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Burnt Like Toast, Solarman with Joe Illidge and N. Steven Harris

Written by Greg Anderson-Elysee on Friday, April 29 2016 and posted in Columns

Burnt Like Toast, Solarman with Joe Illidge and N. Steven Harris

Creators Joe Illidge and N Steven Harris stop by The Griotvine to discuss their new book, Solarman, designing a Brother with a hoodie, and representation of the "controversial" East New York.

illidgeillidgeJoseph Phillip Illidge is a writer, editor, columnist, and public speaker on the subjects of race, the medium and business of comics, and the corporate politics of diversity. His weekly column, "The Mission", appears at Comic Book Resources and has been one of my favorite columns to read, especially when it causes a few fan-boys to respond in offended ways.

His editorial career began at Milestone Media, Inc., the first Black-owned mainstream comic book company and creators of "Static Shock!". His work as an editor of the Batman line of comic books for DC Entertainment included the introduction of Detective Crispus Allen, from the FOX television series "Gotham."

His graphic novel project, "The Ren," about the romance between a young musician from the South and a Harlem-born dancer in 1925, set against the backdrop of a crime war, will be published by First Second Books, a division of Macmillan.

ECBACC Photo 2Also with him today is artist, teacher, and storyboard artist N. Steven Harris, who has had a career spanning over 20 years in the comic book industry. His highlights include DC Comic's, Aztek: The Ultimate Man, a character which he co-created along with Grant Morrison and Mark Millar, Batman: Officer Down (DC Comics), X-Force 101, Deadpool Annual '98 (Marvel Entertainment), The Crush (Motown, Image Comics), his self-published series (Brotherhood of) The Fringe, and is the co-creator of the 2 time Glyph Award winning book, for Best Female Character, Ajala: A Series of Adventures, along with writer Robert Garrett.

Harris is also the 2 time Eisner Nominated and the 4 time Glyph Award Winning artist for Watson and Holmes issue #6, published by New Paradigm Studios. He also has participated in gallery shows showcasing comic book art in New York, Philadelphia, Georgia, Chicago, California, and Japan.

Both amazing creators stopped by the Griotvine to talk about their new book, Solarman!



GREG ANDERSON-ELYSEE: Welcome to (Heard it Thru) The Griot-Vine, fellas! Pleasure to have ya'll here!

N. STEVEN HARRIS: Great to be here, Greg, and thanks for having us, sir!

JOE ILLIDGE: Happy to be with The Outhousers, without having done something bad! Whew!

GREG: Haha! You won that one, Joe. I suppose us Outhousers can be pretty ruthless. But don't be so sure you're out of the jungle yet!

 JOE: Aw, hell. Sounds like I need to call my man Frank Castle for an exit strategy.

GREG: A'ight. Now you're wilin'. So you guys are here to talk a bit about Solarman! Who exactly is our young new protagonist and what can you tell us about him?



JOE: Solarman is a Black male teenager named Ben Tucker. He's a hacker living in East New York, Brooklyn. Basically, the only area of Brooklyn that hasn't (yet) been seriously transformed as a result of gentrification. Between dealing with bullies and being pissed off about his situation, he's exposing politicians to the world.

Someone like Ben would have thrown almost all of the Presidential hopefuls out of the picture before the Primaries.

The story's about what happens when Ben is empowered by alien technology, as a result of his hacking activities, and how his life is almost immediately changed as a result.

Basically, the 21st century POC version of Spider-Man.

No, not that other guy.


GREG: Whomever are you referring to? So what are Ben's abilities? I may flip if you tell me electric powers. (Laugh)

JOE: Oh, noooooooo. I wouldn't want to follow that well-worn road. That said, Ben's powers are nuclear in nature. He would be closer to Firestorm than Static.

Ben's body generates and processes nuclear energy, which in the early stages enhances his strength, metabolism, and allows him to harness limited amount of nuclear power.

