Randy DuBurke began his art career at the age of 6, drawing pictures of Batman and Star Trek. When he grew up, he became a fine artist and commercial illustrator, drawing pictures of—you guessed it—comic book characters! Among comics fans, Randy is best known for his works with D.C. and Marvel comics, and notably forBlack Canary in Action Comics Weekly.
Randy’s debut as children’s book author and illustrator came with the publication of The Moon Ring, the story of a young girl on a night of adventure following the discovery of a magical ring. For that book, Randy won a 2003 Coretta Scott King / John Steptoe New Talent Award for Illustration.
More recently, Randy’s illustrations appeared in Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, a graphic novel written by G. Neri. It was recognized last month with a CSK Author Honor award. Exemplary storytelling with words and pictures.
Presenting Randy DuBurke, words and pictures:
Please tell our readers about your book, Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty?
Yummy is a story about a troubled boy whose quest for family leads him down some very bad paths. I felt this was an important story to tell because,unfortunately, there are too many stories like this happening today. If Greg Neri, the writer, and I can help others who are in the similar situation make the proper choices I think the book was worth it.
How did you come to be involved in the project?
Well I got involved in this project through my editor, Jennifer Fox at Lee and Low Books. She contacted me partly because this was their first foray into graphic novels and since I had experience in doing comics they thought it would be a good idea if I worked on the project. When I got the script and read it I thought it could be a worthwhile project. I said ‘Yes.’
Please talk about the process you follow in illustrating a graphic novel
When I started working on the script I did rough sketches called thumbnails. Thumbnails are crude sketches which lay out he story. Before I started, I told my editor I would need to make changes along the way, which is not unusual when doing stories for comics. Comic book stories are collaborations between the artist and writer. I did change some scenes to strengthen the visual impact. Once the page art was completed, Greg and our editor would do a rewrite to accommodate the changes if necessary.
What inspires you as an illustrator? Are there certain topics/stories that you enjoy more than others?
I like a wide verity of stories and draw inspiration from a wide verity of sources. Paintings, books, museums, movies, plays, life in general are all great wellsprings of inspiration.
Please talk about your transition from comic book artist to picture book artist. Similarities/differences.
I enjoy both media, comics and children’s book. Comic art and children’s book art have much in common. Both are concerned with telling a story. I think both can feed of the other. As I have seen over the last few years some children’s books are using more panel to panel progression to tell stories. I think this is a good way of opening the story possibilities.
Working with my editor, Jennifer Fox, on’ Yummy’ was not different than when I worked with her on the picture book ‘Catching the Moon.’ She was my editor on both books. The sheer volume of work was unexpected on her part I think. Because with a comic you like ‘Yummy’ you have 94 pages of art work and text to support. Where as with a picture book you are dealing with one image per page with accompanying text it is a shock when you are dealing with comic book pages. Pages which range from two panels per page to six panels per page with text placement necessary can be daunting but as we continued the work together it got easier to see how the text and pictures worked to reinforce each other and the story.
You have a wonderful way of capturing emotion in your drawings and making the people real. How do you go about bringing your characters to life?
I use photo reference as well as my own imagination. In the ‘Yummy’ book, 90 percent of the art work was from my imagination. I think it is important that an artist can use their imagination as well as photos to do their work.
The main character, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, was only 11-years-old when he committed many of his crimes, including the shooting of a 15-year-old girl. How did you feel portraying such violent acts?
It was a little difficult showing kids with guns. But I am aware of the reality that is out on our streets today, and this book was done to reach people who are in situations similar to what was depicted in the story.
What kind of training do you have that prepared you for your career?
I am largely self taught, though I went to New York Technical College and got a two year graphic arts degree. It was important for me because my instructors were then or had been working artist and they gave great advice and encouragement. I also got to see how different arts were applicable to each other. How knowing typography and design was important to the illustrations you worked on and helped to make your work better. After graduation, I worked at a design house called Manhattan Multi Media for two years. There I learned a lot about the kind of discipline that was required to do good work. I quit that job took a year off to work on my illustration portfolio and got a job at D.C. comics and have been working as an illustrator ever since.
What are you doing when you’re not illustrating books?
When not creating children’s books I am thinking or sketching on other projects. I would like to continue doing children’s books and graphic novels.
What are you working on now, what’s on the horizon?
In 2008, I did six fully painted comic pages for the Civil Rights Museum of Birmingham. They have reproduced the images to six , six-foot by eight-foot panels and use them as part of the permanent display on civil rights through out the world. I have finished four full color illustrations for one of Art Spielgeman’s Toon books ‘Classroom Warrior.’ I am currently finishing fully painted art work for a 130 page graphic novel from Chronicle books called ‘The Best Shot in the West : the
adventures of Nat Love.’ After this I am working on a full color short story for a comic company called graphics illustrated ‘Becky’ written by Jean Toomer. The story is part of a book called African-American Classics and I have a graphic novel I am writing and illustrating which I would like to get out soon.
What advice can you give to aspiring graphic novelists?
For those wishing to do children’s books or graphic novels I would say practice drawing all the time, study figure work, paintings, go to museums, draw as much as you can, read as much as you can. The more you know the better you will be.
Who are your greatest cheerleaders?
My greatest cheerleaders are my wife, and our two boys.
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The Brown Bookshelf is designed to push awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers. Our flagship initiative is 28 Days Later, a month-long showcase of the best in Picture Books, Middle Grade and Young Adult novels written and illustrated by African Americans.
You can read more about the founders of The Brown Bookshelf here.