Shawn Martinbrough on writing the Red Hood

SciFiPulse talks with writer, creator, illustrator, LaGuardia High School of Music and Art and School of Visual Arts alumni Shawn Martinbrough.
Shawn Martinbrough

SciFiPulse is pleased to be able to talk with one of the top artists working in the comic industry today, who has worked on Batman, Black Panther, Luke Cage, Hell Boy, Thief of Thieves, among other notable projects. Author, creator, illustrator, and a LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, and School of Visual Arts alumni, Shawn Martinbrough.

Shawn is even a Ted Talk presenter. And in his entertaining, funny, and inspiring Ted Talk, it is quite nice to find out that Shawn is the very first African American illustrator to have become an ongoing penciler for DC’s legendary Batman series, Detective Comics.

In the very same Ted Talk, Shawn makes a notable quote, “Art inspires art and creativity feeds creativity.” He also speaks of using his power as a creator to make powerful images in the projects he works on, but also to purposefully make those stories more diverse. Shawn finishes the Ted Talk by pointing out that the very same power resides in all of us. The power of representation.

It is inspiring that Shawn consciously makes his work more diverse, and issues 51 and 52 of the Red Hood , which can be found on comic shop shelves now, are prime examples of this. Its important to recognize that thanks to Shawn’s body of work, current and future artists of color in fact stand on Shawn’s shoulders. Just as Shawn stands on the shoulders of others who preceded him.

View Shawn’s Ted Talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_martinbrough_how_i_change_perceptions_by_drawing_comics

As DC comic fans may be familiar with Martinbrough’s artwork, they surely know the DC character, Jason Todd. The second young man to have protected the streets of Gotham alongside Batman as the legendary Robin.

Interestingly back in 2000, Shawn illustrated the DC Comics one-shot, Batman: The Hill, in which this inner city neighborhood was first introduced into the DC universe by Martinbrough and writer, Christopher Priest.

As an unrelated side thought, as well as a fan of the CW’s ongoing Batwoman television series, it would be great to see the new Batwoman visit this Gotham’s neighborhood on the small screen.

From his home in the Washington D.C. area, SciFiPulse is fortunate to talk about some of the interesting aspects of DC’s newest Red Hood storyline with its writer, Shawn Martinbrough:

SFP (SciFiPulse)“Congratulations on writing DC Comics Red Hood #51 and 52. The story arc was a fun read and compelling to me as a reader specifically in part due to your use of villain-based merchandise successfully being sold in Gotham.

Can you give the readers insight as to why you thought to create a successful line of villain based merchandise being sold and widely consumed in Gotham? And more importantly. what does it say about not only Gotham’s culture and its citizens, but in turn; about the world around you the writer? Did this have something to do with what influenced your decision making and writing process when you were thinking about this story?”

SM (Shawn Martinbrough) “The idea of a Batman rogue’s gallery-based merchandise just made sense in 2020. It organically sprung out of the concept of a young, Gotham based fashion designer being influenced by their environment.

The artist Andy Warhol was a big influence on developing the character of Thomas Misell aka “Tommy Maxx” and his sampling of pop culture.”

SFP “As an adult consumer myself, there are only a small number of books I read regularly. One of the aspects of comics I am very attracted to as a collector are the character’s first appearances along with milestone books.

And speaking of first appearances, in Red Hood #51, you came up with some new characters for this story arc, at least One hero and one villain I believe.

What were your influences in creating these characters and what are you saying about society in your African American hero and in contrast, your rich Caucasian villain?” 

SM “Race was less important than creating interesting characters with depth and motivations that the reader could identify with. There are varying degrees of wealth represented by the characters in this story. Tommy Maxx and Jason Todd both come from wealth but use it in different ways.

Denise Harlowe is a broadcaster in Gotham so she’s pulling in a nice salary. Dana Harlowe and her crew are all small business owners in The Hill. Demetrius Korlee, Jr is also a small business owner with a lucrative side hustle.

