Listen to the episode:
There are moments when your work clicks for people— they see what you’re trying to put together— and that’s when you feel great about what you’re doing with your work.
And there might be other times when people aren’t quite following. The breadcrumbs just aren’t enough to lead them through the forest.
When your artistic intent challenges the dominant culture, it can be harder to crack the egg.
“You see like Star Wars or like a Marvel movie or something, and you’re just like, wow, this— part of it is because it is just like the voice of the dominant culture, just manifesting. Like it is the dominant culture is producing this thing that happens to kind of like, vibrate with it.Ronald Wimberly
It’s giving you the aesthetics of what the dominant culture is.
…this is very efficient at connecting with people. But also it’s like, these people live in a world that’s producing this. It’s not transgressive…
It’s just really the flower. It is the flower of our society.”
When Ronald creates work that problematizes that world and those aesthetics (or more directly fights against them), he tries to be more patient with how his work is received, and make space to accept those that are either impacted by or don’t interpret his work quite in the way that he intended.
Because one of the things that he’s learned about being an artist is that it can be unhealthy to focus too much on how your work is received— not everyone will be impacted by your work in the same way (and that you don’t have to dictate the meaning of everything you create).
On this episode of The Autonomous Creative, I sit down for a super fun conversation with Ronald Wimberly. Ronald is best known for his graphic novel Prince of Cats, which is currently being developed as a film by Legendary Entertainment.
His other works include a giant tabloid journal and art magazine on identity and visual culture, LAAB, Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm, Black History In Its Own Words, and his critically acclaimed webcomic, Gratuitous Ninja (which is currently being Kickstarted and published by Beehive Books as a 600-page accordion-folded concertina!).
I first met Ronald Wimberly in 2007, and shortly after we came together to work on my book, Trish Trash. We have had many long, in depth conversations over the years, and I can always count on them turning out hilarious, challenging, and never boring.
This one is no exception.
We explore some of Ronald’s most popular work and its influences, including other artists, cultures, and his personal identity. Ronald compares the many references in his work to sampling, and explains why he believes it leads to deeper, more engaging art.
We also discuss the discrepancies between the dominant culture, the artist’s intent, and the audience’s interpretation. How much does it actually matter? Is it better, healthier even, to look away?
More from the episode…
- Ronald breaks down some of the references in his graphic novel, Prince of Cats, which he describes as the B-side to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
- “One of the lessons about being an artist that I’ve learned over these years is you put stuff out, you mean things, sometimes it’s inconsequential to what people get from it” — Why Ronald thinks focusing too heavily on how his work is perceived is unhealthy.
- Ronald reminiscences on New York in the 80’s, newsstands, and being introduced to the world of comics.
- We discuss the early influences on Ronald’s work, such as Japanese pop culture and Jordan Crane’s Non, and examine the value of tracing these influences.
- Ronald talks about meeting fellow comic, Evan Dorkin, author of Milk & Cheese, and the joke it took him ten years to understand.
- “You and the world that you live in has created this.” — How dominant culture, intent, and aesthetics feed into each other, from hex codes to Marvel movies.
- What does Ronald mean when he talks about “doing the least possible reproduction of pernicious ideas that are embedded in aesthetics”?
- “I always liked the collector cards from Marvel more than the comics…It’s an exploded world.” — How does building context enrich a work of art?
- Ronald explains the intention behind his tabloid newspaper, LAAB, and how it compares to work he’s done in the past.
More from Ronald Wimberly
Ronald Wimberly is a comic artist best known for Black History In Its Own Words and Prince of Cats, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in NYC in the 80s, which he’s now developing as a film with Legendary Entertainment. He’s got several other major projects in the works as well, like his giant tabloid journal and art magazine on identity and visual culture, LAAB, plus more comics and more movies.
Guy is BUSY.
Connect with Ronald Wimberly
“Being-in-the-Room Privilege: Elite Capture and Epistemic Deference” – Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò
GRATUITOUS NINJA: A Stealth Epic by Ronald Wimberly – Kickstarter campaign
GratNin on WEBTOON
LAAB Magazine – Digital edition via Beehive Books
Click here to read the transcript
Ronald: in my life, I’ve gotten a lot of value from just coming into contact with things that made me think deeply and take the time to think about things and like maybe put me on and think laterally about other things and like, that’s what I want to do.
AC intro3: What does it take to become a successful writer or artist?
There are some destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like.
And we’re kept in our lane by the undermining belief that, as artists, we’re somehow incapable of building autonomous, sustainable careers– if we choose the work that’s closest to our hearts.
So we’re going to tear down those myths and get the truth by going to the source:
Incredible professional creatives who’ve followed every path but the expected one to success on their own terms.
I’m cartoonist, author, and coach for creatives, Jessica Abel.
And this is the Autonomous Creative.
Jessica: in this episode, I had the pleasure of talking with my longtime friend, cartoonist Ronald Wimberley. Ronald is best known for Prince of Cats, which is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in New York in the 1980s.
Which he’s now developing as a film with Legendary Entertainment. And with Spike Lee directing what’s that like, I got to know.
He’s got several other major projects in the works as well.
Like it’s giant tabloid journal and art magazine on identity and visual culture, LAAB, where all that intense intellectual ferment slash ultra cool– that is the experience of Ronald is finally given a fitting container. As an example, it’s super oversized and sports incredible graphic design, and serious intellectual depth yet, it’s printed on newsprint and is full of comics.
Since we recorded this episode live last year, Ronald and the LAAB team at Beehive Books– our interview with publisher, Josh O’Neill is coming soon– have been working on Gratuitous Ninja, a stealth epic. Which is a graphic saga, now finally coming into print in the form of 600 accordion folded pages that tell the story of Brooklyn’s last Shinobi family.
Ronald is currently funding the project on Kickstarter and there are a ton of incredible extras. Check out the link in our show notes.
I first met Ronald in 2007 at a fancy restaurant where we were being treated to a fancy dinner by a French publisher. Those were the days.
Later I discovered his first big release Sentences, the life of MF Grimm and that same exact publisher put us together to work on my book, Trish Trash, which we worked on together for a few years.
Over the years my conversations with Ronald have ranged over history, literature, pop culture, politics, creativity, and making a name for yourself as an artist. Ronald is one of my absolute favorite people to dig in with. He’s way smarter than me, calls me on all my crap, and he’s got stamina.
We could do this all night, and we have. So I’m thrilled to bring you just a slice of that amazing ongoing conversation. Right after this message.
What does it really take to make it as a creative? This is the burning question that’s driven me for– forever, really. I used to have to try to ferret out the answers one by one, when I got a chance to hang out with a fellow artist or writer. And when I judged it safe enough to ask that delicate question we’re all dying to know the answer to: how do you make it work?
Every guests I’ve interviewed so far has mentioned this. One of the secrets to how they’ve gotten as far as they have is that they’ve asked every creative pro they met, every chance they got asking the question often enough is a game changer.
We learn so much each time. Starting with the fact that, whatever we thought was working for that person? We were probably wrong.
We each imagine the other person has some kind of secret and that they’ve made the leap over the giant chasm between beginner and pro and feel safe on the other side. And inevitably, neither person feels that way at all and as amazed to realize that from the outside, they seem to have it all figured out.
I’m pulling that seemingly taboo conversation out of the shadows on the show. It’s also the conversation we take further every day inside the community of Authentic Visibility.
Authentic Visibility is our group coaching program designed to help dedicated creatives who are very reasonably wary of marketing and promotion into powerful advocates for their vision and their work, setting the stage for huge career growth and a major role in the larger cultural conversation.
Got a major project dropping soon, and you’re determined not to let it founder? Get the support you need to create a reasonable promotion plan that aligns with your goals and fits your life.
Don’t know how to talk about your work without squirming? You’ll practice and refine your messaging in a safe, supportive space inside Authentic Visibility.
Hate or fear social media, and dunno what else to do? There are lots of options, and you can workshop solutions that suit you and your approach with your peers.
You can learn all about Authentic Visibility and get a sense of my teaching philosophy in a free 90 minute class, specifically for creatives called "how to get people wildly obsessed with your work" and in it, you’ll get a headstart on developing clear, compelling language for sharing your work with your audience so that they get it and they want more.
If you want your work to make its mark in the world, check out the free wildly obsessed class and supercharge your ability to connect with new fans in just 90 minutes.
Go to Jessica abel.com/wildly and join the free class now.
That’s Jessica abel.com/wildly.
Okay, let’s start the show.
Jessica: Hello, welcome to The Autonomous Creative and I am here with Ronald Wimberly. I remember one of the first times we met talking about Trish Trash and kind of getting ready to start on that. We were talking about roller derby on Mars, you know, silly stuff like that and somehow Ron started bringing in all of these deep cultural references and I’m struggling to follow all this stuff and not look like an idiot.
