Howard Russell: The Art of Persistence

Howard RussellSo, at the time of writing this it’s 90 degrees outside, which in the tightly packed concrete oven of NYC, means it feels like I’m baking ever so slowly. As I’m drawing, and quite possibly falling into a heat coma, my phone chimes, cutting through the sound of Clear Soul Forces playing in the background. Howard Russell has just hit my inbox, the first artist I’ve approached as I try to get back on the blogging wagon. Allow me to introduce.

Growing up in Wilmington, Delaware, Howard attributes his biggest influences to Saturday morning cartoons, Disney, and animation legends like Hanna Barbera and Chuck Jones, as well as comic book artists Khary Randolph, Jack Kirby, Mike Manley, and character designer/producer, Bruce Timm. The evidence is there in every drawing, but Howard manages to take those influences and create a style all his own; one that is unique to him and is instantly recognizable. It wasn’t until his 11th grade year in high school that he realized cartoon and comic book art was something he wanted to do as a career.

“A friend of mine and I would often crack jokes during class about a character who always got into bad situations, and at one point I started to draw single panel images of the jokes that we thought were just hilarious,” he says. “Around 2004, I took a comic and cartoon class at a local art college in Wilmington, Delaware and met a fantastic comic/cartoon artist named Mike Manley. Being in that class opened my eyes a bit more and really solidified what it was that I wanted to do.”

Fast forward to present day, and Howard is actively pursuing the life of an artist, holding down two jobs, and freelancing on the side. ItThriller Tribute hasn’t been an easy or simple journey by any means, proving that the rewards and frustrations are just opposing sides of the same coin. Two things that Howard has plenty of, however – things that are arguably some of the most important skills that artists in any discipline will eventually need to develop – is persistence, and a thick skin. And in order to do that, you have to go through the fire.

“The hardest thing to deal with as an artist is, one, reflecting on your work knowing that you need to improve and keep working harder,” Howard says. “The second: rejection notices. I’ve been rejected nine times and every one of them were disappointing. That said, they were also motivation to keep pushing myself to work even harder.”

Howard continues to do just that, having worked with Philly Hip-Hop artist, Hezekiah, and producer Tone Whitfield who together make up the duo, Johnny Popcorn. Starting out as a fake name that Hezekiah and Tone would use at open mics, Johnny Popcorn was truly born when the two decided to use it as an alter-ego, allowing Hezekiah to return to his funk/soul roots, and serving as a side departure from his normal Hip-Hop projects. Howard is the mastermind behind the look of Johnny Popcorn, providing everything from character designs to album artwork, comic strips, and promotional material.

Johnny Popcorn“Hezekiah and I go way back. And I mean waaay back, since high school when he lived in Delaware. We both would draw in class, on the bus, wherever,” Howard says. “But with his deeper passion for music, and mine for comic art, eventually he went into his direction and moved to Philly, and I went into mine. Years rolled by, and it wasn’t until four or so years ago that I ran into him on Facebook. He was working on the early stages of Johnny Popcorn, knew of my artistic skill, and asked if I was interested in creating the look for the band. I couldn’t say no, and the rest is history.”

Because the band had such a different vibe from Hezekiah’s solo Hip-Hop projects, Howard needed to capture the feeling of that soul/funk sound, while maintaining the combination of personalities that made up Johnny Popcorn.

“I personally love the vibe that Johnny Popcorn brings to the table, and have much respect for the risk and daringness that Hez and Tone took in going in that direction with the music. Personally, I think there just needs to be more of it,” Howard says. “That said, I didn’t want to create some hip-hop looking characters since that wouldn’t fit the mold of what Johnny Popcorn was about. I had to create something that fit that rock/funk/soul sound, and what came out is what you see now. They certainly developed over time, because the first characters ever drawn up aren’t what you see today. But I’m pretty pleased with the outcome and feel they really portray the vibe of Johnny Popcorn really well.”

Howard went on to produce artwork for more independent artists like Joey Moon, Rocky Montana, and Primo Nellz. He’s been the Vescell Promo Pinupsequential artist behind El Negro Poncho and did pin-up work for Vescell, published through Image Comics. It’s clear that Howard’s persistence, even in the face of some of the most difficult rejection of his life, is taking him in the right direction.

