Introducing Art Therapy

Art sucks.

I mean, not the act of creating it, but everything that comes with the territory. I’ve spoken to a lot of creators, and I’ve noticed that we all go through very similar emotions and problems, whether you’re someone who’s just starting out, or someone who has been in the game 20-plus years. Birds of a feather, and all that.

Over the weekend, I came across some stuff that I wrote for the blog that addressed some of the issues that I think all artists have. Problem was, I never knew what to do with it. So I’m starting a category called Art Therapy. It’s not really advice, but it’s not really not advice. I’m sure that makes complete and total sense to everyone.

Basically, it’s what I would probably tell myself if I could step outside of this skinny frame and speak to my inner artist. It’s what I would tell other artists, if I could encourage them to do the same.

Having a problem with a client that won’t pay up? Did that guy who’s last artistic masterpiece was a hand-painting he did in kindergarten tell you that you’ll never make it as an artist? Guys, having problems with women who won’t talk to you because you’re still wearing Ninja Turtles boxers (which I think is awesome, by the way)? Ladies, having problems with guys who only hire you because they think you look good? Yeah, we’re going to talk about all that shit here.

Which brings me to my next point. Art Therapy is also an open floor. You can leave a comment and talk about how you deal with that specific problem of the day, or if you really want to get your feet wet, you can write a guest article and I’ll feature it on the blog. Only catch is, there needs to be, contained within your article, a solution to the problem. No ranting or complaining. This is about helping people out.

Feel free to read my first Art Therapy post,  and if you’re interested in writing something, check out the submissions page for details.




Art Therapy: Are We There Yet?

I remember when I was a little kid, my family and I would take these long trips from New York to South Carolina to visit my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side. It didn’t help that my dad was fiercely obedient to the speed limit, so that trip would sometimes take like fourteen, fifteen hours. And there I was in the backseat, squirming, my butt aching from sitting too long, and in my head I was screaming as loud as I could, “ARE WE THERE YET?”

That’s what I find myself doing in my life right now, from an artistic perspective.

I think we all want to be there. That point where you feel like you’ve made it. Where you’re at that Jim Lee, Joe Mad, LeSean Thomas level. When you’re right up there with all the greats. But even the greats are still striving to improve, so what is there really?

I’ve shown my work to people and I’ve always gotten different responses. Some people think that I’m there already, some think that I’m not even close, and some think that I’m almost there. I’ve heard all this different feedback from a melting pot of friends, pros in the industry, and acquaintances, but it was that almost that always got to me. That feeling that you’re right on the cusp of where you want to be, but still not close enough to fully grasp it, was always the worst to me. Because in the eyes of people who are way more advanced than you, you’ll always almost be there.

Then I began to realize one important thing: it doesn’t really matter. For me, personally, I’ll never be there. And I don’t mean that in a depressing, down-on-myself, kind of way. I mean that I’ll never be there because I’ll always want to improve. There means something different to a lot of different people, so everyone has a different opinion on what there actually is. I’ve met artists who I personally believed were there, but all they could see were the mistakes in their own work, errors that were oblivious to me. At the same time, there are pros that some would say are there simply because they’re deemed pros, while other people might think they have no business in the industry at all. There is subjective.

I think that most artists have this innate self-critic. You know that guy. The one that makes you feel like what you’re creating is dope as hell, then makes you hate it after you’re done. I think this goes for most people who are in the business of creating something from nothing. The self-critic in you wants to see that something be better than it was before, and it’s a vicious cycle that is both the blessing and the curse of the artist.

The conclusion I’ve personally come to is that there is not just about artistic skill. It’s about when you reach that point in time where you’re willing to stop letting that inner critic control your ability to go after what you really want. The problem with being there is that when we think we’re not, we tend to let that notion make us afraid to pursue our goals at the risk of failing. So we tell ourselves that we’re not ready. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying everyone is ready right out the gate. What I’m saying is, there’s a huge difference between saying we’re not ready because we’re really not ready, and saying we’re not ready because we’re just afraid. Be honest with yourself, from both ends of the spectrum. Know what you’re good at, and what you need to improve on, but never let it stop you from at least trying. Perfection and being there is just a pipe dream we sell ourselves so we have something to reach for. At the end of the day, anyone who cares about their craft is going to strive to be better at it. There’s no ceiling to that desire, no end to that road.

