Real Interviews: Niles Gray/Tribe One

Greetings Niles Gray aka Tribe One aka Devil Rhymeosaur and of the websites DC Versus Marvel and Socialfist/Nerdcenaries. How is it going?
It’s going well, sir. how about yourself?
It’s going well enough.
On a scale of 1-10, how well is ‘well enough’?
7 or so.
Not bad.
Nope. Decent living levels.
I’m at 11. Always.
Haha. Now you just released a digital version of your tour album. What is up with that?

Yeah, that literally just happened. I was watching Community on Hulu on my Xbox with my lady friend and I just decided that it was the right time to birth that baby. And I also emailed a free download code to everybody who donated any amount for my single ‘Steve Irwin’ because I giveth, as well as taketh away. Giveth music and taketh away money, that is.

And you were also on the West Coast Avengers Mixtape and The War For Infinity (and a bunch more) by Adam WarRock. What is it like working with Euge?

Yes, I did those things. I said those things. Working with Euge aka Adam Warrock is literally the most excited i’ve been about rap music as well as the most ridiculously infuriating i’ve ever been at the same time.

If you had to give Euge the superpowers of any established character – who would you choose?
He would be the Flash mixed with Black Bolt. That’s why it’s so infuriating working with him, because he writes so gosh darn fast, and it’s all so hell of amazing. But the flipside of that is that it’s amazing to work with him and have music ready to give people in the fastest time i’ve ever done it.
Now you are a big comic fan and you’ve done reviews in the past. What series do you wish that you could see about any characters with any team?
That’s easy. Cloak And Dagger. Teamed Up. With Devil Dinosaur. In The Future. And Also With Machine Man.
Who would write and draw it?
The art would alternate ever story arc between Chris Samnee and Francesco Francavilla, covers by Mike Allred and it’d be written by… oh man. It’d be written by Brian K Vaughn. And it would be the best comic book ever.
It would be amazing and I would like to see that, not so sure about Vaughn – I’m sort of picturing more explosions and things.
There were some pretty decent ‘splosions in Ex Machina.
Ah, I’ve only read the first trade.
I would also accept the kid Malachai (I forget his last name (Nicholls)) from Axe Cop. He would write the living daylights out of a book with Devil Dinosaur.
Haha. It would be like a ramped up Nextwave. Now are you also into the webcomics scene?
There are a few that I follow pretty regularly. And several that i need to catch up on.
What are your favorites – like 3-5?
Hmm…in no particular order, I love Let’s Be Friends Again, Multiplex, Super Hero Girl, Awesome Hospital, Dinosaur Comics, Hark! A Vagrant, Wondermark… LBFA might be my favorite. and i’m not just saying that because i got to table with curt and chris at emerald city comic con last year! (ps, those guys are dreaaaaaamy)
I know. Hella Dreamy. Dreamy peanut butter.
Oh, and I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there’s this webcomic called Changeling? it’s ok, too.
I heard Changeling is just a pretentious comic but some punk kids.
Yeah, pretty much it is exactly that. My little sister just texted me to say that her friends think my raps are ‘pretty good’.
I made it, you guys.
Sexy awesome man.
I am that.
strong>Now do you have any projects coming up soon?
I have four, lol.
Or more. I lost count. There’s my mixtape-type-thing ANAMANAGANGSTA, on which i’ll be rapping over beats made from Anamanaguchi songs. I’m kind of sloppily and haphazardly producing this project, too. I’m saying it’ll be out in january, mostly to light a fire under my behind because it’s already taken me way too long to finish. Then I’m also working on my official debut album, DIRTY SOUTH SWAMP THING with my good friend Joules, who produced me and Adam Warrock’s ep PAPER CUTTERS AND DANGLING HEADPHONES. That’ll be done in the spring, I believe. that’s what we’re aiming for at least. I’m also working on a new album with my longtime crew the remnant. There’s at least one other album in the works and some ep’s but I will keep those to myself for now. Hoarder’s style. Secrets.
Sounds like you have some crazy things going on now man.
Yeah, it’s a really busy time for me but I look at it as just about the best problem i could possibly have.
I know what that’s like.
OH NO! I HAVE TO MAKE ALL THESE RAP SONGS SO THAT PEOPLE WILL LISTEN TO THEM AND ENJOY THEM! THAT SUCKS! Well, hopefully enjoy them. We won’t know until people start to actually hear them. Basically my life is the worst life out of any life ever. All the lifes.
Well based on your past track record I don’t have any fears about being disappointed.
I appreciate the vote of confidence, sir.
Is there anything else that you want to plug?
Support your local library! Go to shows. Shake the hands of your heroes. Support their work. Be nice to people, too. And smile. I think that’s all I got.
Well thanks for doing the interview Niles.
Thank you for interviewing me, Luke. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about the business.