And I remember he brings up The Decameron and I’d actually read The Decameron 10 years earlier or so, but I remembered nothing about it. And I was like trying to pretend, that I still remembered what was in it while he’s like, "you know how this, that, and the connection between The Decameron and what we’re talking about and blah, blah, blah."
And it was fun, it was inspiring, but it was also kind of scary to get in such deep intellectual waters so quickly. So we’ve since had many more conversations, some deeper than others, never predictable, never boring. And so I’m really excited to see what we get into today. So, Ron welcome.
Ronald: Hey, how’s it going, Jessica. I don’t even remember that.
Ronald: I’m like, what was I possibly talking about?
Jessica: I have about journey, you know, love story. I don’t know what it was anyway. I, I, I honestly was like, just trying to think I have read that, right? I ha- I know I read that. What’s it about again? Yeah.
Ronald: Sounds smarter than me. I like it. I’m going to go with the myth though. Let’s go.
Jessica: Um, so let’s just start with a few sort of background questions cause I know they’re going to be new people here who haven’t met you before, and I want to get everybody kind of up to speed on what you’re doing right now.
What do you do all day right now? What are you working on?
Ronald: Right now. Um, I’m working on film and animation, mostly. I’m, I’m starting ramping up production on a short that I’m working on. Uh, I’m developing another short on the side and I’m developing like a, uh, like a couple television show pitches. One of them animated and one of them partially animated.
Jessica: The pitches pitches are or the shows are going to be animated?
Ronald: The shows.
Yeah, that’s what I’m working on right now. A lot of writing, some drawing. I’m about to start doing a lot more drawing. Cause, uh, in the next week I’ll be starting the storyboard process on one of the shorts. So that’s what I’m working on right now.
Jessica: I didn’t know you were working on shorts. I, what are these? What are they?
Ronald: Well one of them, I can’t say too much about,
um, but one of them is I was, you know, I worked with Mark Osborne. Um, this director, he did Kung Fu Panda, the first film. And, um, the, the real Kung Fu Panda.
Uh, um, he was, you know, I was just talking about life and my career. We had been talking about different things like, I had kind of put, you know, people have reached out for me to do, to work on several projects And I was kind of like, yo I just wanna, like, I wanna move past being… one project they were looking for me as a designer and, and I was just like I can do, I can do this. Like I have the vision to do more than just like, kind of this particular portion. And he’s like, well, I started out, like, my short is essentially how I was able to show people that I could direct.
So I was like, all right, well, let me, let me go ahead and, um, do that and was like, I don’t even know. He’s like, well, I, we had been talking about this New York Times cartoon that I did that. Like, they, they couldn’t put out and he’s like, oh, that’s a great story. You should do that. And it started to echo the "Lighten Up" strip, which was a comic that I did.
It was on Medium. It was The Nib. And, um, it just started to seem like that. I was like, okay, well, I guess I’m going to do this. And I reached out to a buddy, um, I reached out to Titmouse, you know, Chris Prynoski, Chris P over at Titmouse and we talked about it and he was like, yeah, well, we can do that. So that’s my production partner. And, um, yeah. Uh, that’s what I’ve been working on for the first quarter of this year and
Jessica: So it’s related to "Lighten Up." So we’re going to get into this in a minute. I’m going to get a, for anybody who doesn’t is not familiar with this strip. We’ll talk about it a little bit more. But, um, but the, the short you’re working on is, is related to that?
Ronald: Yeah. Well, I would say structurally and kind of like how it- both structurally and how it, um, how it came to be, you know, because like, uh, "Lighten Up’s", you know, I had talked to Matt Bors
Jessica: All right, so let’s, uh, let me give some background here. So before people, in case people are not familiar with it, so "Lighten Up" is sort of a one pager, maybe two to three pages if it were printed, but it’s kind of one piece, right? One strip like, and it’s about your experience of working on She-Hulk and
Ronald: It actually is about my experience doing just three, maybe three or four pages in a, The Death of Wolverine, like a, a jam book that had a bunch of different artists in it.
Jessica: Oh, okay. Because there’s, cause She-Hulk comes up at the end. I think I was thinking about that.
Ronald: Yeah. Which was the prior. Yeah. Yeah. I just use it as a foil.
Jessica: Right. But in any case, it’s a, it’s a situation where you had, um, you were doing coloring as well as drawing on the strip and you had colored a character with a sort of medium brown skin color, and your editor came back and said, can you lighten her up? And, and gave you sort of like a hex code, you did this really cool thing with the color hex codes and which hex code belongs to what, and what does it mean to be quote unquote black or quote unquote white?
And then you go into deep waters with, I’ve never had a black editor at a mainstream comics company and all of this other stuff, and it feels so related and so connected to the whole story of your tabloid paper LAAB. And course, I don’t know how it fits into, but you have this other book, um, Black History In Its Own Words, that is also was also in The Nib and sort of feels part of that whole story is that sort of
Ronald: Um, I mean, I guess it’s part of the, it’s part of just like what the work that I do. LAAB kind of, you know, I guess I have two, two types of work, right?
Like I have the work that I’m just like kind of exploring, just stories, stories that I want to tell. And then I have like work that’s kind of critical, that I feel like I have to do sometimes to either give context to my work and work in general, almost like maybe trying to cultivate a type of readership, you know, or criticism around work in general.
Like maybe in a way, in a way it’s, you know, like kind of giving, you know, advocating for people to read my word. Read work the way that I think
will, will make my work more valuable culturally. Um, so, uh, and "Lighten Up" would fit into the second half of that. Because I mean it, and the reason why I compared it to this other short is because, not only because it’s about sort of formally what I’m doing, there’s like a political aspect, that kind of intersects with the formal.
Um, but also because like, and this is part of the formal aspect of, uh, this recent one more so than "Lighten Up" which is like, it’s another sort of looking at looking at myself, which is like, um, yeah, Matt Bors was like kinda, you know, it was hit. Like he, he saw the value in the "Lighten Up" strip and Osbourne, Mark Osborne saw like the, um, value in this kind of telling this times, New York Times story. And
Jessica: Mark Osborne was your editor there?
Ronald: No, Mark Osborne is, was a director. Um, he’s a friend and I was working on one of his films.
Um, and you know, we, you know, we just started, we had, we had met in Columbus, Ohio. He was there as a guest, I think at, um, the comic convention that’s there. And we were both at a dinner and I’m like, this guy is just a really nice guy. This guy’s a really cool guy. I like him a lot. And we kind of been friends ever since.
And I worked on, um, I worked on one of his projects, but you know, we keep up and we talk about, uh, we talk about the difficulties or the complexities or the problems and the paradoxes in wanting to tell stories and, um, tell stories that at the very least aren’t, or are doing maybe to doing the least uh, reproduction of pernicious ideas that are embedded in aesthetics. Right. So. And yeah, and he was like, let’s do this Times story, which to me at, uh, or you should do that because it’ll be interesting. It’ll be
Jessica: a short.
Ronald: Yeah, and
like how, how that rhymed with my experience of "Lighten Up" was is that like, it was, um, you know, I’m not saying, I’m not saying anything bad about my homie Mark or Matt either, but like it was interesting to what I think, I mean, they’re two white men. Right. And
Jessica: Meaning Matt Bors and Mark Osbourne?
Ronald: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And, um, I remember on "Lighten Up" early in the process, Matt was like, oh, you should put a picture. You like, you should put a picture of yourself in the story. And I’ve
always been kind of like, even at, even at that early point in working, I kind of was a little bit conflicted about the, um, the value of like my identity in, you know, in publishing, but also in terms of like, like the epistemological value, like the value in an argument, you know what I mean? Like,
Ronald: So I didn’t want to put myself, I didn’t want to put like my face there, you know?
Jessica: Yeah. So this, this actually, um, gets to something that I wa- I was thinking about as I was doing research for this interview. I’m going back through our long history of being friends and stuff. And I remember, uh, so I’m looking up your website and stuff now and seeing what you have there and looking at your current links and stuff.
And your current website is called, you know, Ronald J. Wimberly. And, um, that’s very, very clear, but I remember back when I met you, everything was deep high. And you had about 15 emails. I never knew which one was the one that was going to get to you.
Ronald: I still have too many emails.
Jessica: And then there was, you know, there’s GratNin, which I still don’t really get. And there’s
Trismegistus And like all this other, you had all these names and things, and even on your website, of today there’s no picture of you, I think.
Ronald: No, it’s just like It’s that one drawing. Cause I don’t really use it. I don’t, I feel like no one, I don’t really want anyone to contact me. Like the people who can contact me, I feel they can contact me. Like I really don’t want anyone to find me, you know, but I feel like I need to have that out there, you know, like, and I’ve done okay. I support myself rather well, without people being able to find me. So like, I kinda like it that way, but
Jessica: can find you on social media. No problem. I mean, they can find you and be in touch with you if they need to be. And I get that, not wanting your emails out there or whatever, I completely get that. But it’s not just that it’s also, there’s these like sort of alter ego layers kind of. And I, and I feel like maybe that’s what was getting challenged in that way. Where he’s like, why don’t you put yourself in the strip? You know, then you have to kind of be out there just as yourself and, and talking about your own personal experience in some way.
