Sanford’s been in the comic game for over four years now. In that time he has worked on everything from Planet of the Apes and Star Wars to Galactic, his own project for Darkhorse’s adventure line Rocket Comics. Currently he is in production on a new hiphop book called “Joe” that takes a look at social issues effecting kids today. He’s also one fourth of the Arxilla crew with Keron Grant, Ed Mcguinness, and LeSean Thomas. Outside of the comic world Sanford gets his freelance on doing some illustrated covers and inserts for indie hiphop crew Non Phixion and up and coming SC emcee, Spectak. Oh and this kid’s knowledge of independent hiphop is thorough too don’t let the accent fool ya.
Notable Works: Galactic Series (Rocket Comics), Star Wars Tales (Darkhorse), Planet of the Apes (Darkhorse)
Websites: Sanford Greene
So, what is there actually to do in Columbia, South Carolina?
I thought this was an interview about me as an artist, not how wack South Carolina is. That should answer your question right there. Haha
What’s up with the hiphop scene? We don’t know anyone from South Carolina who did anything, so you know you gotta put your spot on the map.
Actually, there are a couple cats right now that are doing some really nice things from this area. It’s this cat named Spectak, he’s an emcee right now that’s coming out with some stuff early next year. He’s already making a decent buzz underground. Being from this area in order to really be known on a more national level he had to branch out, so he moved up to Raleigh. I don’t know what the difference is between Columbia and Raleigh, but he got a job offer up there plus he is putting his album together and he just got down with Little Brother. 9th Wonder is producing half of his tracks and he contacted me to do a comic insert for his new album. This other cat named Omari just got some stuff in the works with the new Tribe album. You got two guys right there that are doing some pretty nice things in the underground hiphop scene. Then there’s DJ Eclipse who does a show called Halftime in New York at WNYU. He’s from here too.
Oh yea I remember that show from back in the day I think it used to be called New York Live on 89.1.
I figured you knew some cats, but you didn’t know they was from here. Either they failed to mention it or they are just ashamed of it, but those guys are putting some things down and I’ve got an opportunity as an illustrator to do some cool things here. I’ve been in the comic game for about three years now and that’s been moving along really well. I just recently came off of a run with Superman from DC Comics. I did [Star Wars Tales] a comic related to the Star Wars movie and Planet of The Apes when that movie came out, that was my first gig. So I got in doing some movie related stuff and I kept climbing from there. I’m contracted with this company right now called Metron Press, they gonna be pretty huge next year and their doing a comic that’s gonna be hiphop based, but it’s not gonna look like the stuff you see in the back of The Source. It’s gonna have a nice crossover appeal to it like what if you could take Juice and turn it into the Matrix. It’s gonna have those two genres crossing over and I’m going to be using a lot of hiphop references as far as underground stuff so I’m pretty excited about that. I was told they are trying to do a soundtrack for that book as well. For some reason they are trying to get a hold of Def Jam to do it. It will be big, but I don’t really like anyone on Def Jam.
How’s the graffiti scene back in South Carolina?
It’s not that much because there are too many open spaces unless you want to tag a barn or something. There aren’t too many high rises or trains and downtown is like spotless. So the graffiti scene is not prevalent, although growing up I was really into it I never got into it. Even though I didn’t do that genre of art it had the same principle behind it. They think the same way, they go about doing their art the same way and come up with the end result. That sparked with graffiti, Picasso, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, etc. The overall feel is the same. You get inspired and you put it down. If you can’t get it down sometimes you get frustrated with it and you want to quit. All of those things we relate to as artists.
As a child were you one of those kids who got in trouble for always drawing in class, on the desks or on walls?
Definitely. Actually that turned out to be a blessing because if I hadn’t gotten caught by the teacher she wouldn’t have known I could do it. I was in the 4th grade when this happened and the teacher that saw this was like oh man you can do a little scribbling and decided to put that to use and give me some direction. She let me design the school newspaper and do a comic for it. So I did a lil comic strip for it that came out once a month and that was the beginning of people knowing that I could do this. I was a kid that had some type of talent.
What brought you into drawing? Did you hang out with the artistic group of kids or were you just bored as a child?
I hung out with thugs man. There were not too many artistic kids around. It was kinda like one of those things like you hang out with a bunch of cats and you’re the only one that can draw so you’re the man. I used to always be in the forefront and as far as they were concerned, no one could touch me in that area. I let them do the braggin for me. It was different when I went off to college because everybody and their grandma can draw then, your just a little fish in a big pond. So just being around those guys that had the interest, but didn’t have the ability put me in a cool situation because I was like the man when it came to that kinda stuff. That was my ticket to be cool.
Do you ever have cats constantly in your face about designs for clothing lines and things like that?