GREG: Oh nice! How did you two get involved with Scout Comics and this book in particular?

JOE: I was contacted by Brendan Deneen, the owner of Scout Comics, publisher of Solarman. His company received the publishing rights from the character's creators, David Oliphant and Deborah Kalman, and Brendan was familiar with my work and projects in development, so he asked me to write the book with him.

N. STEVEN: [And] I got a phone call from Joe asking me to be a part of this project. I was pretty much that simple. He told me about it, I thought about, and I said yes. I wish I had a more exciting narrative.

GREG: Given the original Solarman was a two-issue run from Marvel from 1989, what prompt this reboot and revamp of the character?

Solarman Vol 1 1

JOE: The creators of Solarman decided to bring the character back, and to race-bend him, as the original version of the character was White.

We've spoken a lot about social conditions in America. Bullying, fatal violence against young Black men, hacking as a means of activism. All of these realities and subjects factor into the importance of Solarman coming back to comics now.

GREG: In addition to the different racial backgrounds and upbringings, how is this incarnation different from the original and will we see any type of co-relation or nod between the two?

SOLARMAN 01 12JOE: This version is not fighting Doctor Doom. He's fighting the police and the government. Also, an extraterrestrial, but that's something the original version did, as well.

Whether or not there's a connection between the two versions, I'd have to say mayyyyyyybe.

GREG: N. Steven, what about from an artistic standpoint? Any correlation, or maybe even a future costume design?

N. STEVEN: Yes there will be another costume design. Once we get further into the story, there will be a need for an upgrade.

GREG: While we're on costume design, what made you guys decide to stay away from the typical superhero costume? And what message are you giving about the fact that he wears a hoodie?

N. STEVEN: I think that was a joint decision, but it was Joe that wanted a particular type of hoodie. He wanted the character to be, somewhat, up to date in a fashion sense. The super hero costume, in the traditional sense, is kind of played out right now. I was kind of turned off by costumes in the 90's. But I still collected those comics. That was more so for my design sense.

JOE: I thought about Ben as a teenager, so his fashion sense is his costume. It's more in line with Japanese Manga in that way. Costumes are part of a certain vocabulary in a certain kind of world. The world of Solarman is just beginning, so never say never, but definitely say not today.

GREG: East New York has a reputation of being a bit of a rough neighborhood in Brooklyn, so much so that I actually teach at a middle school there and my students are working on a project about how the media portrayals Black and Latino youth as opposed to whom they really are. How much research, both plotting/writing and design wise, was done to be close to authentic While keeping in mind with how the area is generally represented?

N. STEVEN: Well I worked in the area as well, only briefly, but I definitely understand what you are talking about. SOLARMAN 01 17Now the houses in that area differ from houses, or brownstones in the Brooklyn areas of Bed-Stuy or Bushwick. I referenced the area to give it the East New York look. When we revisit the area I may have to throw in the elevated 2 train for good measure. In an upcoming issue, we are visiting Philly, which will be fun, and is a place I have visited plenty of times. That will be exciting to drawing.

JOE: The significance of East New York will become apparent later in the story, as it directly relates to Ben's mother, but the portrayal of the neighborhood is not one note. There are various notes.

I'm hoping that by the end of the first story, Ben will resonate with people due to characteristics which we may all share, but don't like to show in our armor for the world. Our environment forces us to develop armor, so East New York plays a role in that way, as well.

GREG: Who are the supporting characters close to our lead and how do they inform his development, before and after his event of receiving his abilities?

JOE: Ben's father, Desmond Tucker, is a police detective, and he and Ben are not on the best terms right now. They pass each other on the way to their lives every day, and the loss of Ben's mother is part of the reason why. By the end of issue #1, Ben's father will have a major impact on his son's immediate future.

Jenny Dash is Ben's only friend on Earth. A middle-class high school graduate and entrepreneur, Jenny's the owner and Editor-in-chief of "The Flare", an online journalistic site that focuses on the place where pop culture, politics, and conspiracy theories meet. Her need to know the truth about things may turn Jenny into the biggest threat to Ben's secret by the end of the story.

