N. Steven Harris is an artist of incredible talent, vision and a professional who has managed to carve out a career in the comic industry for over two decades, working on titles such as Aztek: The Ultimate Man for DC Comics, Generation X for Marvel Comics, and Voltron for Dynamite Entertainment just to name a few. His “whose who” list of work associates run the gamut of creators from Mark Millar to Grant Morrison just to name two. For anyone to last this long in the game requires skills and an ability that any lesser talent would openly boast about, but Mr. Harris is more of the “carries a big stick” type, allowing his track record and body of work to do the talking for him. That is why it is such a privilege that Mr. Harris, coming off the recent work on the well received Watson and Holmes #6 (New Paradigm Studios) took time out of a busy schedule to share about his career, inspirations and advice for aspiring creators. Pay close attention true believers, as class is in session and this is wisdom from an industry master.
MT: With a career spanning over 20 years in the industry (from helping to create Aztek: The Ultimate Man to working for the big two and contributing to Warren Publications and Dark Horse) you’ve seen many changes take place. Within the last five, what would you say are the most significant and poignant? How much has diversity both on the page and behind the scenes changed? What can fans do to help foster more inclusive quality content?
NSH: What?! You must be trying to get me disappeared with those questions. (J/K) First off, the Warren Publications credit is not true. I never heard of Warren Publication until I saw I was credited with working on their covers back in the early 2000’s or 90’s. Now, about the industry. I see many efforts where creators are taking things into their own hands rather than wait on the major companies. People are collaborating, self publishing, making connections and addressing a desire that most comic companies have problems addressing or just do it half ass and say “look… we tried but no one brought it”. Behind the scenes, or in the offices, the diversity at some of these companies is atrocious. Based on the numbers my colleague Brandon Easton posted on social media sometime last year and based on my experience, its true, but creators are finding a way through print on demand, social media, smaller, or local conventions.
It’s within our hands as creators and people of color specifically, and Black people, to put it bluntly. A great example is my partner Robert Garrett, owner of XMoor Studios, whom I met in 2005 or 06. He is constantly on the hustle meeting people from game industry folks, to toys, to film people. Now, he has no industry credits, but creates great stories and hires artists from around the world to produce his properties. He is creating his own credits and film people have been responding. Brandon Easton is another mad hustler. I remember meeting him at ECBACC (East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention) and talking with him about seeing his post on Blacksuperhero.com message boards. He took a risk as writer and moved to California to make his way a writer and he’s doing it. There are others: Brandon Thomas creator of Miranda Mercury and writer of Voltron and Voltron: Year One, Ashley Woods (creator of Millennium War), Alitha Martinez (Yume and Ever), Jerome Walford (Nowhere Man), Chuck Collins (Dread Society X), Grey Williamson (Val-Mar Prince of the Damned), Brandon Perlow of New Paradigm Studios and so many more.
Now, what can fans do? They need to fund the change they say they want and not just be comfortable critiquing what is out there now. They need to BUY IT!! I think my friend Joe Illidge said that on Facebook or on an interview. Go to smaller conventions, meet the creators. Stop by their tables, look at their work and talk to them. Somewhere there will be a book that speaks to you. There is ECBACC in Philadelphia, Bronx Heroes Con in The Bronx NY, Black Comic Day at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, Kids Con in The Bronx, MOCCA in Manhattan, Onyx Con in Atlanta, MECCA Con in Detroit, Motor City Comic Con also in Detroit. Of course, the one that started it all was the Da Black Age in Chicago, started by Turtel Onli. Most of the these cons are Black oriented, except for MOCCA, Bronx Heroes and Kids Con, but they all speak to something that has been missing in American comics. The diverse reality that is part of the American experience, good, bad, indifferent, and a lot of times, downright ugly and beautiful. By the way, Black oriented doesn’t mean Black only. There needs to be an integration for real and exchange. Too many people are comfortable saying “I don’t understand it”. We can understand Asian martial arts movies and Japanese animation, subtitled or dubbed. Some of it is culturally unapologetic and some of it caters to a Western aesthetic. Either way we watch it and know how to pronounce their names.