He has a pretty big plate, and no shortage of work and personal obligations filling every square inch. I wondered if there was any room on it for his creator-owned projects, namely a comic he did years ago called Indego Blue, about a soldier living in a bleak future who becomes the victim of a gene splicing experiment at the hands of a corrupt government. Back in 2009, Howard released one issue from the series through Indy Planet, after which the book hit a hiatus.

“Artistically, I just felt that it was flat out horrible,” he says. “I wanted to really improve on my skill and get stronger, before I go and put out another issue, so I stopped.”

Fast-forward a few years later, and it seems like Indego Blue hasn’t left Howard’s mind.

“I’ve been working on the side for a new storyline and gearing up to self publish a rebirth of the series. The comic as a whole is getting chopped up and redone,” he says. He still has a sense of humor about the first issue, laughing about it in hindsight. “I still look back at the first issue and nearly cry as to how bad I feel that visually looked. The cover is probably the only highlight of it,” he says. “Visually, I feel I improved dramatically since then. Getting a better directing sense with character placement, taking time to learn more about anatomy and perspectives, and studying the processes it takes to do a comic page has been vital overall. This will create a much better product for Indego Blue than ever before.”

Indego BlueHoward is constantly working, tweaking, refining, and studying his craft. He’s walking the same road as many artists with his own set of challenges and obstacles to overcome, and a relentless perseverance through it all to become better. If studying the fundamentals are the building blocks of a great artist, then persistence is the other side of that coin – the building block of great character even in the face of harsh rejection, and the struggle to find the balance between personal obligations and your dreams.

“Balancing life in between artwork and my two jobs has its moments of frustration for sure, so I usually just take the battles I can win, which are mostly my days off, “ Howard says on trying to find this exact balance. “Life is so unpredictable, you really just have to have that moment when you are just on your A game and you ride that wave until you drop.”

Couldn’t have said it better.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to try and cool down by eating more ice cream than should be humanly allowed. Make sure you guys check Howard out at the links below.

Until next time!


Howard’s Website:

Howard’s Facebook:


The legal stuff:  All images and characters posted within this article are © Howard Russell and/or their respective owners. This article is © Takeia Dunlop and was written exclusively for

The Hip Hop Speakeasy

hip hop speakeasySo, I recently became a contributing writer over at The Hip Hop Speakeasy, a site dedicated to spreading the word about good Hip-Hop music. You’ll find a lot of music from some really dope artists that I guarantee you haven’t heard of before. The reviews are concise, unbiased, and unabashedly written. If you’re a fan of Hip-Hop, definitely check out their site. I’m happy to be a part of the team.

You can check out my first editorial on competition in Hip-Hop here:



Rhythmic American Poetry

JG The Jugganaut: Rhythmic American Poetry Review

You might remember JG The Jugganaut as the poetic force behind the intro to Yungg Soja’s, I Am Klasik Vol. 1. Setting the tone for that project, JG proved that his chops as a spoken word artist are not something that can be easily ignored. Rhythmic American Poetry is a testament to his lyrical skills as a poet, while giving an undeniable ode to what is perhaps one of his greatest influences: Hip Hop.

Rhythmic American Poetry (RAP) is not a Hip Hop album or a spoken word album, but a combination of both that aims to uncover the poetic roots of rapping through the use of spoken word against a variety of beats. The Hip-Hop influence is evident on J2 The Villain where JG uses a braggadocious, poetic flow against a heavy beat with lines like, “As heroic as I try to be, the Jugganaut is a villain, the prime suspect in a string of open mic killings,” presenting himself as a competitive emcee residing in the body of a spoken word artist. As atypical as combative rhymes may feel when it comes to poetry, it definitely sets the tone for what seems to be one of the running themes throughout the project: JG is a poet who has felt more at home with Hip-Hop than he has in his own lane as a spoken word artist. The skits throughout the album, like You Ain’t Got No Kufi? drives home the point that he is sometimes a displaced artist because he doesn’t follow the trends and stereotypes associated with being a spoken word poet. The inherent dichotomy in trying to be a poet who spits with the competitive soul of a rapper is further pushed in a track called Rhythmic American Poetry, penned after the name of the album:

When I first got hooked on poetry

they reeled me in and studied me

they said I sound too much like rap

they cut down my lines then they tossed me back

now rap, rap heard my words

rap said my flow was crack

but I never rhyme about rims and the trap

and Interscope ain’t found a way to market without that

JG also talks about his insecurities and desires when it comes to relationships on tracks like Marital Issues, where he discusses having marital issues as an unmarried man, Brick Walls, or I Need where he talks about all the qualities he wants in a woman; qualities that are subtly contradictory at times, which only adds to the complexity of the poem. Sperm Donor could be seen as a story of what happens when all that goes wrong, with a child inevitably trapped in the middle, while Black Widow is probably one of the most solid tracks on the album in terms of story-telling and matching the production with JG’s booming voice.