Ronald: Actually, I don’t, I don’t see it as being, uh, having that image out there, being myself. I see it as, um, having a, an image that people can, they will, they will garner some sort of a, an idea or a value as a symbol. Like me being like a black figure in that space, like a black male figure means like, oh, this guy knows what he’s talking about. Like, this is the real rap, like it’s coming from a black dude so like he knows.
Jessica: And you don’t but you don’t want to claim that authority. You don’t want, you don’t think that because, at least partly because, you’re a black dude that you do have that authority or no?
Ronald: I’m going to say the authority would be in like the truth.
Jessica: Yeah. But is that not part of the truth?
Ronald: No. I would say no. I mean, the, the truth, I mean, it would be, I would say probability wise, like I have a higher probability of maybe seeing some things, you know, then someone who doesn’t necessarily have my body or my experience certainly, But not necessarily.
Jessica: So it’s too much of a shortcut kind of like when somebody sees your face or you as a physical person?
Ronald: So I think it’s, first of all, I think it’s- there’s no way to escape it, right? There’s no way
escape what it is. But like I saw the, I saw putting my picture or like a, um, cipher, you know what I mean? For me, that kind of expressed that I am a black body.
And if you look at "Lighten Up" it’s very- I come in and out, you know, like there’s some that are more like representative of what I look like, but the first one is literally just a silhouette where you see my color purposely. Right? Because like, that is, that’s what the value of it was, you know what I mean? Like, for better or worse, that’s what the value of it was for like, say, uh, like a liberal publication, you know, like the New York Times.
It’s like, okay, well there’s value in. All right, when there are uprisings in the street, uh, there’s and, and your paper, you wanna seem fair, or you wanna like it’s Black History Month. There’s value. You know what I mean? Like, if it, imagine if it was black history month in some publication reaches out and asks me to do something and I’m like, "Great. Thanks. But don’t let anyone know that I’m black." They can be like, wait a minute, but the whole point, you know, we’re reaching out to you is so that, you know,
Jessica: Yeah, but it feels like tokenism.
Ronald: Uh, I mean, I don’t, I’m not sure what tokenism means in the case of-
Jessica: I mean, mean I’m just going from my own experience as a woman in comics and the, the duality of, of being in situations where people are asking me to have, to take part in something both because I am me and I have done the work that I have done, and it’s very specific and very, you know, it, it is what it is.
It’s, it’s my body of work, but also because I’m female, you know, because they don’t have enough women involved in whatever it is and they need a female voice there. And so it’s always, for me, at least it’s always mixed. It’s never a thing where it’s 100%, either thing, you know. It’s not 100% that, that the, that I’m there, they wouldn’t ask, you know, go walk down the street and just get a comics, woman comics reader, and get her on his panel. They’re asking me because of my work, but at the same time would they have asked me if I weren’t female?
Ronald: Yes, but there’s also, sometimes I, you know, it seems to me that the, that sort of value structure could be counterproductive to the work that I’m trying to do. Not always, but sometimes, you know, um, and Iike, so for instance, uh, say if even it just becomes something difficult to work around sometimes, you know what I mean? And in that case, I was like, hmm, I want to get this point across, you know what I mean? I don’t want to get the point across in like a way that seems uh, partisan in a way that disrupts sort of just like the reason,
Jessica: Yeah, no, I totally
Ronald: The argument, I think the argument is airtight, you know what I mean? Like regardless, you know what I mean? If Matt had made that argument, I think it would have been airtight. You know what I mean?
Jessica: Matt being my white husband.
You know what I mean? So like, right, right, right. You know what I mean? I think it would have been an airtight, you know like, like. And also that’s the type of work, you know, um speaking of we do similar or thinking about like formally, I want the form to do the work too. And that’s something that I don’t know if people are even thinking of. And by the way, I feel like that cartoon
Jessica: Meaning "Lighten Up"
Ronald: "Lighten Up." I feel like "Lighten Up," there are things that I’m doing with this animated short that I’m trying to, it’s another experiment to see if like it’s even, If it even makes sense for me to make these types of things because like "Lighten Up" most of the time when people talk to me about "Lighten Up," I feel like the point of the cartoon was completely missed. So, And I, and I, yes, and I feel like part of it, um, part of it is because of like how, you know, it’s just, it’s difficult. So I think one of the lessons about being an artist that I’ve learned over these years is just like, you put stuff out, you mean things, sometimes it’s inconsequential to what people get from it. And like, if it’s just something that’s like capital A art, then it’s not that big a deal, but if it’s like art, that is also somewhat of a, an essay in this case, right? Then like, that’s kind of disheartening.
Jessica: Right. So if this is your chance, uh, with the people who are here today to tell them what is it actually about. What would you say?
Ronald: Oh, I mean, personally, I would personally, I don’t see any value in like dictating what the meaning of it is
because if the work
Jessica: Because you’ve just feel like it didn’t come through, like whatever you
Ronald: yeah, I don’t, personally what I would hope is that it would make people kind of like think about things and I didn’t get, I didn’t get that vibe. Like I got, sometimes I got a lot of vibes where it’s like, you know, well, my hashtag or my, um, hex code is blahzay blahzay, blah, right. And I’m this, that, and the third.
I’m like, all right. I wasn’t really, I wasn’t really trying, I mean, in a way I’m trying to destroy, I want it to smash. Okay. Here it is. I wanted to get people to think about how ridiculous it is anyway. You know what I mean? Like and how unrelated, the color of that character was to what that character could be, particularly, and not, you know what I mean?
the construct, the
construct of race, how it’s working, how it’s creeped its way into the editorial process. You know what I mean?
I’m not, I wasn’t trying to give people more space to sort of project the concept of race onto themselves.
Jessica: Well, I thought the really interesting piece to me was how you talk- you talked about all these different, you know, what is, again, what is black? The color, the hex code that you would be right now on the video screen is nothing like black. It’s not black, right? It’s a nice brown color.
It’s not, it doesn’t, it doesn’t relate to 0, 0, 0, 0 hex code. But then in other light you would be another, same as me, you know, like that have different colors, depending on what light you’re in. As an artist you’re always thinking about what is the color I’m actually seeing and not some kind of dictated.
And that, to me, related to the contingency of race, like race only means something in, in certain contexts, you know, it means different things in different contexts. And I thought that the coda about, She-Hulk, the reason I thought you know, from when you’re working on that, um, you have a thing where there’s several different panels showing She-Hulk drawings with different greens. She’s green and she’s different greens in different panels and you point out that nobody complains about this.
She changes color depending on who’s, uh, coloring and depending on the light conditions and so on. And because she’s green, no one cares and no one comments on it, which I thought for me, that was, that was the meaning of it, was really, uh, to question this whole, the whole idea of how color can be used as a, you know, to pin you down to some kind of meaning that you don’t really, you don’t get behind or potentially don’t get behind.
Ronald: Well that, yeah, but like, yeah. So like when I.
Also putting two things next to each other to maybe create some confusion. So like, when you say black, like you don’t really like, it, it could be- it’s a politic, like it’s not, you know,
like I don’t, I never, you know what I mean? Like, and, um, the value of, the value of, you know, that’s part of the reason why I don’t want to sit here and like, try to explain it.
And like maybe I failed at the comic doing what I intended to do with the comic. Because I really, like if I could, I guess if I could just like pin down sort of what I’m trying to provoke in a phrase, like in a poem, I’d be Saul Williams, right?
But I’m not. I’m making the cartoon, I’m making the comic so that it can do that work, which is really just to get people to think about like, oh, well, uh, the skin color of this character has some sort of other symbolic meaning to these people and it’s related to like the value of it, no pun intended. Um and like, how does that relate to the history of how these figures have been depicted?
Jessica: Right. Yeah.
Ronald: So, that’s all. I mean, but whatever, like, so this next thing that I’m working on, I have an opportunity to kind of like, explore, um, explore like how, how even that work and works like that fit into like, sort of the space that I’ve been in. sort of like, you know, what is it, what does it mean to try to produce this type of work? What does it mean to feel some type of way when you can’t do it? And it’s like, how does that relate really to struggles or whatnot?
Like a lot of it is funny cause I had started working on it and then, uh, what’s it Olúfémi Uh, hold on for a second. So I was, um, I’m just gonna really just, uh, look it up right now.
Jessica: Are you actually Googling right in the middle of your interview?
Ronald: Yeah, because I want to get, want to get this guy’s name, right. Yeah, Olúfémi O. Táíwò did this, he wrote this article and, uh, The Philosopher, "Elite Capture and Epistemic Deference" and I read it right as I was working on this script and I was like, okay, this is exactly sort of like, alright, this is going to be in response or like in, you know, dealing with some of these ideas. And I’ll give you guys a link on here. It’s a good article.