The Gray Area Reborn: Freeing Ben Reilly

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently signing up to test the super-soldier serum he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online June 2, 2011 at Socialfist as “The Liberation Of Ben Reilly.”
(Running this late since we didn’t update Saturday)

I went back home to Tucson this past weekend to see my baby sister graduate from high school and I took that opportunity to “liberate” some of my old comics from when I was in middle school. Like many comics readers in the 90s, I had mostly awful taste in comics. I’m completely guilty of buying several titles just because they were first issues (because everyone knows they’re worth more). I have two variant covers of the Mortal Kombat series by some now-defunct publisher, the first issue of Cyber Force, and first issues of Night Thrasher (both the mini series and the ongoing) to name a few. Some of the comics even had little price stickers on the bags that I handwrote after pricing them in Wizard magazine. I was investing for the future!

But all those books stayed in box. The ones that came home–aside from a few that were too terrible not to bring back (I’m looking at you, Slapstick #s 1-3!)–are the comics I really, genuinely loved as a young reader. I’m pretty sure I’m going to lose some credibility when I tell you what they were, so I’m going to hold off for a bit and tell you what my two favorite comic book stories of all time are.

My all time favorite is Chris Claremont and John Byrne’s Dark Phoenix Saga in Uncanny X-Men. I can’t remember if I owned comics before a friend gave me the trade for my 10th birthday (maybe some Archie digests from the grocery store), but I do know that none of them mattered after I read this. I won’t go into detail here about why it’s great because so many have already done it better than I ever could, but I will say that Dark Phoenix is what I compare any and every comic book story to.

My second favorite comic story of all time is the Age of Apocalypse, because if anybody who read comics in the 90s says that Age of Apocalypse is not their favorite of the decade they are either a bad person or lying (which also makes them a bad person). Again, I won’t go into detail except to say that this is what every other comic book event is trying to live up to, both sales-wise and from a storytelling standpoint.

Ok, so now that you know what my favorites are you have to admit I have decent if not impeccable taste in comics, right? Ok. So when I tell you that my third favorite comic book story of all time–the comics I rescued from a warped copy paper box in Tucson–is the Spider-Man Clone Saga, I fully expect you to lose at least a little respect for anything I have to say hence.

Maybe there are those among you who share my love of Ben Reilly and the Scarlet Spider and Kaine’s misguided though ultimately good intentions, but I suspect we are outnumbered. To be completely honest, I haven’t read these comics since I bought them in 1995 (or so) but I the way I remember them is being a whole bunch of really great ideas bundled with a whole bunch of really bad ideas. There were some super creative covers (the Peter Parker in jail for Spider-Man #57 one is one of my all time favorites), fantastic art by Sal Buscema in Spectacular and John Romita, Jr.’s guest art in adjectiveless (you may not like the Scarlet Spider as an idea, but god damn if he doesn’t look amazing when JRJR draws him). There was also Amazing Spider-Man #400 with the engraved tombstone cover in which Aunt May dies. It’s a beautifully done, emotionally resonant issue and while I’m not the biggest fan of Mark Bagley (despite my undying love of Ultimate Spider-Man) he absolutely does an outstanding job with the art.

It would later be revealed that the “Aunt May” who died was actually an actress hired by Norman Osborn to play her just to mess with Peter because, you know… comics. That’s even more disappointing because I can’t think of another issue of any comic book in which a character–any character; major, minor, bystander–dies on panel of natural causes, let alone one done so well. And there’s clones all over that sumbitch. That’s right. Aunt May dies surrounded by clones of her nephew.

Let us never forget.

I mean, there’s got to be a reason Marvel is republishing the entire thing in six Ultimate Collection style trades this year. And it’s going to be followed by another trade republishing the Original Clone Saga from way back around when Gwen Stacy died. Personally, I plan to troll the depths of as many dollar and fifty-cent bins as I can find for the issues I’m missing. It’s the journey, not the destination, after all. Any way you slice it, however, there’s never been a better time to love clones.

If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to see why everybody hates it so much. If you have read it, I encourage you to go back through it and try to find the good in it. It’s in there, I promise.

The Gray Area Reborn: Ultimate Spider-man

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently on tour with Adam WarRock, MC Lars and MC Chris he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online May 20, 2011 at Socialfist as “Ultimate Spider Man: A Brief Retrospective.”

