Comic books are known for offering big, crazy ideas. But few have been as crazy as Street Angel. The first major work from Jim Rugg, whose work has recently been seen everywhere from the Adventure Time comic to Victory to all manner of variant covers, the book’s maintained a loyal cult audience and even inspired a short film, but sadly fell out of print…until now.
With Street Angel being reprinted in hardcover form by AdHouse Books and as single issues through MonkeyBrain, we talked with Rugg about the legacy of his work, battling ninjas, and more.
Newsarama: So, Jim, for those who have not experienced the skateboarding, ninja-fighting magic of Street Angel yet, attempt to explain it to our readers.
Jim Rugg: Street Angel is a young, homeless kung fu master whose weapon of choice is a skateboard. She lives in a terrible neighborhood that is overrun with comic book villains like mad scientists, ninja street gangs, time-traveling pirates, demons…when she’s not saving the world, she’s scrounging around for food and occasionally even goes to school.
The tone of the book bounces around between comedy and action-adventure. The book collects a number of stories and strips of various length. It shares some qualities with Young Adult fiction - for example, there are fantastic parts, the protagonist is a young teenager, and it is more sincere than ironic.
Nrama: What led to the book coming back into print in this format?
Rugg: Chris Pitzer, AdHouse Books’ publisher, asked me about Street Angel’s status. We have worked on a number of books together (Afrodisiac, Notebook Drawings, and Supermag). As we talked about it, the opportunity to make a beautiful, hardcover edition became clear.
I want to share Street Angel with a new audience. The comics industry and readership are much larger now than they were when Street Angel was initially published. All of the work that I’ve done since Street Angel has sold more than Street Angel. So it felt like the perfect combination of making a handsome book and sharing a comic that I’m proud of with new readers.
Nrama: How did you originally come up with the concept, I'm not sure I want to know?
Rugg: Brian Maruca, my writing partner, and I were riffing on the comics landscape of the early 2000s. As a reader, I was frustrated with popular trends like decompressed storytelling, bad girl/T&A books, and the never-ending, never-changing status quo of many superhero characters.
Street Angel was a response. Instead of complaining about comics I didn’t like, we tried to make a comic that we liked.
Nrama: What impact did Street Angel have on your career, in terms of both putting you on the map and as a creative challenge?
Rugg: It had a huge impact. It was my first published comic. So a lot of people saw it (compared to the mini-comics I self-published and distributed on my own).
It led directly to the PLAIN Janes. I met Shelly Bond (my editor for the Janes) through Street Angel.
It also led directly to working with AdHouse Books. After the first issue was published, Chris Pitzer invited me to contribute to Project: Superior. Project: Superior was one of the first appearances of Afrodisiac and my first color comic work.
It was reviewed favorably in The Comics Journal and Wizard magazine, which I’m sure was the first time many people saw any of my work.
Nrama: What were some of strangest examples of the impact this book has had? (hey! I found the short film on Vimeo!)
Rugg: People sent me photos of tattoos based on Street Angel art and also cosplay and Halloween costumes based on the character. This was not too far removed from a time when I couldn’t even give my comics away (true story).
The short film was an amazing thing. The filmmakers were Australian, so just the notion that Street Angel connected to audiences on the other side of the planet still blows my mind.
Nrama: What were some of the biggest influences on Street Angel? I remember you were saying the unsold Dan Harmon/Rob Schrab pilot Heat Vision and Jack (watch it here) was a main thing...
Rugg: Heat Vision and Jack was a huge influence - specifically the way that show both celebrates and skews material that I love.
During that time period, I was tracking down movies, TV shows, comics, and books that I had heard of but never had access to. It was when I was first living on my own and had my first real job. Ebay was a new thing that allowed me to find relatively obscure material.
Wes Anderson’s Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, Mr. Show, Darren Aronofksy’s Pi, Run Lola Run, and Freaks & Geeks were things I remember watching around then.
In terms of comics, I had transitioned from mainstream comics like Frank Miller’s work, Image Comics early days, David Lapham’s Stray Bullets, and 70s Kirby material to alternative work like Dan Clowes’ Eightball, Julie Doucet’s Dirty Plotte (I loved her work), Debbie Dreschler’s Nowhere, Chester Brown’s Yummy Fur, and the Hernandez bros.
Then I started going to small press shows, and gaining access to mini-comics by people like Dan Zettwoch, Kevin Huizenga, the Fort Thunder cartoonists, and also meeting many of these cartoonists whose work I loved…that was very inspiring.
Nrama: Do you see yourself revisiting Street Angel, Afrodisiac and friends in the future?
Rugg: I could see us doing more Street Angel. We keep writing little plots and bits of stories. I don’t have any immediate plans for Afrodisiac. I’m not sure. I’m trying to determine what I’d like to work on next. I’ve spent the last few years doing a lot of different work. I would like to concentrate on one project for the next year or so but I haven’t determined what that project will be yet.
Nrama: Assuming poor Jessie aged in real time, what would Street Angel be up to today?
Rugg: Pro skater. X-Games champion.
She’s rather unpredictable, so I’m not sure.
Nrama: Do you have a favorite minor character from these stories, and if so, which one and why?
Rugg: Bald Eagle. He’s an oddball and provides some comic relief. I wish I had half of his never-say-die attitude. We wrote a pretty badass origin story for him so maybe one of these days that will see daylight.
Nrama: Why should new readers and veteran Street Angel fans check out this book?
Rugg: New readers should check it out if they want to try a quirky, funny action-adventure superhero comic. Our protagonist is an unlikely but likable hero, and I think readers enjoy pulling for her.
Veteran readers should check out this edition if they want to upgrade their shelf or if they haven’t read the material in a while. The spine for this book is my favorite spine design of anything I’ve worked on and will look great on your shelf.
We’ve been getting some really good responses to the book from both groups. I’m always nervous when a new book of mine comes out. I think this is the greatest time ever to be a comics reader. There is so much incredible work available both new and reprints stretching all the way back to the late 19th century.
So I was concerned how Street Angel would hold up with today’s readers who are no doubt used to great comics. As reviews have started coming back, I’m thrilled with the response and I hope new readers and those who read Street Angel years ago will give it a look.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Rugg: Great question. I am looking for a long-term project, and I’m circling a couple of things. In the meantime, I am drawing and coloring a story for Dark Horse Presents that Joe Casey wrote. It’s about a god, a monster, there’s a big fight and dead superheroes…I just read the script today and I’m champing at the bit to draw it. I think it’s going to be awesome. I’m drawing a couple pages for Jason Latour’s Wolverine and the X-Men book (12 year old me is losing his mind!).
I’ve been talking to AdHouse Books about doing another volume of notebook drawings. I’ve been making a lot of zines lately, and I’m going to be in a touring show of book artists this fall that will feature a new zine that I create just for the tour. I’ll post more about that as it comes together, but it will include 11 book artists creating new work and hopefully it will be shown all over the country if everything goes according to plan.
Jasen Lex and I continue produce the podcast Tell Me Something I Don’t Know on boingboing.net. You can find it on iTunes, Soundcloud, boingboing, my site, etc. We have some interesting shows coming up. Anyone unfamiliar with TMSIDK — we basically interview artists, cartoonists, filmmakers, writers, etc. about their work and specifically about the business/reality of what they do.
Anyone that wants to keep up with me and what I’m working on should follow me on whatever social media they prefer:
Nrama: Anything else you'd like to talk about that we haven't discussed yet?
Rugg: I think that’s it for now. Thanks to everyone who has checked out my work. I appreciate it.
Street Angel is available in stores and online now.