You know what the funny thing is about being stuck in a car for fourteen hours? You realize that you can either let it make you miserable, or you can learn to enjoy the ride.

…Actually, I just slept the whole time I think. But whatever. There’s a lesson there.

So what do you think? Are you there yet?



Yungg Soja – Rhyming With No Boxes

Anybody who knows me – like, really knows me – knows that I’m a sucker for lyrical prowess when it comes to Hip Hop. It almost doesn’t matter what’s being said for me so long as how it’s being said is dope. I listen for the poetry in it which is, no matter what, the true essence at the core of rhyming. Combine that with good storytelling, passion, and heart, then you’re golden in my book.

So it was a blessing when Soja hit me up with some new tracks from his upcoming EP titled No Boxes, a project the young emcee openly admits he’s doing in order to test himself. “I want to bring back the art of concepts and clever wordplay,” he said when I asked him what his mindset was while writing and producing the project. “I feel like it’s missing and I feel I am versatile enough to not be limited in a creative box.”

The two singles “Fly High,” and “Let Go” follow the precedent that Soja is setting with this project. Set against hard-hitting, thumping beats that are quickly becoming his trademark, Soja’s lyrics paint a vivid picture of someone who is breaking any and all restraints and really going hard with his craft. “‘Fly High’ is me saying I’m done holding back,” he explains. “I’m freeing my mind and aiming for higher ‘cause I’m dope enough and more advanced than these rappers lyrically.” Soja’s confidence definitely comes through in this song, and is a nice contrast to “Let Go,” which focuses more on his attempts to move past his self-doubts. “‘Let Go’ is a very emotional song for me,” he admits. “It’s literally me letting go of the doubt, the hurt, the confusion – reaching within self and letting it all out and going beyond your own expectations. That song means everything to me.”

In an era of music where the material things get more shine than genuine, from-the-heart, skillful rhymes, I think Soja is refreshing and is saying things in his music that we can all relate to. But I know you’re tired of hearing me talk, so I’ll let you listen for yourself. You can get both singles on iTunes for $0.99 each. And look out for No Boxes, dropping early 2013.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think!




Singles on iTunes:

Yungg Soja on Facebook:

Yungg Soja on Twitter:

Yungg Soja on Youtube:

Review – Thrash: Rise of Shidou

You might remember a while ago when I interviewed California-native comic book artist and animator, Matt Johnson (and if you don’t, feel free to get familiar). It’s been close to a year since then and, as promised, Matt has delivered the pilot issue of his creator-owned series, Thrash: Rise of Shidou, co-written by CJ Airline who was a big part of the story’s development. Matt has been hard at work, producing the comic solo on the artistic side of things. He gave me the opportunity to read and even critique it, before presenting my official review to you guys. So here it is, my totally unbiased opinion:

It’s good.

Without giving too much away, we learn that Thrash is a mysterious warrior haunted by a past steeped in bloodshed and death. This is an introduction to the path that Thrash walks, the world he comes from, and the eery foreshadowing sense that the torment of his past is going to set the tone for the future of every character he crosses. Story-wise, I’m hoping to learn more about the relationship between characters like Lord Baccamus and Secca, since this issue only lightly touches on what is a clear tension between the two of them. Even though this is just the pilot, there’s a lot bubbling under the surface; glimmers of animosity that may make or break some of the characters.

Matt’s heavy animation influence is immediately apparent, from the way his panels are presented to his coloring style. He throws dynamic angles and motion at us when he really wants us to feel the fight scenes, and pulls back during the story-driven scenes. I would love to see the emotion in some of the characters during the “talking” scenes approached with the same dynamic detail and intensity of the action-driven scenes. That being said, Matt does a nice job of setting a uniform mood for the entire book with his color choices, and he makes everything feel like a cinematic shot plucked right out of an animated feature.