If I had a dime. That needs to be a song. Through time I learned to decipher what’s the real deal and what’s just a bunch of cats talking. Unfortunately, there are a lot of dudes who just talk a big game. I just put the ball in their court. If their real serious I give them my number and lay out to them what I would be expecting and ask what they are willing to pay or what their budget is and say give me a call. If they call me back, I know they are a little bit serious and if they start talking money they may be on point.
You mentioned a little bit about the Planet of the Apes project earlier on. What was that experience like and how did you get the opportunity?
It’s kinda wild. I graduated from art school in 2000 and I was kinda testing the waters before I got out of school. I had a friend that worked for Darkhorse, the company that I got the Planet of The Apes stuff from and they do toys, comics and a bunch of other things. They had a contract with 20th Century Fox [where] pretty much anything that 20th Century Fox put out as far as movies Darkhorse would do comics for like Terminator and Planet of The Apes. So I went to a convention that specialized in that kind of stuff where the companies, publishers and editors were at the show and I showed them my portfolio, left them a copy and followed up with them a couple times. When I followed up one more time they remembered me, liked my work, and a buddy of mine was already working with them so he put in a good word for me and that got the ball rolling and they gave me a shot at doing the Apes stuff. It’s exactly like trying to break into the record business, its who you know. I was fortunate because that was really big and I didn’t have to worry about being broke drawing.
Working on a comic as a designer knowing how many other people can be involved how much influence do you have on the storyline?
A whole lot. I just did a new series (Galactic) and me and the writer did all of the creative designs for it. I did all the character designs and the plot for it and the writer helped with the descriptions, personalities and abilities and gave details of the story. If you look at the credits, you’ll see created by me and Jim Krueger and you don’t get too much of that where a guy gets noticed as a creator of a comic. If you look in a Spiderman book or a Hulk book, you’ll see the artists’ names listed at the bottom but you won’t see created by because a lot of it is really a conglomerate of four or five artists and they pass it on where a lot of people have influences on characters.
Tell us about the Galactic series and how the first two issues have done so far.
It’s this interplanetary force sort of like a galactic army. The purpose of that army is to liberate the planets that have gone awry and have a lot of corruption. It’s up to the [team] to either wipe it out because it’s so corrupted there is no saving it or try and save it. If that means wiping out half of it to save it then so be it. It’s kinda similar to what we’re doing to Iraq. We’re going in to get out corruption and its gonna be messy, but with these guys they go a step further and if you want to fight they want to really put it to you and tear the whole place down and save only a handful so that life of that race can still exist. They put them on a desolate planet that they can live almost like a prison because they don’t have a home anymore. Dozens of different races exist on this planet and they reserve a handful for this planet and another handful they feel were most capable to join their army. Earth is the next target. They see Earth as really messed up for obvious reasons so they are either going to save Earth and bring it up to their standards or destroy it. The [main character] is one of the few they are gonna pull off because they feel they can use him and that’s the overall premise of the story. It’s been a really great response to the whole thing, but it’s just like doing an album sometimes you can come out the gate and everything’s running on all cylinders but all it takes is one thing for them to go we don’t have the money for it or it didn’t hit the numbers that we thought. No matter how hot it is it’s in their hands.
What other projects are you working on that people can look forward too?
I got this hiphop book coming out next July that’s gonna be really big. I’m gearing up for that now and right before that I’m working on this book that is similar to an Archie comic only updated and made into hiphop. Its not super hero stuff, its relatable things kids can get into. I’m currently on that right now. The name of the book is called ‘œJoe.’ It’s a new line they are coming out with called Crossroads and it’s a bunch of comic book digests with hiphop related kids and their everyday life and some of the drama that goes on. One girl gets pregnant, one guy’s brother gets shot. Its real deep stuff, some of it will be funny, but a lot of it will be very relatable. I was excited about working on this project because its different and its something that’s gonna hit more than just those people who like to read comics. That one should be coming out in February.
Do you see any difficulties or face any hurdles being black and working in the comic book industry?
Right now I can’t say that there are really any. The cool thing is that there is a lot of diversity in comics. Recently Marvel put out a black Captain America. That caught a lot of people’s attention. That kinda thing shows comics are one of the few medias that are interested in taking a jump into different diverse things. Before it was just Spiderman swinging around [but] now they are hitting social issues hard. Its one of those things I’m happy that I don’t have to worry about. Nine times out of ten my editor probably isn’t gonna see me anyway since this is a freelance thing. I work in my studio and we just email each other once and a while.
What suggestions would you have for up and coming artists trying to break into the industry?
