With the release of the MPLS Sound graphic novel out this week from Humanoids, we are delighted to be joined by co-writers Joseph Illidge, Hannibal Tabu and artist Meredith Laxton for a chat.
Hi Joseph, Hannibal and Meredith we are so happy that we have all of you here with us today.
We would love to start by finding out a bit more about yourselves, would you please introduce yourselves to our readers.
JI: Thanks so much! I started in comics at Milestone Media, Inc., the creators of the first mainstream multicultural superhero universe and “Static Shock”, moved over to Gotham City and the Batman Editorial group for the birth of Cassandra Cain, The Batgirl. Worked for Lion Forge, Archaia, A Wave Blue World, Valiant, and now Heavy Metal as the Executive Editor.
Advocate for diverse representation in comics. Foodie. Sharp Dresser. Husband of Big Barda. No, really. My wife is a warrior who can kick Parademon ass.
HT: I’m an award winning journalist, novelist, comic book writer, poet and DJ who has worked professionally in the entertainment space since the Hieroglyphics got going. I’ve written for Aspen Comics, Top Cow, Comic Book Resources, Bleeding Cool, and many other places. In other arenas, I’ve built web experiences for American Honda, Kaiser Permanente, Toyota Motor Sales and lots of other corporate and smaller clients. I live in Los Angeles with my wife and two children. My main focus has been decolonizing the comics space with perspectives and quality stories often untold.
ML: Hello! Thanks for having us. I’m Meredith and I’m a full-time comic artist and illustrator. MPLS Sound is my very first full-length graphic novel and I am really honored to have been part of the team.
Joseph and Hannibal, can you tell us a little bit about how the two of you originally got together as a creative team?
JI: Hannibal was the first member of the MPLS Sound team, and I was brought on to build on the groundwork he laid through his experiences and extensive knowledge of music history.
HT: With Fabrice Sapolsky, I laid out a lot of the framework. I’m a huge fan of the old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, so every character has a gigantic write up that informs their choices in the plot and how they look at things. Fabrice had a very specific aesthetic he wanted, and Humanoids likewise had specific things they wanted, so they smushed me together with Joe into a writing version of Voltron 2, remember the weird one with six arms? Anyway, that was us, and off we went.
Joseph and Hannibal, could you tell us about the origin of the MPLS Sound graphic novel?
JI: Humanoids, the Publisher, and more specifically the book’s founding editor Fabrice Sapolsky brought me on board to join the team and galvanize the story of Starchild, a fictional band competing to become Prince’s band instead of The Revolution.
HT: Out of the blue, Fabrice Sapolsky contacted me and asked me to come to the Humanoids offices. I took the morning off work and did so, and when I sat down in the conference room, Fabrice asked me to sign an NDA. I shrugged and did that too. Then he outlines this big new superhero vibe Humanoids was gonna do with Omni and Ignited and how the plan was going to revolutionize the space. I got very excited and said that all sounded amazing. Fabrice said, “Great, forget about all that.” I was very confused.
Then, Fabrice talked to me about his deep passion for the Prince-flavored musical legacy of Minneapolis from the early 1980s. He talked to me about doing an original graphic novel set in that era, brushing up against Prince the way people experienced tornadoes in my hometown of Memphis. We talked about the politics of who got the spotlight and who didn’t, which led to a lot of research that reinforced our loose suspicions, and we were off to the races.
Meredith, when you first hear the pitch for MPLS Sound, what did you think?
M: Initially, I wasn’t allowed to know which prominent musical artist was going to be featured in the book until I signed an NDA. Oh my god, I was so excited when the editor told me it was Prince. I could not ask for a better book to cut my teeth on. I had actually been working on my own Prince-inspired project, so I was in the perfect headspace and everything.
Joseph and Hannibal, what can you tell us about the MPLS Sound graphic novel?
JI: The story takes place during the Eighties Minneapolis music scene for which Prince became the tip of the spear, the pebble dropped in the pond leaving ripple effects continuing to manifest into our present. Theresa Booker is the leader of Starchild, a band fighting against the tide of the white male-dominated rock scene with their skills, heart, and their unique mix of backgrounds. Theresa’s a determined Black woman who goes through a personal journey that tests her endurance and integrity.
It’s a story of funk, soul, joy, sadness, little victories, anger, music, love, and that Purple vibe from The Purple One.
