Comic Book Historians

Tony Puryear Afro-Futurism Interview Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson

September 01, 2022 Season 1 Episode 96
Tony Puryear Afro-Futurism Interview Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Comic Book Historians
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Comic Book Historians
Tony Puryear Afro-Futurism Interview Part 2 with Alex Grand & Jim Thompson
Sep 01, 2022 Season 1 Episode 96

Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview Tony Puryear, Hollywood screenwriter and Comic book writer/artist, discussing key phases of his diverse career,  from his childhood encounters with Jack Kirby & Phil Seuling, his advertising career under the mentorship of James Patterson, directing music videos for 80s hip hop stars, becoming the first African-American screenwriter to pen a $100 million grossing film, Schwarzenegger’s “Eraser,” intertwining his art with political activism in the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign, partnering with post-Marvel Stan Lee, and co-writing, drawing, coloring and lettering  the critically acclaimed Afro-futuristic comic series, Concrete Park.   Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. 

Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians.

#afrofuturism #concretepark #eraser

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Show Notes Transcript

Alex Grand and co-host Jim Thompson interview Tony Puryear, Hollywood screenwriter and Comic book writer/artist, discussing key phases of his diverse career,  from his childhood encounters with Jack Kirby & Phil Seuling, his advertising career under the mentorship of James Patterson, directing music videos for 80s hip hop stars, becoming the first African-American screenwriter to pen a $100 million grossing film, Schwarzenegger’s “Eraser,” intertwining his art with political activism in the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign, partnering with post-Marvel Stan Lee, and co-writing, drawing, coloring and lettering  the critically acclaimed Afro-futuristic comic series, Concrete Park.   Edited & Produced by Alex Grand. 

Images used in artwork ©Their Respective Copyright holders, CBH Podcast ©Comic Book Historians. Thumbnail Artwork ©Comic Book Historians.

#afrofuturism #concretepark #eraser

Support the Show.

Puryear:     Oh yeah. And you know how things come in waves in movies? Eraser premiered in the summer of ’96. That same summer, Tom Cruise’s first Mission Impossible premiered. And he’s in a restaurant somewhere in Eastern Europe with this guy, to escape Tom Cruise has explosive chewing gum and he throws it at the giant water tanks, and it explodes. And the water comes out, and Tom Cruise escapes. And there’s that beat in Eraser too, to escape in the middle of the reptile house, the Eraser shoots the reptile glass and then alligators all come out.

We were like, “Oh my god, it’s the same thing. We’re going to be crucified because Mission Impossible came out first. But nobody even cared.

Alex:          No one connected it… Yeah, I don’t think people are trying to connect the dots.

Puryear:     But that’s how we were thinking. We were like, “Oh my god…” We were like sweating it. But that is true. I had been fired off the picture for like the fifth or six times… I’m hired back. I went up to the production offices. By this time, Chuck Russell is all involved, they’ve casted. And I’m walking in the hallway of Warner Bros, and there’s all these sketches of alligators. And I’m like, “What the fuck is this?”

But the guy, and the producers, where the Nazi writer is like, “Wasn’t he for the same baby. Man, you never said baby.” “I said, baby.” I’m walking down the hallway, I’m like, “What are these alligators?” And they had put alligators in the picture, and that have been from previous rewrite.

Oh, but I wrote the scene afterwards. We were locked in this hotel room at the Four Seasons, and Chuck Russell said, “I need a joke for the alligator scene; a button at the end of the scene.”

Alex:          Yeah, “luggage”.

Puryear:     And I was so disgusted with the whole process, as I said, I didn’t like being locked in room with Chuck Russell. And I said, “He says… You’re luggage.” He was like, “That’s it. That’s it. We’re going to put that on the Guinea hat.”

Sure enough, the crew all got hats, that says “You’re luggage.”

Alex:          [chuckle] I saw that scene. I was like, “Tony wrote that line.”

Puryear:     I wrote that line, and now, it’s on the Arnold highlight reel. Like you can actually see a reel of Arnold saying all his things.

Alex:          His one liner, yeah.

Puryear:     And “Consider that a divorce” and even his one liners, where he’s going, “Arggghhh…” you’re like that… and then, “You’re luggage” is in there. I’m like, “Oh my god”, I’m part of Hollywood history for this thing I said with contempt.

Alex:          Right. It’s funny how things work out like that though.

So, now, two more points. I remember when I was watching this, first that one scene where James Caan kills that young Fed in the airplane – very cold. I was like this guy’s evil. But the second part, the technology of it was like a gun shooting through the walls, and it’s like X-raying…

Puryear:     The railgun… Yes.

Jim:            Did you do that one?

Puryear:     That’s what I said to Arnold…

Alex:          That was amazing. That was like new guns technology or something.

Puryear:     Right, but that’s what I said to Arnold on the phone.

Alex:          The railgun.

Puryear:     Because I read that the Navy had these things. They’re mounted on ships. And they don’t have x-ray vision, but the x-ray vision somehow crept in there, because it was a cool visual.

Alex:          It is a cool visual. They did that in Total Recall when he was trying to get on Mars and [overlap talk]

I love it. I loved it though.

Puryear:     And it’s funny how it all works out. I mean the guy who gets killed with the railgun was an old actor friend of mine named Cylk Cozart. He’s visiting Vanessa with the roses or something, and he gets killed, and Vanessa has to run…

Friends of mine ended up in that picture. One of the other evil marshals, working with James Caan, is a guy named Nick Chinlund, who later on is in Con Air, made for evil. I went to Brown with him, and a lovely guy, but his face is like, “Grrrr…”

Alex:          [chuckle] That’s great.

Puryear:     He’s one of the bad marshall’s.

Alex:          Oh, and also, Jim, I don’t know if you know this, but in the airplane, the guy that was sitting at the computer telling James Caan where the shit was going down, that’s the actor that played Peter Parker’s uncle’s killer, in the Toby Maguire Spider-Man.

Puryear:     Wow.

Jim:            I didn’t know that.

Alex:          Yeah, you guys should watch it, and you’re going to be like, “That’s Uncle Ben’s killer! Get him now before he kills Uncle Ben, six years later.

Puryear:     Right. If only we can do that…


If we could go back, you know, like in the Marvel Comics, we would go back.

Alex:          All right, then the last part of Eraser, I studied this last night, I never thought I’d study Eraser, but there was a gender fluid, gay bar scene in that film.

Puryear:     Right.

Alex:          Was that part of you, or was that a rewrite also.

Puryear:     From the beginning, there was the guy who gets saved by the Eraser. His name is Johnny C. That came in somewhere, where it would be funny for Arnold to have to go see him again. I can’t say that’s mine, but I know when we was locked in a room at the Four Seasons… “Where’s the funniest thing where Arnold could walk in and get the guy?” and it was in a gay bar.

Alex:          I don’t usually see that like in movies at that era. I just thought, it’s a unique movie actually, if you sit down and check it out.

Puryear:     There’s some bad things in it that some of it’s so cheesy. And you know what? What’s funny is there was a period where we were all locked in together, and Chuck Russell kept… and I thought it was like passive aggressively taunting me. Because he kept saying, he wanted to hire me to play that Johnny C role, that mook from Providence


He kept joking about it. “This fucking guy just save my life. My tongue would have been hanging up on the wall like this old… Forget about it.” He’s like, “Tony, that should be you. I’m going to hire you…” I’m like, “I’m not going to be in this movie. That’s too embarrassing, and weird.” So, they got a great actor. He’s dead now.


I forgot the brother’s name but he great in that role, but…oomph.

Alex:          Now, just two more points, then Jim is going to take over

Puryear:     Yeah. Please.

Alex:          One, first of all, the audience should know that you are actually, I think this is correct, you’re the first American screenwriter of African descent to write a $100 million summer blockbuster for that film.

Puryear:     That’s correct. I’m like Jackie Robinson there.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s a huge achievement, and then the film went on to gross nearly half a billion dollars worldwide wide.

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Alex:          And that was another, happy moment for Arnold, obviously. He’s like, “Okay, I chose the right script.”

Puryear:     Yes. “Right. Right, right.”

Alex:          Then also then around this time, is a successful time, you met Erika Alexander. Now, did you meet her while she was doing Living Single.

