Why haven’t you picked up KID CODE yet? If this is the first time you heard of the comic book KID CODE by John Jennings, and Stacey Robinson, I’ll excuse you, but only until the end of this article. As a child of the 80’s in New York, I witnessed hip hop grow, and can claim that as the music of my generation, just like others can claim Jazz and Rock “n” Roll. As someone who can appreciate Dr.Who, but never really got into it, I look at Kid Code as the perfect marriage of these two elements that really have no place being together. But they do, and here is John Jennings to tell us more about KID CODE.
Let’s start with you telling us what KID CODE is about?
KID CODE: CHANNEL ZERO is a nostalgic adventure comic that is highly influenced by 1970s Marvel Comics and Old School Hip Hop. The main character, a Knight of the Infinite Digging (or a K.i.D.) ,named Code must find the living shard of the World Tree that is disguised in the Shape of little girl. The girl has part of a cipher that will help lead Code and his team to the Phantom Station; an invisible evil intergalactic broadcast vessel run by the diabolical entity known only as The Power. The Power is hell-bent on universal domination and uses Channel Zero to constantly reset existence whenever our heroes are close to a victory. Code must fight for his life and the fate of us all.
At the heart of the narrative, however, is a story about how our cultural productions are stolen by capitalist control and sold back to us as empty vessels that don’t really relate to the expression it was stolen from. The Power must always be fought at any cost!
Is there any character in the series that stands out as your favorite?
I am torn between Kid Code and Roxy Clockwise. Code is just all adrenaline and energy.He sometimes acts before he thinks and it gets him into a lot of trouble. This is totally cool with him because he loves a good scrap. He has a heart of gold and is a fierce opponent to anyone that comes against his crew or his mission.
Roxy is a great foil for Code. She is best friend, his partner and every bit his equal. In this issue she plays the support role but, in issue two you see a lot more of what she can do. We really wanted to create a fun and unique female character that can go toe-to-toe with any male character around. She was inspired by Roxane Shante and The Real Roxanne; Two sisters who could bring the noise as easily as any male MC.
What was the inspiration for KID CODE?
Stacey Robinson and myself created an entity, studio, and artshow called Black Kirby. It was all about using the work of Jack Kirby and his amazing amount of creative projects as a jumping off point to talk about race, gender, class, and popular culture. We made tons of fake covers for books and used the vernacular of comics as a way to talk about privilege, nostalgia, and re-mediated images through an Afrofuturist lens. The show was very successful and has toured both nationally and internationally. The problem was that the audience wanted to really see these characters…not just faux covers. So, we decided to create original Black Kirby comics that were in the same spirit as the original show, but were fully realized comics creations.
Kid Code was inspired by Dr. Who, Green Lantern, and Old School Hip hop. We both love Hip hop culture and we also love Science Fiction. When you blend those two together… You get something like Kid Code…I guess? Code was also heavily influenced by the works of Pedro Bell, Overton Llloyd and the work from the French sci-fi fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant. The three of us all have a huge appreciation for experimental comics and even though Kid Code is for younger readers; it’s still pretty sophisticated regarding it’s formal structure.
The overall concept of Kid Code was also influenced by John Akofrah’s idea of the “Data Thief” from his film on black electronic music called
The Last Angel of History. So, like the culture that influences it KID CODE:CHANNEL ZERO is a remix.
What is your primary role on KID CODE?
I am one of the story editors on the book and co-creator of the character. I am also the inker, colorist, and book designer for Kid Code.
Can you tell us a bit about the other people working on KID CODE, and how you guys met up?
That’s a long story. Damian Duffy and I are very good friends and have been working on indie comics, comics scholarship, and comics curation around alternative identity for over a decade. We met at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I was a professor of design there when Damian was a graduate student. I brought Scott McCloud to UIUC and by some weird chain of events we met. We hit it off and started making comics, writing about comics, and doing comics shows and events. We have several books out on our work in comics, The Hole: Consumer Culture vol. 1 is our graphic novel. We also co-curated an exhibition called Out of Sequence:Underrepresented Voices in American Comics. There is a catalog associated with that show
Distributed by Washington University. We also co-edited, wrote, and designed Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture; a coffe table book that is a cursory survey of some of the leading independent publishers in our country who happen to be black and create black characters.