I have read every page of every comic of the series Ultimate Spider Man. I have read every word in every word balloon. And Brian Bendis wrote every issue, so the savvy among you know that means a whole lot of word balloons. So, what am I getting at? Am I trying to impress you? Only kind of. What I really want to get across is that it is totally possible–and entirely worthwhile–to read every issue of Ultimate Spider Man.

I read the first 110 issues in trade (I think that’s volumes 1-18 or 19) for free at my local library. Every library with a halfway decent collection of comics will have it, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find without dropping the $1000+ 25 volumes of trades would cost. I happened to catch up to the series just as the original artist, Mark Bagley, was ending his record-breaking run on the series and Stuart Immonen was just beginning his run with issue 111, an issue they both drew. I’ve been buying the single issues since then.

Looking back on the series, the thing that strikes me most is just how good all of it is. It’s pretty astonishing to think that after 160 issues you can consider the whole and not find a single weak point. There’s arcs that are better than others, of course, but there wasn’t a single issue that I wasn’t completely engaged in. I have to believe that is one hundred percent a result of giving one man (Bendis) the series and the freedom to tell 160 issues’ worth of comics stories.

Another interesting thing about this series is that despite beginning in the early 2000’s and it now being 2011, only about a year has passed in-story. It makes perfect sense, but it’s weird to think about. It also shows just how skillfully paced the series is, with entire six issue arcs taking place all within a couple of hours or so in the story. What it boils down to, ultimately, is that Bendis has figured out the perfect formula for storytelling. Make no mistake, this series is formulaic as hell, but it’s so natural to the Spider Man mythos (I feel like such an asshole having typed that seriously) that it works to the utmost benefit of the story. Here is the formula: for every five bad things that happen to Peter Parker one good thing happens.

It’s genius. That one good thing makes all the difference in the world. It’s what makes Peter Parker not Matt Murdock.

Also, the series is more about Peter Parker than Spider Man. Yeah, Peter Parker is Spider Man, but you know what I mean. The most interesting parts of the story are the ones where Peter is interacting with the people around him out of costume and trying to live a normal life. He never can, which goes back to the five bad things, but it’s the attempt that makes the character seem real. He wants the same things we want. He does what we would do in his situation. No, that’s not quite right. He does what we hope we would do in his situation. That’s what makes Peter Parker the perfect comic book character.

And Brian Bendis does such a great job over these 160 issues of retelling classic stories or mashing up new ones and old ones or just completely creating new situations that this version of Spider Man, for me, is the definitive one. Of course, it’s not the real Spider Man. But if someone were to ask me what my favorite Spider Man story is, I guarantee it’s going to be something from out of Ultimate Spider Man.

The Gray Area Reborn: Scalped

Originally The Gray Area ran on Socialfist and was written by Tribe One aka Niles Gray aka The Evil Villain Demonos aka Devil Rhymeosaur. While Niles is currently on tour with Adam WarRock, MC Lars and MC Chris he has given us the permission to rerun the old articles.
Originally published online May 3, 2011 at Socialfist as “It’s Late and I’m Tired and You Should Read Scalped. Ignore the Rest of This. It Doesn’t Make Any Sense.”

So, my main man Luke asked me to write up some comics reviews for his site to post today (Monday). Instead I’m going to be talking a bit about the nature of fiction and sequential storytelling and it probably won’t be going up until Monday night at the very earliest (Sorry, Luke). I guess this could be considered a review of the latest issue of Jason Aaron’s Scalped, issue number 48, but if I’m being completely honest “review” is going to be a bit of a stretch.
Comic books really are a unique form of fiction, not only because of the fanaticism they inspire in their fans (although other genres like SF and fantasy fiction do as well) but because the progressive nature inherent in serialized storytelling. Only recently, it seems, have other genres really begun to take advantage of the idea of telling a whole story in multiple pieces. There have been notable multivolume books (Lord of the Rings, Dune, etc) but in recent years it seems as though every fantasy/SF book is part of a trilogy. Even so, this still does not put them on the same scale as comic books, in which stories evolve and adapt and take place over decades and multiple creative teams and visions. Man, this is sounding really pretentious. Sorry, guys. I’m a librarian who was an English major.

Anyways, I read the latest issue of Scalped, which came out this week and it raised a couple of questions in my mind about character progression, story progression and how they interact both because of and in spite of each other. Specifically, it made me think about what the reader wants to happen and what actually happens in a story.

Scalped, for those unwashed non-readers among you, is a comic book series that follows the lives of certain residents of the Prairie Rose Native American Reservation. There are no happy endings–nor beginnings or middles, for that matter–to be read here. It’s a story of unhappy people finding new and more complicated and ingenious ways to make each other even more unhappy. And sometimes dead.

