Tech Jacket created that world from scratch ourselves. When seeing that whole thing come together as a six issue series was important to me because that was all me.
CA: How do you approach new projects with your art?
KR: Well when I drew Charismagic between 2010 and 2012 that was a very particular phase in my life and for that book I knew I wanted a certain look. I was looking at a lot of European artist and I knew I wanted a more cinematic look. With Tech Jacket it’s straight up like Saturday morning cartoon anime stuff. I had to approach that differently, so I kind of went for a lighter style. I went for more anime techniques so there are a lot more speed lines. There are a lot more action sequences, so it has a lighter feel in general, and I try to do that with that book. Even with the color, we’re going for a very different color palette. Charismagic was all yellows and blues and real hot to cold juxtaposition whereas this is straight up for real like Saturday morning Transformers.
CA: Can you take us through your process in creating new art?
KR: Sure. My process is a little weird. It starts on the computer. I do all my layouts on the computer, then I print those out, put them under a regular piece of paper, and then I draw them by hand with pencil. I scan that back into the computer, adjust the pencils, darken them up so they look like inks, and I’ll tweak it in Photoshop to a certain degree, and then hand it off to a colorist.
CA: So there’s no actual ink involved in the process, it’s all pencil. Is that easier?
KR: For me it is. When you’re a terrible inker like me, it makes life a lot easier. Because I worked in animation, I’ve gone back and forth, I already have an animation style. My lines were already clean. When I was working for Marvel, I would draw something, and it would be so clean the inkers would get mad like, yo we can’t add any flavor to this. Because the line, everything was already on the page. The inkers couldn’t add their extra flourish, because I’d already laid everything out. And at some point, I was like, if that’s the case, why don’t I cut out the middle man altogether? My stuff is so clean already, I might as well just go straight to color. I’ve been working that process probably since like 2009 or so.
CA: Do you have music that you listen to when you get in your zone?
KR: Yeah but it depends on what I’m doing. When I’m laying out a book, that’s when I’m doing the most thinking, and that’s when I can’t listen to music that has words. So usually then I’m listening to more cinematic stuff like movie soundtracks or video game soundtracks, or maybe nothing at all. But when I get into the actual drawing of the page, at that point it’s probably 99% hip hop. That’s the music I get hype to, especially if I’m drawing a fight scene or something or something that’s really energetic. I put on some M.O.P or G-Unit or DipSet. It gets me into that mode to where I want to just draw something where something’s getting fucked up.
CA: How do the visuals you draft out in your head play out on the page?
KR: I tend to think in terms of cinematics, a lot of wide shots. If this were a movie or a cartoon with an unlimited budget, that’s what I’m thinking in my mind. With comics, there’s no budget for this, so that scene, I’m going all out. We’re going to the extreme with everything. So I’m trying to make the page layouts as extreme as possible but I don’t want to lose the storytelling.
CA: So there’s a lot of thought about the visual storytelling and not just “does it look cool”?
KR: Absolutely, I’m still trying to make sure I keep integrity of the storytelling so the choreography is there, the composition is there, but it is widescreen is this was a quiet book, then I might have more open shots, I might use more negative space, like white panels, but that’s not Tech Jacket. The vibe you’re supposed to get with this book is, it’s pretty much always 100 miles and running. There’s not many breathers you take with this book.
CA: Who helped inform how you tell stories visually? Who helped shaped your style of visual storytelling?
KR: I think I’m a child of Image Comics. So my natural sensibilities come from that. If you read any of those books, they may not have had the best stories, but when you were like 13, and you saw those books, I just remember there was a shift. There were artists that came before, and I wasn’t really into them even though they were good artists, obviously. The generation before, like John Byrne and Frank Miller, those are all amazing artists. But me as a kid at that age, I wasn’t responding to that. But then all of a sudden I saw Jim Lee’s Wildcats or X-Men. I didn’t know comics could look like that, with the colors and everything, and I was like, that’s what I want to do.
As I got older, I got into the older artists, like Jack Kirby, and I realized all the Image guys were cribbing off him. He was doing crazy shit back in the ’60s. Even when he was wrong, he was right! I realized early on, when you’re young, you focus on being the best artist. And at some point, you look at certain artists, and you realize you don’t have to be the best artist as long as you’re doing the best thing that you’re good at. I realized one of my strong points was movement and energy, so I was like, let me focus on that and use that in my art. That’s why Tech Jacket worked for me, because that book was all about energy, movement, action and excitement. It was a moment in comics when they lost that, when comics were trying to be more realistic with more talking heads. That’s not taking advantage of the medium.
KR: I love Stuart Immonen on All New X-Men, I look up to that dude like crazy. What put me on to his work, he did a book years ago called Next Wave. That’s exactly the kind of book I’m talking about where they took a bunch of characters that no one gave a shit about and really put it on its head. That’s the kind of book that spoke to me and I said, if I could draw one book, it would be that book right there. That’s the kind of energy I want to recreate in what I do now.
I like Greg Capullo’s Batman, obviously I love Ryan Otely on Invincible. I flip through some stuff but I don’t read a lot right now. Other than doing signings, I haven’t stepped foot in a comic book shop in forever. I’ll buy comic books digitally on Comixology, but in general, I don’t buy too many actual books. I live in an apartment, I don’t have room for long boxes. Living in New York, you can’t get attached to anything.
CA: There is a renewed focus on the lack of diversity in the comic book industry. Do you feel slighted when people say there’s not men and women of color in the industry?
KR: Yeah, sure but here’s the thing: I obviously see both sides of it. There could be more representation across the board. There are plenty of black artists out there, but how many black [comic book] writers are there? You can count on one hand the people who are working right now. I can see the frustration when you look at the stories that are being told, and there’s not that many people of color in the stories themselves. But if you look at the artists, there are a lot of Brazilian artists, Asian artists …Filipino artists, black artists, a lot of representation from people in general. So I don’t think that’s the issue, I just feel that people want more. I’m talking to young artists all the time, and the amount of kids of color and women coming up right now in the art schools like SCAD, SVA, and Pratt, there’s a bunch. Most of the interns I get are women. They’re making big strides right now.
CA: Is it a chicken-and-egg question? For instance if people were showing up in droves and knocking down doors to ask for more representation, it would likely show up. But is that the issue or is it that there’s nobody there providing it for people to know that is an option to have in the first place?
KR: It’s hard to say. Comics are especially weird because you look at the way it gets out. In my perfect world, I would love to work on a crazy hip hop book, Wu-Tang type shit. Is there a market for it in the comic book industry? Sometimes I don’t think there is. Ron Wimberley did a Prince of Cats graphic novel which was amazing. I don’t know how it sold, but it was amazing. I would love to see more stuff like that. If you look at the demographics of who’s actually buying comic books, I don’t know how diverse that market is. There’s a chance for something to thrive outside of the comic book market, looking at things like The Boondocks or Black Dynamite, those are clearly properties that are successful. Clearly there’s a market for expressions of color. Comics is a niche market and the people buying it tend to be white males who are 30+. Would they want that? I don’t know.
I’m at a point where I don’t sit around and beg for stuff, I just create new content. If you’re consistent, somebody’s gonna pay attention.
To see more of the dynamic art that Khary is putting out you can always pick up Tech Jacket and swing by his Deviant Art page as well!