Although he brings a lot of experience from the animation world LeSean is a relative newcomer by comic standards. But with only two years or so under his belt, he’s wasted little time putting his pencils to work on Dreamwave’s kung fu epic Arkanium and following that up with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, his current run with vet Peter David at the helm. This dude loves to stay busy. He’s already in the midst of developing two new projects of his own and starting up Artxilla studios with Sanford Greene, Keron Grant, and Ed McGuinness all while penciling Com.X’s return of Bazooka Jules. He’s no slouch on the hiphop tip either as MF Doom and C Rayz Walz stay in rotation while he’s putting in work.
Give our readers some background on your work.
I’ve been in animation for about six years freelancing between that and online stuff. Then I just got into comics. My last job was assistant animator for Lizzie McGuire (Disney). I was supposed to do the movie but I got a call from Dreamwave to do a comic series so I had to weigh my options and I said let me do the comic series. I always wanted to get into comics, but I wasn’t good enough at the time I was trying to break in like eight years ago. So I left it alone and fell into animation and now I’ve come full circle. Dreamwave saw my stuff online because I was pitching a comic book series of my own and Pat Lee hit me up with a phone call and the rest is history. I did Arkanium [and] then I got hired to do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and that’s what I’m on right now.
Why did you stop working on the Arkanium series?
It was a bunch of things. The book was about to be canceled because it wasn’t doing well. It was originally supposed to be twelve issues and then they cut it down to six, but they weren’t even breaking even on the book so they had to cancel it. They told me ahead of time and had already offered me to do â€œDevil May Cryâ€ for Capcom and Ninja Turtles. They was like if you’re going to do this shit you have to stop working on Arkanium now. So I had to stop it and I brought my man Travel Foreman on to do issue five and then they canceled it. I would have stayed on to finish it but I couldn’t pass up [on Ninja Turtles]. Plus Peter David is writing it too and I grew up on a lot of his writing.
How did you get down with Disney?
I got hired at twenty to be an assistant designer for a children’s accessories company for multiple licensors [like] Disney, Nickelodeon, MTV, etc. I used to design those Mickey Mouse plush backpacks for a company called Pyramid Handbags. I also designed those kid umbrellas that have like the plastic molded [characters like] Winnie the Pooh on the top of it. I was the only artist who could draw that’s why I got hired. I would do little spot jobs here and there like art corrections on some of the style guidelines that was provided for me. I didn’t really have the style down, but they had these huge hardcover manuals [detailing] page by page broken down to a science on how to draw a Mickey Mouse accurately to be approved by Disney. I had to practice that shit in order to make the corrections on some of the art. My drawing style was a lot more detailed in the early 90’s but after two years of doing that my style got a lil bit more cartoony and that’s kinda how I got exposed to animation because of the simplification of shit. I took one class and then I got put onto Showtime Entertainment. This young lady named Colleen Rogers had just got hired as creative director at the licensing design company I was working at and she told me her husband was a freelance artist and was looking for someone who could help him do comic book artwork. So I met this guy, his name was Joe Rogers and he wanted me to do some work for him on a project called WhirlGirl, the first online flash cartoon series. It became popular as a syndicated episode. It was just jpeg images with scrolling text for about a year and then we got introduced to this program called Flash 3. We were taking our little drawings and making them herky, jerky [doing] some Monty Python style type shit. Then we did one full minute for the first time and Showtime caught that episode, hired us and bought the rights. That’s how I got my start doing online animation. I did that for about two years and then Urban Box Office (UBO) [called]. They were a big dot com in 2000. They had an animation department and they wanted to get in contact with the people doing WhirlGirl because that was the only thing poppin’ on a big scale. We met with them and one of the executive producers at Urban Box Office asked me if I had some ideas. I had the Battleseed concept on me and he said let’s do that in flash and I was like aiight. It was the first time doing my own directing, producing, storyboarding and writing. We did about eight episodes and that went all the way up to 2001 and then that got canned. Then I got hired by MTV to work in their commercial division doing various projects like Nissan animation, a lot of stuff for Daria and at the same time I was doing a lot of work for Tapehouse Toons which was the guys doing the animation part of the Lizzie McGuire shit. I was also working on a project called Gotham Girls with a company called Noodle Soup. I was bouncing back and forth rotating between those three guys and I’ve been doing that for the last three years till I got put on.
What kind of training did you have before you started working in animation and comics?