Minus some of those things that most comic book creators know are only resolved by continuing to make comics, I think Matt’s debut creator-owned book is a good one. It has good art and a good story going for it, and I know the man works hard with a “never good enough” attitude – which lets me know that every book he puts out will be better than the last.

Plus, I have a thing for super cut warriors with battle scars. So maybe I am biased. A little.

Go pick up the first issue of Thrash: Rise of Shidou on Indy Planet right ‘chea:

And go be friends with Matt on Facebook and look at his art and stuff. He likes people.

Until next time.


Food For Thought

Yesterday Columbus, Ohio native emcee/producer, Yungg Soja, hit my Facebook wall with a handful of links that included new music, interviews, and performances. Among them was Vol. 2 of his collabo project with fellow Columbus emcee, Turnz, called Deadly Combination.  Another rhyme, one that really stood out for me,  was Food For Thought, a lyrically intricate message that observes blatant social issues while making the point that we are often the cause and solution to those problems.  Soja chimes:

Get your job right,

cause we on the verge of self destruction,

unlawful structure soaked in the stench of urban corruption

In an era of Hip Hop that’s more testes-hugging skinny jeans and pop than anything, it’s nice to see someone take it back to a street-conscious level. And, having heard Soja’s rhymes for a little while now, I can tell you one thing…social messages aside, this kid is about nothing but raw lyricism; that kind that you have to rewind to catch, making it seem like everyone else is just Dr. Seuss-ing their raps. I’m not going to say too much else. I’ll just leave  you with the links and let you hear for yourself. But drop a comment…let me know if you dig it.

Oh, and if you’re in the Columbus area, Soja and Turnz will be opening for Raekwon at Skully’s on April 23rd.




Yungg Soja & Turnz – Deadly Combination 2:

Yungg Soja on Facebook:

Raekwon at Skully’s:

Stabb Gunner: A Review

Whenever I have to hop the 2 or the 5 train going into Manhattan, I’m always treated to an urban gallery showing of just a minute portion of the expansive graffiti art that the Bronx has to offer. Dancing alongside the buildings in awkward places are brightly colored tags, dripping with the passion of the artists that created them. This is what I was immediately reminded of when I read the first issue of Joseph Krzemienski and Courtland Ellis’ dynamically rendered digital comic, Stabb Gunner.

From the first glimpse of the cover, you’ll see what I’m talking about. I think I mentioned before that Courtland has a natural graffiti/hip hop influenced style, but Joseph’s colors only serve to enhance it, pretty much shoving Courtland’s art right in your face. It has a fluid motion, dynamic energy, and attitude that is pretty impossible to ignore thanks to the collaborative efforts of these two artists. With an animation-like, manga-influenced quality, Stabb Gunner almost reads just like that – sequential stills of an animation where the key parts of the story are hand-picked and wrapped in the nice digital package that is NxtBook, an app that makes reading digital comics simple and intuitive.

Joseph takes the helm as both colorist and writer of the Stabb Gunner universe. The story is pretty straight-forward. Enter Stabb Fisticuffs, a pretty nonchalant guy and talented fighter who has apparently given up a life of violence in favor of a more peaceful lifestyle as a wandering monk. If you can’t tell by his name, the story and characters don’t take themselves too seriously, but we still get the sense that there’s much more to Stabb than meets the eye. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that there’s a part of his past that seems to haunt him even now, and I’m sure it will come up again the deeper we dive into this story.

Honestly, this probably won’t be for you if you’re a fan of raw, gritty comics with almost no undertone of humor. But if you’re a fan of quirkiness and comedy in your comics with a side of action and serious character development, then I would recommend checking this out. I would also recommend it because, well, it’s free. You almost HAVE to. And you’re not really doing anything anyway, right?

