I was first introduced to the artwork of Reggie Byers way back in 1986 while I was in the 9th grade. I was heavily into comic books during that time period and I had just began outgrowing the basic offerings of Marvel and DC books, and started gaining more interest in the independent publishers that were increasingly becoming more popular.
This was the era where the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first arrived (and their many, many imitations), and the independent boom hit with a resounding force felt around the country.
In 1986, your choices and flavors of comics ranged from your basic Superman and Spiderman comics to selections as diverse as Boris The Bear, Cerebus, Elementals, Justice Machine, Judge Dredd, American Flagg, Grim Jack, Grendel, Miami Mice, Trollords, Hamster Vice, Fish Police, and hundreds of other titles that were created by talented artists that most readers had never heard of before.
See? Black folks love comic books also.
Mind you, this all happened way before the internet came sniffing around and leveled the playing field for most fledgling creators who were merely trying to get their foot in the door at the time.
In those days, in order for anyone to get their hands on these “independent” comics, they had to venture out to pay a visit to “specialty” direct-market comic book shops that catered exclusively to these sorts of comics, trading cards, toys, and other specialized items.
If you didn’t live nearby a store like that, your only other option would be to order your comics by mail. Since the closest comic book shop to me was approximately 30-50 miles away, I had to order my comics via the postal system.
Now, bear in mind, this was during the mid-80′s. There was no PayPal nor online ordering capabilities, so I had to discover these “elite bookstores” by finding their advertisements in the pages of the comic books I already owned.
Sample classic comic book ad from New England Comics in MA.
Some of the ads listed the comic books which were available for purchase, but most of the ads only gave an address and the instructions for me to send an S.A.S.E. (for you kids out there, that means “Self Addressed Stamped Envelope”).
In most cases, I also had to send anywhere from 5 cents to a dollar along with my request in order to receive the company’s official current catalog, which was smack-full of everything my greedy, never-satiated, twelve-year-old heart could desire comic-wise.
Then, I had to wait nearly 4-6 weeks just to receive my catalog. That seemed like forever, but when I got home from school and saw that I had a package and would tear into it, I was jumping for joy! Now, I could order whatever I wanted.
As long as I had the money, that is.
In those days, my parents were not too keen on allowing their credit card information to get transferred through the postal system, and they were not about to mail out one of their checks to some hole-in-the-wall, back-of-magazine-advertising comic book store.
My only viable choice was to order my stuff with a money order. And those things cost me around a buck-fifty apiece in 1986!
So, I would order everything I could afford, then tack on that expensive shipping and handling charge.
After that, it was just a matter of waiting for nearly a month for my batch of comic love to reach my doorstep. I recall that the delivery day of my books would feel more magical than Christmas and more special than my own birthday.
It was like the moon and the stars had sprinkled down from the heavens just to entertain me.
After a few months of heavy ordering and buying just about everything worth getting, I started searching for comics that were outside the now-mainstream independent sector. I wanted the newest, hottest comics that only the coolest folks were reading.
One comic I had heard about, but had never read was one entitled “Shuriken”. The cover art looked awesome, and I had read some of that artist’s work in numerous issues of Robotech: New Generation, so I decided to order this very first, number one, collector’s item issue created by phenomenal artist Reggie Byers!
I had no idea who this guy was other than he was someone working in a universe that I wanted so desperately to be a part of with all of my aching heart.
When that issue arrived, I must have read it a few hundred times, often falling asleep with it (and some of my other favorite comics) placed carefully by my pillow so that I would see them instantly upon waking up the next morning (or middle of the night).
It wasn’t until many, many years later, long after my love affair with comic books ended, repeated, then ended again, that I spied the name “Reggie Byers” on Facebook.
Could this actually be the same Reggie Byers who motivated and inspired me to make my own comics nearly thirty years ago?
I figured, Hey, just do a Facebook search just to see if it is indeed the same guy and see if there’s any mention to those comics I used to sneak peeks of in 9th grade Earth Science class while everyone else was trying to sneak glimpses of some dog-eared, half-torn “men’s magazine”.
The results came back for the only Reggie Byers on the list who could possibly have been a professional comic artist, but I didn’t think that it was the same guy. I mean, the dude staring up at me from the screen was BLACK!
Black guys didn’t draw best-selling comic books, right?
Yeah, I knew about Denys Cowan, Larry Stroman, and Dwayne McDuffie, but in those days, they didn’t showcase many photographs of creators of color.
Even as an African-American kid who had unwavering aspirations to become a comic book artist, I had no idea that there were successful artists and writers already working steadily in the comic profession who were of my own ethnicity.
Logos of several indy comic book companies from the 80′s (collage designed by Bill Cucinotta of CO2 Comics)
That wasn’t something that was advertised very often. That may have been a good thing, in some respects, because these artists were judged by the quality of their work and not by the color of their skin.