He continues to pay homage to Hip-Hop with 1995, reminiscing on his high school days growing up in Columbus, Ohio, and being influenced by artists like Wu-Tang, Biggie, Raekwon, Nas and Lauryn Hill. It’s another solid track, the production forcing you to reminisce right along with him.

While I won’t dive into every track on the album, I think that the ones that I mentioned are proof of JG’s abilities to craft stories with poetic wordplay. At times the poems can come off as rehearsed as opposed to performed because the emotion behind them doesn’t match the words on display. While the tracks on the album are, on average, the length of any Hip-Hop songs you might hear, the project feels long as a whole when combined with the skits. There’s definitely a theme to RAP, but I think it starts to get lost in the arrangement of the tracks and the length of the album, making it feel less cohesive.

None of that takes away from the fact that it showcases spoken word as something intrinsic and necessary to rap as an art, instead of a distant cousin far removed from it. JG talks about the conflicting nature of being a poet who feels like a rapper, while at the same time proving that the two are one and the same. If you’re a writer, a fan of poetry, or a Hip-Hop head who really listens to lyrics, then I would recommend this for you. Go cop it at the link below.

Until next time.



JG The Jugganaut

JG  The Jugganaut is a spoken word artist from Ohio whose album, Rhythmic American Poetry, was recently nominated for album of the year by the National Poetry Awards. You can vote for him on their website and download the album at the links below.

Rhythmic American Poetry Download:

National Poetry Awards:

JG’s Facebook:


The “Real Hip Hop” Argument

A few nights ago, I woke up to a boy’s yells cutting the air followed by three distinctive pops, crisp and disappearing almost as quickly as they came. The silence that followed was unusual – no voices, no sound of car tires hitting the dip in the pavement as they went by, no people, not even the sound of the breeze that was moving the trees in the distance. It was as if time stopped in that moment – like it was waiting for something.

What came next were the sounds of Nikes, Chucks, Timbs, hitting the pavement, and a jumble of words, “Let’s go!” and “Hurry the fuck up!” intermingled in the rhythm of feet stampeding the sidewalk. The sound of cars coming to life were only outmatched by the thunderous roar that followed as they sped off, leaving the same dank silence that now offered the question of whether or not a body lay at the opposite end of the street.

Last year, I stood at the gate that separated my apartment building’s driveway from that same street, and watched as hundreds of people marched in the direction of the police precinct. They waved picket signs like crosses, chanting the tune of an eighteen year old boy who, just a week earlier on the block behind mine, had been shot and killed in his bathroom by a police officer who chased him into his home. Allegations that the boy had a gun were deemed false.

My friends tell me about being stopped by cops for walking the streets at night, for looking suspicious, for having too much rhythm in their steps, or for driving a car that looks too luxurious to have Kendrick Lamar, Nas or Future ripping through it’s system. Tales of young men being shot because they’re unfamiliar faces in the wrong neighborhood are regularly told  in our circles, around a campfire of speakers, iPhones, and Dre Beats, sparking the lyrics of Hip-Hop’s golden era classics, and those now carrying the flame.

I’ve often wondered if Hip-Hop is to blame.

Many times it has been the martyr for and messiah of every situation that I’ve mentioned, and many more, creating a rift that leaves people debating over what defines “real” Hip-Hop. However people describe it, it’s never exact. Sometimes it’s based on how socially conscious an artist is, or lyrical ability, or even how much boom-bap is found in an instrumental; how much it taps into that 90’s era nostalgia. Whatever the case, the explanation of real Hip-Hop usually comes from someone grasping at pieces of a whole, forming an abstract concept of what that person feels defines it in his own mind, but never something that is a truly satisfiable definition of what it actually means.

The truth: people no longer know exactly what Hip-Hop is, so they define it by what it’s not.

