Something to watch for in 2013- "PART TIME SHUFFLE" by James Stanley aka @BeefyKunoichi (interview)

This is an interview I did a while back with James Stanley aka Beefy Kunoichi. Dude is part of the growing legions of black anime/ manga/ gaming fans out there constructing worlds in the privacy of their own homes, and a proud graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design. I think he is bound to be a brand name in comics, and I think you'll agree. I did this interview for GhettoManga Quarterly, but since I'm feeling generous again, here it is in its entirety for free consumption...

Samax Amen- So, Tell me about yourself, James. Where are you from originally and how did you get into drawing comics?
James Stanley- I'm originally from Chesapeake, Maryland but I moved to Upper Marlboro, MD when I was 3 years old.

 How I got into comics? Well, from what I could remember there was this point in my life where there were things that I thought were "cool", and then there were just "things". I grew up on Nintendo and old Shaw Brothers Kung-Fu movies, 80's cartoons. When I wasn't in front of a TV, I read a lot of books and I remember one day seeing a comic book and being amazed at how "cool" the pictures were alongside the words. So I forged a friendship with comics, the same way a crackhead sees his first pipe in an alley. Been hooked ever since.
Samax Amen- Word. A lotta kids get hooked on comics at a tender young age, but you actually went to school to add to your knowledge. How did SCAD's sequential art program affect your comics?  Would you recommend it to other young artists?

James Stanley-  Waking up in the morning, and being around people where the aura is full of competitive rivalry is really humbling, and inspiring.
I didn't have too many people who really understood what I was trying to do as a career where I grew up so I didn't really experience that until I left for college. My experience at SCAD definitely was a catalyst for the positive influences on my work, as well as priceless friendships with students and professors that encouraging the personal sincerity that I aspire to in my projects. I could almost write a book about the adventures I had there!
 *Thinks about the next question*
Concerning college, I think it depends on the person really. The best thing I can encourage or recommend to anyone is learning--whether its in a class room, or a desk in your bedroom, or even on your lap with a sketchbook.
This isn't to discredit the education provided at SCAD or any other institution because SCAD provides a wealth of information and resources to anyone there...that's what any college really does it provides the resources to be readily accessible to encourage learning and development. In the end, its really about what a student does with those resources and the time they have with them.
You can go to as many schools as you want but, you've got to put in the work to get anything out of it. To quote LeSean Thomas " ...stay on the grind, stay in the cage."
College educated or not, you can get where you need to be. Just takes a lot of work, and then some more work...and then some more.

Samax Amen- Do you feel like your education prepared you for the business of making comics? Not as a creator, but as a job seeker or self-publisher or whatever?
James Stanley-   This is one of things that you really end up learning from reading between the lines. There's no "business protocol" course for students to take that really warns them of the things to watch out for trying to break into comics--the only thing you can really do is pay attention.
As a fan of comics, animation (at least for me) you get to a point where you want to know more about companies who put out the things that inspire you. Pay attention to the hits and misses of those companies and how that applies to you as someone seeking to set foot in this industry.
Samax Amen-   Yeah. I got an art degree, and was accepted to SCAD for the masters program, but didn't go (maybe I will get my masters at a later time) because I asked myself did I believe I would be more prepared after I crossed the stage than I am now to make a full-time career in comics (either as a for-hire type or a self-publisher or whatever). I still can't answer that... but this isn't about me... 

Let's talk about your upcoming comic Part Time Shuffle. On the site, your "about" section is very tongue in cheek... So what is a brief description of what "Part Time Shuffle" is about?
James Stanley-    *Laughs* Yeah I will admit to that! The "about me" is really about myself and even then I could see someone reading that and being like " C'mon, son!"
Anyway, Part Time Shuffle is about Meiko Schultz, a 20 something who owns a hobby shop inherited from her parents. Due to untimely financial woes, she becomes a part time assassin for the Yakuza.

The story essentially follows Meiko's exploits on her journey to financial freedom, and how she manages to run her hobby shop while killing people for money after work. As her "part time" job begins to take up more time than she expected she becomes absorbed into the life of a yakuza while still holding on to the life she had prior.
Her new job really becomes a large portion of her life which means not just new experiences but new friends and enemies as well.

PTS has a lot of what I love about anime and comics in general but it also has some things I haven't seen mentioned much in comics, namely in comics done by Americans who are inspired by manga. It's a challenge but definitely something will be great ride in terms of finishing it and also should be a lot of fun for anyone who reads it.