I didn’t go to school for this. I couldn’t afford art school so I used to steal library books to learn how to do it. I was going to go to school for it but this guy named Buzz Potamkin kinda fucked my head up. He was the producer for the pilots for Powerpuff Girls and Cow and Chicken and the consultant for WhirlGirl at the time and he loved my shit. I was like I want to go to school for this and he was like why? You’re already doing it you don’t need to go to school so I just kinda stayed away but I’m gonna go back to school. I want to get into directing and start fucking with live action stuff. The thing I learned most of all is school is great but it all depends on the individual. I know a lot of four year graduate illustrators working at McDonalds. It’s really about what you make it. The thing school doesn’t teach you is how to keep a job. I don’t look down on that shit at all because I’ve been doing things by myself for so long that I’m at a point where I want to be in school with a bunch of other niggas trying to get where I want to go. That’s why I joined the studio (Artxilla w/Sanford Greene, Keron Grant, and Ed Mcguinness) so I could surround myself with other cats who’s doing it. It’s all about the cipher and being around dudes because it’s real hard to do it by yourself. They don’t encourage you to be a comic book artist in the projects. It was awkward man. I remember those nights being the only dumb nigga walking around with a big ass portfolio and a Pea coat in the winter and I ain’t give a fuck because I wasn’t going to find people doing what I was doing going around the block. I had to go to those cons whenever they had them at the church or the joints at Penn station. That was my experience I could either stay around here and hang around niggas who ain’t doing nothing or I can see what this art thing can do. That was the only thing I was good at and I’m happy where I’m at.
I was peeping Battleseed and your heroine has a little ghettoness in her but you made sure she was strong and real intelligent and not some sort of stereotype. What were you trying to convey through that character?
Black heroines characters are the minority today. There’s not a lot of positive female characters of color in entertainment today. There’s not a lot of role models for young women to look up to particularly in the animation medium. You got the Proud Family and that’s it. At the time before that came out, I was really inspired by Octavia Butler. She’s a real popular author and one of the best science fiction novelists in the game. She created a story called â€œKindredâ€ and another called â€œWild Seedâ€ and I took that name â€œWildseedâ€ and called it Battleseed as an homage to her. The concept behind Battleseed is [a mix of] the Golden Child, the story of Joan of Arc, and the Fifth Element. I wanted to come up with a story with a young black character but not trying to push it as a black cartoon because to me there is no such thing. I wanted to tell a story about a girl who has been contacted by this warrior chick from another galaxy who is saying she is the chosen one to save these people in this other galaxy from slavery [and] she just so happens to be black. It was received really well from a cult-hit standpoint. No matter how herky jerky it [looks] now, at the time no one was doing it like that from the look to the color palette, sounds effects or the voice acting. I had a five-year licensing deal with Urban Box Office and when they went bankrupt, they held onto the property. Next year my licensing is up and I get the rights back. That’s why I haven’t touched it. When my license is up I’m gonna bring it back in comic book form and take the flash episodes I have on file and compile them in a DVD format.
The Japanamation influence is apparent.
At the time, no one was trying to converge anime with hiphop culture and take those two elements and put them together into a sensible story. No one was even trying it because people were scared to take risks. The cool thing that I liked about anime at the time was that it was very hard to differentiate between certain races because they were drawn a certain way in a popular modern style with big eyes and pointy noises. Even black characters were drawn that way and I liked that concept of a universal iconic graphic approach because it took away the features of differentiating culture. I liked doing it in an anime style because there was a unity to it all. You could accept the characters easier as opposed to having Monet with a pointy nose and big eyes and for some reason Tamara will have a round nose and full lips. It didn’t make sense to me because then it felt more like I was trying to show you it was a black character and that wasn’t the point. It was about the story. If I were to do Battleseed again I wouldn’t do it anime style [though]. Now I’m like all pro black and do it as much as I can.
I read a bunch of your interviews and during one, you mentioned how you were able to break a bunch of rules with the Arkanium series. What were some examples of what you meant by that statement?