Real Hip-Hop is not radio, it’s not the glorification of money and violence, it’s not pop, it’s not rap, it’s not anything past the early 90’s or lacking that golden era influence, it’s not Soulja Boy, Chief Keef,  Drake, or anything that we didn’t grow up on, and it’s not mainstream.

But in fact, Hip-Hop is all of those things, whether you personally like it or not.

There is no such thing as real Hip-Hop, because it can’t be put into one tangible, rigidly defined category. It’s not any one thing. At it’s core, Hip-Hop will always be a dichotomy because it is a culture; one that is a direct reflection of the people who created it, good and bad.

This yin & yang has always existed. Grand Master Flash dropped “The Message” only a few years after Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Tupac made “Brenda’s Baby” and “I Get Around.” Big L made “Street Struck” and “All Black.” Even Rick Ross rapped on both “Oil Money Gang” and “Poor Decisions.” Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid M.A.A.D City illustrated the effects and inner struggles that exist at both ends of the spectrum. Even he did “HiiiPower” and “Fuckin Problems.”

If the culture of the people is at odds with itself, then you can expect Hip-Hop to be just as unsure of what it should be. It can be revolutionary and powerful, and at the same time be violent and insecure; it can be uplifting and socially conscious, or it can be misogynistic and full of materialism. It can be a variety of things but it can’t be chopped up into pieces that are conveyed as something separate from the whole, no more than we can separate from the dichotomies that make us who we are. That’s why I believe that only penning certain things as “real Hip-Hop” is an illusion based on the ideal of what some people individually desire it to be. Hip-Hop is as real as the culture behind it, because it is a window into the hearts and minds of the people that developed and continue to invest in it’s name.

The protesters who marched down my street echoed the frustrations of a discrimination that would target people like Angela Davis and Assata Shakur  to Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, and countless others that go unreported and unmentioned in your news feed. They are every bit a part of Hip-Hop culture as the boy that would fire shots at another in the name of nothing but his ego; every bit as real to Hip-Hop as young men bragging about how much money and how many bitches they have, or someone like Chief Keef glorifying violence over Twitter. All of these incidents are rooted in the same emptiness that made Hip-Hop necessary in the first place. In fact, it has become a reflection of that emptiness which it attempts to alleviate through all of it’s conscious, humane, violent, and materialistic struggles.

To attach the label “real” onto Hip-Hop, then proceed to ignore the aspects of it that you don’t like, and then to separate it into categories so that anything undesirable is far removed from some idealistic pedestal, is both nostalgic and irresponsible. It ignores the fact that for Hip-Hop to be so dismembered, it means that there is something intrinsically broken in our culture. The misogyny, the violence, the materialism are just as relevant to Hip-Hop as the revolutionaries, the purveyors of the art form, and those who inspire us to uplift ourselves and others through the mic. This dichotomy shows Hip-Hop’s strengths, and exposes the wounds in our culture that have yet to heal; the void and the emptiness that still exists since it’s spark was first ignited in someone’s basement in the Bronx as an answer to the world’s indifference.

If Hip-Hop is flawed, it’s because we are. It doesn’t get any realer than that.



The legal stuff:  This post was written exclusively for by Takeia Dunlop. It may not be redistributed without permission.

Shawna Mills – Creating Violator Union

Shawna MillsThe first time I interviewed Shawna Mills was back in October 2011, where we talked about her work with Titmouse, her feature in Black Comix, and how she used to hate animation, that is before she developed one of the freshest styles this side of moving line work (my words, not hers). This time around, Shawna has created a crowd-funding campaign for her personal comic book creation, something many artistic years in the making: Violator Union.

VU is a tale of four reckless criminals and their dog who fight, murder, and steal, becoming a prime target for the government as they try to find their way to a rumored paradise. I promise you that VU is one of the most eccentric, and truly creative properties you’ll currently have the chance to lay your eyes on. So likewise, the stage for the characters has to be just as crazy. VU can be summed up in one question: What if the power to destroy or change the world was given to irrational criminals?

“I knew I didn’t want good guy protagonists,” Shawna says when I asked her about VU’s tagline. “I didn’t want aliens or magical super mutants. I wanted villains.” The choice to use a group of villains as the main characters in the story may not be entirely unique, but it’s definitely rare and a well thought out choice for the creative direction she is taking with VU.

“The characters sort of come from my own desires and multiple personas,” Shawna goes on to explain. “My mind is not a bad or violent place, but IViolator Union wish to find justice and humanity in places, so I create the world those things can come true in.”