I met Stacey at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC) one of the premier black themed comics conventions in the country. Damian and I happened to have a table by Stacey and we hit it off. Months later, I was stationed beside him at ONYXCON in Atlanta. That time we really got to deep conversations about art, design and hip hop. Stacey eventually moved to Buffalo to study with me at the University at Buffalo State University of New York (SUNY) where I now teach graphic design. He just finished with his Master’s of Fine Arts from UB. It was there that we created Black Kirby and began making new stories.
Do you intend for KID CODE to be an ongoing, mini series, maxi series, one shot?
This book is going to be a mini-series. Issue one is about 40 pages. The story is set up to be three parts and each will have around that number of pages.
How long did it take to complete KID CODE, from the first time you put pen to paper?
Stacey and I finished principal art on the book in about three months. Damian (Tan Lee) came on as story editor and writer and the book took another month or so. We did a lot of planning before hand though.
Did you pitch this to other studios, or was KID CODE something you wanted to handle from the start?
We were approached by Rosarium Publishing (rosariumpublishing.com) pretty early on. We really respect what Bill Campbell is doing with his company and so we wanted to be a part of that energy. He is very serious about creating a truly diverse and author driven space and his began to see success in just two years after founding the company. So, we didn’t pitch the book anywhere else. We decided to go with Rosarium and we’ve enjoyed that relationship with them.
Can you tell us if there is anything you’ve done, that other independent comic book publishers have not done, to market KID CODE?
Honestly, we have been so busy that it’s been difficult to market the book. Rosarium has done a great job of distributing the book and getting into people’s hands or on their screens. So, we haven’t actually done a lot of “clever” marketing outside the usual yet. We still managed to snag a GLYPH Comics Award nomination for best art though! And solid to great reviews are still coming in on the book. I am sure that once we finish the next two books and collect all three that we will re-double our efforts to get more eyes on the story.
Where do you see KID CODE 3 years from now?
Hopefully,collected in school libraries and other public spaces. Kid Code is a great story that deals with cultural history and politics. We feel that it will make a great educational comic. We are all scholars and teachers and that is very important to all of us and our work. The three of us are very dedicated to social justice and how stories can improve our lives by focusing on real issues; even if they are couched in a mystical sci-fi hip hop adventure.
What is the next step?
The next step is to finish up the second and third books, collect them and get them out via our publisher/distributor.
Can you tell us a bit about the follow up to Channel Zero?
Kid Code is a time-travel story and the universe is huge! So, there’s always a chance that we will come back to Code after the initial collection is done. So far, people have been mostly liking it. So, if that keeps up and people want more; I guess we will cross that bridge when we come to it. We are all busy on a barrage of art projects, event planning, curations, and other scholarly endeavors. But if Code calls, I am sure we will answer.
Where can people pick KID CODE up?
You can pick up the book in hard copy at indyplanet.com. It is available digitally there as well and also at independent publisher’s group, peep game comix and comixology. Just do a search for KID CODE: CHANNEL ZERO.
Where can people find you, or find out more about the book?
I am JIJennings on twitter. JIJENNINGS70 on instagram and jijennin70.tumblr.com (SEE JAY ADVENTURES) on tumblr.
Our publisher’s site listing for KID CODE is here: http://rosariumpublishing.com/rosarium-books-kid-code-channel-zero.html
Before we go is there anything we haven’t touched on that you’d like people to know?
Well, one thing we are really proud of is that this comic book is an ode to hip hop all the way down to it’s structure. A lot of hip hop comics like this tend to take a famous MC and make him a super hero. That’s cool but, in some ways, too obvious a move? We wanted to take more of an approach like the MadTwinz classic Comic Blokhedz and really highlight the culture a lot more by focusing a lot on the world building and connecting it directly to Hip Hop culture in more abstract terms. So,after we plotted the book, I used dice to actually roll the number of panels per page we’d use. I used a chance as a creative vehicle..like a freestyle to create the book’s structure. After knowing the panel layout, I created a visually based script that described each scene to Stacey. After Stacey drew the pencils I inked and colored them; very collaborative and based in “call and response”. Then we shot the images over to Damian for writing and Lettering. He free-styled his dialogue as he lettered. We used the plot first “Marvel Method” to write the story. Images first then the story as a response to the rhythm of the images.
So, all the way down to the core of the story was our love of old school Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Marvel Comics and also our beloved Hip Hop. We really loved working on this story and we hope that others will enjoy the ride we’ve provided..it’s a Fantastic Voyage!