Exclusive: Ronald Wimberly Takes on Gentrification, Slavery in Two New Image Comics Titles

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Exclusive: Ronald Wimberly Takes on Gentrification, Slavery in Two New Image Comics Titles

Today marks the first of many big days for comic fans. While SDCC is just around the corner, Image Comics isn’t waiting around to deliver big news. The company is hosting its own expo in San Francisco today, which features panels from Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, as well as Saga and We Stand on Guard creator Brian K. Vaughan. But one of its most exciting announcements welcomes a new voice under its publishing umbrella: Prince of Cats creator and Black Dynamite artist Ron Wimberly will join Image for two new titles. Teased today are Sunset Park, a vampire story that takes on gentrification within Brooklyn, as well as Slave Punk: White Coal, a story about a brilliant inventor named Malachai who sparks the end of slavery.

We’ve included the original solicitation as well as emailed with Ronald to find out more about these timely and bold new projects.

SUNSET PARK: Something’s up in Sunset Park, and it ain’t just the rent. Are Brooklyn’s gentrifiers more than just economic vampires? A cartoonist draws a macabre story from a collection of notes, journals, movies and other ephemera he finds boxed, abandoned in the studio he’s recently rented along the latest frontline in gentrification’s relentless march over Brooklyn in SUNSET PARK.

Among the boxed items are what could be a copy of an old Warhol vampire film and what looks to be a journal belonging to Jean Michel Basquiat. SUNSET PARK is an all-new, limited series by Ron Wimberly coming from Image Comics.

SLAVE PUNK: Ron Wimberly teased a second forthcoming project with Image Comics, SLAVE PUNK: WHITE COAL. SLAVE PUNK tells the story of how a genius slave defied the powerful King Cotton and ignited the Civil War in an attempt to end slavery.

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Paste: Let’s discuss Sunset Park. It’s a story that’s pieced together from different pieces of media—film, journals, notes. Why use a mixed-media approach to explore gentrification in New York? When considering macabre, creepy stories, what does this abandoned document approach add that a straight narrative could not? ?
Wimberly: “Mixed media” may give the wrong impression. In Prince of Cats, I applied the formalist constraints of poetry to comics. In Sunset Park I’m applying the formalist constraints found in epistolary gothic novels (such as Dracula) to comics.

I hadn’t thought of what this would add to the macabre or creepy aspect of the story. I was more interested in finding a way to work within the structure of the works that came before. 

That said, now that I think about it, the epistolary format is like several people, holding candles, sitting together in a dark dark room; each lights their candles in sequence; occasionally, independently their candles may go out—Oh! And did I mention there’s a vampire in there too?

As for gentrification…I’m just writing about what’s in my life right now. And the funny thing about gentrification, it’s something that we witness and compare stories about, but I’ve found few people who have even attempted to have a top down, Van Helsing view of the monster that is gentrification. Most people recognize the symptoms, but they don’t know the history of the monster.

Paste: It’s easy to see the connection between gentrifiers and actual vampires in a community, but what experiences did you have directly that solidified Sunset Park’s story??
Wimberly: I lived in N.Y. for 18 years, B! I’ve seen them turn CBGBs into a clothing store. I’ve seen them turn red-lined neighborhoods into “prime real estate”. If you live in a city in the US, you can’t miss it.

Paste: Aesthetically, what can fans expect from Sunset Park? Judging by the small teaser we have, is it safe to assume that it’s mostly a horror story?
Wimberly: Fans will have to wait and see. I won’t box the story like that.
But genre…genre fascinates me because of the rules. It’s a small box of crayons you can use to make complex work. Can you recreate Saturn Devouring His Son with a 10 piece box of crayolas? 

Paste: Sunset Park is set to tell a story as interpreted by one cartoonist, as opposed to a larger cast. Does alienation, especially in a changing community, play a large role? ?
Wimberly: Yes. I also like to think about the role lens plays in literature.

Paste: For those not familiar with Brooklyn, why focus on the Sunset Park area??
Wimberly: That was a bit of poetry. I first started this story when I lived in Bushwick. It was in Bushwick, but Bushwick is over (gentrifying); Sunset Park is happening now. I have several friends out there and I’ll be creating this book in a studio out there. 

....And vampires come out at Sunset.?

Paste: This book has been teased as a limited series, but do you have a definite issue count in mind? ?
Wimberly: If I told you it wouldn’t be teasing, now would it?

Paste: What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever found in an apartment/studio rental??
Wimberly: The strangest thing I’ve ever found in my apartment would be something I brought in the night before, but that’s another story.

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Paste: Can you tell me more about Slave Punk? Where is it in development? ?
Wimberly: Slave Punk is big. Slave Punk is a genre; “White Coal” is the first work in that genre. I’m still researching right now.

Paste: Who is the protagonist, and what defines him or her visually as well as a character? 
Wimberly: It is the mid 19th century. The protagonist is Malachi; he’s an engineer. He works with his father. Together they are the greatest inventors in Southland. He is also a slave. 

Paste: You’ve written about the commodification of different races and cultures. Was the comic Slave Punk born out of ideas that you recently raised on your Tumblr Will the punk aesthetic play into its visuals?
Wimberly: We live in a system where everything is a commodity. The “punk aesthetic”? Is there one?

Paste: King Cotton was used as a slogan in the south during the Civil War, but can we expect a physical manifestation in villain form? ?
Wimberly: This is a complex question that I will answer with the work.

Paste: What aspects of this time period do you feel are mandatory to bring to a comic-reading audience in 2015? ?
Wimberly: The aspects that define this genre are American history and the elements that fuel the American engine (the transatlantic trade triangle; the commodities thereof; western expansion etc.). These things still inform our lives today and I am building a myth that reflects that. 

Paste: When can we expect issue #1??
Wimberly: I’ve a ways to go. It’ll be well after Sunset Park is finished. Sometime in late 2016, earliest.