I found it interesting that humanity and justice were Shawna’s choice of words to describe the development of VU’s universe, because at first glance the Violators don’t even sound like they know what those terms mean. But like any well-developed characters, there’s always something under the surface. Shawna admits that underneath it all, the Violators are just “lost souls.”

“Well, I feel that, like you and I, they are works in progress,” Shawna says when I asked her to clarify. “But unlike you and I, they lack empathy and morale. They want to have something that makes them human, but find it difficult realizing it. And like so many lost souls in our real world, they turn to escaping in violent, criminal, and cold ways. They don’t naturally know how to find their way to paradise.”

So, let’s run this down: cold-hearted criminals (check), being chased by the government (check), trying to find paradise (check). Also, super powers (check). Also, they have a dog (double-check). How can you NOT love that idea? You know you do.

But execution is everything, and Shawna is determined to put out a quality product as evidenced by some of the preview pages she has already released through her campaign. Vivid and wild, the pages are everything you would expect from Shawna’s bold and creative style, matching the energy of the animation perfectly. I asked her whether she envisioned the comic book or the animation first, and her answer was simple:

Violator Union Comic Page Sample“I didn’t envision either one coming first. I do what feels great.”

She reflects on old Violator Union pages she created back in the days as she continues, “I looked at them and laughed at how much I’ve grown as an artist and writer,” Shawna says, her excitement showing through despite the humor she finds in her old work. “I want to do it all right now. Everything! The only inconvenience is that I am one person.”

She admits that there has been stress in juggling the creation of Violator Union with her other obligations. “I hide the stress behind sarcasm and a nonchalant smile. If you’ve ever met me and I’m all smiles with half moon eyes, you are in the company of a stressed out Mills,” she says. “But a friend has shown me a bit of a new release. Dance. I dance while at work. And back massages.” At this point I can only imagine she’s sitting on a throne with an evil smile as only the sexiest of men gather at her feet. “I’m really happy about that. Mama needs her back massaged daily.”

While the process has not been without its ups and downs (and apparently dubious amounts of back massages), Shawna is keen on making Violator Union a name to remember. She’s ready to take over, starting with the comic book and perhaps a full animation on the horizon.

“I want this to be my first of many properties. I want merchandise, games, comics, endorsements, cereals and food snacks. I want cameos in music videos and anything I can think of. I have been working hard on creating content and that won’t stop.”

The potential marketability of Violator Union is definitely there, and it’s something that’s not easily forgotten once you see it. But according to Violator UnionShawna, it’s actually some of you guys out there in the artistic community who influenced her decision to finally bring VU to the world.

“I’ve been on VU since my second year of high school. When i started making a move on it being out there, it was more of a thing that was inspired by the online art community,” Shawna says. “Deviant Art. The beautiful and supportive artists there had been watching my illustrations and I grew the characters openly. People became interested, and I started dreaming bigger.”

And now, she’s on her way to really bringing VU to life. The journey has been fruitful in more ways than one. “Two years ago, I wasn’t in this place. Personally, I’ve grown more serious and no-nonsense about everything. I’ve become way more of a woman if I may say so myself. Still much to grow on, but I see my progress. Becoming more confident. I’m proud of myself. I should also mention that I’ve been meeting some really outstanding people and I feel like they are a part of my own growth.”

Shawna is humble, and her potential is boundless. Already receiving recognition from artists like LeSean Thomas (of Boondocks, The Legend of Korra, and Cannon Busters fame), she is well on her way to achieving all the goals she has been striving for. If you guys support any crowd funding campaign in your life, it should be this one. I’m not trying to sound like a PSA or a campaign billboard for a presidential candidate, but I don’t think you need me to ask you to support this KickStarter to see the potential in its creation. The evidence is there for you to check out for yourself. If you can, help spread the word, and make sure you follow Shawna at the links below.

Until next time!



Violator Union Promo




The legal stuff: Violator Union and all respective characters are © Shawna Mills.  This article was written by Takeia Dunlop exclusively for You can link to this article as much as you want, as long as you don’t claim it as your own.