When I said break rules, it was for two things. It was mostly for Dreamwave, because I did a lot of research on them when Pat Lee contacted me. I went back two or three years when they had a comic called Darkminds. Everything from Darkminds all the way to now had this sort of stock look to it because they wanted to capitalize on that what made Darkminds such a big money maker. And anybody that they hired happened to draw like Pat Lee, more or less it seemed, in the end product. So when I came on board it was kind of a changing of the guard on multiple levels. That and the producer at the time, Adam Fortier, pointed out the creative team I personally handpicked on Arkanium was all black. That it was cool thing, without trying to sound dumb. He was right. Myself, Chris Walker on colors, Rob Stull on inks and Brandon Easton writing it. All brothers. It was also the first project that was â€œnon-Dwâ€ so that made us separate as well. Everyone knows there are a lot of Asian cats up at Dreamwave. So not only did they hire me, a bruh from the South Bronx, I came to them with this funky style, which, props to Pat on tryin something new. When [Arkanium] first came out everyone thought I was either French or Asian because of the style that I was drawing. And I was at DW. So when my mug showed up at the site, cats was like â€œoh cool, he’s Black,â€ haha. So when I said break rules I really meant at Dreamwave. I really wanted to change the guard penciling at Dreamwave, I really didn’t care about the comic industry as a whole, not then anyways. I didn’t come into the game with aspirations to blow Marvel away. I came into the game with aspirations to blow Dreamwave fans away. The other thing I meant was overall storytelling. I really got retarded with the storytelling with Arkanium mainly because I was green. I’m a storyboard artist by profession. When I came into the game, I really didn’t give a shit about what people thought. I didn’t care about borders or rules or any of that. I wanted to do what I felt was fun at the time. The main thing I wanted to push for was action. As much as I love those dudes, I always thought Dreamwave was known for coloring, not dynamic storytelling. Their whole thing was color, so when I came in the game I had creative freedom to break a lot of rules like panel borders, storytelling techniques, fluid, moving figures floating from one panel to the next and doing all types of crazy stuff. You didn’t just read the panel and go to the next page, you spent some time on that one page looking at shit and most comics are not really set up that way. Paramount to that is the work I’m doing with Ninja Turtles. It’s so by the book I hardly break borders and I never go over six panels a page (credit to Peter David) , whereas with Arkanium I went up to like fifteen to the point where it got confusing as hell. It’s a learning experience working on TMNT. At the time, working on Arkanium, it was like â€œwho cares?â€ After a while people come to you like when you do Turtles don’t do that crazy shit you did in Arkanium keep it real simple. So I’m keeping it simple. [But] The new project I’m working on with Com.X is being developed that I’ll be penciling called â€œDRAMA KINGSâ€ a hip hop samurai thriller that takes place in NYC and that’s gonna be like Arkanium. I’m gonna take what I learned from Turtles and throw it out the window and have some fun again.
I was checking some reviews for the Ninja Turtles project and a lot of it was positive but there were some negative things as well. How do you deal with that feedback and do you consider certain criticisms when you’re working on future issues?
Fuck em! Nah I’m just playing. For me it’s always good. I’m real humble and grateful. I make good with what I have. I know all about makin a syrup sandwich. I’m just glad people gave it that much attention to say they didn’t like it. The worse thing in the world is if you bust your ass for a whole month on a book put it on the shelves and niggas walk right past it. They don’t even pick it up and look at it to say it sucks. As an artist, I know I need a lot of work. I’m a work in progress like a lot of artists. [But] if people are taking the time out to review my book, even if they say, he needs work here and work there, I got some kind of response out of them. I’ve accomplished my goal. The thing that I want [people] to get out of my art is an emotional response whether it’s positive or negative. If it’s negative then that lets me know that people are paying attention to the things that I’m doing that they don’t like. Same thing with the people that are paying attention to the things that I’m doing that they do like. I welcome all feedback. Because I’m not fishing for compliments, I’m fishing for a response, period. After you say you don’t like my work I’ll say thanks I hope the next issue is up your alley. Some people don’t like being told that their shit is wack and they’ll be like, â€œwhen YOU draw a book, get at me.â€ Why put your work out there if you don’t want people to see it? You can’t please everybody and I learned that working on Whirlgirl and Battleseed. There is no accounting for tastes. Everyone has different things that make them respond to something positively. Not every piece of work that you do is going to appeal to them. Once you learn that it’s all about having fun.
Neil Googe, the cat who put together Bazooka Jules, said that he was hunting you down to do that project and he felt that you were the only one who could really pull it off. That’s some ill praise.
I was real flattered by that but there is always that saying that the grass is greener or the other side. You could say your shit is garbage but you’ll love the dude next to you and he’ll be like are you crazy your shit is dope my shit is wack. The type of style Neil likes to work in is similar to mine so I can understand why he would be attracted to me doing a book. We use the same single line weights, open lines, and a lot of the same shapes and stuff in our storytelling, [but] I wasn’t expecting that [compliment] at all.
Do you feel any pressure to exceed his expectations?
Neil sees a lot of stuff that I’m doing and I already showed him the wraparound cover for issue #4 and he is like this is great I knew I would like it. He’s loving everything I’m sending and he’s getting what he asked for. If he wants the Arkanium stuff that’s the style that I’m drawing in. I got about five more issues before I’m done with Turtles and I’m working on Bazooka Jules at the same time. It’s a bi-monthly book, so I’m taking my time on it so it will come out real nice.
What’s this project I keep seeing popping up called Cannon Busters?
