Greetings, Blog@teers — have we got some news for you!
For the past six months, a webcomic has been featured by Ain’t It Cool News and CNN, celebrated for its action, characterization, and respect for the blaxploitation films that inspired it. As its creator notes, it’s Super Fly meets The Equalizer, the step-child of Shaft and Rip Kirby, a love letter to the Black action films of the 1970s. For some, it’s street justice like you’ve never seen — and for those on the run, well, all that’s coming their way is a WORLD OF HURT.
And in keeping with our mission to deliver the best and the brightest to you, our readers, we are proud to announce that WORLD OF HURT will be making its second home at Blog@Newsarama, as the latest in our weekly webcomics series. We sat down with writer/artists Jay Potts about the comic, his blaxploitation inspirations, and what the future holds for Isaiah “Pastor” Hurt.
Newsarama: Jay, just to start out with, can you tell new readers a little bit about what World of Hurt is about?
Jay Potts: WORLD OF HURT is a weekly, black & white serial adventure webcomic that is my personal love letter to the Black action films of the 1970s and the Golden Age of newspaper adventure strips. It is set in the early1970s in the city of Pointe Blanc, a fictional version of San Francisco and Oakland, and follows the exploits of a Black troubleshooter named Isaiah “Pastor” Hurt.
Nrama: In terms of getting to know you a little bit — what’s your background been in terms of comics? Is World of Hurt your first one, or have you been building up this?
Potts: I’ve been drawing since the age of four and have been a comic book fan for just as long. However, it wasn’t until I entered the graduate program in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA in 1997, that I received any formal instruction. What I learned there about storytelling and composition, and the exposure to an incredible range of talent, was truly eye-opening.
WORLD OF HURT is actually my first long-form comic work, because I stopped actively seeking art jobs several years ago. Despite very favorable and encouraging feedback from other artists and publishers, I suffered crippling anxiety about my work. I work full-time as a paralegal, a career path I began in order to pay my way through graduate school, so for years I doodled, created personal work, and stayed active with small, mostly non-paying, graphic design work. I also teach illustration and comics classes at the Fine Art Center of Kershaw County, SC a few times a year. Nonetheless, I never really was able to convince myself that that was enough, because I loved comic books and comic illustration so much. I think every artist wrestles with insecurity and self-doubt, but the key to success is how one deals with it. I let my worst fears and demons overwhelm me for too long, and lost a lot of time as a result. My wonderful fiancée, Noelle, was very supportive during this time. Although I don’t think even she understood the extent of my creative anxiety, Noelle handled it perfectly, and did a masterful job in helping remove those logistical and mental barriers for me to start creating again.
Nrama: The vibe of World of Hurt certainly hearkens back to the blaxploitation films of the ’70s. Could you tell us what your influences — film, comics, or otherwise — have been for your story?
Potts: In terms of subject matter, my primary influence is what I call the “Canon of Blaxploitation,” which are films like Shaft, Trouble Man, Super Fly, The Mack, That Man Bolt, and Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off, which featured smooth, bad-ass brothers who lived life on their own terms. Also, I’ve always loved the concept of the “man of action,” the enigmatic lone wolf who brings a unique set of skills to help people in impossible situations, so I also borrowed from Edward Woodward in The Equalizer and Avery Brooks as “Hawk” in Spenser For Hire, and later, the short-lived TV series, A Man Called Hawk. Both characters made a huge impression on me as a kid growing up in the 1980s. In terms of comics, my obvious influences are the masters of the adventure newspaper strips, notably, Alex Raymond with Rip Kirby, Peter O’Donnell and Jim Holdaway with Modesty Blaise, Al Williamson on Secret Agent Corrigan. I really tried to study their work, and could really get lost in it for days. I can’t say enough about the genius of those artists and the beauty of those strips, but from a writing standpoint, I think Peter O’Donnell was the genre’s definitive writer. I’m also a tremendous fan of contemporary comic illustrators with a similar “classic” illustration feel, like Jim Rugg, John Paul Leon, Tommy Lee Edwards, Mark Schultz, Adam Hughes, Michael Lark, Howard Chaykin, David Mazzucchelli, Paul Pope, David (“BroHawk”) Williams, Bryan Hitch, Stuart Immonen (who is probably the best, and most versatile, monthly comic artist today), the late Edvin Biukovic, Rodolpho Damaggio, and my absolute favorite of all time is Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. When he sent me a note on Facebook, I think I screamed like a little girl. Can I use this space to beg DC to start publishing compilations of his Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez’s work?
Nrama: Could you tell us a little bit about your main character, Pastor?
Potts: My protagonist, Isaiah “Pastor” Hurt is a mysterious, stylish, and streetwise “fixer.” He can solve any problem you might have, and charges a single rate to all his clients: his price is two favors to be named later, that must be carried out in the time, manner, and place of his choosing, with no questions asked. His philosophy is that if you buy his services, you’ve bought a piece of him, and no one owns Pastor. However, if you owe him a favor, he effectively owns a piece of you indefinitely. This system establishes the possibility of an informal network of operatives and informants that Pastor can tap into should the need arise, but Pastor also has a long-term strategy for banking and leveraging these favors toward a larger, as yet, unrevealed goal. Storywise, this system creates a wealth of opportunities where Pastor can move among various strata of society and even work both sides of the law by taking assignments from everyone from heads-of-state to housekeepers, the Mafia, cops, or even a kid looking for a lost dog. He’s always sizing up his clients to see what they can do for him somewhere down the road. I think the website TV Tropes would refer to him as a “magnificent bastard.”