HT: The best thing I can say is that you can get it now, because I’ve literally been avoiding talking about it in detail for years. It’s a very hard secret to keep, and I kept wearing Prince t-shirts to conventions (back in the before times, when we had conventions) but nobody ever got the joke. Ah well.
That said, this is a tale of defining success for yourself and working to achieve it, even in the face of structural and personal opposition.
Meredith, to make the look of the world authentic, what reference materials did you use?
M: I binged a ton of music videos from that era and explored a lot of music that I hadn’t known much about until then. I also had the opportunity to go through a plethora of old photographs of my dad and his siblings from that era and that gave me a lot of inspiration for the characters.
Joseph and Hannibal, what can you tell us about Starchild?
JI: They’re a band of musicians from different walks of life, backgrounds, and ethnicities, all brought together by one goal crystallized by the dreams of one woman.
In another timeline, Starchild would have been The Revolution.
MPLS Sound is the story of how and why that was not their destiny.
HT: “Stay tuned for Starchild,” from the Parliament song “Make My Funk The P-Funk,” would have felt like an invitation to Theresa, I figured. She was trying to make the presence and vibe the world needed to tune into, to represent and decolonize a musical scene in a very similar way to Prince, but with fewer weapons in her arsenal.
Meredith, has it been a challenge creating the characters and the world they inhabit in the MPLS Sound graphic novel?
M: Surprisingly not so much. Both writers were very gracious to provide me with reference imagery whenever they had something specific in mind and most of the notable locations from the book can be found via Google maps. I have never been to Minneapolis myself, but I found out that you can actually go inside the First Avenue/7th st entry music venue with Google street view and look around with the 360 camera and go backstage. It’s really cool.
Joseph and Hannibal, how did Humanoids get involved in the MPLS Sound graphic novel?
JI: Humanoids is the Publisher of MPLS Sound, so they’re the nucleus, origin point, radioactive spider of the equation. Their imprint, Life Drawn, is about real people and stories that live within and alongside history, and we’re honored to be a part of their mission for distinction of story and voice with MPLS Sound.
HT: From what I understand, there is a whole line of graphic novels the company wants to produce that are of a very high literary quality, to introduce work that can elevate the discourse. This was one such project, and while I was there, Fabrice showed me so many things… and now I think about it, I don’t know how much of that I’m allowed to talk about. I’m going to stop talking now.
Meredith, do you have a favourite character that you like to draw?
M: I enjoyed drawing Theresa so much. I felt such a connection to her, her journey, her relationship to her dad, everything. Every concert scene you could tell that she was really singing her heart out and I absolutely love drawing those moments. Designing her stage wardrobe was also a lot of fun and I got to explore clothing options that, maybe, I might be brave enough to wear someday.
Joseph and Hannibal, how did Tan Shu, Troy Peteri, Ryan Lewis and Jen Bartel join the team?
HT: Jen was discussed very early on, as she’s from Minneapolis, and her work is so freaking dazzling. Fabrice wanted her to be involved from almost the beginning. I have known Troy for years, and I presume the high quality and reliability of his work were the selling points. I can’t speak beyond that.
JI: All credit goes to the Humanoids editorial group for bringing together our dream team. Tan’s color is beautiful, from the very first page. Troy and Ryan are the narrative aesthetic gurus. Jen Bartel is a leader in the industry, so having her create such an iconic, evocative cover for MPLS Sound is nothing short of awesome and heartwarming.
Joseph and Hannibal, if readers what to see more of Starchild in the future, would that be possible?
JI: Anything’s possible! If readers want to see more of Theresa and Starchild after this story, let Humanoids know!
HT: To paraphrase the philosopher Christopher Wallace, if the check’s right, I’ll be there err’night. There’s a lot of timeline that didn’t get covered, and a LOT of Minneapolis-based musical things we didn’t get time to cover, so if the demand is there, the words will likely rise to meet it.
Any message for the ComicBuzz readers?
HT: Thank you for reading, thank you for your interest, thank you for supporting the work in a time when you clearly could do other things. We appreciate you!
M: If you pick up the book, I really hope you enjoy it! A lot of love and hard work went into making it a reality and I’ll be so happy to see it hitting the shelves.
JI: Read MPLS Sound. Feel good. Get funky. Fight for your dreams.
We would like to say thank you to Joseph, Hannibal and Meredith for taking the time to chat with us, we wish them the best of luck with their new project. The MPLS Sound graphic novel out this week from Humanoids.