Jean Grae

The Power Of The Acapella

Whenever I talk to people about who is lyrically nice in Hip Hop today my first question is, how would that person sound acapella? I argue that if you strip the beat out from under a lot of artists, all of a sudden they sound like they’re Dr. Seussing their rhymes. The beat carries them, and while lyrics are just one part of what makes an emcee (the other being flow), it’s the element that adds depth to the music. Without it, you get an artist who could possibly have a nice flow, but isn’t saying anything to make you really listen. He’s basically background music. At it’s core, rapping is a poetic art form and the best of emcees use poetic device, so that even if you don’t like an artist’s style of rapping, you can’t argue that she understands the science behind putting words together in a compelling way. So that being said, here are some artists that I think most  reflect that concept when spitting acapella:

If there are any artists that you listen to that you think deserve to make this list, feel free to drop a link in the comments!


Yungg Soja – I Am Klasik

Yungg Soja -I Am Klasik

Dream Big, Live Klasik.

That’s the new motto of Columbus, Ohio emcee, Yungg Soja, and the theme behind his newest mixtape, I Am Klasik Vol. 1. The intro sets the tone for the type of lyricism you’re going to hear from this project – complex, gritty, and meticulous. But its the riveting spoken word of JG the Jugganaut following Soja’s lyrics that sets the tone for the entire mixtape by begging the question, “Are you classic?”

The idea of what makes an emcee classic becomes the conceptual basis for the entire mixtape. Soja often goes back and forth between asking himself that question, and answering it with life experiences and lyrical ability. Songs like Shoelaces and Hell Under Water paint a picture of someone with self-doubt searching for inner determination, ultimately contrasted by the more confident Crown Me Emcee, where he talks about his personal growth as an artist. At the same time, he’s not afraid to call out certain types of rappers on The Exception: those who want to be the exception to failure and want all the success without any of the work.

He goes on to pay tribute to the influence of Hip Hop in his life with tracks like Heart 2 Heart and All I Need, both cleverly disguised as more intimate love songs. The Feel is probably one of my favorite tracks on the whole mixtape as it questions the essence of the current state of  Hip Hop compared to where it has been, and you can hear the theme of being classic resonating between the bars:

I’m not knocking your flava/

I’m just saying don’t compare it to mine/

Cuz Hip Hop with that feel/

was in a different place and time

I’m not going to say that this is a perfect project by any means, but Soja’s growth, especially with penning concepts, is definitely there. There’s a solid theme going on here that is relatable to anyone with a dream. In the end, it’s clear that his stance on becoming classic is that it’s something that requires constant evolution and the willingness to step your game up.

Oh yeah.

And the ability to really spit. Let’s not forget that.


You can visit to download the mixtape for free. You can also follow Soja at the links below:



Dream Big, Live Klasik guys. Until next time.


No Peace Under Heaven Review

No Peace Under Heaven can best be described as what happens when the written word meets all that action-packed anime you might have watched as a kid. I know most of you are thinking I described a manga just now, but this book is not that. At the core of each page, however, it’s apparent that the author, Trey Mack, was clearly influenced by Japanese culture, manga, anime, and old-school kung-fu flicks.

So yeah, I guess it is like a manga, minus the art, but with just as much action. And with a name like No Peace Under Heaven, I’m expecting a lot of bloodshed.

Enter Ashura, a young, reserved high-school student who is just trying to live his life day to day, but is haunted by nightmares of a past that is tainted with corruption and death. Ashura’s dreams are a phantasm of the eve his parents were murdered, and they are becoming more vivid with each passing night. He is left with nothing but unanswered questions and a desire to rectify his past and understand the power that is rapidly growing inside him.

I read the first three chapters of No Peace Under Heaven, and it definitely delivers on the action I was expecting. The battle scenes feel like something straight out of a Bruce Lee or Donnie Yen flick, with maybe some Ninja Scroll all rolled up into one. The basic structure of the plot is not unique – which is not necessarily a bad thing. For me, it’s all in how you tell a story, and given the hints of corruption sprinkled in these three chapters, I think it’ll be interesting to find out what really happened in Ashura’s past. The first chapter starts out a little slow, and it feels like a lot of information is poured out for the reader’s sake. I also was a little confused by Ashura’s personality at first, because while he appears to be a reserved person, he gives up a lot of details about himself almost too easily to other characters, which contradicted his nature. That being said, the story picks up more in chapters 2 and 3, where you get to see Ashura’s powers manifest in ways that I think will become central to the story in the future.