Samax Amen-   I felt a strong hip hop vibe when I first read PTS as well. Is that something that you did intentionally? Japanese pop culture seems to be friendly with hip hop... do you deal with that directly or is it kind of a subconscious thing? (Am I onto something or just imagining it? lol)

James Stanley-  Well, you’re definitely not imagining that at all! While it was subconscious it wasn’t something that I turned away from while developing the story. It just seemed like a really good fit—it made sense to me to have a character that’s faced with insurmountable obstacles to have an aura of confidence that seems unbeatable, even in the face of things that they may not have complete control over.

That kind of energy is in hip-hop. When you see people battle each other, it doesn’t matter where there opponent is from or who they’ve beaten to get this far. It’s just another opponent and losing isn’t an option. That’s the kind of fierce individuality that I wanted for my main character. She’s (Meiko) also a character that ends up working for the yakuza! I think anyone going into that line of work needs to have some bravado of some sort, even if it’s futile. You gotta have “balls” to be brave.

 When thinking about Meiko in terms of personality, I’d often listen to Nujabes to get that “mmph!” feeling of a character that looks at their situation and says “You know what, Fuck that! I won’t let this beat me!” kind of vibe. A basic, yet consistently relentless beat...that makes me think of Meiko a lot. Ken and Alex’s BGM from Street Fighter III: Third Strike always made me think of Meiko’s character.

Japanese hip-hop is actually one of the most commercially viable mainstream music genres in Japan--so much so that even j-pop at times sounds like Japanese hip-hop. It's been around for a long time but it wasn't that most of the world was fairly aware of until recent years. It's very soulful yet energetic when it needs to be. It captures a great time in hip-hop and it also reiterates the adage of music being a universal language. Part Time Shuffle has a strong connection to a lot of things that helped cultivate me into the artist that I am, and hip-hop is definitely one of those things.

Samax Amen-   That subtle but obvious hip hop energy (and the anticipation/hope to see more of it) was the thing that excited me about the pages that I saw, but the first thing that turned me on from PTS was the character designs for Aishah.
She's obviously not the star of the book, but I think her character will be key to the comic's appeal. What can you tell us about Aishah and her role in PTS?

James Stanley-   This comes up a lot actually, so much so that close friends who've seen me working on the series have gravitated to Aishah almost immediately. I think that's awesome--it just wasn't expected. I thought the only person who would like her that much would be me, ha!
In the early development of Part Time Shuffle, I felt that Meiko needed someone to help her with very new, and foreign beginning in her life--a character that really could be somewhat of a middleground between her normal life and the life she begins as a yakuza.
I don't want to give too much away about her since she doesn't show up yet but the initial concept came into my head as a "what if?" 

I was listening to an Al Green song Wish You Were Here With Me and for some reason--certain aspects to that song made me think about some of the music in Kozure Okami (Lone Wolf and Cub)...(The entire movie series of Lone Wolf and Cub is full of really good music actually!) and I thought how it would've been to have a chambara film made back then with someone like Pam Grier or Esperanza Spalding as the star of it? A strong, confident, wise, character with an almost defiant beauty to them that you see in every stride they make. 

 Those were the core thoughts to her design and her character. Like I said, I don't want to give away too much about her character but she does befriend and become somewhat of a mentor to Meiko.
Aishah to me, is the type of character I've wanted to do for a while especially in an environment where she stands out alot but not in a negative way, but a very centered and assured way. She's a character that despite her past and current life situation she's sure of who she is and moves forward in life without any real fear crippling her. Yeah, she's usually the tallest person on the train, she has problems finding clothes that fit her in Japan but no matter where she goes or what she does--she's confident in who she is in a way that its very refined and undeniable.
I also wanted a character to show that a woman can not necessarily be skinny and still be appealing as well.

A lot of people like Aishah already and haven't seen how badass she is yet! That' makes me very happy.

Samax Amen-   I would dare to say that a lot of what you want her character to portray comes across in your design. I would say "defiant beauty" is a phrase that encapsulates a lot of it. The chick that's fly without trying. Who has her own style and values. She also looks tough without looking masculine, which is hard to pull off. She rocks the stone grill that doesn't give away what she's thinking.

And not everyone can rock that hairdo! lol

But yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing more of her.
So anyways, you were talking about her being a gateway type character that helps Meiko get acclimated to the life of a professional tough girl. From the pages I've seen, there is definitely a humorous slant to your work, but it wasn't clear to me how the violence in the book would be handled.
So how are you planning to handle it when Meiko and friends start getting into that GANGSTER shit?!? lol

James Stanley- The tone of the book is comedic but there are some scenes that will violent when necessary. Its not something I think should be abused--but something that works within the context of certain aspects of the story. Needless to say, people get it in...

