Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On B-Boys and Pulp Culture

by Michael A. Gonzales

Planet Hip-Hop has always overflowed with folks into various forms of pulp culture. Over the years, I’ve interviewed many rap artists and producers who shared their love for Star Wars, crime movies, karate flicks and the novels of Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines. Still, I was surprised when Queensbridge legend Nas told me in 1999 that he had once created a Black Pulp hero when he was a kid.

“I used to used to draw my own character called Sea God,” Nas told me. “I copied the body of Conan the Barbarian, but had him standing on the corner instead of in the forest.” Without a doubt, I’m sure Nas isn’t the only one with a stash of drawings and/or writings detailing the bugged adventures of urban champions.

Last year, when respected crime novelist/comic book writer Gary Phillips invited me to contribute a short story to his latest project Black Pulp (Pro Se, 2013), co-edited with Tommy Hancock, I immediately thought of that long ago conversation with Nas and decided I too wanted to create a hood hero.

Leaning back in my office chair, I closed my eyes and thought of my own pulp filled childhood growing-up in Harlem: of listening to old Shadow radio programs that were released on records, watching blaxploitation and kung-fu flicks every weekend, devouring the Marshall Rodgers/Steve Englehart’s version of Batman, discovering the weird worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, watching Buck Rogers/Flash Gordon serials on PBS and falling in love with the work of pulp artist supreme Howard Chaykin, the dude George Lucas requested to illustrate the first Star Wars comic book.

After an hour of drifting on those dusty memories, quicker than I could say, “Batman and Robin, Green Hornet and Kato or Easy Rawlins and Mouse,” my own pulp heroes Jaguar and Shep were born. The lead character Coltrane (Jaguar) Jones owns a Harlem rap club called the Bassment and drives through Harlem cool as Super Fly in a fly sports car. His murderous friend Shep, who just got out of prison, becomes his badass sidekick as the two self-appointed crime fighters go in search of a music minded kidnapper.

Although I’ve never been big on constructing strict outlines for fiction, I knew that I wanted the period to be 1988, the last year Mayor Koch was in office. Crack was at its height, Public Enemy’s brilliant It Takes a Nation of Millions was rockin’ the boulevards, Dapper Dan was creating his bugged designer fashions and New York City was still on the verge exploding.

Recalling Fab 5 Freddy, who also appears in the story, telling me about the jazz/hip-hop shows he did with Max Roach at the Mudd Club in the 1980s, the finished story told the tale of a be-bop lover trying to rid b-boys and their music from the streets of Sugar Hill. While working on the story, I consulted with my good friend Robert (Bob) Morales, himself an accomplished comic book writer, co-creator of the black Captain America graphic novel The Truth and a pulp culture aficionado. Although he was working on a graphic novel about Orson Welles at the time, he always found the time to talk. Once, when I thought the Paul Pope/John Carpenter-Escape from New York inspired climax might be too crazy, Bob reminded me, “It’s a pulp story…there’s no such thing as too wild.”

So, after several weeks of calling Bob, sometimes a few times a day, and writing, “Jaguar and the Jungleland Boogie” was finally finished.  Sadly, Bob Morales died suddenly on April 17, so I’d like to dedicate the story to him.

In addition to my b-boy/be-bop tale, Black Pulp has a cool line-up of creators of color that include famed novelist Walter Mosley, who penned the introduction, Gar Anthony Heywood, Christopher Chambers, Kimberly Richardson, Mel Odom and others.

Buy Black Pulp: http://www.amazon.com/dp/1484135717

Walter Mosley introduction: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/walter-mosley/post_4876_b_3346575.html