If you dig high-school students with special powers, jaded pasts, and a wicked motorcycle, you’ll probably dig this. You can read the first three chapters of No Peace Under Heaven online at , where you can also follow the story’s development and see some character art inspired by the (possible) future manga. Sorry, keeping my lips zipped on that one, but if you like the story, feel free to hound Trey about it all you want.

Until next time.


Trey Mack is the author of the battle manga inspired No Peace Under Heaven and is currently hard at work slaving away on more chapters for your personal entertainment. Also, he will  (secretly) bust your ass in a cypher.

New York Comic Con

So as you know, I attended New York Comic Con and it was awesome. And packed. I live in NYC, so I’m used to the crowded mass that encompasses this gritty city, but even I was like, “hot damn, it’s packed like a mother effer!”

Pictured above: Mother-effin Packed.

But it was all good. My partner in crime and I, Sha-Nee Williams, willingly descended into that conglomeration of cos-players and comic book fanatics to get to where we really wanted to be – Artist Alley, which was aaaaaallll the way past that Walking Dead banner in the distance. Luckily, we took a short cut underneath all that crowded nonsense and came up on the other side.  I spent a lot of time in Artist Alley just gobbling up inspiration. There were so many talented people there! I even got to take a picture with one of the illest artists out there right now, Alvin Lee.

Me and Alvin Lee

Then I got to hang with Sha-Nee and Denver “Sketch Bravo” Thompson for a little bit. I have no idea what’s going on with me here. I think I’m falling asleep because Denver’s hugs are just so cozy and warm.

Me, Denver, and Sha-Nee

And I finally got to meet this awesome guy right here, Antonio Pomares, who I’ve done commissions for and who I happened to just arbitrarily find in a crowd of people on my first day of the con.

Me and Antonio

But one of the major highlights of the con for me was talking about Hip Hop with one of my favorite artists, Sanford Greene. He immediately put me on to this Hip Hop & Comics panel that was happening, which Sha-Nee and I attended along with our friend Tre Worrell. Sorry, I don’t have a pic of Tre, but I’ve magically turned his name into a link to his work.  So yeah. Click that.

Jean Grae was at the panel too, but unfortunately she came late so she’s not in the shot. I did get to shake hands with her though and tell her how dope of an emcee she is.

Oh yeah, speaking of Hip Hop, I also got to spit for Sanford Greene, which was pretty awesome too. This girl – you’ll see her at the beginning of the video below – apparently was like this secret ninja rapper, and out of no where was like “Spit something!” She was really cool though. We talked art and hip hop, and she was much braver than me for attempting a freestyle on camera.

Unfortunately, Sanford is the only person with the video from a front angle that doesn’t shift in the middle of everything. I’ll probably pay him a hefty ransom to get it. But in the mean time, I hope you guys can do with this.  Shout out to Sanford for taking the time to talk  Hip Hop with us, making this year’s con even more of an enjoyable experience.

But wait, you didn’t think we were gonna walk away without getting Sanford to spit something, did you?

Psyche. We totally did.

So yeah, that’s it. I did a lot more than this, like the Womanthology panel, the show floor, and meeting other people, but I’m terrible at remembering to take pictures of everything. Don’t hate me, guys. I’ll try to get more pictures next year.

And hopefully I’ll run into more of you in 2013. Until next time.


Claudia Aguirre – The Creative Nomad

When we’re young, teeming with innocence and untamed curiosity, the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is often met with surprisingly simplistic answers. A teacher. A cop. Doctor. Fireman.

Claudia Aguirre wanted to be a paleontologist. At three years old. True story.

I don’t even think I knew what a paleontologist was until Jurassic Park came out, and even then I probably thought it involved slowly being hunted down by a pack of intelligent velociraptors with incredible door-opening abilities. Or otherwise ending up like Sam Jackson or that guy that played Newman on Seinfeld. Either way, my vision of it wasn’t so innocent.

Which brings me to my next point: Claudia Aguirre has a body of work that is spilling over with child-like innocence, and yet she is still able to maintain an artistic range that can cross-platform into multiple genres. She is a true artisan of many hats, juggling her weight in animation, graphic design, sequential art, and illustration. But she says that her true devotion lies in one thing:

“I am passionate about being a good storyteller.”

It’s evident from her work, such as Cat Scratch and her new upcoming project, The House of Dreams, with fellow artist and friend, Eva Cabrera, which platform she gravitates toward when it comes to telling stories. “I love being a comic artist/graphic novelist the most,” she says.

