There’s plenty to talk about when it comes to writer and artist Jim Rugg, including awesome art on books like The Plain Janes. However, more than 15 years ago, Rugg created Street Angel – a book featuring the deadliest girl alive. Since then, Jesse “Street Angel” Sanchez has had a multitude of outrageous adventures cementing her as a ninja-fighting badass, protector of the poor, and someone who could probably take on any superhero she wants. On the heels of her latest adventure, we talked with Rugg about everything Street Angel.
Black Nerd Problems: You’ve been writing Street Angel for more than 15 years. She’s had several crazy adventures in this wacky world of ninjas, supervillains, and time travel. Now, Jesse is sort of an unconventional character for a superhero who can do all of these amazing things but lives in poverty. Where did this crazy idea for this character come from?
Jim Rugg: Street Angel began as an act of defiance. I was bored with the new comics wall. It all seemed the same to me and I wasn’t interested. I’d end up buying back issues of Dirty Plotte. Dirty Plotte is one of my favorite comics, a black-and-white masterpiece from the 90s-00s by Julie Doucet. A complete collection of Dirty Plotte comes out this fall. So I was still into comics, but I was losing that new comic book day high.
Street Angel was the opposite of those comic books. Street Angel is homeless because that is the opposite of Batman’s billionaire alter-ego, Bruce Wayne. We wanted a different character, a different setting, a different format! At the time a lot of comics were crossovers and decompressed storytelling — we made every Street Angel standalone. You get a full story with any Street Angel comic or graphic novel – including our Free Comic Book Day title, Street Angel’s Dog!
BNP: The standalone feel is what is great about Street Angel. You get these singular adventures that you can just jump into at any time. We actually went back to the older Street Angel comics, and its interesting that you mention Dirty Plotte being a black and white masterpiece, seeing as the earlier Street Angel books were completely black-and-white. The books have evolved over the years, and reading Street Angel Goes to Juvie, Jesse is a bit different from those black-and-white days. So, for you, how has the book and character evolved over the years?
JR: I want Street Angel to be somewhat mysterious. She’s a ninja. We think of her as an urban legend. Each story or adventure may reflect a different character’s POV. The girls in Street Angel Goes to Juvie have a very different relationship and idea about Jesse than Bell and Emma or the Bald Eagle.
One thing I love about superhero comics I grew up with is how different creators interpreted them. I want Street Angel to have that quality. I think it makes her a better character if we see different sides of her like at school or in jail or in a mad scientist’s lab! To me, that can make fictional characters feel more real. It adds complexity like real people possess.
We’ve also gotten to know her character better as we’ve done more stories. Character reveals itself through action. So the more we write Street Angel, the more we learn about her. Often we think of story ideas through settings like what does she do on a weekend or a situation like what if a stray dog crossed her path? What happens next? And we’re off and running. In that process, we often discuss what would Jesse do here? Does that seem like her? And through these stories, we learn more and more about who she is. I know her better than I did 15 years ago, but she’s still mysterious too. I want readers to feel that way too. I want them to want to know more about Jesse and I want them to feel that way every time they read or reread one of her stories.
I’m not sure what her future holds but I think about it a lot. I wonder what’s out there. We haven’t written our Dark Knight story but I’m curious what Jesse’s like in 10 years. How’s she doing? Did she finish high school? Where does she live? Is she still alive?
BNP: Setting the perspective from different characters is an interesting approach to diving into her characters. And after reading Street Angel Goes to Juvie, or even any of the other books, you kind of get this feeling of wanting to know more about Jesse. For her character, it feels a lot like you can take her anywhere. Were there any ideas that were too wild or had to hit the cutting room floor?
JR: We have a story about a guy who abducts children – and what happens when his van approaches the Deadliest Girl Alive. We haven’t figured out the right story for this yet. So it’s on the floor, but it might not always be there. We have many stories in various levels of completion. We cut a lot for various editing reasons and there are lots of ideas that haven’t seen the light of day because we only have so many hours.
On the Street Angel Patreon, I’ve been comparing Street Angel’s Dog (the FCBD issue) to the original version of the story. The first story we did when we hooked up with Image Comics was called Lost Dog. That was 6-8 stories ago. Now when I see it, I think – some of it is good and some I would do differently. So we rewrote the story and I redrew the whole thing. A lot was cut and changed not necessarily because it’s too wild but those interested in this subject, I’m going through the 2 stories page by page like a movie director commentary – discussing the process and the changes and other details about the 2 comics.
I’m glad you say it feels like Jesse can go anywhere. That’s something I believe. If there’s a fantasy element to the character – it is that she’s a kid and she can be/do anything. Whether you believe that or not, it’s something kids are told. I like that message. It’s definitely something I want in Jesse’s character. It’s great that you see that.
BNP: You have a great art style that fits the books personality so well. It feels a bit like comic strip ripped straight out of the Sunday paper. Is that the approach that you were going for or was it something else?
JR: I look at a LOT of visual art! Sunday paper comics are an influence. About 15 years ago I got a copy of the Smithsonian Newspaper Comics book. It’s an oversized book full of classic Sunday comics. It stayed in my active read pile for 2-3 years. Huge impact.
Children’s picture books have become a big influence. Illustration. Manga. Cartoons. Webcomics. Production art. Galleries. Instagram. I also teach visual narrative at SVA and the Animation Workshop in Denmark and that means a lot of exposure to young artists and to other artists’ influences. The approach that I’m going for is – tell stories in an art style that communicates the story to the reader in an effective and memorable way.
I use all kinds of materials from pencils, ballpoint pens, markers, sable hair brushes, Japanese pen nibs, iPad, and Wacom tablet. I love art. When you asked about limits on story ideas that are too wild, I would answer the same way about style and art. If I have an idea, I try it. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t and I redraw it! I never had a pronounced style like some artists. I always try to figure out what compliments the character and the story. Or I want to try something different than the last story. I drew Street Angel’s Dog entirely on an iPad. Now I want to draw a story entirely on paper!
BNP: Street Angel Goes to Juvie comes out in May. It’s actually one of Jesse’s more light-hearted adventures, considering the setting. What the direction you were going for this latest entry in the Street Angel saga?
JR: The direction we aim is always to be entertaining. In this case, hopefully, there are some funny moments, some suspenseful moments, surprises, and a satisfying ending that makes you want to revisit the story. You mention it’s more light-hearted considering the setting. That was something that developed as we wrote. This setting brings its own set of cliches and expectations. Women in prison movies are practically their own sub-genre. We realized that in Jesse’s case, some of juvie’s drawbacks might be an improvement – like the food. Everyone else hates the food, but for Jesse, it’s 3 warm meals a day. That surprised me and hopefully will surprise readers! Jesse’s different. She shows up and her attitude changes the room. Hopefully, it’s a fun read with some unpredictable twists and turns.
From a formal standpoint, it was fun using different types page grids and then breaking out of the grid completely. Page grids refer to layouts based on a grid or evenly sized panels. Jack Kirby often used a 6-panel grid. Watchmen, Love & Rockets, From Hell…all use 9-panel grids. Stray Bullets uses 8-panel grids. The grid can be a way to help new readers decipher a comics page. It’s also a device that focus the readers’ attention on the characters and less on the formal elements of a page. In this case, the grid visually represents the idea of Street Angel being incarcerated within a rigidly confined routine and setting.
Keep with Jim Rugg by visiting his website, Instagram, or supporting the comic on Patreon. You can also read our thoughts on Street Angel’s latest adventure, Street Angel Goes to Juvie, by checking out our review.