What I Learned by Failing in Comics: Hustle & Flow

Let me start by saying, I’m not a writer. I’m a hustla that raps a lot. For the duration of this causerie, I’m a rapper. Like your favorite rhymes sayer: I got a story to tell.

About decade ago, there was a cipher with the man who gave Bruce Leroy his glow. That build set me on a journey; I took my lyrics and went looking for Sun Dum Goy.

My rhymes, evolved into a screenplay. I rapped in the studio, my rhymes became a novel. I kept on rapping until I had a demo tape.

When I was hustling my original novel in the streets, OGs put me on to the comic book route. Considering the nature of my rhymes: martial arts fantasy fiction, many figured it was best way for people see me lyrically.

Art by JC Grande

Like your favorite rhyme spitter, I had a sob story: got dissed at a few comic shows, Janes told me “I was just a friend,” burn on a few radio stations with no fame, rap concerts that turned out to be cons and finally down and out in the streets.

I’ll admit, while growing up, comics weren’t my first love or passion, but during my literary journey I realized their importance. Comics are a necessary right of passage for character creation and development.

A superhero must exist in the comic book realm in order to be accepted in the human psyche. Before getting turnt in the movies, your superhero has to get busy in comics.

I had seen another rapper slash writer, struggle with a comic book project for several years.

There were more than 99 problems. From social media, I watched the person who mentored me on the genre; go through trial after trial, growing as a person and writer, rapping and rhyming. This rapper went on a Fool’s Crusade; later dropping a Shadowlaw on the comic book nation.

Shadowlaw by Brandon Easton

It took a minute, but I started to understand. You see, this venture into comics, or the entertainment business, it’s really about self development. Real talk, your favorite MC/writer’s overnight successes story, it took a decade.

Looking forward, no one wants to spend years crafting their rhymes, creating a comic book or any other creative endeavor. On the real, the journey is just as important as the piece of work that is produced.

For years, my martial arts character, Masternever, was in the back of my mind. He was there in my imagination, and after years of rhyming alone, I realized it was time for others to hear my lyrics.

If you have a character or concept in your mental, get a pen, pad and start writing. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. The moment you set out on your journey into the world of fiction, you’ll find new adversaries. People will unconsciously stifle you, not understanding your need to create or the world your trying to build.

This rapper didn’t step on the literary stage the without doing some research. I did the knowledge in the library; there was wisdom on character development, screenplay writing, and novel construction.

I eventually put my rhymes together and decided to plunge into comics. After purchasing a few books on making comics, I still didn’t have any idea about what I was doing.

Art by JM Cuellar
Art by JM Cuellar

Find a mentor. Someone who has had some success in comics, either working in the industry or has already published a comic. They’ll understand your journey better than anyone else.

I didn’t start out with a hit single. All I had were my rhymes and I needed beats. Even if you can’t afford to complete an entire graphic novel or comic, you can work with illustrators on concept art. It won’t happen all at once, however, you will be encouraged as you see your character come to life in the studio.

Way back, after my novel/demo tape dropped, I collaborated with an illustrator on concept drawings, bringing the character to life visually. You can find talented visual artists on Facebook groups, Craigslist, Digital Webbing, comic forums and artist events like a local Drink and Draw.

Before I was ready for the radio station, I’d let workers in comic stores hear my rhymes. I found many of them to be supportive and I’d definitely recommend that new MCs/comic creators talk to those employed in the stores. They aren’t jaded and work in the shops because they have a passion for comics. They got the love.

Art by JC Grande
Art by JC Grande

I can’t front, after deciding to get in the game, I was intimidated by the rappers who had better rhymes. I realized that if my comic book was going to have any impact, it couldn’t be traditional.

Inspired by Conan graphic novels — and an art project — I pulled a Marley Marl, asking several illustrators to participate in my symphony. They dropped science and drew chapters from my self published novel. A collaborative comic book that allowed people to see Masternever with many lyrical styles.

I even decided to abandon traditional comic book lettering and work with a voice narrator and music engineer to score the project. At that time, I felt that the genre was ready for a book accompanied by a mixtape. It was received well, but I felt like the concept was ahead of its time and I could have executed it better, perhaps in an app or on a website.

As a writer who raps, I’d advise you to have respect for people who work with you. Even the best rhyme sayer needs tight beats, so respect those in the studio, crafting the music.

While I’m on it, who’s the king of New York? Which coast is the best? There’s a east and west coast rivalry that has been going on for a while in the comic book industry. Visual artists and writers don’t seem to have an appreciation for each others’ grind.

The illustrator who wants several hundred dollars a page or the writer who wants several hundred to write some comic book rhymes; it has taken many of them years to get to the professional and conscious level where they can demand certain prices.