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          So, she was actually working because that had just started, right, when you guys met.

Puryear:     She was three years into it.

Alex:          Oh, she was three years in.

Puryear:     Or two and a half years, because it ran for five years. There was someone trying to… Here’s a quick story.

Alex:          Yeah. Got ahead.

Puryear:     Who was trying to manage me? It was Suzanne de Passe, who had been instrumental in promoting the Jackson Five, back at Motown. She had her own production company. She produced Lonesome Dove, that TV miniseries. So, she wanted to manage me. I said, “Well who else do you manage?” This is 1995, “Who else do you manage?” She listed off some people she managed, she mentioned, Erika Alexander.

Even back then, I was painting people. I had made a little money by painting celebrities and selling some paintings.

Alex:          I see.

Puryear:     So, I said, “Oh, I’d like the paint her. She’s very beautiful.” Suzanne de Passe, said, “We can arrange it.” So, a dinner was arranged with me and Erika Alexander, down in Venice. And the managers were all sitting there. Turns out, they had said to her, “We represent a painter who wants to paint you.” Well, they didn’t represent me, and neither did they represent her. It was like a hustle. It was just a lie. So, Erika and I started talking, and I did paint her. I ended up painting her. We started talking… We were both seeing other people, but I liked her so much and she liked me. I was very lucky. So, we got married in 1997, we got married.

So yes, I started seeing her while she was in the middle of Living Single.

Alex:          That’s cool. I actually watched that show in high school.

Puryear:     My god, you’re a baby.

Alex:          High school teenage boys have crushes on random people on TV…

Puryear:     Oh, yes.

Alex:          And she was actually one of the crushes I had in high school.

Puryear:     She’s great. Funny as hell, a dark-skinned black woman representing for dark-skinned black women, with those braids and everything. She’s a role model… Just the other day, I did a live thing with Erika, and Stacey Abrams, and Ayanna Pressley. Ayanna Pressley, the representative from Massachusetts. And Ayanna Pressley said, “Quite frankly, seeing you as playing a black woman lawyer on TV made me want to go to law school.”

Alex:          Yeah, that’s awesome.

Puryear:     She said that to Erika. So, Erika was a pioneer. I’m very proud of her for that.

Alex:          Yeah that’s great.

Jim:            One comment on Eraser, and then I’m going to talk about Ray Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451. You had said you conceived it as sort of as le Carré…

Puryear:     Right.

Jim:            But at the time, Tom Clancy was really big too. Did it become more Tom Clancy focused?

Puryear:     That wouldn’t be an adjective any of them would use. The director of Warner Bros, “It became more Arnold-esk.”

Jim:            Which makes sense because those two are in the same zeitgeist.

Puryear:     As you say, picture Terminator…Terminator, naturally, you know, naturally.”


Suddenly, it became about the guns. It always had the airplane stunt in it, but something Chuck Russell did contribute, which I liked, was not only does Arnold jump out of the plane without a parachute and catches the parachute in mid-air, that was mine. But then as he’s descending in the parachute the plane comes around and tries to run them down in mid-air. That was an Arnold-esk kind of beat. And then, it even has the button, where he lands and he says to the kids, “Where is this?” and the kids says, “Earth. Welcome.” That’s chuck Russell who wrote that.

It wasn’t Tom Clancy, it was more like, “How can we make this a big summer… Picture the trailer, Arnold has to be walking through flames with guns. That’s the whole orientation of the trailer, and the movie was made to the trailer, if you can picture that.

Jim:            Let’s talk about Fahrenheit 451 which you wrote and it’s never been made.

Puryear:     Right.

Jim:            But you worked on it for a long time.

Puryear:     Yes, and I was lucky with that. Warner Bros turned around after I sold Eraser, and they immediately put me with Oliver Stone. I worked for a year with Oliver Stone, on a picture that wasn’t made, but Stone was a very interesting mentor.

And then the next picture I booked, Warner Bros liked me and they put in a room with Mel Gibson’s people. I didn’t need Mel till after I got booked to do the movie but Fahrenheit 451… Wow, would love to take a crack at that, so I did.

I’ve worked with them for a while, I had a weird relationship with Mel Gibson, but I only saw him in moments. Unlike a guy like Oliver Stone, who I worked very closely with. But they ask me. Because by that time, ’96, when Eraser came out, I had a business online, where I was trying to tell stories online. So somehow, at Warner Bros, I was presumed to know about the future. Like there’s this thing called the internet and Tony knows about it.


So, they slotted me in for Fahrenheit. They thought it was a prestige picture and it would be a good chance. And so, I was supposed to write an information age remake of Fahrenheit 451. What difference does it make if people are burning books if everything’s digital anyway?



And how do you parse that out? How do you work that out?

I just saw thing today about all the misinformation coming out from like QAnon, and all these sources. And we were trying to anticipate some of that, we didn’t know how crazy the world we get. But yes, what does burning books- what’s that even mean in a world with digital information?

Jim:            So, had you even seen the (François) Truffaut film.

Puryear:     Yes. Yes, as a kid. They used to run it on TV all the time.

Jim:            But it wasn’t really, had any bearing on what you were doing, because it was going in a totally different direction.

Puryear:     They approached the Warner Bros head, which was smart. They were like, “Look, A) it’s a novel of ideas- burning books, what does it matter, what if you burn the last copy of Shakespeare, what would that world be like?”

It’s about a nazi, Montag. And he turns, the worm turns and he becomes an un-Nazi or an anti-Nazi. But as a novel of ideas, it had a great first act, it had a great setup up. Then it sort of peters out, and doesn’t have much drama to it, particularly going out the back. So, the assignment to me was, make a strong third act and it was presumed that Mel Gibson was going to play Montag. So, we know about him. He runs around, he acts all manic, he shoots, he runs… Have a third act with conflict, drama, and some suspense and action, so that was the brief.

Jim:            So, were you a Ray Bradbury fan?

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            Because he wasn’t a fan of the movie. I read a piece…

Puryear:     That’s true. That’s true and Ray Bradbury, among a lot of screenwriters and writers in Los Angeles, Ray Bradbury is kind of a famous tale. Because he wrote Fahrenheit, I know he’s living down in Venice, in Santa Monica, living near where I lived. You could pass on Venice Boulevard, the house where Ray Bradbury was said to have lived.

Jim:            Lovely house.

Puryear:     Yes. And he was said to have gone to the UCLA library, and paid with quarters to type his manuscript. And so, that was like a famous LA story. To this day, I’ve never met Ray Bradbury, now gone he’s gone. But that was a very inspirational tale, and so I thought this is a precious thing that I have to take seriously.

Jim:            You guys have a fascinating amount in common, actually, because he was a painter.

Puryear:     Oh, really. That I didn’t know.

Jim:            I have three prints of his.

Puryear:     Really.

Jim:            A tree with different… Halloween time, and winter time, lovely. I’ll send you a picture of them.

Puryear:     Thank you. I didn’t know that.

Jim:            Yeah, and a screenwriter.

Puryear:     Yes. I love his adaptation of Moby Dick.

Jim:            Yeah.

Puryear:     He’s great.

JIm:            I’ve read the screenplay. It’s great.

Puryear:     Oh man. That was a good old rip-snorting adventure movie that also had some of that poetry in it. That’s a great movie.

Puryear:     I read Bradbury, and he could be a cantankerous guy. They asked him about 451, and he ripped it to pieces. And I just thought, if Bradbury told me he didn’t like my tie, I would have been crushed by it. I wondered at the time, if you were getting that kind of feedback, but you never met him.

Puryear:     No. But I will say this, I think the job of adapting a story is not to slavishly just reproduce it.  Fahrenheit 451 to me, the way it went into its second and third act, as it were, would not have been a very satisfying movie.

Thought, we all read it in high school, it provoked all our young minds. So, how to keep those virtues, but also make a movie, that has to be its own thing. A lot of adapters, you now actually have to sort of start sacrificing things, and throw things out of the boat to keep the boat alive; to keep the boat floating.

Jim:            You just get the spirit of it.