Jessica: Great. And if you’re coming here later to this, then we will share that link also in our show notes.
Ronald: Oh, there it is. Yeah. And I mean, um, so yeah, just some complex ideas. I don’t want, I don’t even want to talk about it’s like, you can watch, you can read the article or whatever. I’m
Jessica: Okay. Well, we’ll read the article, but this is, I mean, yeah, but I mean this, all it, the, this sort of discomfort with pinning down meaning and with dictating meaning and, and allowing lots of room for interpretation, but also having lots of ideas that you want people to pick up on. That seems like something really a theme through your work.
Ronald: I mean I, look, I hope so.
As a theme in my life is hopefully coming out in my work, you know.
Jessica: Yeah, no, I mean, it’s, I think it relates to this thing I was referring to of not being able to figure out, you know, what your email was or whatever. It’s sort of like, you want people to figure you man.
Ronald: I, you know, like I kinda want to get, I kinda, I don’t know if I want people to figure me out. I don’t know. You know what I have a lot, I place a lot of value in just, I don’t know. I feel like I’ve, I, in my life, I’ve gotten a lot of value from just coming into contact with things that made me think deeply and take the time to think about things and like maybe put me on and think laterally about other things and like, that’s what I want to do.
Like I, I feel maybe when I was right out of school or like when I was young and like making art, I was like, okay, well, this is a way for people to know me. Like, you know, OG, young, young Ronald Wimberly was like, yeah, you know, like if I keep making this stuff, like, it’s a way to connect with people and they’ll get to know me. And I feel like I don’t know if that’s like, uh, an object.
Jessica: Well, I mean, I think this is something, again, this is something that I associate with all of my many times hanging out with you that like, things will, like this article will come up in a conversation because you’ve found, you’ve found this through a path of inquiry. You’ve gone someplace and you kind of want people to follow you.
I remember talking to you one time about teaching and whether you would want to teach and you expressed sort of, what’s the word I would look for here? Like flabbergastedness or something about the lack of curiosity among students that you, you saw at school, um, when you were there that, you know.
A teacher would sort of offhandedly, toss off a name to you of, you should go check out so-and-so, the way teachers do, right. And you’d be like, all right, and you’d write it down and you’d go look it up and find out who that person is and then you’d read the bibliography, and you’d find out who their influences are and then you’d go from there and you continue to look for stuff.
And, um, you have a very curious mind and you’re very interested in what people are saying, and you want to be able to put these ideas together and then you embed them. And I think there’s moments, it seems to me that there are moments when it clicks and people see what you’re trying to put together. And, and that’s when you feel great about what you’re doing with your work and everybody else is like, wow, you know, Ron just blew my mind.
And there’s other times when you think they’re not following, like they’re not getting the thing I’m trying to- the path I’m trying to lay down for them, the breadcrumbs that I want to have people follow.
Ronald: Maybe, but I mean, maybe it’s like, uh, I don’t know two things are happening, At least One of them is okay, well, how do I interact with society or my community with my work in a meaningful way. One, Two, how do I have a healthy relationship with how my work is received? You know. and the, and the production, and the production of my work. You know what I mean? Like, so, I don’t, I don’t know. I haven’t really worked this out very far down the line, but it seems from the bit that I’ve thought about it, that it’s unhealthy to fixate on how work is received.
It seems like it’s not a look, you know what I mean? Like you don’t want to, it’s not something to focus too much on.
But at the same time, I do see, I don’t know, like, you know, I’ll go to a movie and I’ll see like, you know, or whatever. You see like a, a Star Wars or like a Marvel movie or something. And you’re just like, wow, this- part of it is because it is just like the voice of the dominant culture, just manifesting. Like it is the dominant culture is producing this thing that happens to kind of like, vibrate with it. You know what I mean? Like it is, it’s giving you the aesthetics of like what the dominant culture is.
And part of that you see, and you’re like, wow, this is very efficient at connecting with people. But also it’s like, these people live in a world that’s producing this. It’s not like, it’s not transgressive or, you know, doing anything like that. It’s just like really the flower. It is the flower of our society.
Right. And then the people are coming and looking at it and they’re like, wow, look at it. It’s amazing. I’m impacted by this. It’s like, yeah, you’re, you’re impacted by this, but like also you and the world that you live in has created this, like, this is the, this is what it is. And so, I mean, as an artist, maybe like this is a back- like backwards.
I’m not always kinda like, in my mind thinking what I’ve just said. Sometimes I’m just looking at it and I’m like, wow, it’s whoever the people who put this together, they’re really good at sort of, like kind of pied Pipering these people, but it’s like, I don’t think it’s necessarily that. I think it’s moving in both directions, you know? So like, I think it’s good to remember that.
And also if I’m creating something where I’m like, okay, I’m trying to embed some things into, uh, I’m trying to embed some things that are maybe, either like, some sort of like problematizing that, that world or that those aesthetics, or even, you know, um, fighting against it, or I see as like a response, like a counter to it, then to kind of have this, to put it out there and, you know, uh.
I think I just need to be more patient with just like, well, let it, you know, just put it out, just like put it out and see how people, you know, like. And it’s great sometimes people come up to you and they’re like, oh, I love this and you did this, that and the third. And it’s like, I just need to have more self-control or like, or be more, I think, have space to accept that this is impacting or like, means something to people without sort of like, kind of feeling some type of way about how, what it exactly means to them.
You know what I mean? Just like kind of, okay, yeah, all right. That’s what you got from that then great. Like, okay, I’m out here and like, I can support myself a little bit longer, you know what I mean? Like great. You know what I mean? Like, let me not, get too, you know,
Jessica: That’s a bar though, that is really, that’s really hard. It’s really hard to not care. You know what people are thinking about. You have a whole set of, you’ve lived with this work for years, you know, you have a whole set of ideas that went into it and you had the experience of creating it and then to let that go and let it be whatever it is in the world. I mean, it’s asking a lot.
Ronald: Yeah. I mean, well, life is about letting
Jessica: It’s not that you’re wrong. You’re correct, but it is hard.
Let’s, uh, let’s go back and talk a little bit about your path into comics and now into working in film and animation, because I think that’s going to be interesting to a lot of people here. Like how did that happen? So you went to Pratt Institute, right? Um, were you doing comics when you were there?
Ronald: Um, towards the end. If this is about like my, you know, comics a buddy of mine, John David put me on comics. Like I, I had, I known about comics, you know, like you’re an American of my age. You grew up like, you know, back in the day we had new stands, there was a thing called a newstand, like be there. And a uh,
Jessica: Wow, man. You’re older than I thought.
Ronald: Yeah. right. Like a 7-Eleven, right, you know. Those are fossils around you know, like. I was watching- what movie? Oh, I was watching the, um, the, documentary on Fran Lebowitz. And she had like the, um, they have footage of New York back in the day. And like, I remember when my great grandma, she used to take us up to like, the church group would take us from DC up to New York for like little functions or whatever, like shows and whatnot.
And I remember the first time we came in on the bus, you know what I mean? It’s probably like eating fried chicken out of aluminum foil on a bus, you know, like, little snacks or whatever, and looking out the window and seeing the yellow cabs and just seeing the air. It’s like as if like a swarm of seagulls, except it was like newspapers, you know what I mean? Like just, the streets were covered, you know what I mean? Like newspaper flying everywhere, like trash, whatever. This was eighties New York.
So anyway, my uncle used to read comics. I didn’t know anything about comics, but I had seen comics around, you know, like he collected comics. I had Spider-Man pajamas.
I had an Incredible Hulk t-shirt, you know what I mean? Like it was around, there was a whole TV show, you know what I mean? Like there was stuff, but I hadn’t really the material I hadn’t really come in contact with, you know, only, just sort of like the licensed products from IP that started in comics.
So then, uh, my homie put me on to it. I picked it up. I had been into anime though, before. And so like anime was something I was really into, and it was before people even call it anime. Like we don’t, you know, it was like Japanese cartoons to Japanimation, like all the awful things we called this stuff back in the day, you know.
But like, yeah, I was into that and so then he took me to the comic book store and I was like, oh, wow, cool. All right. Here’s like some, you know, a lot of salacious imagery, you know what I mean? Like, and that was like, ooh, let me, let me pick this up. You know, I can read this? Like I can read this comic? You know, like, um, but, and yeah, picking up like Appleseed and picking up very early, like those colored Akira comics, you know, um, what else?
And yeah, I would get like the, the coolest things would be like these Appleseed books that just have like lots of back material that was just talking about the world, you know. I was always into the weird things, like unconventional ways of telling story, like story being told outside of comics too. Like, I always liked the collector cards from Marvel more than like the comics, you know? Cause it was like a world. It was, it’s an exploded world, you know?