As far as finding the right people to collab with, build with people who have experience and are true to the game, focusing on one area. Avoid an everything person, the illustrator who wants to graphic design and then next week wants to do something else.

Your best cipher, might be with someone in another country. They may work for less and their beats slash art may be just as good. After you find people to connect with, make sure their art is respected thoroughly in the project.

As a rapper who has hit the stage, I’ll be honest with you and hopefully save you some heartache. Comic-Con won’t make you a success. I think cons are good because they allow introverted artist (regardless of genre) to sit behind a desk and have people come to them instead of going out and networking.

I would advise those new in the industry to skip a table and network at a con. Hand out business cards, sample cards with your comic and network. I met some good people at Comic-Con, but I could have met even more, had I had the advice I’m giving you now.

You’ll get more out of the event and only spend a fraction of the cost. In addition, you’ll have more fun.

On the real, cons are events for the major record labels. A time for Disney, DC, and Marvel, to showcase their new movies and projects. Everyone else is delusional. Think about it, you’re performing at a rap concert with Jay-Z, Eminem, and Kanye West. Do you think anyone is paying to see you?

A few months ago, DC moved out of New York City. Marvel even noted their departure, and truthfully, as I’ve studied the two companies over the years, observing their role in sustaining ComiXolgy. I realized that DC and Marvel are allies.

Two separate companies, that frequently form like Voltron and strategize together. Guess who they’re fighting? I remember a movie featuring Matt Damon, The Informant, where he spoke on price fixing, his quote:

“… the customers are our enemy. The competitors are our friend.”

Don’t get it twisted, all of these films, movies and comic shows are strategically planned. From a comic book perspective, you don’t have to be blind to understand that the only tunes on the radio is white boy music.

Marvel will have a black Spider-Man and a female Thor in the comic universe, but as long as the movies are being produced, the ostensible comic character diversity is irrelevant.

A female Thor doesn’t threaten a male Thor who lives in cinema; movies have a stronger effect on the human subconscious. The only thing this ostensible diversity does, is increase comic book sales.

After being reviewed by a major website, as an unknown creator, I was devastated with a mediocre review. I won’t lie, this rapper took it personal. Slightly frustrated, I moved on, but out of the lesson, an established writer reached out and encouraged me to work on my craft daily.

Real talk, I didn’t want to hear that my comic needed work, or that my idea to omit speech bubbles from the comic was a bad idea. I also didn’t want to admit that what I sent to the editor, even though it was a preview, it wasn’t my best. So definitely work on your lyrics.

Like so many other rappers before me, I had to hustle to get the funds to drop my first album. Part of this mission was being true to myself. The majority of my finances came through a separate business that I started on my own. I had to borrow money like so many others, but having my own business provided me with the discipline and truthfully, the confidence to make my comic a reality. These days, comic creators have to embrace their inner Shawn Carter and-be-the-business-man!

After my debut performance, after a bit of shine, I was down and out: broke and homeless. I’d spend several months in a shelter and during this time, I collaborated with Frostclick for another version of the comic. In 2012, Masternever: Take Respect was downloaded over 40,000 times. I failed to see the success in this while others could. I was too negative and didn’t appreciate the victory.

I definitely encourage writers to appreciate each step during the journey. Pop champagne, after your first outline, or after your first screenplay is registered with the writer’s guild. Celebrate the completion of every goal on the way.

Not appreciating the small victories, would ultimately effect my self esteem and relationships. I didn’t realize that failure was a part of the process. In the past I made the mistake of associating failure with who I was.

If your comic is successful, or you’re still struggling in the studio, don’t let this effect who you are. Separate your creative work from your identity.

Illustrated by Ed Watson and JESUS SAVES
Illustrated by Ed Watson and JESUS SAVES

Finally, you’re not special. You’re going to have to do all of the hard work other writers have done. You may think you’re a golden child, but you’ll have to refine your sword; read books on creating great characters, work at it like you’re an athlete and then you’ll start seeing results.

You can’t stop. You have to persist and if you’re truly on the right path, when you’re studying other successful people and their stories, you’ll notice that you have similarities. You’re already doing things that other Bruce Leroys have done to get to the final level.

Since I’ve delved into the world of comics; I have other stories that I want to work on, but I realize that I have to finish Masternever, and after four years in comics and almost a decade since I first started this story, I’m going to realize my dream and become an overnight success. Even if it takes a decade.

When I started this song, I told you I failed in comics. That is the secret of the rap business, truthfully, it is a journey. When you break through the final level, you’ll realize that there is no Sun Dum Goy and that failure is the direction of success.

I’ve lived in Asia for two years now, still working towards completion of my graphic novel, while introducing the comic in a serialized version. The journey has been rough, but necessary and contributed heavily towards my development as writer.

I’m confident, I got the glow and I’m ready to drop a five mic graphic novel on the industry that said Illmatical wasn’t a master.