Puryear:     Right. And it’s his own thing… If it’s a musical, you got to walk out singing the song, right? If it’s a movie, you got to walk out saying, “Man, that was great when he jumped off that thing. I didn’t see that coming… Boom!” That’s what movies are about, to me. They got to move, and they got to move you. This is the other thing, Fahrenheit, as it went on… The Truffaut film has this in spades. It’s about as chilly, and cold, and unmoving as a picture could be.

But when I teach screenwriting. I tell the students, I say, “They’re called moving pictures because they’re supposed to move you. So, to make a satisfactory picture, that also moved you coming out the theater, that was the goal.

Jim:            We certainly want to get to Concrete Park, so I don’t want to do too much more. But I want to talk about your transition to television because you hadn’t worked in TV until you did Street Time, right?

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Jim:            And that was with Richard Stratton. So, I’m curious about him as a character, and as a person.

Puryear:     Lovely guy, ex-con, he was doing 25 years in the federal slam in Atlanta. But he had become a jailhouse lawyer, and he found a technicality in his own case. Richard Stratton got caught shipping like a cargo container worth of hashish in to the port of New York or the port of Boston or something. They had him within the rights, and he was going to do his 25 years, but he found a technicality in his case, and got out. And he sold to Sony, this series about living on the street because you can only do your time in prison but you do your time in the streets, and the parole system. So, it’s a unique angle on a cop show, so, he sold that.

He was a great writer a great mentor. Sony the studio, I think faulted him, maybe not being… He wasn’t the most experienced show runner.


So, they were just the issues of like making the army move; feeding the army. He was not as tip top maybe, at that. And then so that was their way in to sort of try and replace him, or find fault with the show. But it’s a great experience. we worked in Toronto.

Jim:            And you enjoy doing the television?

Puryear:     Oh, very much. I came out here, I thought I was going to direct pictures. That was my goal. I didn’t intend to sell Eraser like that, and be slotted it in as a so-called successful writer. I wanted to direct. My idol is Francis Ford Coppola… John Houston, Oliver Stone. They wrote pictures. They got Oscars. They got to direct. I wanted that to be my career path.

It’s funny too because, just to give you the example, when I wrote the script Eraser, I’ve booked a lot of smart work after that. Working for Oliver Stone, working on Fahrenheit. When Eraser the picture came out, which was really like, a middle brow, not that smart kind of picture… You know what I’m saying? It was nice. I got a lot of good things out of it. But it was right here… I was not booking smart work after that. People were pitching things like, “Die Hard in a cave. Okay, there would be spelunkers, and there’s terrorists with these spelunkers.” And I was like, ”Oh my god, this is going to be my career. It’s going to be so awful.”  So, my career took an interesting… I would say bad turn, after Eraser came out, as successful as was it was. I was also working here… Where I thought the script had been more here…

So, yes, TV was great because it was like the things I wanted to do, directing pictures. You’re with a group of people. You’ve joined the circus. You’re eating and working together, that was great.

Jim:            Now, I read a piece and I think you were talking about people going into film careers. But you talked about that… Well USC and other film schools are great, that you can get an education, and become a film director based upon another great institution, and this is dated somewhat, but you said Blockbuster, was also where you could learn how to become film director.

Puryear:     Well, yeah, and lots of people will tell you that.

Jim:            Tarantino certainly would.

Puryear:     Quintin Tarantino didn’t have to go film school, but he saw every movie.

Jim:            Yeah.

Puryear:     Seeing every movie, by the way, is no guarantee that you’ll write or create good movies, or direct good movies. But knowing the moves, knowing what works, knowing why Magnificent Seven by John Sturges is a better picture, say than Ice Station Zebra directed by the same guy. One picture was better than the other. Why? Well, you have to know these things. So yeah, I would say that, that working and trying to sell your work is a great education.

Jim:            Did you become acquainted with the Clinton’s because of Erika?

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            Talk about those because 2008 is a big year for you professionally; going back to your art…

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            Because of that poster, talk about that a little bit.

Puryear:     Sure thing. By 2008, Erika had become a surrogate for Hillary Clinton. She had been asked to do a fundraiser for Hillary with Women of Color out here in Los Angeles in 2007, which she did. It was very successful. And Erika introduced Hillary, and gave a really barn burner of a talk.  And so, the Clinton machine looked at Erika, and said, “She’s great.” So, Erika became a surrogate for Hillary; spoke all over the country for her. She became friends with both President Clinton and Secretary Clinton, and later on, back then it was Senator Clinton.

So, you know Obama had that amazing poster by Shepherd Fairey, and Hillary’s graphics were all those kinds of very square democratic party union, just like… That’s the worst. And the Hillary team mentioned to Erika, they could really use something colorful. And Erika said, well, my husband’s a really good designer. So, I designed a poster with a great photograph by Brian Adams, the rocker.

I was there when Hillary first saw it. I had been sort of trying to be a little tongue and cheek to make sure look like Eva Peron or something colorful and iconic looking, and risking going into that Evita Peron territory. But Hillary saw it and she just laughed out loud; she has that great horse laugh. She laughed out loud and said, “Oh my god, you made me look like Eva Peron.” But she liked it. And then to me, that was golden. So that was a good moment and the poster was nice.

Jim:            And it’s in the National Portrait Gallery in DC?

Puryear:     Yes, it is.

Jim:            That’s amazing.

Puryear:     It’s amazing. Right there with like Gilbert Stewart’s portrait of Washington, or the Brady photographs of Lincoln, and then Hillary Clinton. in this iconic moment. So, I was very proud of that.

Jim:            I hesitate to even bring this up, but I think it was probably in 2016, you and I were corresponding constantly, and you probably don’t know that was me.

Puryear:     Okay.

Jim:            Every time I posted something about Hillary Clinton, not always, in the most favorable way possible.

Puryear:     I understand. I understand.

Jim:            And I can count on you to respond almost immediately. I would just wait for it. Here comes Tony.

Puryear:     Oh my god, you know, I love her. I think she has integrity. you hear so much bad stuff these days. Of course, these QAnon people think she’s a pedophile running the Pizzagate Conspiracy, but that’s bizarre because she’s a decent woman. I can’t say all the time, but the things I know… I’m just here to tell you, having spent some time with her, she’s extraordinarily decent and hard working. She thought those were the virtues that would get somebody to be president.


And in this cockamamie world, you’ve got the bad side of the coin like Two-Face as president, and any of her virtues don’t seem to matter. That blows my mind, I’m sure blew her mind too. So, I love her.

Jim:            And I mine we’re only concerns about running the campaign. I wasn’t linking her to pedophilia or anything.

Puryear:     Listen, they successfully painted this portrait her… There’s a deep strain of sexism in America too. It’s like, “I just don’t like her. I just don’t like her. She’s pushy. She’s cold.” Please, she’s the most qualified candidate ever, who ran for president.

Puryear:     That Matt Lauer interview that he did with her, was what convinced me that the sexism was just all across the board.

Puryear:     Even from presumed Liberals you’re going to see Joe Biden’s VP pic. And whoever it is, you’re going to hear some of them saying, “I just don’t like her, Kamala Harris, she’s pushy.”

Jim:            Oh, they’re already ready for Harris.

Puryear:     “Susan Rice, who is she really? I don’t like her.”

Jim:            Okay, so Alex, let’s go right to Concrete Park and I’ll be back in just a minute.

Alex:          Alright, so now Concrete Park, I reread that the other day, first would you consider it an example of Afrofuturism? Is it an example of that? Because there’s multiple peoples of color represented in this.

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          Is it Afrofuturism? Or is it not necessarily that.

Puryear:     Well it cuts two ways. I would say yes, in so far as, it was created by two comic book creators of color.

Alex:          Yeah, because if the audience doesn’t know, you co-wrote it with Erika Alexander…

Puryear:     That’s right.

Alex:          Your wife at the time. And you tried to pitch it as a film, or as a series, or something. Tell us about the whole genesis of it.

Puryear:     In brief, we were pitching to a guy at Sony Screen Gems. They had made a lot of money doing Resident Evil. They’ve made a lot of money doing Resident Evil pictures. They’ve made a lot of money with black pictures, starring Vivica Fox, that whole cadre of people.

We were pitching to the guy at Sony Screen Gems, he stopped us right in the middle. He saw some of our pitch more pitch materials black faces. He said, “Let me tell you something, you’re wasting your time. Black people don’t like a science fiction.”