The real conflict in every society is all about socio-economics.”

SP “I also liked your focus on the black community in the book as a focus and setting of the story. Why was this important to you generally and what message and/or influence are you purposefully putting into the mythos of what we understand and expect out of our heroes and villains in this way?”

SM “The main theme of this Red Hood story is all about family. Since I didn’t have the freedom to write a game-changing scene between Jason Todd and Bruce Wayne talking out all of their issues, I created a cast of supporting characters to play out elements of their conflict.

Having Jason watch this dynamic from a distance, might give his character a newfound appreciation for what Bruce’s position has been on vigilantism all of this time. In life, there are very few absolutes and there are far more grey areas than there are black and white.

The concept of “heroes and villains” can be a bit simplistic and every person has skeletons in their closet.”

SFP “While congratulations are in order for what I think was your first adventure in the world of comics as a writer, which I think was a success; it was very hard for me to find a copy of Red Hood #51.

Now while this is a testament at least in part I think to the fan base and following of yourself and the book’s creative team, it also seemed in part to be a product of comic shops simply not ordering as many comics as they used to.

But by the same token, I traveled to four different comic shops, looking for Red Hood #51. The book was sold out in the first two stores I visited, ultimately finding the last copy on the shelf of the fourth shop I went to. However and interestingly, at the third comic shop I went to, Gods and Monsters, which is a well-established comic shop in Orlando Florida, they have simply stopped selling DC comics!? An instance, which I found both fascinating and alarming at the same time.

While I have heard about DC no longer going through Diamond from a distributing model, it concerns me as comic lover because this just makes it harder to find DC comics, which is already tough as typically one of the only places to find comics now is at comic shops.

But the comic shop personal told me that they just can’t make money selling DC comics and the owner simply decided to stop selling new DC books altogether.

While I love the idea of your book selling out and being a little hard to find personally, which I commend you on, and I think from reading your social media posts you also found to be somewhat the case in the Washington DC area. But what are your thoughts on the one hand over your book selling out at comic shops, while on the other hand and more broadly; what are your thoughts and insights on the future of DC comics being sold from a retail perspective? Are these a sign of the changing comic times?”

SM “Since I’m a sporadic comic book purchaser, I can’t speak on this from an informed perspective. I buy books very randomly and usually based on the creative teams. This year I illustrated the three-part “Prométhée 13:13” for ComiXology and French publisher Delcourt.

It was the first time I’ve ever worked on a project that was released exclusively on the digital platform. Digital comics are a growing market and definitely a sign of the times. As with most industries, comic publishers and retailers have been forced to adapt to so many competing forces. Kids don’t read as much. Gaming and social media are huge competitors for their attention.

Personally, I prefer reading a physical comic or graphic novel. However, when the ComiXology folks demonstrated how my colored artwork would read illuminated in high definition, it was pretty impressive to see.”

SFP “Where do you see your career taking you next as you are now writing comics, and where do you see yourself going as a creator in the future?”

SM “I will definitely be writing more and working in different genres and industries. I’m hard at work on my first creator-owned graphic novel for John Jennings’ new “Megascope” imprint at Abrams Book I’m writing and illustrating that project. I also have a few interesting projects outside of the comic book industry that will be announced and debuting soon. ;)”

Tye Bourdony is the co-owner of scifipulse.net as well as the U.S. based content editor for Sci Fi Pulse. Tye is also a Sci Fi cartoonist and creator of ‘The Lighter Side of Sci-Fi’, a mediator, deep space traveler, and the lead interstellar reporter for the Galactic Enquirer. He is also a graduate of the Barry University School of Law, SUNY Purchase and H.S. of Music & Art. Tye currently works in Florida’s 9th Circuit as the staff Family Mediator and has a regular self-published column in Sci Fi Magazine. You can visit Tye on facebook and at www.thelightersideofscifi.com or send your thoughts and story/article ideas to [email protected]
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