This first issue is really a preview of Courtland and Joseph’s upcoming Stabb Gunner graphic novel, which will be released in print. Stay tuned for more news on that, but in the meantime, the boys were nice enough to send me over some preview pages from what would have been the second issue, but is now being incorporated into the graphic novel. Don’t say I don’t love you.

Stabb Gunner has been brought to you courtesy of The Fictory.

Stabb Gunner Comic:
Stabb Gunner Facebook Page:

Rhymes N’ Updates

Hey guys!

Soooo…how’s it going?

I know, I keep pulling vanishing acts. New things on my plate, and hopefully with them, new opportunities. But I’m not here to make excuses. I’ve been bad, and I love you guys, so I don’t want us to break up…figuratively speaking.

Right now, I’m planning on restructuring how my blog is updated. To be honest, when a lot of things hit me at once, I’m the worst at staying organized. But I’m working on it.

Anyway, it’s important to me to keep this blog updated, especially where the artist interviews are concerned. There’s too much unknown talent out there, and it’s still my mission to bring you fresh doses of new talent on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to update those interviews weekly anymore, but I think doing one featured artist a month is more feasible. It gives the artists lots of time to get back to me, and gives me more time to write up the articles. I’ve met and interviewed some awesome artists in the past few months, and I want that to continue.

So while I work this out on my end, here’s something I recently did for Yvonne Nicolas, a writer of erotic stories and fiction. These are two of her characters – magic wielding priestesses named Indigo and Dominique from The Dragon Queen Series. It was colored by the awesome Kyle Chaney, and you can see him throwing down the colors in the video below. We’ve been working together on a few commissions for her, and I’m loving it so far.

And that’s not all. I have some ear candy for you too. Few people know that I actually write poetry and rhymes, and even fewer have actually heard it. So I promised a friend that I would write and record two things and put it out there for the world to hear. I called this one “Just To Be Rhymin” because…well…I just wanted to rhyme. No big story there.  Anyway, one down, one to go. I’ll post the next one on here too. Later folks.

Creating Blackguard: Willie and Jerrod Smith

It’s pretty rare that I’ll actually sit down and read a web-comic that I truly enjoy, mostly because reading comics on a laptop was never in my top five list of favorite things to do. But that’s exactly what I found myself doing at 3AM on some random day of the week. That comic was Blackguard, a comedic story written by brothers Willie and Jerrod Smith and illustrated by the former.

Willie had previously emailed me, requesting that I take a look at his work so that I could feature him in an article on the blog. That night, I baked some cookies, ate too many, and was absolutely wired. High on sugar at 3 in the morning, I started reading Blackguard and an hour later I was still laughing my ass off. I quickly emailed Willie to set up a phone conversation.

Besides talking about his adventures as a self-proclaimed emcee, and the state of Hip-Hop today, we got into a pretty deep discussion about Blackguard, what it’s like working with his brother, and the controversy behind the comic’s free use of the n-word. I’ll warn you guys now that Blackguard is not for the easily offended, so if you are, turn back now. Actually, don’t. You’ll be fine. We’re all adults here…sort of.

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

Anyway, not surprisingly, Willie grew up reading and studying popular comic strips like Calvin and Hobbes and Garfield. As a budding artist he picked up on creative nuances, like the way the characters’ hands and head shapes were illustrated. “Even as a kid, I knew I wanted to create my own comics one day,” he says. “Like, there was never any other career out there for me. I just knew.”

Jerrod was Willie’s partner in crime. They had been creating stories together from the time they played with action figures as kids. Both knew that it was only a matter of time before they would start writing comics together, but for the time being, life was calling them in different directions. “For a while, I was taking classes at the Savannah College Of Art and Design, performing at hip hop shows AND serving in the Army Reserves,” Willie explains. “Jerrod was studying Computer Science up at Clemson University.”