Alex:          Oh, wow.

Puryear:     And he goes like this, “We who love science fiction.” He says, “Black people don’t like science fiction just because they don’t see themselves in the future.”

Alex:          Wow, that’s crazy.

Puryear:     Crazy racist.

Alex:          “They don’t see themselves in the future.” I think that’s a terrible comment.

Puryear:     It’s a terrible comment, and he said it because he felt black people were essentially nihilistic.

Alex:          He used those words?

Puryear:     Yeah. And we were like, “Whoa…” So, we walked out of there so mad, that we decided to make a graphic novel. We decided all the barriers to entry are relatively low, you can do it yourself. So, Erika had never written a comic book. I had never written a comic book. I never drawn a comic book. But we thought we couldn’t do it, and we would try.

Alex:          You could draw. You knew that and you’ve done story boards but actually drawing a comic, that’s another level you’re saying.

Puryear:     It’s a whole different animal because it’s not about how pretty your pictures are. Though I love the guys who draw pretty. It’s obvious from my style, I love Jaime Hernandez.

Alex:          I felt that when I read that. Yeah.

Puryear:     Nobody draws like him. He’s a genius. But he tells stories, that’s the thing. He could be doing stick figures and we’d follow his writing because the stories are great. Jack Kirby drew people with rectangular and square cubic knee caps. I mean he just drew crazy, but you follow the story.


Drawing comic books is a very different discipline from drawing pretty. And how to draw them with clarity, that’s a whole another discipline to learn because I see so many comics today that I can’t follow. Each panel is drawn with tons of cross action, tons of raze and stuff that I can’t follow the story again, so trying to draw with clarity. We taught ourselves, based on that awful experience with that racist guy.

So, the answer to your question is yes, it’s Afrofuturism in that black people created it. It’s got a broader brief or ambit thing for its ambitions because yes, we want to see a future with all kinds of people of color in the future. Different gender orientation too. Because we have seen so many bullshit visions of the future. I’m looking at you… Mocking Bird, what’s that series?…

Jim:            Hunger Games.

Puryear:     Thank you. There is maybe one district in there, where I saw some faces of color. But really, like all these apocalyptic futures… That’s what happens, black people didn’t make it. They are cut off?…

Jim:            That’s true.

Puryear:     Like a paper bag test? Where we don’t pass the test and no more black people? And you know, there’s a billion, zillion Asian people on this Earth and I never saw them in any of those futures either. I don’t know…

Alex:          Yeah, that’s a good point.

Jim:            I think there’s one Asian character in the Hunger Games books.

Puryear:     And then isn’t that great, and then we can all…


Someone said, “What’s the definition of kitsch?” The definition of kitsch and bad taste, isn’t in the first tear drop… “Oh, isn’t that great there’s an Asian.” Kitsch is the second tear drop that says, “And isn’t it great we can all feel that way.”


Yeah, no, I thought those futures were inherently racist, and so we set out to make a book. Jack Warner’s thug, Louis B. Mayer said, “You want to send a message? Call Western Union.” I didn’t want to make a book that was good for you, like spinach or that would sell you lessons. But I didn’t want to make a book that just by its prettiness and its funk, and its sense of excitement represented people of color in the future.

Alex:          Right.

Jim:            I will say Warner’s has that quote but he also greenlit Fugitive From a Chain Gang which is an incredible narrative about race and about things.


Puryear:     Please, it may have been Mayer… It was Louis B. Mayer who started the Oscars and the Motion Pictures Academy as an anti-union thing. So maybe it was Louis B. Mayer…

Jim:            No, it was Warner but it still existed.

Puryear:     [overlap talk] Oh, okay. No. He made great pictures. I’m a Fugitive From a Chain Gang is great, you’re exactly right, and that may have been,,, Who is guy? Darryl Zanuck who worked for him later on, with him at Fox. But he made those great 30s pictures. I love those.

Jim:            The social problem films that Warner did.

Puryear:     So, that’s Concrete Park. It is Afrofuturism.

Alex:          So, it is Afrofuturism. And so then, you decided to basically kind of crash course in comic storytelling telling as far as art, and also, you’re a script writer. So, you and Erika Alexander were co-writing. Also, Erika’s brother was involved? Is that also right?

Puryear:     Erika’s brother… He didn’t have much involvement in the comic, but it was Erika’s brother, Robert Alexander, who said there should be a science fiction thing called Concrete Park. And that was the start of it. I love that title because it’s like an oxymoron yeah, like Jumbo Shrimp. I grew up in New York City where there’s lots of concrete parks.

Alex:          Yes, and that’s what I was going to ask, because there’s a concrete plant park in the Bronx, I think.

Puryear:     Yeah, my elementary school, the school yard, there wasn’t a tree anywhere to be seen. All the school yards in New York. They look like Westside Story with the chain linked fence and the concrete, and that’s your park. That’s where you play. So that influenced us very much.

We’re influenced by a couple of things. The old Ben E. King song, Spanish Harlem, where he says, “There’s a rose in Spanish Harlem… It’s growing in the street right up through the concrete. But soft and sweet, and dreaming.” That’s a beautiful image. So, we want to make a future with something beautiful on rough circumstances, Concrete Park.

Alex:          Yeah. It is beautiful. And you’re right, it has that urban kind of feel to it. You’re right.

Now, did you pitch it to multiple publishers as the comics? Since it wasn’t going to be a movie [overlap talk]

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          And how did you end up with Dark Horse and Mike Richardson? How’d that all happen?

Puryear:     Mike Richardson is a genius. I had prepared a bunch of solicitation letters, to kind of reach out to different publishers. Never got a bite from… You can fill in the blanks, of all the indie publishers. I was writing my letter to Mike Richardson, and it had a couple of pictures. It had this spread… Let me see if I can show it to you… It had a couple pictures from Concrete Park but I haven’t written the text yet. Because somebody had slipped me Richardson’s email address….

Here’s the spread.

Alex:          Yeah, beautiful. Yeah.

Puryear:     And I just had these pictures. I didn’t have any text, to Richardson yet, and I hit send by accident. No Dear Mike, Hello… I got an instant email back. “That’s interesting. Who are you? I might be interested in publishing something like that. Who are you?” Signed, Mike Richardson.

Alex:          Nice.

Puryear:     Whoa! Because all the other places, not even a peep of interest. So, I started communicating with Mike Richardson. That was just luck. I’m one of the luckiest people in world. We were very lucky with that.

Mike’s a great guy. He understands comics art. He’s a lover of artists. He wrote me an email and said, “I believe in your talent.”

Alex:          Oh, wow. That’s great.

Puryear:     Pretty great thing to hear from anybody.

Alex:          It is.

Puryear:     But from Mike Richardson…

Jim:            Did he offer any input on the content at all? Or was he all like, “You be you.”

Puryear:     You be you, except he asked us for one thing. He said, “I see a lot of post-apocalyptic futures; a lot of dark futures. Is there any hope in your book?” And we said, “Yes. We see people building something beautiful even in the midst of all this bad news, and chaos.” I’m essentially an optimistic guy, and we hope for beauty…

He had other input. He didn’t care. He’s said, “I see what you’re doing. It’s great.”

Alex:          Wow, that’s interesting… So, you mentioned Jack Kirby, Jaime Hernandez, as far as influences for this story. Did you have any other influences other than those two? Although, I do see a lot of those two in that, but also your specific thing, obviously. Tell us about other influences.

Puryear:     Stan Lee, in this way… Stan Lee once broke down for me what the elements of a 20-paged comic or 22-paged comic would be. He said, “You start with a mystery… Why is Spider-Man and Daredevil in the same place? Of course, they’re going to fight. Why are they there? Boom, boom, boom! Then you deepen the mystery. Then you do this… Then you do this…”

Alex:          Wow.

Puryear:     “Then you play it off… Introduce the cliffhanger.”

Alex:          That’s cool.

Puryear:     And he drew me a little timeline. Just like this, on a little piece of paper with little hash marks, going “This is what you have to have.”  He said, “It’s two and a half action scenes, a mystery, and a cliffhanger.” That’s his formula for a comic book.