Nevertheless, I am proud of these enterprising young men (and women, I’m sure) who have made their marks and are working diligently to make their dreams come true. By doing so, they have helped pave the way for me to do the same thing perhaps.
So, today, I would like to present to you an interview I was fortunate enough to get with one of my own personal heroes. He is kind, gracious, and is always eager to do what he can to extend a hand to uplift his people and those who yearn to make their own mark in this world whether it’s in an artistic fashion or not.
Mr. Byers and I have been corresponding over the past year or so on Facebook, supporting one another on various projects and important life achievements. He is quite an interesting gentleman with an amazing story to tell.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the venerable…the talented…the one and only……Mr. Reggie Byers……
ADDANAC CITY: What was your first paid professional project?
REGGIE BYERS: It was the Robotech: New Generation comic book series in 1985 for Comico. The Robotech series was a license that Comico acquired from the Japanese anime series, Mospeada.
Robotech: The New Generation #6. Pencils by Reggie Byers. Published by Comico.
Robotech was one of my favorite books when I started reading comics heavily. I first became aware of your work while I was an anime fan reading those issues.
Can you describe how it felt when you were notified that you were now an official bonafide paid comic book artist?
I was elated when I was offered the position as penciller of that comic book series.
Because of my anime-influenced style of art, the owners of Comico thought I was the obvious choice especially since I was already an employee but in an editorial capacity, not artistic.
Have you ever encountered any racial adversity? If so, how did that make you feel?
I really never felt any adversity due to my race within the market although I’m sure it existed. Most doors were wide open for me each time I knocked.
I think that any adversity that came my way was due to my not being a “big name” in the industry, but not because of my race.
Shuriken #3. This was my first encounter with Byers’ artwork.
Who are some of your artistic influences?
Have you ever met with any of them or corresponded with them any?
Artistically, I was first influenced by Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion.
John Byrne (famous for art duties on Marvel‘s Uncanny X-Men and DC’s Man of Steel mini-series) was also a major influence although it doesn’t show whatsoever in my work.
I believe most comic book artists were inspired by the Big 2 – Marvel and DC, at some point in their lives, especially as kid or teen readers.
I was also influenced by Wendy Pini, artist and co- creator of Elfquest.
What does your family and friends think of you being an accomplished comic book artist?
My family and friends have always been very supportive of my work.
Of course, there’s always those who see an artist, especially a comic book artist, as someone who does it for fun or that it isn’t really a viable form of income or career.
What is a typical “workday” like for you?
I work part-time as an afterschool art teacher with high school students. On my days off, the typical day is rendering two or three freelance illustrations or airbrush assignments for various clients.
The second half of the day is spent laying out and rendering pages for my upcoming Kidz of the King comic book.
What is your creative process? Do you seal yourself off from others until the project is finished?
I work on my comic art usually at night at home at a desk once my wife and daughters are alseep. I usually have headphones on listening to rotations of music on itunes.
Are there any sensitive subject matters that you refuse to tackle, in order to avoid any sort of public/professional backlash? (political, cultural, sexual preferences, etc….?)
When it comes to my graphic novel series Kidz of the King, I tackle issues that young people have to deal with. For example: drugs, peer pressure, family issues, etc.
Actually with this new series, I’m dealing with is child abduction, sexual abuse as well as human trafficking in the first issue.
These are subject matters that I used to shy away from, but the way society is being inundated with so many incidents and public examples, it’s unavoidable (and almost irresponsible) not to address them now.
What new projects do you have in the works these days?
The Miraculous Kidz of the King comic book is my next project, which will be released right before Easter.
The Kidz of the King animated cartoon on DVD is in its 7th year of existence and is currently being considered by a couple of major studios.
I’m planning to re-release two of my earlier creations; Jam Quacky the Hip-Hop Duck as well as Crescent.
What advice can you give a budding artist who wishes to make cartooning a career?
DRAW, DRAW, DRAW….. SKETCH, SKETCH, SKETCH.
Always have a sketchbook on hand and draw from real-life as often as drawing cartoony and comic-style art.
Be inspired by as many great artists as possible and work on your own “look”. Make sure YOU love what you do. That way others will love your work because it’s genuine.
Click image to refer to CRESCENT link for more astounding info!
What advice can you give a newcomer who encounters initial rejection or even “common internet animosity” such as hate-filled comments or unprovoked negativity?
Always remember that someone will attack your work not because it’s personal, but usually because it could be a byproduct of jealousy or they’re simply not happy with themselves and they are using you as a target.
Always be motivated by love, not fear, hatred or revenge. Those are poisons that will eat you up from the inside out. Let your work speak for you and for itself. That usually speaks VOLUMES.
If you would like to learn more about Reggie Byers, you are invited to visit him on FACEBOOK.
To order some of his esteemed graphic novels, click here.