By Sean T. Collins
When it comes to conjuring up action-adventure with an alternative edge and a retro look, Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca are sorcerers supreme. Their limited series Street Angel (now available in trade paperback from SLG) features the old-school adventures of a homeless skateboarding tween girl who rumbles with ninjas and mad scientists between dumpster diving, while their upcoming spinoff collection The Afrodisiac (out from AdHouse this December) focuses on the down'n'dirty crimefighting of a '70s-style action hero. Meanwhile, Rugg's teaming up with Dandy Warhols singer Courtney Taylor for One Model Nation, the upcoming Image graphic novel about a post-punk band's conflict with a terrorist gang in late-'70s Germany.
So when the pair got tapped for a STRANGE TALES story, their attentions naturally turned to the Bronze Age badass Brother Voodoo. Nowadays Dr. Jericho Drumm may be the new Sorcerer Supreme, but Rugg and Maruca are taking him back to his street-level roots. Below, Rugg tells us how they plan to do it, and reveals the classic Marvel tales that still inspire him.
Marvel.com: Why'd you select Brother Voodoo for your story, Jim?
Jim Rugg: I like the weird '70s Marvel characters like Brother Voodoo, Satanna, Morbius, ROM, Power Man and Iron Fist. Those characters are so transparently a marketing grab, yet the creators seem earnest in their effort and execution, for the most part. There's a sense of anything might happen. You can almost see the duct tape holding these concepts together. They're the second generation of Marvel characters, and they are so different than the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee model. It's almost Marvel's awkward teenage rebellion period.
Marvel.com: Tell us a little bit about your story.
Jim Rugg: Our story is a four-page homage to blaxploitation movies that showcases all the great powers of Brother Voodoo, including his dead brother Daniel's spirit, his mastery of fire, his ability to generate the sound of tribal drums, voodoo—i.e. zombies—and lest anyone forget, his alter-ego's medical training as a doctor. Using a combination of voodoo and western medicine, Dr. Jericho Drumm has begun to win the war on drugs in the Harlem theater. The local drug kingpin doesn't like that Drumm is helping junkies get clean, so one night, he sends his street gang thugs to take out Drumm's clinic. Unfortunately for them, Brother Voodoo survives, and he's pissed.
Page from Jim Rugg's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
Marvel.com: Care to share any Marvel memories with us?
Jim Rugg: I had two go-throughs with Marvel. When I was little, I read a couple books, one was a DAREDEVIL, like issue #215 or something, Bob Brown I think drew it. Another was a Byrne FANTASTIC FOUR with this dying alien that seems disturbing from what I can remember. And an issue of HULK where Sasquatch and Hulk team up and beat down Wendigo using giant redwood trees as weapons.
Then I didn't read anymore for like 6 years. And when I started again, one of my first comics was WOLVERINE #10, drawn by John Buscema and inked by Bill Sienkiewicz. What a wonderful and unlikely marriage of penciller/inker. Gorgeous.
Marvel.com: What's your all-time favorite?
Jim Rugg: Favorite...hard to say. I read UNCANNY X-MEN for a long time with Claremont's run and I really liked it for a while. My favorite part of that run was the Silvestri/Green stuff. It was almost nothing but subplots. Very bizarre storytelling. It was a fascinating reading experience, because I started reading the book about 10 years into Claremont's run and it was nearly incomprehensible to a new reader at that point. Every scene felt like a tiny piece of a huge puzzle. And the more I'd read, the more I would start to see how the threads connected and understand the various relationships of the characters. I love remembering that. I'm not sure it's a specific experience I've had with any other comics or pop culture. Maybe watching The Wire. I started watching The Wire during Season 3, and I think when that season started, the creators thought it was going to be the final season. And it was one of those storytelling experiences where each scene was like viewing the world through a small window. And as you looked out more windows, more and more of that world became clear. It was very dense with characters and subplots in a similar way.