There was a while when Concrete Park was being published as a monthly. And I followed that. I tried to have that rhythm; where there’s action, there’s a mystery. There’s a bigger action, there’s a bigger mystery, dah, dah, dah, and a cliffhanger.

Alex:          Was it meant to be a miniseries or an ongoing series?

Puryear:     At first, we did it in the Dark Horse Presents. They had an anthology, and we were doing eight pages at a time. And we could have gone on with that forever, but Mike said, “Oh, I think you guys are ready for a 22-page book.” His big concern was with creator owned comics. “Would you finish? Could you deliver on time?” We proved that in like seven issues of Dark Horse Presents, eight pages at a time.

Then he said, “I think you’re ready to do a monthly. Can you do a monthly?” I said, “Yes, I think we can.” We did the monthly. It did okay, but it didn’t sell that well. And he said, “I think you can really do better by doing a graphic novel. By combining these stories, by doing a series of graphic novels.”


So, we took our first Dark Horse Presents stories, smoothed them out somewhat, to put them in our first book which looks like this one. And then the second book was all the original materials from the monthly comic, plus; that’s like a hundred pages of material. And then, we’re going to do more. Then finally, just this past year we broke off with Dark Horse.

I loved working with them and everything, but the books hadn’t sold as well as we wanted, and also, we wanted to be free and unencumbered. And Mike had the entertainment rights which we thought, he wasn’t doing anything. But like at first, they’re doing great. Like they’ve got a series on the air now, Umbrella Academy.

Jim:            Yep.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     They’re doing very, very well with, but we thought out of all his many properties that he was trying to set up with TV shows and everything, maybe we were sort of lower down on the list, for whatever reason. I have nothing bad to say about those guys, they were great. Dark Horse was a great place to work. But we parted ways last year.

Alex:          I see. Now, as far as the division of duties, basically you and Erika co-wrote it, and then you did the pencil, inking, coloring, lettering, right?

Puryear:     Yes. We did this sort of Marvel style, meaning we would talk about the story. I’d go and draw pages. We’d talk about them again, and correct, and change, and tweak. And then, write dialogue.

Alex:          Were you both writing the dialogue then?

Puryear:     Yeah, it was collaborative; from starting the stories it was collaborative, making the outline, agreeing on all that. But at a certain point, I was like, “We can’t talk about this anymore, I have to go out and start drawing.”

Because again, not, was it my first comic book drawings but I had none of the savvy or the experience to draw on, than how Kirby did where he could just be drawing pages every day. That wasn’t me. I’m drawing every panel, and I’m redrawing it, and tracing it on a light box. It was that crude… I’m redrawing, and redrawing.

So, I work kind of slowly so it’s good when I started drawing when I did but it worked out to be Marvel style. You know what that means.

Alex:          Yeah. Dynamic, kind of back and forth, and then you kind of put it together.

Puryear:     But it’s the artist who’s pacing out the rhythm of the story like how you get to that cliffhanger on the lower right corner of the page, that makes you turn the page. That was an interesting education. We got better as we went, I think.

Alex:          Was it a strain doing this with your wife? Collaborating creatively on something, with your wife.

Puryear:     Yes, we have been working together a long time and it’s almost like, sometimes you go on a dry-cleaning business or something, a mom-and-pop or anything. And they’ve been doing it a long time and mom-and-pop are kind of squabbling, and tired, without giving up too much, that became part of our marriage because we worked together so intensely for so many years.

Sometimes, we go to bed on an argument. “It should be blue.” “It should be red.” “It should be blue.” “Red.” “Good night.” “Good night. Grrrr.” That can be difficult for any couple.

Alex:          That’s interesting the ma-and-pa analogy, and kind of the frustration.

Puryear:     Yeah. I love her, and we still work together. We still do TV projects together. But we hit it really hard. There’s a great line, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that Ben Affleck, The Town. That Boston picture?

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     I forget the actress’s name, but she plays this sort of skanky girl that Ben Affleck has been dating. And she says to him, “We smoked it to the filter, didn’t we?”


That’s what me and Erika did. We smoked it to the filter.

Alex:          Yeah, it’s a good way to put it.

Puryear:     We worked really hard. It does have its strain.

Alex:          I know what you mean. So, then you still work together, and it was an amicable divorce.

Puryear:     Yes, it was. It’s hard and sad, and it came in 2016 when Hillary lost. We both were on the road working for Hillary. I did another poster for Hillary. I did a victory poster for Hillary that never got seen. I was ready there in the Javits Center for the night, her victory. And then it didn’t happen.

So, yeah, there were a lot of strains on the marriage in that year. But we continued… We have a couple of scripts we wrote together, that we’re trying to set up. And things we do together now.

Alex:          So, are you working on continuing your concluding the Concrete Park story.

Puryear:     Yes, and whatever medium that happens in.

Alex:          I see, so it could not necessarily be comic, basically. It could actually just be like in a movie as a conclusion or something, or maybe put it all in a movie or TV show.

Puryear:     I have a volume three that’s drawn about halfway; drawn and scripted, working there.

Alex:          Oh, really.

Puryear:     Yeah, I’d love it to come out and be its own thing. One of the things Dark Horse was looking to do was to do a big omnibus edition when the whole thing was finished. Drop them four big books, getting bigger each time like Harry Potter or Game of Thrones. That’s still on our minds but these days TV has been very much on our minds too.

Because of Black Lives Matters, there’s some unique opportunities for black creators and friends of mine.

Alex:          Yeah. Right, it’s opened up a bit.

Puryear:     And so, we’re looking at each other like, “Well why not us?… Why not Concrete Park.”

Alex:          Sure. That makes sense. And if Umbrella Academy is doing well, maybe this is the time for Concrete Park to hit the screen.

Puryear:     You know, because of Covid, there’s been this amazing slow down, unfortunately, in TV, going for a TV production. Lots of people stock up on script and projects, how are they going to shoot them? And then people say, the way they shot the Mandalorian is becoming our model now, where it’s like two guys in a warehouse with a digital background that’s dynamic that moves with the shot.

Alex:          I see.

Puryear:     Mandalorian, it looks great, but it’s produced in this very low labor-intensive way. It’s all guys, sitting home with computers.


Alex:          Yeah, it’s a socially distant way of filmmaking.


Puryear:     Yes, it is. So, maybe there’s that for Concrete Park in some future. Right now, nobody’s shooting anything.

Alex:          Now, the fan reaction was very interesting. There’s a great critical reaction to Concrete Park, you guys, both did convention appearances.

Puryear:     Yes.

Alex:          Was that a fun experience?

Puryear:     The best.

Alex:          Yeah, tell us about that. Tell us about the fanfare.

Puryear:     We loved it. Dark Horse was very supportive. We always did signings. They encouraged us. We brought a lot to the party. We would make a lot of merch; we made plastic flowers for people to wear in their hair like Luca, our lead character. We made posters, and giveaways, and T-shirts, and all that jazz. We have booth babes. We got in to the whole spirit of the thing, so we had a ball. We met all kinds of people.

One day, I’m sitting there, hawking Concrete Park and outcomes Lee Meriwether, former Miss America and former Catwoman, from the old Batman TV series. She couldn’t have been nicer. I got my picture taken with Lee Meriwether; I was on cloud-9.

Alex:          [chuckle] Yeah, because you’re still a comic fan under all this stuff.

Puryear:     Oh, and an old ‘60s TV fan. You meet the nicest people at Comic Book Convention. Comic fans are lovely. They can be kind of unwashed, or smelly, but good people. Families, we saw some of the same families year after year, now, we’re all friends on Facebook and all that stuff. So, that was cool great. Not many authors get to be so high touch with whatever fans they have. We made new friends, new fans.

We also did a whole other second circuit of like black events. For instance, there’s this DJ who just retired. This guy, Tom Joyner, who appeared both in the Dallas, I believe, and Chicago radio markets. And he did a big thing every year called The Tom Joyner Family Reunion; one of these big black events at a hotel, where people pay thousands of dollars to come. Like a big black convention.

We sold more Concrete Park there than anywhere because Erika is a big black celebrity. People would line up and just buy boxes of our books. So, we have that circuit going on as well. We appeared on radio. We did a lot of radio, morning drive time radio. People would walk up to us in San Diego, and say, “I heard you on the radio.” So, it’s great.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s awesome.