Willie spent the time honing his hip-hop influenced style of art as well as his skills with a mic. “My approach to character design is heavily influenced by the hip hop culture, and the key word there is culture,” he says. “Many people forget that hip hop is indeed a culture, a life style of sorts, so it makes sense that hip hop can be seen in my comics, ’cause after all, one of the founding elements of hip hop is the art style known as graffiti.” Coming from a musical background, Willie began incorporating his views and the spirit of hip-hop into his art. “As an emcee, I’m very proud to represent hip hop, so even if I’m not rhyming on a stage, I still want people to know it’s where I come from, so I showcase that in my art. And not just with the appearance of characters, but also with dialogue, and the approach to the stories themselves. Much like an emcee on stage, my style of art and the characters are very much in your face.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith.

It was this “in your face” attitude that both Willie and Jerrod would bring to their comic, Blackguard, in the few months after Jerrod graduated from school and moved down to Savannah, Georgia with his brother. “Ideally, we both just wanted to make an easy going comedy that would be fun for the two of us to work on. We just needed a simple idea to get us into the routine of working on a comic together,” Willie explains as he reflects on the first time he and Jerrod worked on Blackguard. “The idea of doing a comedy about a team of black heroes seemed like fun to us. Even when we first mentioned the idea, jokes started coming out easily and we were laughing pretty hard, so that seemed to be a sign that we had something good to stand on.”

Blackguard was born as a story about a man named Eli Mercer, formerly known as Blackfist, the first African-American super hero to ever exist during the Civil Rights Era. After being cryogenically frozen towards the end of that era, Mercer wakes up in a world that is completely different from his own. People are praising rappers and athletes, but there are no black super heroes. So what does Mercer do?

“He decides to form an all black super hero team,” Willie explains. “However, he takes a shortcut and hires a group of former felons in hopes of training them to be his dream team. From there, it becomes an uphill battle as he must teach them to be morally courageous and keep them from killing each other WHILE they attempt to save the day.”

Of course, the team gives Mercer more headaches than actual results as each character’s personality comes into play. At first, it would seem that the characters are satirical versions of common stereotypes in the black community, but that wasn’t Jerrod and Willie’s intention when they began creating the comic.

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith.

“We didn’t set out to necessarily address the stereotypes of the black community,” Jerrod explains. “It just sort of turned out that, by making a group of black characters with differing interests, backgrounds, and motivations, we covered many sides, both positive and negative, of the black race. The racist, yet proud Melanin. The cocky, yet talented Odan. The reckless, yet fearless Staples. The cynical, yet sensible Sequoia. The judgmental, yet inspirational Mercer. And the crazy, yet genius Darius Doome.”

Each character’s personality has deep roots, if only partially, in the personalities of their creators. While the perceived stereotypes have not been social commentary altogether, the use of the n-word by some of the characters has caught the attention, and offense, of some readers. So much so, in fact, that Jerrod actually wrote a lengthy entry on his blog about it. But what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t ask the creative team how they felt about it for myself?

“This could stem from the fact that I’m an emcee, but I’ve always been about saying exactly what’s on your mind,” Willie says. “I’ve always been drawn to ‘controversial’ entertainers such as Eddie Murphy, Eddie Griffin, Martin Lawrence, Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle and Aaron McGruder. And not because they were considered controversial, but because they said exactly what they felt. Many of those same comedians, who were once seen as rude and inappropriate, are now praised for sharing their point of view.” Willie goes on to relate his experiences with Blackguard, and the open use of the n-word, with those aforementioned, controversial entertainers. “BlackGuard is just another example of two young men expressing themselves,” he says. “If anything, I think it may throw people off because such language and slang is being used in a comic. But it’s really no different than when Richard Pryor first came out with his comedy routines, or when N.W.A  first arrived in the hip hop scene, or when Aaron McGruder had Huey Freeman saying the n-word in the Boondocks comic strips, and eventually, in the Boondocks television show. At one point, these were all controversial.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

Jerrod also chimes in to give his stance on the use of the word in the comic, stating, “Simply put, we see the n-word as a joke. Not just the word itself, but the reaction that people tend to have towards it. ‘Ass’ and ‘Bitch’ may or may not be offensive based on the context in which they are used. The meanings of those words have gone through changes over time. Now compare those to the n-word. Not only is it also used today in a different context, it’s even spelled and pronounced differently. To claim that a word should never be used because it had a different meaning at one time is ridiculous to me. To the British, ‘fag’ means cigarette. Are we going to tell them not to use that word because some people interpret its meaning differently? Maybe the n-word does have harsh origins, but I think we have to get over it eventually. Why not start now?”

