Luke Cage is a black superhero unlike any ever imagined. He is a legend, believed to be invincible, who returns to the mean streets of Prohibition Harlem after serving a 10-year sentence on Rikers Island and finds himself steeped in trouble, says Shawn Martinbrough
, the 38-year-old African-American illustrator of the series.
"All he wants is to be back in the loving arms of his woman, but certain powerful men have different plans for Cage,'' Martinbrough says.
Cage's childhood friend, Willis Stryker, turned godfather of the streets of Harlem, wants him on his crew and under his thumb. But a patrician, Randall Banticoff, whose wife was murdered in a Harlem alley, wants Cage to find the killer.
"Cage is about to learn that coming home is never easy, and to survive, he just might have to kill a whole lot of people,'' says Martinbrough.
Martinbrough resides in Washington and New York City and works as a freelance illustrator
and is director/co-founder of Verge Entertainment. He takes time from his busy schedule to talk about the four-part 'Luke Cage Noir' series, the first of which is due out this month, and was written by Mike Benson (HBO's 'Entourage') and Adam Glass (A&E's 'The Cleaner'):Tell us about Luke Cage. Is he anything like you?
Nope. Unfortunately, I'm not bulletproof.How did you come up with the idea?
Starting last year, Marvel Comics began publishing "Noir" styled versions of their popular characters such as Spiderman, X-Men and others. Based on my Noir style featured in my art instructional book, 'How to Draw Noir Comics: The Art and Technique of Visual Storytelling,' I was asked to illustrate "Luke Cage Noir" by Marvel executive editor Axel Alonso. When I received the script for the first issue, I began to research the fashions and architecture of Harlem circa the 1930's. This was instrumental once I developed the designs for the main characters.What's the next adventure?
I'm currently creating an exhibit for the Studio Museum in Harlem. It is slated for mid-August and the tentative title is "The Making of a Harlem Hero: Luke Cage.'' The exhibit explores the depictions of Luke Cage over the years and culminates with my version. Along with my partner and former Batman editor Joseph Phillip Illidge, I will show how graphic novels are created from start to finish. My company, Verge Entertainment, is producing a promotional campaign for the Howard Theater renovation in Washington, DC. You can learn more at Verge Entertainment site
. In regards to future art projects, I might be working on something related to the 'Punisher' for Marvel Comics in the near future.When did you start drawing?
I've been drawing since elementary school. What made you become an illustrator?
Back in the 1980s, I started copying those old school metal lunchboxes that kids would bring to school. Once my mother saw my drawings, she and my father enrolled me in a painting course at our local community center. It was a great class and I learned to paint with acrylics but once I discovered comic books, I knew that I wanted to draw them one one day.What did your parents say about your chosen profession? Were they supportive?
My parents were supportive all the way from elementary school to my majoring in art at the Fiorello LaGuardia High School of the Arts to my obtaining my BFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts. As long as I was employed, which I have been since my junior year in college, they were happy!Is it frustrating because there are so few African American illustrators?
Not really because there are a good number of African Americans working in the comic book industry. Actually, it is such a faceless profession that unless a creator has an obviously ethnic last name, a reader has no idea what nationality the writer or artist is. Quite a few times, I have been surprised to learn that an artist whose work I admire is Black. However, I do find that there are more African Americans working as artists rather than writers in this industry. In terms of editors, there is a very small number of Blacks in those positions. This can be frustrating because editors shape and approve content to be published.Do you come up with the ideas and then create the story line or does someone else write the story? How does it work?
It really varies from project to project. With "Luke Cage Noir" the writers Mike Benson and Adam Glass worked closely with our editor Axel Alonso to shape the story and script. Once that was finalized and approved, I was given the script to illustrate.How do you develop your characters?
In this case, I created the visual look for all of the characters in the script. Since the story is set in 1930's Harlem, I did quite a bit of research of the look of the period. I drew studies of the hairstyles, the fashions, etc. One detail I was very conscious about in regards to Luke Cage's design was his hairstyle. I was at a book signing and mentioned that Cage was my next project. An older African American man, who was a comic fan, was very excited but pleaded with me not to make Cage bald. Unfortunately, the defacto hairstyles for Black characters in the comic book industry are either bald or an outdated fade. I'd attribute that frustrating detail to a lack of diversity.