The '70s are back: Those who missed the blaxploitation pastiche Black Dynamite have a second shot at some quality retro action when writer-artist Jim Rugg visits Chapel Hill Comics this week to promote his new graphic novel Afrodisiac.
The 96-page hardcover was recently released by AdHouse Books, whose publisher, Chris Pitzer, accompanies Rugg on his tour. A ridiculous homage to B-movie clichés, Afrodisiac chronicles the tales of a 'fro-ed super-pimp (given a different origin in every story) who does battle with a God-powered computer, Dracula, aliens and more.
Illustrated by Rugg and co-written with Brian Maruca, the collection features astounding pieces of art between each story that mimic the visual style of old comic books, down to faded color schemes and wrinkled, creased covers.
"Part of it was a backlash against computer-generated coloring, which can look really muddy," says Rugg. "I found myself as an adult, and what I really liked was the dated format from when I was a kid."
Rugg, who lives in Pittsburgh, originally created the Afrodisiac character in his first book with Maruca, Street Angel, the tale of a skateboard-riding homeless ninja teenager. Street Angel inspired a student film in Australia last year, which fans can watch at the signing. "It reminds me a lot of the old Batman TV show, which I love," Rugg says. "We can't legally sell it, but we can screen it at festivals and places. The feedback has been incredible."
In the past year his work has included comics for New York magazine and LA Weekly and illustrations for such diverse publications as the LA Times and McSweeney's Panorama newspaper. Rugg also collaborated on the graphic novel One Model Nation with the Dandy Warhols' Courtney Taylor and rock progeny Donovan Leitch, and on a comic based on the popular Web series The Guild, written by the show's creator, Felicia Day, which premieres next month from Dark Horse Comics.
"I like the idea of working with people who aren't familiar with working in comics, because they seem more open to visual suggestions," Rugg says. "All these people work in storytelling mediums, so the storytelling part they understand well, probably better than some comic book writers. So it's been a lot of fun to help interpret their stories in this medium."
It's almost a comeback for Rugg, who this time last year was ready to leave the illustrating business after a video game project and his young adult graphic novel series, The Plain Janes, were canceled. "I was in a complete state of panic," Rugg says. "Now I'm actually having to turn work down."
Rugg says that of all his projects, Afrodisiac is the most personal, or as personal as a comic about a super-pimp can be: "Getting those copies of the hardcover in the mail was just a profoundly emotional experience."
He plans to bring plenty of blaxploitation music to his Chapel Hill Comics signing, which will be one of the more laid-back stops on his tour for the book: "Each of the stops will be a little bit different, and we plan to bring some unique stuff to Chapel Hill."
Jim Rugg appears at Chapel Hill Comics from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6. Copies of his work, including Afrodisiac, Street Angel and One Model Nation, will be available at the signing. For more information, visit www.chapelhillcomics.com or www.jimrugg.com.
Note: The Saturday event now starts at 5 p.m.