It is amazing and you should be reading it.

Scalped’s main character (maybe protagonist, though the series seems to only have antagonists) is Dashiell Bad Horse of the Prairie Rose Lakota Tribe Native American Reservation in South Dakota. He is a bad person. He kills people. He does hard drugs. He is in the process of betraying the people who believe in him. What makes this book both fascinating and frustrating is that Dash is supposed to be becoming a better person. He’s back on the reservation under some false pretenses after several years away and since he’s been back he’s seen and done some things that should have changed him. I thought he had changed until the moment he was given a choice in this latest issue and he made the choice he would have made on page one, panel one of the first issue.

I was heartbroken.

Looking back, however, I realize that it couldn’t have gone any other way. Dash’s defining characteristic is that he is incapable of choosing the right thing to do. Because the narrative is so agile in moving from perspective to perspective and character to character, as readers, we are privy to things to which none of the characters in the story have access. So we already know what the consequences of each of Dash’s choices will be. That’s a testament to Aaron’s ability to weave this story. As such, we know what Dash is supposed to choose. But we also know what he is going to choose, as much as it hurts us to watch him make that choice.

It’s almost like sleight of hand, the way Aaron is able to make us believe that Dash has undergone these profound, life-changing experiences only to lift the veil and show that he hasn’t changed at all. He’s been undercover the whole time, putting on a front as much to us as to Red Crow.

And here is where I make the case that this is only something comics can achieve. Is it possible for a well written book to pull the rug out from under us? Of course. Now that I think about it, Scalped is more of an argument for comics as literature than anything else. Scalped and books like The Walking Dead (which also had a new issue this week) are books that eschew the mainstream (read: big two) comics convention called “the status quo.”

The status quo is the bane of comics’ existence. It is, it could be argued, the dividing line between acceptance into the annals of American Literature and the junkyard of disposable pop art; pulp. Fuck Literature, I say. If Literature is too good to be associated with Norse gods smashing the shit out of impossibly advanced robotics in the name of American Freedom, then I want no part of it. No thank you, sir.

There are only two examples of Big Two comic books I can think of that ignore the idea of a status quo and are currently being published. These are Captain America and Batman. And Captain America is in the process of reestablishing its status quo (just in time for the movie! *gasp*). That leaves only Batman. Already a symbol of the one-man pursuit of change, Batman is one of the oldest superheroes in existence. How funny that Captain America is nearly as old and also currently in the midst undergoing a major upheaval. Things that make you go “hmmmm” (or not).

Let’s look at the major factor shared by the four titles named thus far: Batman, Captain America, Scalped, The Walking Dead. They are all written by one person over a years-long stretch. Captain America: Ed Brubaker, issues 1-50, 600-617. Scalped: Jason Aaron, issues 1-48. The Walking Dead: Robert Kirkman, issues 1-84. Batman: Grant Morrison: A whole bunch over several titles. We all know that Steve Rogers is going to be taking up the mantle of Captain America again and James Buchanan is going to be Bucky again (just look at the solicits for the title’s name change to Captain America & Bucky), but Batman is another story altogether.

The recent change in Batman’s status quo seems like it’s going to stick. No take backs. From now on there’s going to be a whole lot of guys called Batman. That’s just how it’s going to be. Of course, there can only be one Bruce Wayne, but the management at DC would have to be really dense and pretty goddamn stubborn to take the cape and cowl away from Dick Grayson. That’s a huge goddamn deal, you guys. It’s something that only “indie” comics have been able to get away with since pretty much ever. This is a real change in a comic that’s been the exact same since the 1930’s. This is the first ever Batman story ever told that couldn’t have been told by Bob Kane and Bill Finger.

I’m going to go ahead and wrap this thing up now since it’s become something I never intended it to be and also because it’s now past midnight and this was supposed to be up on Monday. Basically, what I’m trying to say is this: Think of a comic book that has changed significantly since you first started reading it. You can probably count the number of titles on one hand. That’s totally ok though because comics about men who dress up like robots don’t have to change. They’re already awesome. They’ve already outlived their creators and they’ll outlive this generation of creators as well.

The real revolution in comics is happening on the other side of the mainstream. It’s happening despite Captain America getting shot and Superman renouncing his American citizenship. It’s happening whether you’re reading it or not, and more often than not, you’re totally missing it. I don’t even know if I’m making sense anymore. I know I’ve lost track of my original point. Oh well. See you next week. Good night.