Nrama: You’re definitely a one-man band here in terms of being the sole creator behind this comic. In terms of process, could you walk us through how your strips are built? Do you start with a full script already laid out, or do you draw first, fine-tune later?
Potts: My next story arc, “The Black Fist,” which is still a couple months off, is full script, but the current one, “The Thrill-Seekers” is more improvisational, because I just wanted to get it out there. When I started “The Thrill-Seekers,” I knew how it started, what story beats I wanted to hit, I had some dialogue in mind, and I knew exactly what the last panel would be, but I’ve fine-tuned or changed certain details of that big picture as the strip has progressed.
I pencil each strip on Bristol board with a smooth finish. (On occasions, each panel may even be on a separate board.) I assemble the penciled panels on my lightbox and ink on Vellum using a #2 Kolinsky sable hair brush (the only way to go), Microns for the technical or mechanical elements, and a 110% black Copic marker for the larger areas of black. My original pencils have gotten a bit looser over time, and I do much of the drawing during the inking stage. I scan and clean up the image in Photoshop and letter the strip using Adobe Illustrator. To maintain focus while I’m working, I prefer to draw and letter in silence, but I love listening to podcasts, or play whatever TV shows I’ve captured on the DVR, while I ink.
Nrama: In terms of your format — what made webcomics the perfect format for World of Hurt?
Potts: The webcomic format was a Godsend when it came to overcoming my creative anxiety. Whereas a twenty-two page comic or a graphic novel felt like an impossible mountain to scale, a serialized continuity strip broken down into discrete, three-panel, weekly units was much less intimidating. I also love the immediacy of the interaction with readers. I’m really humbled by the positive reaction WORLD OF HURT has received from so many people.
I started considering the webcomic format shortly before HeroesCon 2007, and while there, I attended a webcomics panel that included, among others, Nicholas Gurwitch (“Perry Bible Fellowship”) and Danielle Corsetto (“Girls With Slingshots”). I was immediately impressed with how all the artists on the panel discussed their craft, the creative process, and the business side of webcomics with such clarity, honesty, and passion. Earlier, I had attended a panel for a major comic book publisher that was dripping in snark and fan condescension. It left a bad taste in my mouth, so I was further impressed by the earnest, hard won professionalism of these webcomic artists, and it solidified my desire to give it a shot. I love the above strips and also make sure to make regular pilgrimages to Brian McLachlan’s awesomes (sic) Princess Planet (www.theprincessplanet.com) , Ben Driscoll’s wryly sweet Daisy Owl (www.daisyowl.com), and KC Green’s hilarious Gunshow (wwwgunshowcomic.com).
Nrama: You’ve been going at World of Hurt since April — what do you feel you’ve learned in the past six months? There any goals you’re setting for yourself for the future? And could you tease us any moments you’re excited about coming up?
Potts: The most important thing I learned is from a interview that Karl Kerschl conducted in support of his great webcomic, The Abominable Charles Christopher. Part of that interview became a motto for me, and a real kick in the pants, too. In it, Mr. Kerschl states, “Don’t wait to start the things that you’re passionate about. You’ll never be as ready as you want to be, so just get on with it and learn as you go. Above all, don’t be afraid of anything.” I literally had those words framed and mounted above my drawing board.
Secondly, I learned you have to respect your readers. Respond to comments, e-mails, and deliver what you promise. Finally, I’ve learned that social networking sites are invaluable promotional tools. I’m very fortunate to have a great circle of friends and relatives who promote WORLD OF HURT on Facebook, Twitter, or via their own websites. My Friday blogs about Blaxploitation-related issues, particularly the recurring “Unsung Bad Mother****** Award,” do a great job of driving traffic to WORLD OF HURT, as well. I started using the tagline, “The Internet’s #1 Blaxploitation Webcomic” somewhat facetiously, but as soon as I put it in the header, it really created a desire in me to make it a reality. Every day, I try to do at least one thing to improve or promote the site. I knew I was facing an uphill battle in attracting new readers by focusing on a niche like Blaxploitation, but I was determined to reach every fan of that niche that I could, and maybe create new ones in the process. Early on, I met with a friend of mine in the advertising industry here in Columbia named Morgan Copeland, and I picked his brain about developing a grassroots marketing strategy to build WORLD OF HURT. The serendipity of the release of the film Black Dynamite was obviously a tremendous boon in that regard, particularly Lisa France’s CNN article. Also, I was shocked and awed by Warren Ellis’ very kind words about my strip.
My short-term plans involve monetizing WORLD OF HURT, in earnest. My intent is to compile “The Thrill-Seekers” arc in time for the 2010 convention season using a format inspired by DC Comics’ Wednesday Comics. My desire is for the entire storyline to be published in a newspaper broadsheet, with some additional materials like a mock front page from 1972 and sketches. I love the callback to the newspaper strips that inspired WORLD OF HURT. I’d also love to be nominated for a Glyph or a Webcomic Readers Choice Award in the coming year. That would be a huge honor. In the long-term, I think there are plenty of opportunities for world-building and exploration in WORLD OF HURT, so I think it would make a fantastic rpg and/or a video game, along the lines of Grand Theft Auto.
As far as teases for the future, WORLD OF HURT has been rather violent, but as befits its Blaxploitation roots, the strip is about to get real sexy, too. As a final tease, although the next storyline, “The Black Fist,” won’t begin until after the first of the year, one of the story’s major players did make his/her debut in Episode 10 of “The Thrill-Seekers.”