Puryear:     Great experience.

Alex:          Yeah, that’s great. I’m looking forward to the next chapter in whatever form it may take.

Puryear:     Just off camera, I’ve got this huge digital drawing tablet that I invested in to draw Concrete Park Volume 3. It’s coming. We have some great places we want to take the story in. And over the past years that we’ve been doing Concrete Park, actually, we saw Game of Thrones and how well they did that. You want talk about somebody raising the bar, for what an immersive story world could be. I thought they did a very good job with Westworld just recently, and also Watchmen. Amazing.

Alex:          Amazing.

Jim:            Watchmen was amazing for that.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     And Doctor Manhattan turns out to be the dude… The whole thing.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     Great, from top to bottom.

Alex:          It was.

Puryear:     The Game of Thrones by the way, even in the time we sold Concrete Park, when Game of Thrones started appearing, we started reading the Game of Thrones novels, we love them. But that’s why there’s a map.

Alex:          A map, yeah that’s awesome. I love that and they actually have a glossary at…

Puryear:     We have the glossary. The glossary was something we always were going to do, but the map, man, we were like, “Great fantasy has maps. Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, must have maps.

Alex:          You’re right, Kamandi had a map, I think.

Puryear:     That’s right. That’s right.

Jim:            First issue.

Alex:          Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I love that…And video games, like a lot of video games have maps and stuff.

Puryear:     Yeah.

Alex:          Like Zelda. Zelda had a map, I remember that.

Puryear:     That’s how I got into the internet and everything was in 1995, -6, whatever. There was this old video game, Myst.

Jim:            Sure.

Puryear:     And it had a map and everything, and I wanted to make interactive games for a minute, and then people said to me, “No, the good place to tell stories is on the web, man. Forget making CD – ROM games. Don’t make games. Be on the web.” So, I’ve been on the web ever since, telling stories, doing stuff. Maps. Got to have maps.

Jim:            Kirby was ahead of all of this though, with the internet stuff, with OMAC.

Puryear:     Oh, yeah.

Jim:            There’s an OMAC aspect to this too. But OMAC had all of that stuff…

Puryear:     You’re right.

Jim:            And such social critiques… Just amazing.

Alex:          Yeah, OMAC, that’s a good connection. Yeah.

Puryear:     The book had not been written yet about Kamandi, and about OMAC, and a lot of Kirby’s later works. His eye problems got so wonky that everything, after a while had a slant to it. Everything was a little weird, but his ideas, he just kept on going.

Jim:            Oh, in those issues of OMAC, it’s amazing. Just one after another.

Puryear:     You’re right?

Alex:          Yeah, I don’t think about OMAC much, but I do love those comics. Yeah.

Jim:            I’m glad you mentioned Watchmen because I was going to say, that I remember teaching Watchmen in class and it wasn’t tracking well with the students, especially. And then 9/11 happened, and it became an entirely different device. And I wanted to say that, to some degree, I see that with Concrete Park, after this year’s Black Lives Matter movement. Because that first couple of pages of the very first story with Isaac in Los Angeles is exactly where we are at the moment.


Puryear:     I live in downtown LA. I lived in a 110-year old building; 10-storey building with these great old… The early skyscrapers of LA, they were 10 stories high.

Jim:            Love those buildings.

Puryear:     Right, and I’m on Broadway when the riots happened after George Floyd. There’s a big convenience store in the ground floor of my building, with the ‘Sells $ tube socks’ and everything; a discount store. The looters broke the windows, went in and looted it all, and set it on fire. So, I’m here on the fourth floor, looking out my window as the flames are coming up, going, “Oh my god. this is like the apocalypse.”

But bad times are coming too, I mean, here we are, we’re having this lovely conversation about comics. I’m so glad you guys invited me to the party like this. But the economy is going to be bad. There are going to be shortages. Bad stuff is coming. I’m not preaching gloom and doom; I have a lot of hope about the future.

But I also think we’re in a very funky time. So, we sort of saw a future like that coming. You might get shot for a truckload of water, or you might get shot for food. That was part of our vision for Concrete Park Part 2.

Jim:            That’s really interesting, that you mentioned Broadway because I always took my students to the LA Conservancy walk through on Broadway. Going into all the classic theaters and things, that are now retail electronic stores, and different things, or churches, or whatever. And I love that particular street, probably more than anywhere else in LA.

Puryear:     I live a block from the Bradbury building where they shot Blade Runner.

Jim:            I was going to say… So, that theater that’s across the street…

Puryear:     The Million Dollar.

Jim:            Is just brilliant.

Puryear:     Yes. Sid Grauman built theater. The same guy who made the Chinese Theater.

Jim:            And I miss the cafeteria every single day. I love that place.

Puryear:     Yeah…So, if I had to distil a couple of the issues we were talking about in Concrete Park- we’re talking about race, we’re talking about gender fluidity, we’re talking about scarcity. And when I hit on the idea of calling the city Scarce City, I say, “Oh, now we’re in the home stretch.” That’s a great simple way of talking about it.

But you know, good science fiction is always about now. Like 1984 was really about 1948, etcetera. Concrete Park, we’re talking about scarcity. We’re talking about why are water rights in the Amazon being privatized by Nestle to the extent that indigenous people can’t get water, unless they pay for it. That’s part of a message of Concrete Park 2 or the feeling of scarcity.

Jim:            So, I want to talk about film references a little bit, or influences. Excuse me, if I missed it, when Alex was talking to you. But City of God seems like one of the obvious ones.

Puryear:     That was a big, big influence on us; the heat, the way it looked. It’s very perverse ended up working Alice Braga on Queen of the South because she was in City of God. But we loved that look. We love District 9, showing science fiction… Normally, the aliens always land in Washington DC or New York. Why… But landing in Johannesburg is already a great idea. We love that film.

Jim:            I mean obviously, the tattoos go back to concentration camps and things, but I wondered if Fincher’s Alien 3 was also an influence.

Puryear:     Only after we did it. We were pages, and pages in, and I’ve drawn the barcodes, only to remember, that the people had those barcodes on the back of their heads in the Fincher… Was that the Alien 3?

Jim:            Yeah.

Puryear:     So, yes, I guess that was in there. It’s a very common trope. As a matter of fact, I was kind of committed to drawing it that way, and Erika was like, “You know the real cool barcodes are those QR codes.” I said, “I can’t draw those on people’s faces.”

Jim:            What I love about the bar code is that you have the number and then the bars surround it, in an imprisonment kind of a way. I feel like the people are the numbers and the bars surround them in a trapped way.

Puryear:     That’s right. And we wear those prison bars on our face. That was the whole thing. That was my argument to her about, “Let’s not do the square code. Let’s do the bars.” Thank you.

Some of the characters, no longer have their bars, and why?… We get into that later on… People call your bar and grill. Like Luca, the lead woman character doesn’t have the barcode on her face. Why? We talk about that.

Jim:            Yeah, I think the barcode is a central part of it. And exactly what you’re saying.

Puryear:     I’m glad you noticed that, thank you.

Jim:            When you were doing it, and introducing the characters, your graphic sense isn’t traditional comic sense at all, and that you’re having these intros, like old school- here’s the catch up, here’s a character reference points. Did you meet any resistance to doing that? Because I love it. It’s a great start to the series.

Puryear:     To me they’re like the beginning of Jules and Jim with like freeze frames, and like dah-dah-dah… Bam!

Jim:            Right.

Puryear:     Dah-dah-dah… Bam! And then you cut. And so, you introduce a character… I do have these big graphics because I kind of realized, we were trying for Game of Thrones-sized cast and there’s, even though now, in the two volumes it’s like 56 speaking parts.


And we want to visit them all. There’re main characters, just like in Game of Thrones. There’s main point of view characters and those point of view characters, yeah, I get those big graphics, Luca… bam! So that was meant to be like film freeze frames.

Jim:            You’ve mentioned Game of Thrones several times, but I’m struck by the Kirby Fourth World aspect of it with New Gods because it’s, sure you’ve got Orion, and he’s central but now, here’s Metron. It goes through it, linking split and gives you all of those. And the characters are not straight villains in the way that…

Puryear:     Of course.

