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INTERVIEW: Randy DuBurke

Black Comics

INTERVIEW: Randy DuBurke

Randy, thank you so much for agreeing to an interview! Tell everyone about who you are and your background? 

Hello Brett, well, I am a freelance illustrator and author.  I was born in Washington, Georgia in 1962. I lived the first four years on a farm in Tignall, Georgia with my mother’s parents. At 4, I was brought up to Brooklyn to live with my parents.  I went to Our Lady of Peace for grade school then Brooklyn Technical High school. Though it was not my first choice for high school, I wanted to go to Art and Design High school in Manhattan. But, my mother was nervous about me traveling by subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan so my best friend from Our Lady of Peace applied for Brooklyn Tech and so did I. We both got in. Peter Bonet was my best friend and fellow comic nerd. I met him one day at Our Lady of Peace during lunch period when I saw him reading a SpiderMan comic. We were besties from then on.

Though Brooklyn Tech was not my true choice, I am glad I went there. One day when Peter and I were sophomores we saw an advert for a Comic Book Club so we went. The club had six guys all juniors and seniors who were heavily into comics. 

We met  Collin Hewitt, who became another bestie, and he opened our eyes to comics. While Peter and I were into SpiderMan and The Hulk, Collin introduced us to a bunch of indie publications like Star Reach, Fantagor, and Heavy Metal magazine. They blew my mind. Then Collin showed us Steranko and Paul Gulacy’s work and my world would never be the same. I loved these guys’ artwork with a passion.

After graduating from Brooklyn Tech  I went to  CUNY where I studied graphic design. 

When I graduated  I  started work at a design studio, Manhattan Multi-Media. We did a lot of design and print work for Calvin Klein and other clothing designers. I worked there for two years but I always had the desire to be a comic illustrator. So I quit and for a year I worked on an illustration portfolio. 

Now, before I had gone to CUNY  I had been dropping off samples at Marvel but, got only polite rejections however, the last time I dropped off my portfolio at Marvel, Bill Sienkiewicz came out to speak with me, he was really encouraging. Anyway, after that, I went to CUNY and studied design. One of my professors at CUNY was Seymour Pearlstein, he had been a comic strip illustrator in the 1950s and ’60s. I completely bonded with him. He helped me open up to other artists besides comic artists. I finished my illustration portfolio. 

Now, around that time Howard Chaykin was doing ‘American Flagg’ and I was a big fan. When I was thinking of dropping off my portfolio at D.C. and Marvel I started looking through the directories of both companies to find an editor. I looked through Marvel, then through D.C. Comics, and at DC I saw Mike Gold’s name,  I knew he had been  Chaykin’s editor at First Comics where they published ‘American Flagg.’ I rang him up and said I was an illustrator and could I show my portfolio. He said ‘Yeah, come up.’ 

I did.  Mike liked the work. I did a four-page pencil piece for the ‘Doom Patrol’ which led to me penciling a 20-page piece for the new talent showcase. 

After that, I did the ‘Black Canary’ run for Action Weekly. I was frustrated on that run because at the time I was heavily into Paul Gulacy’s artwork and could do a pretty good mimic so Mike thought Pablo Marcos would be a good fit to ink my work. Pablo is a great guy really nice but whatever spark he had on Gulacy didn’t show on my work. The first nine episodes he inked, I didn’t like it. So I did some ink samples of my work and showed them to Mike and Bob Greenberger they showed them to Dick Giordano who said I could ink my own work. I thought ‘Great!!!’ But around the same time Rick Burchett, who was penciling ‘Black Hawk’ for Action Weekly also wanted to ink his own work instead of having Pablo ink.

I finished penciling the first chapter of the new ‘Black Canary’ story turned it in, the next week I went to pick up the penciled pages to ink but was informed Pablo was inking because he had a contract for a certain amount of pages, and since Rick was inking his own ‘Black Hawk’ they had to give ‘Black Canary ‘ to Pablo.

I made a deal with my editor, Bob Greenberger, could I touch up the inks on the ‘Black Canary’ pages after Pablo turned them in. He said ‘Ok’ so long as I continued to turn in the seven-page pencils on a weekly schedule. I said ’No problem.’ 