So far, no readers have come out and stated that they disliked the comic solely based on its use of the n-word, but many have questioned why. “It’s not like we just say the word out of ignorance. We often use it to portray ignorance,” Willie says. “But even more so, Jerrod and I don’t believe in giving power to a word. It seems ridiculous to us to ‘erase’ a word. If we as human beings have the power to create language, then we have the power to re-create it.”

“Bill Watterson apparently received angry letters about a few Calvin and Hobbes strips that seem entirely innocent to me,” Jerrod says, giving his thoughts on the offensive perception of the n-word. “If even he offended a few readers, then we’d be crazy to think no one would find Blackguard controversial. I think you have to realize that no matter what you do, someone, somewhere, is going to be offended. There are people out there who look for things to complain about. The sooner you realize that, the less you worry.”

At the end of the day, Willie and Jerrod just don’t want Blackguard to be taken too seriously. “The problem I have with many forms of African-American entertainment is that we often seem to try too hard to make ourselves look good. It’s like we’re trying to make up for years of negative portrayals,” Jerrod says. “Will and I aren’t trying to make a statement about stereotypes. People are drawn to BlackGuard because the characters are both flawed and bad-ass at the same time.”

Art by Willie Smith. Blackguard is © Willie and Jerrod Smith

While some controversy might have come out of the comic, Willie prefers to focus on the positives that have come his way as a result of creating Blackguard, instead of the negative. “My greatest reward has been knowing that even in the beginning stages of Blackguard, which have been the past two years, I’ve managed to inspire some people, and in particular, other Black kids who draw comics. It really warms my heart when other younger artists in middle school and high school ask for my feedback on their own comics that feature black characters.”

Despite the controversial nature of the comic, Willie and Jerrod both approach it like everyday professionals, making sure that they’re serving their readers with a healthy comedic dose every Wednesday. “I take my deadlines very seriously and I know that every Wednesday, there are about two hundred some odd people who want to read BlackGuard. I don’t like for people to ever have to wait on me, “ Willie says.

And as a team that doesn’t like to keep people waiting, tomorrow Willie and Jerrod are debuting a brand new Blackguard storyline called Psycho Therapy. Yep. That means now would be a good time to catch up on what you missed. And I know some of you are reading this on your lunch break, so you don’t have anything better to do, right?


Pfffft. Tell your boss to read Blackguard. He’ll understand.


Willie and Jerrod Smith are a creative duo based out of Savannah, Georgia and co-writers of Blackguard. When he’s not drawing Blackguard, Willie leads a secret double life as Righteous The Poet, one integral part of the hip-hop collective, Dope Sandwich. You can easily find their music on iTunes and Youtube, and download Willie’s solo EP for free at his Bandcamp site below. The first installment of Blackguard, entitled Monkey See, Monkey Free, is available in print on Indy Planet, or on the Blackguard website for your viewing pleasure.  If you want to keep up with the comic, what Willie and Jerrod are doing, or get a taste of some of that dope sammich, you can follow the team with the information below. 


Personal Facebook:!/profile.php?id=508763179

Deviant Art:

Web Site:

Bosc Comics Facebook:

Bosc Comics Twitter:!/BOSCComics

Blackguard on Indy Planet:

Willie’s Bandcamp:

What’s in the Headphones

Despite what people say about hip hop music dying, the mainstream taking over, etc., etc., I actually think 2011 was a good year for Hip Hop. But there are three albums for me, specifically that stay in my headphones from the past year.