Jessica: Yeah. So how did you go from this kind of sideways entry into being a comics reader to deciding, yeah, I’m going to try to do this.
Ronald: Oh, so right before I got to college, I was reading Jordan Crane’s Non and like
Jessica: How did that happen?
Ronald: I would just go into the comic book store. I was into things that look cool and were fun and funky. I wasn’t really-
Jessica: What comic book store did you go to that you would get Non?
Ronald: It was like, I think it was. I got to ask
Jessica: or something?
Ronald: Mrs. Carlin or something. It was out, it was probably like on Bethesda, Maryland or something? Or like it was out in the suburbs of Maryland somewhere. I don’t remember. I mean, it was a long time ago. Yeah. But like JD’s mom would drive us out. Like we take our little bit of money and like go all the way out, you know, and go to this comic book store and like, back then you still had, like, I feel like there were people, one of them still have people playing like little pewter figurines doing something, you know, it was a lot, yeah. It was a wild place. But like, yeah, I would get my weird comics and like, and sometimes just based on the cover, I remember one just had like a, um, like a girl, like with the cover, with the reading Non on the cover of Non. And it was like a TV in the back- I still have this comic to this day. So that seed was planted.
Got to Pratt. Art direction. Didn’t do art direction. Switched over to illustration. Towards the end, maybe like junior year or maybe even senior year, I joined the Static Fish with, um, a bunch of the guys there. Julian, um, Julian Lytle, Ted Lanch III, Dan Bandit. He’s called Dan Bandit now. Um, did the backgrounds for, uh, Adventure Time. Yeah, a bunch of, a bunch of people. Miss who’s also a cartoonist.
And that’s kinda how I got into comics as a culture. And one of the first comics I did was kind of like, you know, influenced by, um, Dave Choe’s Slow Jams. And the second one I did was GratNin and that was influenced by Arzach, uh, and ninjas. And the, and like, I guess the second or third ninja explosion. The eighties ninja explosion.
Jessica: In the, in the comics world. Yeah. is gratuitous ninja, right? That’s what it’s gratuitous ninja? So are you, were you aware that your ninjas were gratuitous and it was like extra ninjas we didn’t need, is that what that means?
Ronald: Yeah. The original, the original idea was like, you know, a ninja is just the figure that, there’s so much embedded in just like the figure of a ninja right like. And, oh my God. So like, yeah. I just wanted, I wanted something to move. I wanted something to explode that I could draw that I didn’t have to- also ninjas are silent. You know what I mean? Arzach was silent. So like my second comic, no words. I didn’t want to have any words in it. I just wanted it to be movement and violence. So like gratuitous ninja, meaning like I don’t really need ninjas, right. Like, you know, I just, I put them in there, like symbolically meant.
I just like Ninjas, like everything that they, everything, everything. And the more I got into them, the more I, I was into them, right. Like at first it was like, literally that sorta ninja, that kind of aesthetically comes from someone who’s working on a stage, right. Like they’re wearing all black. And then as I got deeper and deeper into it, like, I’m like, wow, okay. So, all right, some of these guys were farmers, like I’m starting to learn the history, you know, like. And then I just, they just expanded. It just got more and more into like, it’s still, it’s still a comic that the last comic I drew was a GratNin comic. I mean, like, you know.
Jessica: Well, I think it’s sort of getting to what we’re talking the first half of this interview, we’re talking about this, uh, you know, various kinds of ways that you meanings you’re struggling with to either express or not and hope people get them and don’t.
I feel like there’s this other strand of your work that, and it may be split at the moment where you’re, you, you’re able to do in LAAB, which is a tabloid magazine that your editor of and you have your own articles in there, and you’re also convening a whole community of people, lots of thoughts about culture in the world. You’re able to put all that stuff there and then you can make GratNin, you know, it’s like, you can kind of separate those two things in some way.
Ronald: Yeah, I mean, that’s what I, that’s what I would like to doing as LAAB continues on. You know, like the first issue of LAAB was "LAAB #0" right. It’s kind of like, LAAB is numbered, sort of like uh metaphorically, right. It’s numbered. It’s not, it’s numbered in a way that has nothing to do with which one came out and, you know, consecutively or-
Jessica: Yeah. I know. I own them.
Ronald: Right. Right. So #0 is just kind of like, it’s a, it’s a statement of purpose. Um, it’s a lot of the, you know, you know, it’s a lot, a lot of, it’s essentially me putting all my cards out on the table, you know what I mean? You can see all the, like my sort of pinko, uh, tendencies, you know what I mean? Like, I’m just, I’m kind of stating my subjective position.
Um, and also like, kind of, it’s a key to, all right well, why, you know, like why are these, you know, like if you look at "LAAB #0" you get an idea of like, where LAAB came from. It’s in a way though, it’s almost like not an issue. It’s not an issue, looking, you know, like it’s not what I want LAAB to be, you know, it’s, it’s, um, it’s more kind of like what’s underneath LAAB. So it’s
Jessica: It’s like the back matter of the, of the comics you’re reading in the eighties or something. Like it’s all the you have to know in order to be able to read the future episodes.
Ronald: Yeah. If you’re curious about it, right. And as we move on, I’m just kinda like all I
Jessica: That’s prerequisite. Like you’re not going to be reading LAAB if you’re not curious about it. It’s,
Ronald: hope so.
Jessica: Like the graphic design and the density of the thinking and all the others, the size of it, just holding it. It’s huge. It’s a challenging thing to grapple with. You gotta be committed, which I imagine is part of point.
Ronald: Yeah. That is definitely part of the point. I mean, I just wanted to make- also, it goes back to like Non, right? Like I wanted to, you know, that’s kind of like the blueprint for me, like that’s how I got into comics. Like when I was in college it was like Adbusters, you know, Non, Slow Jams, um, THB, you know what I mean, your work. these things that-
Jessica: Evan Dorkin. Tell, tell the Evan Dorkin story. Tell the story.
Ronald: Dorkin, kind of like, Dorkin gave me the first comic of yours that I ever got and I still have it.
Jessica: Which is very cool, but, okay. So for everybody who doesn’t is not familiar with them, Evan Dorkin is a, uh, a long time indie, cartoonist self-publishing. And he had a comic called Milk & Cheese and it’s very, uh, nineties and oughts, kind of snarky, sarcastic humor. Milk and Cheese are these bad boy, they’re their dairy products gone bad. So here comes young Ron with his portfolio
Ronald: Is that his log line? Dairy products gone bad?
Jessica: Which is good. Right. It’s very funny stuff. And so you’re showing your portfolio around at a comic convention or just meeting people or something.
Ronald: In the Puck Building, I think it was, or maybe it was like a Big Apple Comic Con. Like it was during the years where New York Comic Con didn’t exist. Like, I think it’s at one point the Teamsters or something had put the kibosh on the big New York Comic Cons right, and there were small ones.
Anyway. Yeah. I saw a Dorkin at one and, you know, I was talking, I mean, I hardly even knew, you know, I had seen his covers more than I’ve seen at the inside of his comics. But like a buddy of mine, Michael Barry, who we went together at Pratt too, um, he would take me to these comic cons because like I had never gone to comic book conventions.
Like it was, it was new to me and he brought me around to meet all these different people. And like at one point, yeah, I met Evan Dorkin and like we were talking. And I’m sure I was just like another kid who was like trying to do comics. And he was like, all right, suit yourself. And so he hands me this card that it was like a "get out of comics free" card.
And I put it in my wallet and I kind of just like, forgot about. And then, I don’t know, like 10 years later, the punchline hit me like a ton of bricks, you know, like, uh, just the way it’s is this relationship that could be very beautiful and fulfilling, but also just like awful, like, you know. I, I’ve figured out the
Jessica: Right. It’s designed like a monopoly card. Like the actual card designed like a monopoly out free
Ronald: Right, right.
Jessica: Yeah. And like, imagine you’re at a comics convention, you’re looking at a young people’s portfolios and stuff, and you’re handing these cards out. This is, this is Evan’s sense of humor. Like, he’s a very funny guy. But he obviously liked you because he gave you my comic, gave you comics to look at cause he, you know, he wanted to encourage you at the same time, which is also very Evan.
Ronald: Yeah. Which I think is, yeah. I mean, which is also one of the beauties of comics, right. Like imagine going to, I don’t know, like a trade convention, like a Hollywood trade convention and you bump into like, I dunno, Dorkin be like the, like a Tarantino or something. You know what I mean? Like someone who’s doing like kind of these, you know, like an underground or something.
Jessica: Like you, somebody making independent stuff.
Ronald: Right, right, right. I’m gonna say Spike Lee, cause I know Spike Lee. He actually would. I think he would, he might do something like that, but he’d probably keep it moving, you know, because like how many people want to talk to him? You know what I mean? Like how many people want to, you know. also to put it in a sort of economic sense, the time of a cartoonist is way cheaper than the time of filmmaker.