Jim:            Especially, Silas is Metron to me. We don’t know what he is.

Puryear:     Yes.

Jim:            So, I really had such a Fourth World feeling to it…

Puryear:     Oh, I’m glad. And Kirby couldn’t stop himself. He was like Dickens in that like halfway through a book, if he came up with something great, he’d just throw it in there anyway. Even though he hasn’t thought about it from the start. Like halfway way through New Gods you get the bug or the Forager, that kid, and all of the bugs with Mantis. Suddenly, he’s like, “Oh, I can work Mantis into this as a bad guy.” But I know he didn’t have that from the start. He just one day said, “There should be this guy, the bug. He’s great.”

Jim:            It’s leaking out of his ears. It’s like, “Oh, who’s that guy on a horse?” And it’s like, that’s just because it’s Kirby and he can’t help it.

Puryear:     Or the story. So, I says, “Jack, who’s the guy with the surf board? And he says, “That’s the Silver Surfer.”


And he goes, “Galactus needs a herald.” I said, “Oh, that’s pretty good.” That’s how Kirby was.

Alex:          Stan actually admitted that. That was Jack’s thing.

Puryear:     Yes, because he had Galactus, they want to do like a god-like character in this world.

Alex:          A god thing.

Puryear:     But to make a good story, that guy is like the end of the story, that like two issues in the guy finally shows up, but in meantime time there should be a herald. I can see Kirby going, “Yeah, and the guy comes in. They have a fight. The Fantastic Four doesn’t know who he is. They fight. They mix it up. The Thing throws him across the city. He throws The Thing…” And then you got a story.

Alex:          Yeah, also, I like how you confront… I like how I’m blurry as I’m saying this… But the shape changer… I’m actually shape changing, as we speak.

Puryear:     You are!

Alex:          But the shape changer in Concrete Park. There’s a natural intrinsic issue of gender fluidity and being a shape changer. And I like how you go right to it in Concrete Park, where the shape changer is that dude, but it’s a woman now, and then now it’s a she, and then she is kind of to seducing him in his room late at night. And then shape changes back into the dude again, when she rejected, and then he runs away. I was like, “Wow. I guess all shape changers must have this.”

Puryear:     Well you know, why shouldn’t they? I mean, I just read… Of course, maybe you’ve seen this, where the Wachowski siblings now say, the Matrix was as an analogy for trans life. What it’s like to grow into your butterfly from the cocoon, and be that trans person male, that’s Neo.

Okay. I buy that. But I’ve seen shape shifters before, but a lot of times, if they were male, or if they’re a woman and they’re a seductress, they stay a woman. But we needed a little humor. We had all these characters, and we were trying to come up with this guy and looking for a name. I used to work with seafood when I was a chef. One of the fish we used to work with was called the monkfish. And so, this guy, his name was Monkfish, suddenly. And I thought of this skinny Jamaican or African looking guy, a dark-skinned guy.


We literally did do some of this… Figuring, “Okay, we’ve got characters color. So, have we got an Asian guy? Have we got…” I know that’s a little weird but it’s just like what they used to call foxhole movies. Like The Losers or foxhole movies, Sergeant Fury – there’s the Jew, there’s the Italian, there’s the black guy.

So, we needed a dark-skinned black guy, and we said, “He should be funny.” Next thing you know, his name is Monkfish, and he’s changing gender. Yes, into women. We thought that would be funny. He would win a beauty contest, as a woman.

Alex:          To degree, he kind of reminded me of Turks from Daredevil or something.

Puryear:     Oh, yeah. Yeah, and the thing is, about Monkfish, we haven’t seen what his real, real identity looks like. He just goes around as a human dude but maybe he’s a fucking green alien, or whatever, that just does this human beat, because it’s another planet. You’re allowed, in science fiction.

Jim:            He and Madman Fontaine are the ones that visually just jump out at you.

Puryear:     I’m glad you like them.

Jim:            I mentioned Kirby, obviously, and New Gods, but the other one that I would say that was happening just shortly after that, that is one two three intro of characters, over time a little bit, was McGregor’s jungle action Black Panther.

Puryear:     You know I’ve never seen that. I hear about it. Maybe I faded away from comics at that point. I’ve heard it’s good.

Jim:            It’s good. But it’s got that same kind of characters and some of them have sexual ambiguity like Venom. You should definitely read that.

Puryear:     Okay.

Jim:            It’s great… So, it’s your very first comic. You’re feeling your way, and you’re with somebody who’s never done a comic, and you guys suddenly appear in the Best American Comics book, 2013. That’s where I first read this.

Puryear:     Wow.


And those were some good early pages. They were a good introduction to Concrete Park because that was our first story in Dark Horse Presents, and they selected it for that. That was great.

Jim:            You must have been especially grateful to Jeff Smith for selecting that.

Puryear:     I ran in to him two years ago. I was in Columbus, Ohio where I saw Arnold. They do a big comic thing in Columbus and everything. And I ran into him, and I thanked him. I was able to shake his hand and say, “Thanks for selecting us.” That was a great send off. And it gave us some clout, at Dark Horse, of course.

Jim:            Oh, absolutely. Some clout and some reinforcement that you guys were on the right track. And you’re in there with so many amazing creators, that must have been a real morale boost for you guys.

Puryear:     That was a great moment, and it got us good things in a lot of ways. It made Dark Horse take us a click more seriously. It got us press. Other people started interviewing us. Also, yeah, it told us that even those eight pages which were kind of an introduction of a couple of characters, Isaac and then Luca, and Lena her lover, who maybe be like… That’s our Tony Morrison, Gabriel García Márquez influence that Lena is a ghost. And who may or may not be able to be physically real in this world.

Anyway, that was the validation that people follow that, at least. That it raised some good questions and they want to see more. That was great.

Jim:            So, let’s move on and just very briefly, touch on the other things you’ve done since then. You had mentioned 2016, and the hardship of going through that year, in terms of what happened you were doing Comics Cast 2016 with other comic creators. With the people that did World War III, illustrating with some other people. You guys were all doing a project. Talk about that project, some.

Puryear:     I can’t remember a single thing about that. That’s like a blank to me. I really mean it.

Jim:            But you were covering that as a reporter, almost, for the conventions.

Puryear:     Forgive me. I didn’t recognize the name Comics Cast. You’re right. I remember what we did. We went to Cleveland. We went…

Jim:            That was the official name.

Puryear:     Thank you. Because we worked with Joyce Brabner, who’s the widow of Harvey Pekar. Joyce was great, and Joyce had me and a bunch of cartoonists to come down to the conventions and cover them. And so, I went to Cleveland, where Joyce lives, and that where the Republican Convention was. I was on the floor when that Michael Flynn started leading that chant about “lock her up”. It was the scariest thing.

And you want to talk about racial identity… There I was, people mostly probably wouldn’t figure I was black. Wouldn’t figure out I was certainly a secret democrat or whatever. I’m there on the floor, drawing sketches of people, and they start to chant, “Lock her up. Lock her up”. It was so scary. Cleveland was scary. I met Bikers for Trump, guys carrying guns. It’s open carry state, that was crazy.

Comics Cast, you’re absolutely right. I was thinking of a radio thing. We went to Cleveland and then on to Philly. I was so, just convinced she was going to win, of course. And to see all…

Jim:            I remember that. [chuckle]

Puryear:     Yeah. Oh man, and to see Obama, and to see all the great speakers there and everything, that was a great experience. So, it was great to be with other cartoonists. I still stay in touch with a lot of those guys.

There’s a sikh guy named Vishavit… I can’t say his name, Vishavjit Singh. He’s the Sikh Captain America. He goes around with a turban, dressed as Captain America. He’s great, and a great cartoonist. So, we made some really good friends doing that. That’s what we did in 2016. Thank you.

Jim:            You did a coloring box…

Puryear:     Yes, with

Jim:            Right. Great writer, probably best known for Fight Club.


Puryear:     He does business with Dark Horse, and so, he had this adult coloring book. And they had their… It was about seven or eight stories, and the most risqué story, in terms of race, was the story I illustrated for him. And I think, as much as anything else, they hired me to do it because they were covered then. If there was controversy about it, they’d say, “Well look, a black guy drew it.” Because it’s like a sex club with people a masquerading as Harriet Tubman and all this stuff. And it’s a little… It was bound to be controversial. It actually worked out just fine, and Chuck turned out to be a great guy.