MT: Artistically who are some of your inspirations/influences?
NSH: Primary has been Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, Barry Windsor-Smith, Rick Leonardi, Denys Cowan, Larry Stroman, Michael Davis, Gil Ashby, Art Adams, Michael Golden, John Romita Jr., Grey Williamson, Al Johnson (advertising storyboard artist). To a lesser degree, maybe Kevin Nowlan and Walter Simonson. Also I loved looking at Cam Kennedy’s work on an Epic limited series called Light and Darkness Wars and his work on Dark Horse’s Star Wars Dark Empire. I really enjoy looking at Jason Pearson’s work and Olivier Copiel, as well as Leinil Yu. I know I am missing too many and I ask forgiveness.
MT: In terms of your work, is there one genre that enjoy working in more than others?
NSH: A space opera, which I have plotted, involving cyborgs and spaceships, and I also have a story just in the synopsis stage involving giant robots. Maybe something with martial arts. It’s never just one favorite with me. I will say this, however, whatever or whichever genre it is, it will be from something that I have created or co-created.
MT: Your recent work on New Paradigm Studios Watson and Holmes #6 knocked it out of the park. What should fans keep an eye out for next from you?
NSH: Well there is a project that I cannot talk about, another project involving MMA fighters, and hopefully some new Ajala and Brotherhood of the Fringe books for 2014. And thank you for the compliment.
MT: Any dream projects that you would like to see come to life?
NSH: I would like to complete my self-published, creator owned title, Brotherhood of the Fringe, and Ajala: A Series of Adventures which Robert Garrett and I created. Both of these titles are out now, that we sell at conventions and online. I really want to get to that space opera I mentioned earlier with Cyborgs and spaceships with African names; like the Nuba Cruiser, The Destroyer Shaka, The Mansa Musa, The Ankhenaton. Stuff like that. If I am not going to be out on the street making a difference, maybe I can do it from my table. Martin Luther King said be revolutionary at what you do and Malcolm X said, by any means necessary. So if I can speak to a need using my talent and vision then that is helping to do my part. I also teach when asked. I need to get out in the street sometimes.
MT: Any advice for artist looking to break into the industry? Any advice (for artist) on how best to work with writers? How can new comers make the biggest impression on a market that is often left skeptical and uninspired by independent comic work?
NSH: Create your own path, try doing your own story, go to conventions, talk to artists, editors, develop contacts, don’t get caught up in social media BS, you never know who is watching. Always conduct yourself professionally. If you say you will have it done by a certain time do it. And if not, be accountable. Never flake out or disappear. Familiarize yourself with creative rights and pricing. Be careful of the term “in perpetuity” in contracts. That means forever. Use social media for good, as in promoting yourself, posting useful information, etc. This line of work is a marathon. Do not expect success in a week, a few months or a year. One has to be consistent and that is made easier with today’s technology because you can reach your audience directly and not depend on a comic book company to publish you. This is what I mean by make your own way. The only way one gets through this is through love of art and love of the medium. One never knows when that break, or opportunity will happen. It can’t be schedule and it’s not guaranteed, and it’s certainly not owed. We also have to be thick skinned. Not everybody is going to like your work. This medium is consumed by the public, therefore our work is in the public eye and open for scrutiny. Be confident in your ability and be open and ready for opposing opinions and bad reviews. We have to accept the bad with the good. Being open to critiques can prepare you for those opposing opinions. We are better for it. It keeps me from being lazy. The last thing I want is for someone to say something bad and have a good point rather than just their point of view.
NSH: A better question for me would have been Godzilla or Gamera, since I barely can remember Sinbad or Jason. I might get the 2 movies confused. Did one of those movies have a brother in it that was killed in a icy region while fighting a stop motion creature? Because I remember one those movies with a brother with a turban, baggy pants and those turned up slippers, and as a pre-teen or younger seeing that captivated me and hurt me to see him killed. I was like, ‘Wow! We existed in that time period?’ Now, of course I know better.