Jessica: So true. So true, but I’ve often said stuff like, if you, like, you’re saying, you’re going to like a film festival or something like that with some exceptions, you’re, you’re not going to write, say a Facebook group you’re in or something like that and say, "Hey dudes, where I’m coming to, you know, the film festival in Riga, anybody know anybody where I can crash? Like, can I sleep on couch?"
Jessica: I mean, not that it doesn’t happen, but in
Ronald: Sure. I got a spot.
Jessica: Exactly. Like I know somebody. There’s, there’s a kind of, um, and maybe it’s less so now I don’t know, but it’s just very collegial and, and, helpful community with, you know, the potential downside that 10 years later you get the punchline.
Ronald: Right, right. Yeah. Comics is, yeah. It’s a lot of different things. I think it’s got really high highs. I’m really low lows.
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Now let’s get back to the interview
Jessica: So tell me in terms of high highs and low lows, tell me a little bit about Prince of Cats, your book, which is, um, I don’t know how you want to describe it, but it is an adaptation of, um
Ronald: I say, it’s the B-side. It’s the B-side of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Jessica: The B-side side of Shakespeare. That’s good. I like that. Yeah. So it’s a, it’s an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
Ronald: Kind of, not really. Like it’s, it’s like it has some Romeo and Juliet.
Jessica: It’s a, it’s a take. Let’s say it’s a take on it. It’s it tells the more or less the arc of it.
Ronald: Right, right. The arc of Romeo and Juliet is some- is happening kind of as a backdrop. And like, it is a motif. It’s a motif. Um, the Romeo and Juliet is the motif. And also sort of like the, um, the era. Like, well, you know.
Jessica: So set in the eighties in New York.
Ronald: It’s set in the eighties in New York, like a kind of a up of like, sort of the decade where you get in a little bit of that late seventies, like Warriors vibe, you know, like, but it’s one of the things, one of the things that’s, one of the things I sold it as is like, yeah, it’s like five years after the Warriors right?
Which is like, um, yeah. 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s is like, you know, I would have said, you know, like, it, carries that sort of vibe forward a little bit. Um, yeah. And it- I wanted to get away from the sort of romantic narrative and kind of like, the central romantic narrative of Romeo and Juliet, and like explore Tybalt, um, Rosaline, who I don’t even, we don’t really even see in the play. I think Rosaline might be like, she’s probably at the party, um, Juliet a little bit. And yeah, Samson and Gregory.
Jessica: But so the story of it that I want I um, the book is great and beautiful and there’s, it’s really rich. There’s tons, tons to get into in it. But I want to talk about the, the path of the actual book. So you were, did it come out of working on Sentences? So Sentences is where you were adapting somebody else’s memoir, right?
Ronald: Sentences was, well, yeah, it was, um, MF Grimm, underground MC, uh, wild story, part of Monsta Island Czars, along with Doom, you know, you may have heard of legendary underground MC, MF Grimm, Percy Carey. Wrote his story and I, I illustrated it.
I illustrated it for, um, for Vertigo and we put out Sentences. So like, I was already at Vertigo though. So like the background, that was the first
Jessica: Just for everybody, for background Vertigo was the quote unquote indie, um, author-owned imprint of DC Comics. So it’s part of
Ronald: All of, those things you said should be in scare quotes, right?
Jessica: Exactly. I said, quote unquote, not.
Ronald: you did I’m just saying like, um, yeah, so, but it was great because, um, it was great because like, yeah, you got some weird, you got some weird things that, that came out of it, you know? So, um, and I had done some like fill ins and some covers and uh, kind of culminating in this graphic novel. And I was always kind of, um, pitching things.
Casey Seijas, the editor on it. You know, I would pitch him different things and I had made like a little, I guess you would call it an ashcan, except this comic never got into Prince of Cats. I had made like a 20 something page comic that was just like a Tybalt-like character getting into a fight.
And I sold that at comic cons and stuff like. And so I made a little something and pitched it, but, um, it didn’t, it didn’t really go anywhere. And then I kind of, I don’t want to use the language- I fucked off to do some other things like.
And at this time it was crazy because the irony is at this time, I, um, I was in Italy as an extra on a Spike Lee movie, which is like a weird, weird part of the story.
Yeah and so, uh, it, it came, um, Casey reached out to me while I was, while I was there. And he’s like, yeah, no, we want to do it. Originally Oni had reached out. And like, Oni was like, oh yeah, we can do it as like a series, but I’m like, man, how much money? You know like, I’m not going to be able to survive to make this. Even then I was, you know, a little bit
Jessica: Needed eat? Did you need to eat? Did you need to rent?
Ronald: Yeah. Yeah. And it was like, well, I felt like the cats at Oni, I was like, I really liked them. And I was a coward at the time. So I got like, I was like, all right, I don’t know what to do. That’s how I got my first agent Bob because like, I was a coward and I didn’t really want to go to the cats at Oni and be like, bruh, I need more money so I’m going with Vertigo because Vertigo reached out. And so like I did.
This must have been 2000. When was? This must have been 2000, the end of 2007.
Jessica: Right around when we met. Yeah.
Ronald: Yeah, but I met Bob through, uh, Cinque Lee, I believe. Cause Cinque Bob was repping Cinque Lee, who’s Spike’s younger brother, and that’s how I ended up out in Italy. That’s the story.
Um, So I, uh, yeah, here. Not even that, like, there was a smaller version that came out, there was this format, Karen Berger, you know, was editor, you know, Vertigo, very grace- graciously, um, put, took a chance on me putting out the book. The book was great.
I got to say, I wasn’t very excited with how well it was promoted. Um, it w, it like sold out, like within like a year. I don’t, I can’t. It sold out so fast. I don’t even, it’s hard to remember it properly because it was ridiculous, and we didn’t get another, we didn’t do another printing of it.
Uh, so it
Jessica: They sat on the rights for a really long time, didn’t they?
Ronald: Yeah. I mean, I sat on, I think they just like, it was in there and like, I don’t think they were paying much attention to it. So when I, uh, when I reached out to them and also, you know, credit to Bob, kind of like staying on them, they just released them back to me. And then, I don’t know, I was kinda doing some comics. Doing comics here and there. Most of my career, I feel like it, I had supplemented it with other types of work, um, design, design work, illustration centered design work.
Yo, the way Prince of Cats got made is also a crazy story because I was working on Black Dynamite when I was wrapping that book up. It was just, it was crazy.
Jessica: Wait, when you, when you brought it to Image, you mean, or when you first did it?
Ronald: When I first did it. I completed that book on the road. Yeah. Anyway, so, um, a year passes, another year passes. I think like four years past. I had been kind of knocking on the door at Image and like through the help of like a bunch of friends, Kelly, Sue DeConnick was like the last person I think to try to like, get me published by Image.
And so I announced, I announced two books that I have not done. And then like, um, at one point Eric was like, oh, we should put out Prince of Cats again. This must have been 2016, I think. Put it out. Did great. I think we’re on our third or fourth printing now. I don’t remember.
Somewhere between the, I think the second and third printing, um, does Zucker Productions, you know, Janet and Katie particularly, reached out to me about shopping it around. Um, they shopped it around, like in a year, within a year, like Legendary optioned it, and that was maybe like two years ago. Maybe two, maybe three years now, I don’t know. and then about last year, right before COVID, I turned in the us- an adaptation that I did with Spike. And then
Jessica: So Spike Lee is involved in this. He’s going to be, he’s co-writing with you and directing or what’s?
Ronald: We did. Yeah. We did a draft. I mean, look, part of it’s not my story to tell, so I’m not going to tell it, but like we’re still in development and, um, Spike and I co-wrote a draft and that’s the last I’ll say.
Jessica: Whoa, open loops.
Ronald: Yeah, that’s the last I’ll say. Yeah, you’re not going to get scoop here. Yes. Stuff is happening. Yeah. Stuff definitely happening.
Jessica: Yeah. You need to update your, get them to update your IMDB, man. It’s not even in there.
Ronald: I mean, I’m doing the work. I’ll get around to it. You know, when I’ll update my IMDB? when I need a job. As long as like, as, as long as I’m working, I really don’t care what the general public sees of my life, to keep it one hundred with you.
Jessica: Yeah, no, I think that’s, I mean, I’m sure that’s true. And like that gets back to the early thing I was talking about. It was just not, you know, there’s a lot of opacity in your various public presences that make it, um, sometimes hard to pin down, you know, to figure out like where to get in touch with you or whatever, obviously, intentionally.
But I think it’s interesting that you have like four Tumblrs. I know they’re old. You know, you haven’t been a while, but it’s not like you’re private in that sense.
Ronald: No I mean, but it’s like us having a, like a radio station or something, you know what I mean? That’s what it was. It was like really fun. I miss Tumblr man, like Tumblr was the best. What are you going to do?