Know the craft of being an artist. I think drawing comics is the most challenging career out of all the artist mediums. Painting is challenging and computer graphics is challenging in its own right, but I think comic book illustrator is more challenging. It’s even more challenging than a children’s book illustrator because in children’s books you can hit the story with one picture. With comics, you have to do several pictures on every page. You’re drawing twenty-two pages with four to seven to nine frames in each page. That’s a lot of drawing. A lot of cats that I’ve seen at these shows say hey man I want to get into comics can you look at my portfolio and they’ll show me their portfolio and it’s a bunch of one shot characters standing there looking strong or whatever. And I tell them if you want to draw comics you have to learn to draw everything. You have to know how to draw a cat sitting at a table drinking coffee or a girl running in the woods all kinds of crazy stuff. Its way more than just drawing some guy flying around in the sky. I would say really learn how to draw any and everything so you can really set yourself up if you want to be on the artist side. There are other jobs in the comic book industry like the writer and colorist, but even with them you have to really know how to do those things because you have to know how to gel with the other artists.
Who are you listening to right now?
I like Little Brother, Gangstarr, MOP, De La, Wu Tang when they was the real Wu Tang, the original 9. I like that 94-95 era. I love Pharaoh Monche and The Roots. I love Black Thought’s lyrics. I can go really underground [too]. I like MF Doom, some of the Weathermen like Cage. I like Breeze’s stuff that he did with Prince Paul. I thought that dude was gonna blow up after that cuz he is so ill. He needs to have his own deal.
I’m impressed by your musical taste.
I appreciate that man. These two things (comics and hiphop) are coming together more and more. Pure hiphop is already an art form anyway and it was just bound to happen where you gonna get these two genres coming together. Like I said next year I’ll have that book coming out, there’s a couple animations coming out, and I’m working on some other concepts that will really push the hiphop thing more and not just reference it or touch on it a little bit. I love the Proud Family because they show all of the blaxploitation things in there like the pink Cadillac and they are getting away with it. Even the jokes they play on Magic Johnson, with him not being able to say words right, that stuff is hilarious and they are getting away with that on Disney. I want to take that same kind of mentality and push the hiphop side of things and people will love it, but they won’t get it. Cats like us will get it because its raw and its real, but other people will be like oh that’s a cute show.
I saw you did some cover work for Non Phixon.
Yea Eclipse is a good buddy of mine. I’m doing another joint for him called Battle Beats. I’m doing these two mechs like Gundam and their gonna be battling. I gotta get that done for them by the end of the year. I’ve known him for probably ten years now.
Gundam is ill.
That whole genre with the cats from Japan they are so into hiphop it’s ridiculous. There’s a new toy line they are working on right now called Deviant and its ants that look like mechs and hiphop mixed in. Man its crazy, they have mechanical arms and Gundam like armor and then they’ll have a style where it looks like a graffiti artist did it.
Have you ever tried your hand at emceeing?
On the producer side I always wanted to get into that. I always imagined myself as a Pete Rock kinda guy [who] makes real dope beats and cats just respect you. I never really got into because I was so busy on the art side it was hard to do anything besides drawing.
Who influences you the most when you are drawing your characters because I know it can get tedious. What do you normally listen to?
At certain times I listen to alternative rock if I’m doing something real crazy. It depends on the mood but most of the time it’s hiphop stuff. I listen to Jay Dilla late at night. I pop in ‘œWelcome to Detroit’ and I’m just going crazy. I put on ‘œPetestrumentals.’ Those two I just wear a hole in those cds. Everything else is a lot of underground stuff.
Have you ever thought about a character and tried to build off of an image of a rapper like I want this dude to look like Pharaoh Monche with a flamethrower on his arm?
With this hiphop book there is gonna be a lot of that in there. I’ll be referencing a lot of hiphop characters in there, I hope I don’t get sued. I’m gonna have dudes in there but they won’t be noticeable. They’ll be in the background or something. It won’t be any major cats where they can come after me or anything like that. Comic illustrators do it all the time. In a lot of books you see them put in Marvel characters, but throw in [a DC character]. Spiderman might be swinging through the city, but they’ll have a dude dressed up as Batman in the street. It’s two different universes and two different companies but they can get away with it as long as they change the character up a little bit. I would like to do something like [making a character look like Pharaoh Monche] but I’d like it to be more legitimate. I can’t go an just put it in the comic and make it all noticeable like that’s Pharaoh Monche. Subtleties and backgrounds though I can do.
Do comic book designers get groupies?
It’s no where near 50 Cent or nothing like that, but it’s one of those things [that you run into] if you go to a con or show. I’ve had that happen where a girl came up to me and gave me a big hug, like I love your work and I saw your stuff on the site and it is so dope. If you go to my website you’ll see comments on the tag board giving all kinds of compliments. I wouldn’t call guys groupies, but you got guys that will be like your stuff is hot and you inspired me and got me going doing my stuff like this. You got those kind of people too who aren’t groupies, but they are really influenced by your work and they just follow you.
Last question, if you had a choice to make a hero out of either Al Sharpton or Michael Jackson, which one would you pick and what super capabilities would you give them?
It’s gotta be Mike man, he think he a super hero already. His ability would be to live forever. You can’t kill him he’s a vampire. He’ll roam through the earth forever.
He’s already allergic to the sun.
That was pretty easy right there.