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Street Angel Is Back! Back In School?! [Interview]

Who is Jesse Sanchez? Let STREET ANGEL co-creator Jim Rugg tell you what's what: "Jesse Sanchez, aka Street Angel, is the deadliest girl alive. She's a homeless orphan ninja on a skateboard who spends her time dumpster diving, panhandling, and fighting to save the world. In AFTER SCHOOL KUNG FU SPECIAL, some stupid ninja punk calls her out. So she has to deal with a bully at school while also facing an upcoming school dance and all the social pressure and awkwardness that goes with that—it's basically the WWE crossed with Pretty in Pink."

Got all that?

IMAGE COMICS: Jesse has been kicking around since 2004's original STREET ANGEL story. How do you see STREET ANGEL's place in the greater picture of your career?

JIM RUGG: AFTER SCHOOL KUNG FU SPECIAL and our other new STREET ANGEL stories are the best comics I've ever made. 

After the original STREET ANGEL series, I quit my day job in 2007. For the last ten years, I've made lots of different comics and art and learned to be a better cartoonist. STREET ANGEL: AFTER SCHOOL KUNG FU SPECIAL is the result of those ten years of work and growth.

Brian Maruca, my writing partner and Street Angel's co-creator, and I self-published the first Street Angel story, so we could do whatever we wanted. She was a dream character—dynamic, fun, action-packed, and different from the stuff we saw at the comic store. After ten years of making other comics, we returned to Street Angel and she's still that perfect character. She's everything I want in a comic. 

I grew up in a rural setting, and cities were always a magical place for me. So we get that setting and we get a character who I like to draw and who can do almost anything from clowning around with her friends to trading hands with evil supervillains and ninjas. 

If I won the lottery and never needed to make another dime, STREET ANGEL is the comic that I would make. It's my dream project. 

I must add, when Image Comics began in the early '90s, it changed my goals in life. No longer did I want to draw Hulk comics for Marvel. I wanted to create my own characters and comics. Publishing STREET ANGEL under the Image I is the realization of a 25-year-old dream. Up to this point, it is the apex of my career. 

IC: STREET ANGEL is remarkable for a number of reasons, with its utter lack of irony and great sense of design being high on the list. STREET ANGEL plays fantastic ideas straight—why was this the right tone for a story that could've easily been an ironic riff on pop culture?

RUGG: I don't want to make something that's "so bad it's good" or a "guilty pleasure." I enjoy a lot of "trash" culture like wrestling, exploitation movies, and old comic books. And I don't apologize for it. 

Street Angel is a kid with problems. It's important to me that readers identify with her character. Struggling to fit in or to overcome your situation is universal. I like the juxtaposition of different tones. With STREET ANGEL, there's a lot of room to bring in different genres and to combine the fantastic with the mundane. Expanding her world by focusing on some of the smaller details of her friendships, alliances, and enemies is something I want to share with readers. To that end, STREET ANGEL is the readers' guide into this fantastic world. 

Irony would create a distance between readers and Jesse. I want to create a closeness. I want the reader to cheer for Jesse. She may not be the smartest, cleanest, or friendliest kid, but her heart's in the right place. 

IC: STREET ANGEL, Afrodisiac, and Supermag are all great examples of the depth and breadth of the styles you can work in. As a creator and a storyteller, why do you continually mix things up in your work?

RUGG: Early in my comic-reading habit, I discovered underground and alternative comics. The styles were so different from the comics I was used to reading. I think it broke my brain. Then I studied graphic design in school and, again, I saw all these different approaches. Same with movies. I started to realize style and format were super powerful storytelling tools. "The medium is the message" was a profound insight for me. 

My design teacher used to put a piece of paper on the wall and say—what are you going to put on it, what are you going to put in it? As a result, I don't start with a blank piece of paper, I start with an idea, and then decide on details like size, format, medium...

I'm self-taught as a cartoonist. That meant questioning everything and trying to find answers everywhere. I learned to make comics by copying what I saw. Now that we can see anything ever made, the influences just never stop. 

Like everyone else these days, I have a short attention span. 

When I see something I like, I can't help trying it myself. It's very exciting for me to try different styles and tools and ideas. Comics work well as a vehicle for exploration because they can be short stories or a series of stories that can be created relatively quickly, and then you can try something different with the next one.  

IC: Are you mostly influenced by comics when it comes to creating STREET ANGEL, or do you find yourself more inspired by other things these days?

RUGG: Comics are a huge influence. But I'm also inspired by art, movies, design, illustration, drawing, writing, video, picture books, comedy, games, and storytelling from any media. Pro wrestling was an influence on the AFTER SCHOOL KUNG FU SPECIAL. 

IC: You work in comics and illustration elsewhere, too. What keeps you coming back to comics?

RUGG: Comics are my dream. Comics are such a powerful storytelling medium. Is there anything you can't say with words and pictures? And comics cost almost nothing to make and do not require collaboration or even approval. Comics offer the greatest creative freedom that I have ever experienced. 

When I was a kid, comics saved my life. When I make comics, I remember how I feel when I read a good comic and I want to share that feeling with my readers. That feeling of wonder has never left me. 

IC: STREET ANGEL is a book that wears its status as a comic book on its sleeve, even at first glance. Why is STREET ANGEL such a good venue for showing off how cool comics are?

RUGG: Street Angel is a tough girl on a skateboard kicking ass. On one page she might fight a bully and the next could be the ninja industrial complex. What could be cooler than that?

Street Angel // After School Kung Fu Special Promo from Michael Pisano on Vimeo.

STREET ANGEL: AFTER-SCHOOL KUNG FU SPECIAL is available for pre-order now, and arrives 4/26.