So, I would spend the week penciling seven pages turn them in get the inked pages to touch them up over the weekend, sometimes redraw a few pages and get the pencils in by the end of the week.

After that run, I penciled and inked a ‘Checkmate’ short for issue 33. I did cover work and pin-ups

for various DC books.

While doing that I started a project for a new D.C. imprint, Piranha Press. This was ‘Tree of Life,’ written by Elliot Maggin. I was initially very excited. After the bad taste the ‘Black Canary’ run left in my mouth. I made sure I would handle all the art chores. This was to be a 300 page painted project. I should have checked the story first.

I spent four years working on the project. I learned a lot about painting techniques. I did get paid 

but, in the end, it wore me down. The project is still unpublished.

After Piranha Press bit the big one Paradox Press took its place. Andy Helfer was the editor. I really liked his work on ‘the Shadow’ he did after Chaykin had done the revival. I illustrated ‘Hunter’s Heart’ a 300-page black and white mystery.

I illustrated some short stories for Vertigo. But around that time I was not very happy doing comics. So I transitioned into doing animation for M.T.V. I worked on the first twelve episodes of ‘Spy Groove.’

That was a lot of fun. It was a great group to work with. I did some teaching at the School of Visual Arts. Some of the students I taught were Nate Powell, Nathaniel Fox, Tom Herpich.

How did you become a creator? What’s your origin story?

I always wanted to be a creator. 

My mother said I told her when I was six,  I would draw and write books when I got older.

I lived on a farm with my grandparents and out back was a forest as far as I could see.

My friends from the neighboring houses and I would run through the grass and among the trees, chasing frogs, jumping in the creek. You know doing 3-year-old kid stuff. At the end of the day, I would plop myself down in front of the black and white television with a pad and pencil. I would draw what I saw on television. Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, the Seaview, Batman, Rat Patrol. It was just a habit and I liked doing it.

Later, when I was living in Brooklyn, my mother worked for the A & S store on Livingstone Street.

She was a keypunch operator and sometimes had to go in late after hours to finish programming.

She would take my brother and me with her. The store was closed down and we would wander off while my mother was working. I would find myself in the book section. 

I was amazed, no, more transfixed by the shiny, cool cover art of the books. I would wander up and down the aisles staring at the covers. At the same time before I went to school I would love to look at movie advertisements. That was at the time when the great painters were doing advertisements, Robert McGinnis, Bob Peak, Mitchell Hook, Drew Struzan. I didn’t know the name of the artist but every morning looking at the movie advertisement and reading comics made doing art more and more of an imperative.

Have you always been a comic fan? What’s your favorite comic?

I have always been a comic fan. Though it has matured.

Earlier I wanted to be Spider-Man then, I wanted to draw Spider-Man, then I wanted to create my own Spider-Man, then I wanted to be a comic book creator. I think comics are an incredible artistic medium.

I started watching the Batman television series with Adam West. I have rewatched some of them recently and they do hold up really well. I fell head over heels in love with the 1967 Spider-Man cartoon.

I watched it religiously. Spider-Man was my hands down favourite!

One day my brother came into the apartment screaming and waving a magazine. He and our mother had come back from a bodega and he had a Spider-Man comic. It was issue 117. I freaked! I raced down to the Bodega with a dollar and a half and snatched all the Spider-Man Comics I could, Marvel Team Up, Spider Man and the Thing, Marvel Tales, Iron Man, Batman.

I was in heaven, spending hours pouring over them. 

Tell us about some of your illustration work.

I have worked on comics interiors and covers. I have done illustration work for the New York Times Book Review, I did a portrait of Chris Claremont for an article in Brooklyn Magazine. With the help of a good friend, Kirk Etienne, I got work at  MTV animation.  Around that time I started work on my children’s book ‘The Moon Ring,’ and with the help of another friend, Fred Harper, a wonderful caricaturist, I met Ted and Betsy Lewin.

Ted and Betsy are the cream of the crop in illustration, especially in children’s book illustrations. I showed them what I was working on and they liked it and put me in touch with an editor, Susan Pearson.

