At New York Comic Con last weekend, we had the chance to chat with artist, Julian Lytle, about his work, comics and our favorite tracks on “Choppin’ Ain’t The Same.” A Washington D.C. native, Lylte, 33, has been in the comic book game for over two decades. For those of us who are both geeks and hip hop heads, Lytle’s art threads together our two greatest passions. Whether it’s his Tarantinoesque “Guns n’ Honey’s” series or “Longboxes on 22s,” where he mashes up hip hop album covers with superheroes, Lytle is a bridge that connects these seemingly opposing worlds together.
Mass Appeal: When did your love for comics, art, and hip-hop begin?
Julian Lytle: I fell into drawing from the powerful combination of Mark Kristler’s “Secret City” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Once it was known I was good at art, it seemed everyone supported that talent. I felt no different to a kid who was great at sports. I don’t remember a time when comics and hip hop weren’t in my life. So for me, reading “X-Men” and listening to a new Biggie song couldn’t exist without the other.
MA: I know you did some art for Wale. Can you tell us more about that?
JL: Basically, that came about from my old friend Mike Bully of Good Bully. He’s been working with Wale for a long time now and from time to time he’ll need an assist. I doubt the label or even Wale knows that I worked on those two covers. I like it that way. Sometimes you need to be Winston Wolf in the Bonnie situation.
MA: I really dig your superhero and hip hop album cover mashups. Can you tell us how that came about?
JL: “Longboxes on 22s” came about because illustrator Sean Causley and I are long time comic book readers and lovers of hip hop. In our heads, it’s like a completely composite superhero earth where all the superheroes are mashed with hip hop history. What’s better than Spiderman for Illmatic? Peter Parker is from Queens and a constant underdog, but is a landmark character and fan favorite.
MA: At New York Comic Con, you illustrated some hip-hop influenced commissions for fans like Kid Omega as a “Mutant in Paris” and Deadpool sippin’ on lean. Why do you think there’s such a natural connection between rap and comics?
JL: I think in a lot of ways rappers have origins and two identities. They also have these fantastical adventures with fast cars, action, and pretty women. If you have ever been around a serious rap debate it’s not that much different to a comic book debate. You switch out flow, bars and who’s the nicest with power levels, costumes and comic book issues. It sounds exactly the same. Mutants in “X-Men” are the stand-in for minorities in America, so with rap still being mostly about the minority experience I think those fit well.
MA: Which comic book characters would you put on the covers of Drake’s NWTS, Pusha T’s MNIMN and Juicy J’s Stay Trippy?
JL: That’s funny, I have a sketch of Drake’s album cover that we are planning on finishing up soon. It’s going to be Nightwing, since DC Comic’s launched their New 52, nothing has been the same. Everyone’s history is different to what I grew up with. As for MNIMN, if I were to do the one with Pusha’s head on it I’d use the wizard Shazam, since his name gives power. The character is very much applicable to the title MNIMN. I want to do The Riddler for Juicy J’s Stay Trippy. Can’t you see it?
MA: Word on the street is you have plans to make a chopped and screwed comic. Can you describe how that would look visually? Any idea on when we can expect that?
JL: Yeah that’s my goal. I think it’s pretty hard. I’ve been thinking about it for a year. It has to have a rhythm to when it stops, repeats and to give across the slowed down nature of it all. Even a blend of other things also. I think I’ll have to do the comic regular first then screw it up. The one thing I know now is that visually it will have a purple and pink tone to it.
MA: Since rappers can be seen as superheroes, or villains, which six rappers would you chose to be the hip hop version of the Avengers? Who would be Loki?
JL: I’ll probably pick MC Lyte as Black Widow since her flow has always been deadly and she’s been consistent. I’d pick Yasin Bey (Mos Def) for the Hawkeye role since he’s quite likable, diverse in his skills and very targeted in his verses on things. Ghostface will always be Iron Man in my mind. I don’t think anyone represents the pure id more than Ol’ Dirty Bastard so he’s the Hulk. For Captain America I think I’m going to pick Q-Tip since he’s still relevant and has his skill but is a rapper from another era. Thor might have to be Chuck D since his voice is like being smacked by a hammer. As for Loki, it’s Puffy aka Puff Daddy aka P Diddy aka Diddy. If there is anyone that is the pure trickster in hip hop then it’s him. Puffy kind of plays with the culture and directs it to where he wants it to go. We went from Bad Boy, to Sean John, to his reality TV thing to Ciroc to soon this Revolt TV thing. The thing with doing stuff like this is that if you ask me next week it will all change to something else.