Elzhi – Elmatic 

Nas’ Illmatic is, and will always be, one of my favorite albums of all time. There’s no question to that. I used to listen to New York State of Mind just to get my day started. So when Elzhi dropped Elmatic, I was skeptical because Illmatic has a special place in my heart. I was so wrong. Elzhi not only paid homage to Nas’ classic, but he did it justice and took it to another level musically. His renditions of songs like Memory Lane, Represent, and The World Is Yours really made me think back to the first time I heard Illmatic and made me fall in love with it all over again.  Like I said, Illmatic will always be in my top, but Elmatic earned a special spot in my hip-hop loving heart too.



Pharoahe Monch – W.A.R.

Pharoahe Monch’s W.A.R. (We Are Renegades) combines two of my favorite things – hip-hop and revolutionary lyrics. Some people might not like his style of spitting behind the beat, but his lyrics are undeniable. W.A.R. just so happens to be my favorite song off the album, but Evolve and Assassins are a close second, if for no reason than it features one of my other favorites, Jean Grey. W.A.R. also has one other thing that I think most albums are missing nowadays – a complete concept. From beginning to end, the entire album fits into the overall theme of revolution.




Kendrick Lamar – Section.80

Even though Kendrick Lamar had been on the underground scene for a minute, he recently started getting more recognition in the mainstream. People have been wondering when Hip-Hop is going to get back to raw lyrics, and I think Kendrick Lamar is evidence of the second coming of that lyrical era. I know HiiiPower is the song off Section.80 that everyone talks about (well, those who have heard it), but there’s good reason. Kendrick Lamar doesn’t spit about the usual, and when you listen to this song, you’ll know that this guy understands the power behind his words. Not many artists approach their music today as a craft, but Kendrick Lamar is one of the few who I think actually studies the art of rhyming. Anyway, dope album, dope artist. Go listen.


Meet Julius Dean Abrera

Since I started this blog, I’ve interviewed artists from all different walks of life, each with their own individual styles and unique experiences. Now, as much as I would love to take total credit for finding some of those artists, I have to give it up to my good friend, Kyle Chaney, Jr. Usually, when I want to break things up a little bit and diversify the artists that are featured here, I’ll email Kyle and say, “Hey , I’m looking for more artists to interview. Any suggestions?” I’m expecting he’ll respond with maybe one or two, if that. This guy comes back with like ten to twelve dope artists, drops them at my feet, and says, “Take your pick.” Then I imagine he walks off into the sunset, back to whatever lair he operates Plan B Comics out of, and continues to push out awesome artwork and stories while saving orphans from burning buildings in his spare time.

Am I exaggerating a little? Nope. Not at all.

So it was by Kyle’s recommendation that I was able to interview today’s amazing artist, Julius Dean Abrera. Growing up in Malaybalay Bukidnon, a small town in the Philippines, Julius was inspired by the 90’s X-Men and Spiderman animated series.

Krossfire Pinup. Krossfire is ©Florentino Santibanez. Art by Julius Dean Abrera

“I fell in love with the characters right away, they were the reason why I picked up a pencil and started to draw. I have been drawing since I was eight,” he says as he reflects back on his younger days. Ever since, drawing became a long time passion for Julius. “Growing up in a small town, I never thought it would be possible to pursue comic books as a career,” he says. “It wasn’t until I knew that a very good friend of mine made it to Marvel and into the mainstream that I decided to take things more seriously.”

This friend was Harvey Tolibao, an incredible artist who has worked on Ultimate X-Men, among other Marvel titles, and Star Wars: Knights of the Republic published by Dark Horse. Julius openly admits that Harvey’s mentor-ship directly influenced and changed the way he approached art. “I’ve known Harvey for like 17 years now. Hes more than a mentor, more like a brother actually. Before Harvey took me under his wings, I had no idea on how the comic biz would be,” Julius says. Before Harvey began working with him, Julius believed what any budding young artist believes – that drawing well is the only key to being a great comic book artist.