Alex:          Is there a sign-up sheet for this club?… Nah, I’m just kidding.


Jim:            How did you do that, in terms of, did you visualize the colors and then removed them? Or did you do it as…

Puryear:     Not at all. Dark Horse showed me some work that other people had done. No disrespect to these other artists, but I thought it was kind of busy. You know my style, I draw with heavy black outlines and not much inside the holding lines. So, that’s one of the things that leads people to think it looks like Jaime Hernandez. It’s is because, I don’t do crosshatching. I don’t spot blacks inside the characters even. I don’t do much of that. So, my work is like anti-crosshatching. It’s the anti-Jim Lee, the anti-wild storm.

Now, I’m really dating myself again, but my work goes away from that. So, they had a lot of people who done these coloring things, and I said, “No one’s ever going to be able to color that. The areas to color are so small.” So, I tried consciously to make Tony-style, black outlines, empty spaces, that’s all. I didn’t visualize any colors. I just tried to make good black and white drawing that would be easy to color it.

Jim:            That’s interesting because your somebody who uses coloring, the way some use inking.

Puryear:     Yes. Short answer, yes.

Jim:            And yet, you’re expecting the colorist to bring that same level. I’m curious about the book now.


Puryear:     Yeah, and you’ll see that some of these people are like… I was like, “Who’s going to color that? The crayons, the markers, it can’t be done. The book is this big… It’s like… “ But I tried to make good, interesting Tony style illustrations, that would be easy to color with markers.

Jim:            Yeah. I think I saw a Charles Vess coloring picture once, and I thought, I don’t know how anybody would do that.

Puryear:     Yeah, some of the work is beautiful as black and white illustrations. It’s great.

Jim:            And then you’ve also got a series of paintings you’re doing in relation to Trump’s rogues gallery, so to speak?

Puryear:     Yes. Every day, I get up and I see the news and it’s like so… I’m an old leftie… My resume used to say, “Proudest Accomplishments: Helped stop the Vietnam War.”

You know, that’s me. And so, to see Trump, very early on, I decided this was a gangster administration, bunch of criminals. I know Trump from New York City. Trump was always a criminal. In New York, he’d go like this… The guy’s mobbed up. He’s like this. He’s one of the… He’s a goodfella… He was always a gangster. He was always mobbed up.

So, I made this series called Gangsters, where I treated them like rappers, gangsta… You know, with G-A-N-K-S-T-A, ganksta. Every day, I do… They’re like political cartoons except I use manipulated photographs, and I try to make funny headlines. And just trying to call attention to how criminal his stuff is. But I also did a series of paintings to go with those. We had a gallery show in early 2018, here in Los Angeles which was great. Very well attended. Sold some prints. Didn’t sell my paintings so I still got them here.

But yeah, I love to paint. This sort of animated me. These past four years, I’ve done more visual work, than I’ve done in a long time. Just fighting the Trump administration.

Jim:            And then you also, you went back to television.

Puryear:     That’s correct.

Jim:            Please tell us about that.

Puryear:     I loved Queen of the South when it first came out. And I had written a feature script for RKO. RKO, that old film label that did King Kong. They were back and they were remaking their old library. So, they had a picture in their library called Lady Scarface, which had come out obviously, as a response to the Howard Hawks, Scarface.

It was an awful picture with Judith Anderson, the woman who played Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. She’s like, “Now, I’m the mob boss. I’m Lady Scarface. See…rah, rah.“ It was awful. But I wrote this picture, they asked me to write a picture of a young Latina woman coming up, fighting to break into the drug gang because she has to, to stay alive. Blah, blah, blah.” I wrote that for RKO, and it was a perfect writing sample for Queen of the South.

I love the show so much, and an old friend of mine, that I had lost touch with Natalie Chaidez was the show runner. So, I submitted my script to her. I said, ”I think I’d be a good match for your team. A good fit.” So, they put me on the team. And I got to write Queen of the South which, as I’ve said, is very like the feature that I had already done.

I loved it. That was a great bunch of people. Great cast, hardworking. Filmed it in Dallas, substituting for Mexico. [chuckle] So, I loved that experience. That was great.

Jim:            This would be my last question, but do you describe yourself as an artist who also writes, or as a writer who loves to draw? Or are you truly both of those together but not in a Jack Kirby way where you’re a writer artist necessarily, but you just have two pathways that sometimes collide.

Puryear:     Interesting. It’s a breath mint. It’s a candy mint. It’s two mints in one. Tastes great, less filling.

Jim:            I was going to do Reese’s Cup, but that may be more controversial.

Puryear:     But there it is. Is he black or is he white?

Jim:            Yeah,

Puryear:     I think your last example actually, like Jack Kirby. Like a writer artist, artist writer. I am that guy. I don’t see any difference, in the two hats at all. The storytelling, I grew up with. As I said, I got to be there for the Marvel age of comics that made me a storyteller. I mean, obviously, there were movies back then too, 2001 blew my mind, The Godfather

Jim:            Blade Runners seems like an important movie.

Puryear:     Blade Runner, very important… I saw that movie a hundred times. I saw it a lot in college, then after college, 1883. To see it, in Providence, Rhode Island, you had to drive over the river to go to East Providence to see the movie.

One night we came out of the movie, East Providence, there was an old railroad bridge, an old railroad trestle that was up in the air like this… And you drive past it. One night we came out, it was on fire, blazing into the night. And we said, “Oh my god, it’s Blade Runner. Our whole world has become Blade Runner”… That was a very influential movie on me, of course.

So, I’m a writer artist, and I’m a guy wants to tell stories. And I’ll do it in whatever medium.

Alex:          Quick question before I conclude. If you were to attribute you’re inking, on your art, to a Jack Kirby inker… If you were to say which Jack Kirby inker would you most [overlap talk] to you, would you say, Chic Stone, or who would you say?

Puryear:     Well, I love Chic Stone’s heavy outlines.

Alex:          Yeah.

Puryear:     You know who inks like that? It’s Mike Allred, who’s very influenced by Chic Stone. But you know what, the truth is, I draw really big because my hand shakes. It’s so funny. My pencil drawings have some liveliness to them. It’s like they’re fresh and they’re okay. Then I sit there and I try to ink, and my hands starts going…[sound].


In the past couple of years, I got to be friendly with Mike Royer who has the most amazing hands. So, steady, so clean those lines. I could never in a million years ink like that. Not to mention with pen and ink, or brush and ink. Amazing. So, I don’t think there’s any of Kirby’s inkers that my stuff looks like. I think my stuff looks like a guy… If traditional comics are drawn Two-Up, meaning twice the size of reproduction… I’m drawing on my digital tablet, or back then on paper at like Four-Up, so that my shaky hand won’t betrayal itself in the inking. Because I hate the way my ink work looks. I like the pencil drawings.

All those guys were such pros, had such steady hands, even Vince Colletta. Ink anybody off the page, those guys are great. My stuff doesn’t look anything like… As I say, there are heavy holding lines.

Alex:          Yeah, I think that’s why I was thinking Chic Stone because of those heavy holding lines you’re talking about.

Puryear:     Right. But I also was influenced by Jaime Hernandez, that those things have to have thickness and a thinness, and a rhythm. But I wish I could ink like those guys. You want to break your heart, I saw some Jaime Hernandez originals, and they’re small. Their hands are so steady, perfect and clean. Those lines are so clean. No white out, never… It’s just beautiful. Even his panel boarders are drawn by hand not with a ruler. I could never do that stuff. So, my inking is the worse part of it, that’s the worst.

Alex:          I can safely say that Jim and I love your stuff, and your art and…

Puryear:     Thank you.

Alex:          Pencil and inks and color choices and all that.

Well, this has been a fun episode of the Comic Book Historians Podcast with Alex Grand and Jim Thompson. We had a really unconventional guest today; a wonderful delight to chat with. Really knowledgeable. Love the Jack Kirby… Really quick recall. I’m just really impressed. Tony, thanks so much for joining us today.

Puryear:     Thank you. Thank you. Thanks for having me. I hope to see you guys again in the real world.


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