But yeah, I had a bunch because it’s like, it was fun. I go on there, Tumblr reminded me a little bit of the sort of blogs that were out there kind of before the internet had been enclosed, as much as it had been. Um, so it was like, you know, you could, you could go on there and see, someone’s weird, vapor wave blog, like posting all of these old animes, you know what I mean?
One person’s, you know, like, this is why I went, this is why it kind of got disbanded. It was like, someone’s doing their little like amateur porn, like someone’s doing like, you know, furries or whatever, you know what I mean? Like everything was on there and it was, or someone’s like going really deep on like these Images. Like it was, it was doing like what a lot of, you know, like a Flickr or some other things were trying to do, but they, it was like a little bit too, you know, it wasn’t flowing as well.
And it was just like, man, it was great. So like, that’s why I did it. And no one knew, I don’t know how many people knew. The thing about, yeah, so the most hits I ever got on my Tumblrs or like my highest thing is just when I posted a bunch of pictures from an Indigenous Olympics. They’re not there for me or my drawings or nothing.
This post is hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people have shared this post. It has nothing to do with my art or nothing. You know what I mean? Like, so that’s what I liked about Tumblr. In a way, yeah, it’s not necessarily obfuscating like me or who I am, but in a weird sort of way, people can get an idea of like me in a, In a more intimate way than like, if it’s like a press release or like, a list of the things that
Jessica: Oh, for sure. Yeah. No, no. I mean, it’s, it’s not curated in the way, your own sort of presented social media is where you’re creating images and writing captions and doing, you know, that’s a curated view of some sense. It’s a different kind of, like it’s you curating other things, and then we get by osmosis a sense of what your interests are you know, where your paths of research are taking you and all those things. So I think, yeah. I mean, there’s a- I never got the hang of it. I got to say, but like, I look at your Tumblrs and I think,
Ronald: You didn’t have enough time.
Jessica: No, I don’t have enough free time. It’s true. But, um, but look at your Tumblrs and I’m, I can sort of see, you can see a thought process and that’s true with the best ones. I think that you can see, you know, where people are going with stuff.
Ronald: it’s a story. Like one of them, the GratNin one, I love it because it’s like, okay well, even the Prince of Cats one it’s like, okay, well here’s what Prince of Cats is. Like, actually, here’s another, here’s another way of reading Prince of Cats. Like just, um, you know, like a mood board that you could create. sometimes those things are a better, it’s like a tasting menu, you know what I mean?
Jessica: Back the end notes in the comics, right? It’s like all the things want people to know, the context. Want context. You want people to know all the, all the parts that go into it.
Ronald: It’s a feeling, you know, like it’s a vibe, you know? Yeah. But also yeah. You know, but
Jessica: It’s a feeling and a vibe, but it’s also exists in a context and in a world of, like I was reading the latest LAAB and you have this thing about the Chitlin’ Circuit and sort of how there’s a black comics equivalent of that in some sense. And then you look at the way, and you also talked about the influences of Chinese and Japanese pop culture on you growing up in a different article.
And all of these things, when I read them, I go, oh. All of a sudden, I get a whole new layer on looking at Prince of Cats, looking at GratNin, you know, there’s all these different things that I now understand in them because I’m under- I’m seeing all that content.
Ronald: Yeah. I mean, in that way, yeah, LAAB is for, LAAB is for someone, I think like you. I guess in comics. It’s crazy. I think comics must be of all of sort of pop culture mediums, the medium with the most people participating in making it, while also like consuming it. You know what I mean? Probably, That’s what makes comics the way it is.
And like LAAB is definitely, you know, some of lab is for people who are just like, oh, I just want to read these comics in here, or like read these articles. But a lot of LAAB is also just like, I don’t, I’m not even going to slow down and wait for people who aren’t making comics or trying to make comics or reading these book, um, because my approach, fuck around, my approach to culture even like, say it could go back to code switching.
It’s like, you know, when I was a kid going from like, uh, one space to another, like nobody slowed down and like kinda let me know what the references were. Really, it’s just like, I had to be curious and figure the things out, like try to remember this name, like try to, you know.
And then like, and to me, I think, because like how I’ve kind of found value in information in that way, like I’m sort of a, LAAB is sort of a, um, recapitulation might be the word. Like a re- you know, like it’s a reconstructing, what that process. Yeah.
Jessica: In one, at least in one, one thread. At least like for example, the one about, um, Japanese and Chinese culture, pop culture influences. You go, and you try to pull all of these different things that were showing up in your life and how you encountered them and how they influenced your work, but also how you saw it influencing other things around and how they influence each other. And it you’re retracing, not everything that influenced you, but one thread of influence through that.
Ronald: Well kind of like when we were talking before about the Marvel stuff, like, okay, well what creates that Marvel movie? You know, like why does it look like a Raytheon commercial? Well, it’s like, because it’s, you know, it’s in a world where, you know, that, where that exists as well. Right? Like those people who live in this world in this economy produce that because it’s like, okay. Yeah. They, you know, they’re literally just re- reproducing sort of the world that they live in.
And so what I wanted to do with that particular article is kind of like dig into like, well, why am I as a, you know, like, what does it mean historically, to be influenced by these, these other cultures or like this soft power? And like, what does it mean to have these objects come into your space from someplace else where you may or may not have the context, even, you know what I mean?
Like, and what does it mean for you to try to like maybe strategically escape your identity or like how these, these like, materials influence your identity or sometimes like false friends, you know what I mean, within your identity, in your culture? Like, what does that mean? You know like, so that’s why I wanted to explore that.
And I kinda just wanted to make it a little bit more complex than just like- I wanted to make, I wanted to yeah, trace the material, the history of things and maybe you can get a notion of like, wow, okay. This is why, this is why Ronald thinks, this is his sort of perspective on why he ends up producing the things that he has, the way he has. And like that is information, that information, like the process of sort of, um, what’s the word they use, like when they, for- forensics, right?
That forensic process is something that I want people to kinda like, you know, like that’s something that you can do too. Right? Like that’s me, you know what I mean? Like, I think it’s worthwhile. I mean, imagine applying those forensics to like the Marvel movie, you know, like might
Jessica: For sure. Well, I mean, it’s the stuff of PhD thesis.
Ronald: Yeah. But like, it could be plainly, you know, you, can you compete game it as
Jessica: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, no, I mean, I think that’s the thing. You’re, you live the life, which is like, look, you don’t have to do this as a PhD thesis. This be part of your everyday engagement with the world.
Ronald: But it helps to have time, right?
Jessica: Yeah. It does help to have time. Yes.
Ronald: Research. Research.
Jessica: Okay. Well that actually leads us to, we do have a couple of questions and there is question that’s related to this, um, that let’s see. When you create a book like Prince of Cats, how many times do you, or in your, uh, understanding other creators intend for it to be read?
Ronald: Like how many times?
Jessica: Like, I don’t mean, I don’t think it means literally how many times, but you know, there are certain comics that I’ve made where I expect people to read it basically once. They don’t need, you know, when somebody reads Life Sucks, they are welcome to read it as many times as they want, but there’s not a ton of subtext in there.
There’s some. There’s a little bit, but it doesn’t require multiple readings. Whereas when you’re reading something like Out on the Wire, I’m expecting people are going to want to read it, study it, go back to it, use it multiple times. I think that’s kind of what this is about. And I think, again, if you look at the kind of things we’re talking about, where you have so much context embedded into works, and, but you also just want people to be able to kind of vibe on it.
Like w what is your feeling? What is your sort of, I mean, I’m, I don’t know if this is what, the person was asking exactly, but like, what do you sort of, if you imagine, what would the ideal way of engaging with this as somebody who has never read your work before, what would that be like?
Ronald: I mean, the simple answer is I have no expectations or I never even think about it. Like, I’m a slow reader, so I want to try to like, guess what I think from my own sort of approach to materials. I’m a slow reader and a deliberate reader. So I probably, I imagine that if I subconsciously think or have an answer for that it would be like, I just probably expect people to slowly go over it.
But like I really, I don’t, I don’t think about it at all. I don’t, I really don’t, you know, sometimes and like the way you, the way you, I think comics are great because the way you can interact with the comic is like. The thing that’s different about a comic from like a movie or a record, or like, I guess Spotify kind of makes music like this a little bit, but not really because you know, music itself is, like your experience of it is like, it requires a sequence, you know, like time. Um, kind of like, just pick it up, flip through it, look through it.
You’re going to see some pictures. Like you might go for it, you might go back, you might spoil something for yourself. You know what I mean? Like, you read it once. Like, ah, I don’t know. I didn’t get that. Then maybe put it on a coffee table or whatever, and like put in a bathroom, then you pick it up again.
Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe from, maybe you buy it and like your interaction with that book is just looking at the spine for the rest of your life. I don’t know.
Jessica: I got a lot of those.