“Comics have a lot that goes into it. Harvey taught me the basics of anatomy, especially on women, the importance of layouts on your work, and making dynamic poses. Even if it means bending and damaging some of his most prized comic/book collections just for me to learn, that’s how generous this guy is. He’s currently teaching me how to make cool ‘story telling’ and ‘ how the flow works’ when doing sequential art.”

A Marvel cover commission with art by Julius Dean Abrera

Julius was falling more and more in love with comics, but he had already developed a prior relationship with school, where he was studying architecture – a four year relationship that wasn’t going to be easy to break off. “I pursued architecture because it was the only course, which is related to drawing, that I could find close and near enough in my hometown, “ Julius says. “I remember the time when we were told to do research about building designs and structures in the library, but instead of doing what I was told, I was researching on human anatomy and books on how to draw heads and hands.”

Things were getting heated. If I could put it one way, architecture was Julius’ wife, and comic books were his much more entertaining mistress. If I could put it another way, comic books are just awesome. Julius had already been seduced by those energetic panels, and lush story-telling, and there was no turning back. “It was really tough working on school projects and at the same time drawing superheroes and comic characters. It felt like I was torn between doing what I love to do and doing what I have to do,” Julius says.

In the end, he changed his major after four years and left architecture to pursue his love of comics. It wasn’t an easy change, however.

Z: The Dream Warrior page 4 with art by Julius Dean Abrera

“Lets just say it was hard and easy at the same time,” Julius states as he thinks back to that moment. “Hard, because, my family was greatly affected by the decision I made. It wasn’t easy for me to make them understand the comic world. Easy because, drawing comic characters and comics has been a long time part of me. And finally I’m able to do something with my heart and talent in it.”

Julius eventually moved on to become a freelance artist, working on commissions and sequential art for independent labels, including Plan B Comics. His ultimate goal, however, is to work for the Big Two.

“I think every young and new comic artist like me wants their name published and wants to be known as having worked on mainstream comic industry titles from Marvel and DC publishers. For me, as of now, that’s the current goal, to be able to work with the big names on comics.” I’m personally confident that Julius is not that far off from having his name on a major title from DC or Marvel, and I say that with the utmost sincerity. Ever since reading Frank Miller’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, it has been Julius’ dream to work with the man himself on another Daredevil title. “Frank Miller is such a great writer that he captivates the character not as a super hero, but a living, breathing normal human being, who like us, has problems that needs to be dealt with in our daily lives,” Julius says.

A Daredevil Marvel cover commission with art by Julius Dean Abrera

Like many artists, he has faced a great deal of challenges and obstacles as he continues to grow and improve in his creative endeavors. “The greatest challenge for me as an artist, especially as a new artist, are the adjustments. You have to be able to work much faster to reach the deadline of a book,” he says as he reflects on some of his personal experiences. “I have this latest experience where I was pulled out as an artist of a book because I wasn’t able to produce the required number of pages, and I didn’t reach the deadline. It was an awful feeling and experience for me, but as an artist, it is all part of the deal. Because of this situation and what happened, I have pushed myself even more to work faster without risking the quality of my artwork.”

Julius is clearly a hardworking person who is dedicated to his craft, and is even able to flip a difficult situation into a learning experience and thus, something positive. He has his own personal rewards, as well, which might not be as extravagant as one might think. “The most rewarding experience for me as an artist is when I receive messages from fellow starting/new artists that they have been greatly inspired by my works. Its always an honor when you can share a couple of tips and tutorials on how you draw,” he says.

Julius is obviously well on his way to achieving his goals, both as an artist and as a person. Not only does he have passion, and some amazing skills with a pencil, but he has a fortitude to continue improving in his craft that one could argue is the most important aspect of success. I look forward to seeing his title on the shelves someday. I’d pick up a copy of that book in a heart beat.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Until next time!



Julius Dean Abrera hails from the Philippines and is currently a freelance artist who has done everything from small commissions, to cover art, to sequential work. You can find some of his work on Plan B Comics’  Z: The Dream Warrior, as well as on his Deviant Art page below.