Through Susan, I started writing and painting ‘The Moon Ring’ for Chronicle books. It won the Coretta Scott King award for best new talent in 2002.

I  wrote and illustrated a board book called ‘Little Mister’ for Chronicle then illustrated ‘Halloween Night on Shivermore Street’ and ‘The Best Shot in the West’ all for Chronicle Books. 

I have done a series of painted comic page illustrations concerning civil rights worldwide, which are on permanent exhibition at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.

I illustrated Wayne Shorter’s graphic album which was part of his 2018 grammy winning ‘Emanon’ jazz album.

In 2019 I illustrated 8 black and white plates about Nina Simone creating the song ‘Mississippi Goddamn’

for ‘Playing for Keeps’ published by Duke University Press. I have written and illustrated a short story which is included in the 2020  anthology, ‘Rural Voices: 15 authors challenge assumptions about small town America’ this is published through Candlewick Press.

I first came to know you from your work on Malcolm X, I’m interested to hear more about that project and your book Yummy.

Malcolm X came about when Andy Helfer contacted me about working with him on the project. At the same time, Lee and Low Books approached me about working on ‘Yummy.’

I accepted both offers.

Each had its own drawbacks.

Andy and I wanted to delve deeper into Malcolm’s life but the editor was adamant about keeping the book to 96 pages. That is why you have so many text-heavy pages. Andy and I wanted to do a 120-page presentation. We did what we could with the space allowed.

Greg Neri the writer on ‘Yummy’ was learning the ropes of writing comics and the publishers, who said they loved comics, were also on a learning curve. After some head clashing over logistics we got the book done.

What are you working on now?

Well, right now I have just finished some revised artboards for ‘Best Shot in the West.’ Chronicle is republishing the book and I asked if I could make some art corrections. When I did it in 2011 early in the process I had a massive stroke. I am fine now. But, at the time as I was recovering I was working on the book. And as I looked at the book I generally like what I did but there are some pages I thought 

‘OK, that could have been a bit better’ so when Chronicle contacted me I thought ‘Great, I can make some corrections.’ I am very pleased with it now. The book will be out later this year.

I just got a go-ahead to start on a project  I am very excited about with Ohio University.

I am also working on a proposal for an adventure series my son and I dreamed up. This should be ready to pitch by the end of this month.

What would your dream project be?

One which I  am writing, illustrating  and lettering and can’t wait to get up in the morning dive in head first, AND get a  good page rate! 

Who are some creators that people should be following and supporting right now?

There are so many. Here are some whose work I really love in no particular order:

Paul Grist, Sean Murphy, Jason Shawn Alexander, Duncan Fegredo, Bill Sienkiewicz, Dave Mckean, Kent Williams, George Pratt, Jon Muth, Cliff Chiang, Nat Powell, Nathaniel Fox, Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips, Carlos Nine, Jack Kirby, John Buscema, Billy Graham,  Lance Tooks, P.Craig Russell, Barry Windsor Smith, Mike Kaluta, Inio Asano, Frank Robbins, Alex Toth, Frank Quietly, Alex Maleev, Ashley Wood, Sergio Toppi, Jean – Claude Claeys, Fernando Fernandez, Luis Garcia, Jose Bea, Estanb Maroto, Satoshi Kon, Aaron Campbell, Mitch Gerads, Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener, Tomm Coker, Greg Ruth, Jorge Gonzalez, Gipi, Benoit Springer, Bezian, Alberto Breccia, Roberto de la Torre, Mico Suayan,  Renato Guedes, Alberto Mielgo, Amy Reeder, Joelle Jones, Brian Haberlin, Ron Wimberly, Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham…..

OK, those are just a few of my favourites..

Randy, how can people find and support you and your projects?

I have a website:
I  have an Instagram page: @randy.duburke
I am also on Linkedin: Randy Duburke

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Brett has been collecting comics for close to 30 years and is passionate about showcasing the amazing stories in Indie Comics and growing the indie community. A marketing and communications professional with a Masters of Nonprofit Management, he founded The Indie Comix Dispatch in 2020. Brett is also a member of the National Writers Union.

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