The Miller DAREDEVIL, Miller/Mazzucchelli DAREDEVIL, the Nocenti/Romita Jr./Al Williamson DAREDEVIL are pretty great, and so underrated. One of my favorite all-time comics is Barry Windsor-Smith's WEAPON X in the original comics. The coloring in those comics on the crappy newsprint is perfection. And the storytelling is just incoherent and violent and inspired coloring.
I remember a damn great old Marvel comic that deserves some spotlight: CAPTAIN AMERICA #144. For any enthusiast of Silver/Bronze Age weirdness, this is the ultimate Marvel comic. It features the homoerotically charged break-up of Captain America and the Falcon. Gray Morrow draws a sequence in the middle of the comic that features a sweating, shirtless Captain America in bed having a nightmare about their break-up. The cover is a photograph of the two being torn in half. It's super hero melodrama framed like a classic romance comic. Cap even stalks Falcon. At one point, Cap peeping-Toms the Falcon and his girlfriend from a fire escape. Then after a passionate talk, the Falcon shows Captain America his new flamboyant costume. It's an incredible comic book, where all the subtext of the usual super hero camaraderie is brought to the fore. It's bizarre and fantastic, and one of my favorite Marvel comics ever.
Another favorite is 2001 #5, "Norton of New York." Jack Kirby, one of the major architects of the super hero genre, deconstructs the genre using the language he helped codify. It's genius, almost Godard-like in the way it's simultaneously a comic book—very entertaining, creative—and a critical, self-reflexive analysis of the super hero as a concept and as escapist wish-fulfillment. It's also a prophecy of a virtual-reality fanboy future that looks eerily similar to the world in which we currently reside and the one that seems to loom just around the corner.
Marvel.com: Wow, that's quite a history lesson! I'm hitting some quarter bins next chance I get. Are there any other Marvel characters you'd like to work with someday?
Jim Rugg: Punisher. He's one of my favorites. Brian and I wrote a full script for a Punisher vs. Galactus death match story. Maybe Luke Cage...maybe. But if I had my shot at anyone, it'd be Frank Castle. Back to the '80s action thing. Not sure why we didn't do a Punisher story. I think Brian hates the Punisher. I know a lot of people think he's lame. Whatever, dude.
Page from Jim Rugg's contribution to STRANGE TALES #2
Marvel.com: Agreed. Now, what would you recommend people track down if they come across your work in STRANGE TALES and want to see more?
Jim Rugg: Hmmm....hard to say. I usually recommend Street Angel, though I think it may be out of print momentarily. It should be back in print before the end of the year.
I'm currently putting together a collection of The Afrodisiac—a 1970s style super hero/blaxploitation character. That will be out late this year from AdHouse Books. Brian Maruca is co-writing it, like he did with Street Angel. We're creating new content for it as well as collecting all the stories from various anthologies. I'm optimistic that it will yield an entertaining and attractive book. Fingers crossed. It's hardcover, full-color. I'm super excited.
Marvel.com: What else are you working on these days?
Jim Rugg: I just finished illustrating a graphic novel called One Model Nation for Image. It will be out this fall/winter (October). It's about a band in 1970s Germany and the Baader-Meinhof terrorist youth movement of that time period. I've been referring to it as historical pop fiction. It's a very different drawing style that what I've done before, and it's written by Courtney Taylor, the frontman from the Dandy Warhols.
I drew a Painkiller Jane short story for the next CBLDF benefit comic that Image is publishing. I'm also beginning work on a Guild comic for Dark Horse, written by "The Guild" creator and star, Felicia Day. Should be fun and funny. I have a couple other interesting comics projects in the works, but those are further away, so leave it at that for now.
Marvel.com: This is your Marvel debut-what about your work do you think will make the Marvel zombies out there sit up and take notice?
Jim Rugg: Zombies. [Laughs] Well played, Sean. Well played.
Check out Jim Rugg's Brother Voodoo story in STRANGE TALES #2, on sale October 7!
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