That’s the project that Pat Lee saw when he first saw my work. That’s a comic I was going to pitch to Image on my own. It’s a action-fantasy story that I have been working on for a while. It’s kinda like sorcery, shell top Adidas, Cadillacs and robots. It’s like a real quirky adventure story. It’s kinda like the Wizard and Oz on E. It’s a crazy story. One of the main characters, Phillie the Kid, talks just like me. He’s talking regular uptown slang but it’s a fantasy story so it’s real funny. He’s a pothead but its not really weed it’s like these white leaves that he’s always puffing on called Cloud. It’s a fun, epic story with a lot of ill characters with some of the illest action you’ve seen in a fantasy story. That’s just been announced by Newsarama now, being penciled by a super talent, Corey Lewis, written, developed and created by myself.
I heard you got an animated series in development called The Play Pen with a bunch of dudes from Roc-A-Fella. What’s that all about?
Yea, it’s an animated project starring Beanie Sigel. Do you read the Source at all?
HAHA! Well, if you just happen to accidentally trip and your face lands in the pages of the Source at like a Hudson News at an airport or something you’ll see that there is an article on Beanie Sigel. The first line that he says in the latest Source is I have a cartoon coming out called The Playpen and he describes what it is. We’ve been developing this cartoon with him since last year. I’m the art director for development. The character designer for the series is named Carl Jones. The kids are in correctional school. They’re infants so to them school is like jail and their trying to get out. That’s pretty much the story. Right now everything is on hold though. When it goes into animation production I don’t know what part I’m going to play, but right now I’m just on board for development.
I saw on your website you’re a fan of MF Doom.
I love that nigga man he is crazy funny. I loved that dude. I love Thirston Howl, Def Jux, all them is hot man. They funny cats. C. Rayz Walz is my boy right now he is blowing too with Def Jux. I know him and Breeze Evahflowin pretty well. Actually, me and Breeze used to work together at UBO. He had a website called Hiphop Online Knowledge 2 (Hok2) and he was the host and him and C Rayz Walz would do battles and shit but it never got off the floor. The first time I heard of him was that legendary underground battle with him and Pumpkinhead and we stayed friends ever since. I pretty much like everything [though] except for country. I like to keep my ear to the street whenever I can and get the new mixtapes.
What hurdles do you think blacks have faced, if any, in the comic book game?
Brothers drawing comics is very few and far in between. I don’t really face any hurdles because I came in the game ass backwards through Dreamwave anyway. I got hired off of my artwork alone they didn’t know I was black until after they hired me. I never dealt with any adversity. My first two projects, Arkanium and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, were both through Dreamwave and those guys been showing me nothing but love. When you think about the question of black dudes in comics though you can’t help but ask the question why are there so few. I think a lot of it has a lot to do with motivation, drive, encouragement and the community too. There isn’t a strong support for art in general in the black community. As fucked up as it is a lot of the encouragement for activity in the black community to gain success is through shortcuts like drugs or physical shit like athletics. You never hear kids saying I want to grow up to be an artist. To this day, it’s not really encouraged and you kind of have to find it yourself. It starts with the kids first.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being in the comic book industry and what’s the most difficult?
I think the most rewarding aspect of comics based on the experience that I’ve had is to actually have fun on what I’m working on. I think the minute it stops becoming fun and becomes a chore it’s time to let it go. The toughest part about drawing comics is that you have to do everything in twenty-two days. I would really like to take my time and work on stuff. Your artistic integrity as a monthly comic book artist is always compromised. You always have to worry about the quantity and not the quality.
It’s time for the bullets portion of the interview. I’m just gonna throw em at you and you have to pick one or the other.
Who would make a better pimp Al Sharpton or Hugh Hefner?
Which taste better oranges or apples?
Gummy bears or Twizzlers?
Fried or Grilled Meat?
Do you prefer Brazilian or Puerto Rican women?
Puerto Rican mostly because the only Brazilian I ever met was at a video.
Would you prefer a freak or geek?
A psychotic or a crackhead?
A crackhead because she won’t kill me
Weights or calisthenics?
Calisthenics. It ain’t nothing like lifting your own weight.
Steroids or Creatine?
I don’t know what the other one is so I’ll go with steroids.
Sean John or Phat Farm?
Tennis or Timberlands?
Hat or haircut?
What rapper is better Fabolous or Loon?
Nick Cannon or Puffy?
If you had to choose a place to live, would it be in Compton or with Al Qaeda?
Al Qaeda man
Bath or Shower?
Final Question. The U.S needs your help. Where the hell is Osama Bin Laden?
Osama got a sex change and he’s working at the Pentagon.