Samax Amen-    Awesome.   So what's your plans for the book format-wise? Are you intending to print it, or roll it out as a regular webcomic first?
James Stanley- I'd love to do as full distribution in print but we live in the 2000's so print is more of something that is an afterthought or specifically for con appearances for now. I like digital comics but there's something about the feel of books in your hand that I don't want to ever completely die. I love having tangible print.
Samax Amen- Yeah, there's definitely more options than there used to be!
Looks like you are spread out at several places on the web. What's the BEST place to check for PTS. As far as the web is concerned, how often should we expect updates?
James Stanley- I see official print is something that may happen later on, its definitely something I'd love to have after the series is complete.
The best place to check for the comic in terms of an official digital run is my website,
I've contemplated posting pages other places but in terms of actual updates they will definitely go there. I post art related things for the series on my tumblr, DA, etc so if you want to see sketches or any sort of in progress work--those sites are good for that!
Samax Amen-    "When the series is complete"... so you have the whole series planned out? About how long should we expect it to be?
James Stanley- Hmm...well right now its looking to be around 5 volumes or so. I think in terms of takebon manga publications so while its "only" 5 volumes or so it'll be packed with plenty of pages. As I say this the thought of those deadlines scare me but at the same time this is definitely a labor of love. I look forward to the craziness of getting it all out. I guess that's part of being an artist though. You know when people say, " Oh, he's an artist type!" I think that's just a polite way of calling us crazy. I guess it fits though.
Samax Amen- Five volumes is pretty good! LOL!
It's sad that Tokyopop isn't publishing American comics anymore... They strike me as a perfect publisher for you. Which publishers out there would you be most interested in picking up PTS?
James Stanley  Honestly, I think any publisher that's willing to distribute and promote what I'm doing I'd be happy to work for. That's not to say I wouldn't promote my own comic in my own way but its a comforting to actually FEEL support from an investor with what you're working on. It builds the confidence that you already have as an artist/creator with your own projects.
I don't want to close anyone off here! hahaha I like what Oni and Image are doing right now though! That isn't to discourage any other company that might find my work interesting!
Samax Amen    Just one more question:
    What's up with your nickname [Beefy Kunoichi]?
James Stanley Well, I should've known that was coming! I guess its a pretty weird name when you look at initially. This might sound weird but its a combination of 2 things that I like or things I find interesting. As a kid, I watched a lot of ninja movies since at the time they were booming quite a bit in America, and in some cases the star was a female character. Kunoichi is a japanese slang term for a female ninja, or female practitioner of ninjustu. Whether or not the main was a male or female didn't really determine whether not the film was good to me but I did have a fondness to women in movies that happened to be ninjas (laughs).
I also like beef a lot! I like cooking it in as many ways as possible and I probably consume too much of it. While in college a good friend of mine was a culinary enthusiast with the same passion for beef that I had so that only made things worse or better depending on how you look at it!
I got a lot more adept with cooking during and after college, and my specialty dishes revolve around beef or some sort. My favorite Cuban dish is Ropa Vieja so...yeah I definitely love beef. I just kinda jammed both words together and it sounded randomly cool to me, so I went with it.
Samax Amen- Yeah, it sounds awesome! Hopefully there's lots of cooking in the comic. Cooking/eating and smoking are great ways to ground characters. No pun intended (ground... beef... ugh)
 I guess I have one more question. What can fans expect from you? is there going to be a regular production schedule of pages on the website? What other kinds of regular updates can they expect? We want it all, and we want it frequently! lol
James Stanley- Well, I'm in the process of planning an actual launch of the comic sometime toward the end of this year with its debut online. Ideally I want to upload with a new chapter each time I do update the site but the content may vary in terms of quantity with each upload. If there's a need to push anything back I'll definitely keep readers up to date on DA and my facebook page regarding the series. There's other content planned that I don't want to reveal right now but once its set in motion I think fans will be pleased! My Facebook page will show wips as well as my DA so definitely look out for that.
Samax Amen-  Okay, that sounds great, thanks for taking the time, and being patient and cooperative with the interview, James.
James Stanley-   no problem at all, glad for the opportunity!
Samax Amen-   No problem! Someday when I'm a "real" publisher, I'll definitely give you a spot!
Click here to to like Part Time Shuffle on the Facebook. Expect a full color webcomic launch coming in 2013!

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