Ronald: Yeah. You know. Yo it’s crazy. I pick them up off the street and then I put them down and then like- what’s nuts is, I’ll like be reading some, I’ll completely learn some new stuff and then I don’t realize I had the primary source in my library. It’s crazy. It happens all the time.
Jessica: Um, so related question, do you ever feel like your references and influences in your books are too obvious? Like you’re laying stuff on thick?
Ronald: I don’t really, I don’t really think about it or care. I’m doing it out of joy, you know. I don’t want to, I don’t want it to be. Yeah. Like if, if it’s like, I don’t want it to be, I don’t want it to be corny, but like, I really can’t help what’s corny. Like if I do something and somebody else thinks it’s corny, it’s corny.
Sometimes I do, like I don’t want to do, um, if, okay, here’s the cheat code. I’m mostly, there’s mostly some, there’s mostly some meaning to it. I’m not doing like, homages. I’m not into homages or like. It’s either I’m doing it because it’s like, I’m literally copying a master or there’s some meaning to it. I’m not like, oh, wouldn’t it be cool if like, this was like that.
It’s like, no, I don’t, I don’t think mixing X with X to create whatever. Me personally, I’m doing, there’s a meaning to it. You know what I mean? Like it’s, it’s like if you making uh, um you making a sauce or something, and it’s like, oh, I’m gonna use a little bit of this. I’m gonna use a little bit of this coriander, like I’m gonna use this nutmeg or whatever.
It’s like, well, you’re not just throwing it in because it’s like, yo coriander, nutmeg. Nobody’s done that before. Boom. You know, like, you’re like, okay. No, these things mean something new together. Right? Like they create a new experience. And it could be sensual, but usually for me, it’s like, it has some sort of a narrative, meaning like the cover.
So for instance, like the cover of Prince of Cats were just like super obvious. If you’re familiar with it, I don’t think you need to know about it, but like it is referring to several different things that are like part of the DNA of Prince of Cats. Like in a way, what I want from people to, you know, like once they look at, like, if you, if you’re familiar with that, it’s a sample.
You know what I mean? Like it’s a sample it’s like, if you, um,
Jessica: Give us the list. What is it referring to?
Ronald: Tadanori Yokoo’s um, posters for a Yakuza film. Uh, also it’s referencing the first theatrical poster for, uh, Sword of Doom. So, you know, one is a Yakuza a reference. The other one is a reference to a film about a guy who like is looking for, or his path to enlightenment, or his path to knowing is through violence and mastery of violence.
And then there’s like the, the bridge is a motif, is calling back to the Tadanori Yokoo too, um, so that’s it. And all of them have their, all of them are holding like their sort of like, their things that are speaking to their, their approach to knowledge,
Jessica: Yeah. I mean, that’s, I think that answers both those questions. It’s both. You can just look at it. It’s a cool cover. It looks great. It’s attractive. I want to pick up the book. That’s what covers are for and it bears the weight of repeated readings, cultural deep dives, spending time with it, coming back to it. Both of those things at the same time. Which I think is what you do so well.
Ronald: It’s a block, you know, it’s, I’m going to say this and maybe this is awful. Maybe this is going to diminish ability to
Jessica: Close your, close your ears.
Ronald: But like, thinking about the context, one of the things that I care about or that I think about, and one of the things I got from school, like this teacher I had at Pratt was, he always was like you’re doing this thing, but you’re part of like a, a continuum. You’re part of a lineage, right. And people have been doing what you’re doing. And like, you’re going to do things, people are gonna, it’s going to keep moving.
And that’s how I think about sometimes this particular type of work. I think about sampling. Like I think about the blues, I think about jazz. So it’s like, Doom has this one song. Is it, is it fake fried friends or something? Something like that.
And he’s got like, he’s got like, he’s got two samples. One of them is " Friends How Many of us Have Them" by- Jesus Christ, I’m getting old because my memory, like this is an obvious, this is an obvious track. And the other one is, I think it’s "Lovers and Strangers." Anyway, don’t hold me accountable cause I can’t remember.
And one of the guys just died last year, one of the, from the first record. But it’s like, if you know those records one, there’s like a, there’s a vibe that you get from like having experienced those records in another space and it adds like a spacial Quality to the music and also like a meta context.
And it goes down to the language, you know what I mean? So too, as well. And I think that’s part of a tradition that I find myself in just accidentally, but also deliberately. Like in the end, it’s like, I want to go back and I want to do, I want to do that type of stuff- I always think about Sonny Rollins and like, Mack, the Knife. I think about kind of taking one thing, flipping it, sampling it, and like, what does it, what does it mean, you know, like for me?
Because how I experienced it is like, wow, okay. 20, what? Not even 20, like 1998, 99, or whatever. Like whenever I first listened to that Sonny Rollins record and then like many, many years later, I’m like, oh, the, you know, The Threepenny Opera and I’m like, oh, well, it’s connected to this type of theater. Oh, and these songs are, you know, it’s like, holy shit.
It changes, you know, like your mind explodes. And gives just a lot of meaning and context to it. And also it’s just a bop. You can throw it on. It’s nice. But it’s also about a guy who’s like a, you know, a murderer, you know, and a play that has a relationship to the greatest tragedies of the 20th century, you know, like it’s just, you know, anyway.
Jessica: So pure enjoyment. Same time.
Ronald: Whodini!? Thank you, It was Whodini. Um, and, uh, um, is it, is it strangers something it’s strangers? I can’t remember the name of that record either, but anyway.
Jessica: So I’ve got one last question for you, and then we’re gonna wrap it up. Um, so do you see yourself as a comic book, artist and creator first, and everything else as a bonus or vice versa or is it all equal, or is there some other way?
Ronald: Wait a minute. Uh, I’m not the, I’m not the first person to think of like sampling and writing or, or even that sort of thing too. I think, like people been doing weird stuff like that. Gertrude Stein, like people doing lots of weird stuff, like taking visual motifs or practices and putting them
Jessica: You’re part of tradition and carrying it on and other people are going follow you. Right?
Ronald: Yeah, yeah,
Ronald: Um, there’s this, this book right here. Uh, Luis Camnitzer. I don’t even think, like I read just a little bit of this book, but I listened to, um, I th I listened to, uh, uh, the interview with him on e-flux and he was talking about he’s a printmaker at one point, and then he stopped being a, um, well, he started to get into other things and he’s kind of had that epiphany about like, okay, he’s an artist who works in different mediums. That’s like how I would answer that question.
I’m an artist who works in, like, I’m an artist And Iike I don’t want to say I’m like a, like, I always, whenever I, whenever I’m about to say something that I think is really conceited, I just see a picture of Napoleon putting the crown on himself.
Right. Right. Every time, like it never, it never fails. I think it’s like, David, or, um, like he’s like, he’s like. But I think like, uh, I think of myself as like an artist and a philosopher first, who has different mediums of working. Uh, working out things, asking myself questions with whatever medium. I don’t, you know like, I don’t really think of myself as a- cartoonist works when I put it out there. It’s like, that’s something that I do.
Jessica: Yeah, I hear ya.
Ronald: I’ve done it a lot.
Jessica: Yeah. So last question is not a question. It’s is a statement. My friend Frank who’s here live and is helping us out with sample information. He says he has a Milk & Cheese board game and do we want to come over and play?
Ronald: Where though?
Jessica: Here in Philly. Come visit me.
Ronald: Possibly, but I gotta say this and a lot of people not going to want to hear this, but like board games have like a, uh, a double entendre.
Jessica: Did open can of worms? I don’t.
Ronald: No, just saying like board games. It’s like, I’m always bored when I’m playing them. Do not, I’m not into board- I got almost got, I don’t think I got it. I almost got that, um, that, that board game that, uh, Guy Debord did, like, it’s like some sort of weird game of chess. And I was like, I’m not going to, why am I gonna spend all this money on this? I’m never gonna play it. No, you know.
Jessica: Yeah. Hear ya. Still come and visit. Okay.
Ronald: Yes, please. I- I’ll, you know, I got a driver’s license now. I’m trying to get a, yeah. I’m trying to get like a, um, bike license, rumbled, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, Philly’s not too far for a bike ride.
Jessica: No, it’s close. Just a few hours
Ronald: Easy to park too. Yeah.
Jessica: Yes, it is. And, uh, yeah. Thanks everybody for being here. I’m really, it was such, so much fun to have an excuse to hang out with you, Ron. Ronald, sorry, Ronald.
Ronald: You can call me Ron. Y’all can’t call me Ron though.
Jessica: Yeah, you guys don’t Ron.
Jessica: Ronald Wimberly. It’s been a pleasure.
Ronald: No, it’s always, always a pleasure. Next time tête-à-tête.
Jessica: Yeah, time, next time in person.
Ronald: Yes. All right.
Jessica: All right. See you bye-bye.
Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.
Our show is produced by Matt Madden. Our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden. And I’m your host, Jessica Abel.
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