Minerva Lake is the...well, see issue #2.

The most impactful person in Ben's life is his dead mother, Laura Tucker. See issue #4.

GREG: Who is the main antagonist that he goes against initially and what other challenges will he face?

solarman 3 cover april finalJOE: The main antagonist is Gormagga Kraal, an alien scientist who shares a common viewpoint with Ben about most of the human race. The difference is that Kraal sees things from a morally righteous, scientific perspective, whereas Ben's take on people is emotionally self-righteous.

Ben's first meeting with Kraal is going to be...educational for him.

His other external challenges are the results of a young Black man becoming a perceived threat, on a local and global scale.

N. STEVEN: Gormagga Kraal is really interesting. Joe gave me an idea of who character is and what kind of look he had in mind. I wanted to make this character really ominous, scary and cool, with a bit of attraction. Incorporated in this design was a particular actor that has a really interesting look. I know I am being wonderfully vague, but I don't know what Joe said, so I don't want to give too much away.

GREG: What exactly is the working process and dynamic between the two of you when you're working on this book?

N. STEVEN: Well, once the script is written and in my hands, I do some thumbnails and then move on to what I call developed sketches which are larger and more...developed or closer to the finish. I send them to Joe and he and Brendan go over the sketches. I do whatever revisions then go final pencils. When we do the character designs, Joe and I would research images of the characters, celebrities and everyday people. We may come up with an amalgam of maybe 2 to 3 people to 1 character. Brendan would add some suggestions and Dave would say yay or nay. It is an all around collaborative process that runs pretty smoothly.

JOE: Steve is a great storyteller, so I trust him to take the script to the next level. The scripts I co-write with Brendan Deneen are full script, inclusive of panel breakdowns and dialogue for all pages. Seeing character designs is one of my favorite parts of the process, so as Steve said, I'll throw some ideas as him, and he'll come back with a great fusion to present a realized vision for the Solarman cast.

SOLARMAN 2 COVERGREG: I wrote a piece recently about the current rise of diversity and Black based comics in the Independent community.Where does Solarman fit in within this current Black Comic Renaissance and what does this book mean to you two?

N. STEVEN: It's an opportunity to work with a good friend from college, who is also, a consummate professional, an awesome and compelling writer that really thinks about the characters he creates and writes, and a knowledgeable comic book scholar. If Joe doesn't know something about a comic book character, story line, or anything comic book related, it's time to be afraid. Be careful, because some unknown shit is about to happen. I am not really sure where Solarman fits in the Black Comic Renaissance, but it fits, and after a while the fans will decide where. It's getting a growing amount of attention and hype and we are looking forward to meet and surpass that hype. We have the talent and technology to get this done.

JOE: Like Steve said, our friendship goes back many years. He was the first artist I hired when I joined the Batman Editorial Group at DC Comics, for a Huntress story I'm still proud of to this day. The opportunity to finally work with him as a writer, to revamp a new young, Black hero for these times is great.

Where Solarman fits into the Black Comic Renaissance has yet to be revealed, but I honestly feel 2016 is the perfect year for it. We'll start to see if that's true on June 29th, when SOLARMAN #1 hits comic book specialty stores nationwide!

GREG: Readers, be sure to pre-order your copy of Solarman today, Friday 29th of April, as it is the final cut off day to pre-order through your retailer and comic book shop!

Solarman-Preorder-Form v2



* Photograph of N. Steven Harris by Malik Yusef.


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About the Author - Greg Anderson-Elysee

Gregory Anderson-Elysee is a Brooklyn born and based filmmaker (director and editor), playwright, comic book writer, model, and part time actor. He was one of the first writers and interviewers of The Outhouse. He is the writer and creator of the upcoming book Is'nana the Were-Spider. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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