Claudia’s passion for art and her desire to tell stories, influenced by her own experiences, has made her a nomad in her life as much as in her creative endeavors. She was born and raised in Mexico, where she openly admits that her affection for her craft is not one that was often shared by other people.

“I consider myself a nomad because I’ve never felt a sense of belonging to my own country,” she says. “My ideals and goals were not well-viewed by my family and in the first stages of my life.” Growing up in a land of practical thinkers and engineers, as she describes, Claudia felt the need to carve her own path and broaden her horizons. “My life here has made me someone who is always eager to learn and who knows there are no limits to knowledge – which is in turn adapted to my art, experiences and stories.”

Claudia has loved art since she was young. Even her short-lived dream of being a paleontologist, however cute and ambitious, fell to the wayside in favor of pursuing her artistic goals. And that she did, becoming Lead Characer Designer and Lead Illustrator at Luciérnaga Studios in Mexico.

“Basically, everything illustration related, I got it done. I also did some comics when we had these awesome projects a while back, and I designed video game characters and world development for Facebook games,” she says, but the stress was not lost on her. “Basically, I did anything needed at the moment. Being a small studio, we got pretty rushed deadlines and no one else to do things!” Claudia has since moved on to another studio called Playful Interactive, a cool animation and interactive gaming house in Mexico where she is continuing to create character designs and illustrations and assisting in the completion of various other games, like Gambetas for Windows 8.

Claudia’s personal projects, however, are the stuff of comedy, stylistic integrity, fantasy, and as she eloquently puts it, “the wonders of small things.” She pulls her inspiration from the world around her and her personal upbringing.

“What first made me want to tell stories was my mother,” she says as she reminisces on her childhood. “She couldn’t stay awake due to my hyperactivity so she put on videos for me to watch while she took naps. I was absolutely in love with Don Bluth’s films and also some Disney ones. I always look back and get inspired by those old movies.”

Her webcomic CatScratch, which is inspired by her cat Oliver and his real-life comedic antics, is proof of Claudia’s ability to bring something whimsical and heartfelt to the sequential art form. Plus, it’s just so damn cute. Go ahead, look at it. I’ll wait.

Doesn’t that comic just make you want to hug something??

But no creative nomad is complete without exploring more than one realm of storytelling. Claudia decided to team up with Eva Cabrera to form Boudika Comics, a platform where each of these talented ladies can tell their own stories. Their first project you’ve heard me mention at the top of this article: The House of Dreams – a collaborative effort of short stories that has been in production for more than a year and is drawn and written by both Eva and Claudia.

“We’re celebrating life and death,” Claudia says about the project. “I draw inspiration from the things that makes us stronger, everyday situations mingled with magic. And she’s focusing on the things that drive us to temptation and ultimately, demise.”

Eva’s explosive style is the perfect complement to Claudia’s playful illustrations. “She’s a delight to work with usually,” Claudia says of her collaboration with Eva, “but she tends to be on the verge of over-perfectionist!” Still, the two seem to work well together. The artwork coming from The House of Dreams is absolutely beautiful. “We understand each other when doing comics, as if we’re talking in a different and secret language,” Claudia continues. “She’s the best comic book partner ever.”

Having a partner in crime is not such a bad thing when one considers herself a nomad in this game. Claudia has faced many obstacles in the wake of her desires to be a storyteller and comic book artist, including the notion that comics are not a viable form of entertainment. The other challenge, one she considers among the greatest she has faced, is a common one not lost on the comic book industry today.

“My greatest challenge is to overcome sexism,” Claudia says. “Even though people in the industry say they’re quite happy and open to have women in their ranks, they talk behind your back and treat you as if you’re not capable of doing a good job.” She adds to that statement with much conviction, “We’re fighting to change that.”

If being a nomad means carving your own road to success, despite the standards of other people or the current comic book industry, then Claudia is already on the right path. And teaming up with Eva Cabrera only makes the deal that much sweeter.

You can catch both Claudia and Eva at the Alternative Press Expo (APE) in San Francisco on October 13th and 14th at table 406. They’ll have plenty of copies of The House of Dreams with them along with other sweet merchandise. To learn more, check out the links below.

Until next time.


Claudia’s website:

Claudia’s Blog:

Claudia’s email:

Boudika Comics Website:

Boudika Comics on Facebook: