Jason Jules: ‘Non-fiction graphic novel’ illustrates black LA culture in 1960s and ’70s

Written by By Gary Ekkar, CNN

Jack Kirby was known to quote fellow Marvel Comics creators like Jack Kirby and Jack Kirby’s brother, Stan Lee.

For his part, Jason Jules, who spearheaded the popular graphic novel Black Ivy Style, decided to put his comic book roots to work adapting Kirby’s comic stories into a novel.

Here, Jules discusses his latest production and the larger vision he had for his “non-fiction graphic novel.”

CNN: What inspired the graphic novel?

Jason Jules: I initially read (Kirby’s) Kirby Black Stripes — most famously for being the story of the Watts riots — at a garage about 10 years ago. I had listened to the Johnny Gill record of the same name and that’s how I stumbled upon the album that provided the starting point for the book. After doing research on the 50th anniversary of the riots, the deep meaning and emotion of the album drew me to explore Kirby’s extended timeline of work and the impact of race relations in the United States.

This book serves as a contemporary, more nuanced exploration of black culture, civil rights and life in Los Angeles during the 1960s and ’70s and grew out of my dissatisfaction with reading textbooks on these historical events in a way that was largely sold as “standard.”

Black Ivy Style is also a “non-fiction graphic novel” — it combines comic book elements with non-fiction, with the forms constantly overlapping and weaving themselves together seamlessly.

CNN: What are your plans for the graphic novel?

Jules: This next book in the series I’m working on is a sequel to Black Ivy Style with new characters, lessons and narrative moments. Black Ivy Style was my attempt to share some personal truth about living as a black man during the time of Jim Crow in America, and I’ve followed that up with #Blackiivolo, which is a depiction of intersectionality within black culture and also broader society.

Each of these novels aims to do one or the other but also do both simultaneously. I try to serve two or three masters with these novels — my history in history and sociology, social justice and storytelling with my comic book and graphic novel oeuvre.

CNN: Where do you see your work in the future?

Jules: As a graphic novelist and storytelling artist, I see myself making books that combine comic book elements with non-fiction.

Having said that, each work is different in the writing, in the form of the graphic novel, in the approach to storytelling, and in the tone in which it is presented. For instance, Black Ivy Style is truly a novel where you will not learn who the White Castle burger man is, he exists because of the story we tell ourselves and the story we tell ourselves about racial identities, which is one of the truths behind these stories that remains to be told.

CNN: Is a graphic novel the best form for working on historical material like these?

Jules: It has its advantages and disadvantages, but I would say the most exciting thing about graphic novels for historical narratives is that you get to address historical issues through the eyes of the storyteller — the person who is telling the story in real time. This method of storytelling allows for a different form of audience engagement, allowing for a completely different type of direction to be taken than what you see on the film screen.

CNN: How does your background as a graphic artist affect your work?

Jules: The work I do includes several forms — from comic books to non-fiction comics to poster art and different art styles to illustration techniques.

In general, I would like to thank my parents and my mom in particular for helping me find and hone my skills in art and being extremely supportive.

I want to thank Joe Beef for providing a place where non-fiction storytelling could thrive and contribute to the art of black people and the narratives that we tell ourselves and others. I thank the Academy of Art University for sharing a studio that fosters creativity, and the Smashing Pumpkins for connecting me with everyone in the industry as I needed.

Leave a Comment