Nikolas Draper-Ivey is one of comics’ hottest artists today. Born in Lansing, Michigan, he grew up in Detroit and presently resides outside New York City. His father exposed him to Japanese animation when he was young, which has been a tremendous influence on his art style and interests. His art plays heavily on the use of light and shadow and combines afro-futurist elements, with hints of fantasy, Hip-Hop, punk culture, and his love of cinematography. He has contributed cover work for Milestone Comics on “Blood Syndicate: Season One”, “I Am Batman,” and the “Milestone 30th Anniversary Special”. He was the cover and interior artist on “Static: Season One”, and will be co-writer and artist on the upcoming, “Static: Shadows of Dakota.”
The Black Comic Lords had an opportunity to speak with Nikolas at a Roundtable Discussion hosted by DC Comics. Here are some highlights of what he had to say about “Static: Shadows of Dakota” [EDITED for content and length]:
Q: Which Virgil will show up in Season Two? The very moody and uncertain version from Season One, or the more wise-cracking, happy, teenage, blerd version from the original books?
ND: “The note that Denys gave me was….’Virgil is the light of Dakota.’ That’s something I always keep in mind.”
“ … in the OG Comics he’s got kind of a temperament there too, but you know most people are familiar with his optimistic views of things. But we kind of challenged that because you have this kid that is still kind of naïve and hopeful, but then he is being severely challenged by the world around him. And it’s like, ‘hey, is that optimism really going to hold up in this situation?’ You know you can only smile for so long, Virgil…So we’re kind of challenging that, but in a good way…”
Q: Will the OG static readers and fans will identify with and appreciate this latest iteration?
ND: “It’s tricky, because sometimes you’re trying to appeal to the OG fans, but then you’re also trying to bring in the newer fans, then you’re also trying to do what you think looks cool but excites you. Ultimately, I think if it’s a good story and we give it our best, people will resonate with it. You know, you are kind of sad when you see there are OG fans that just will hate everything that you do no matter what it is, but you can’t really focus on that. It’s hard because sometimes it’s really loud and you just feel kind of crushed, and you’re like, ‘ugh’. But then you look at the other people that really like it. So, I think the mindset that I have–and I was telling Vita [Ayala, the co-writer] this, “we can’t please all of the fans, but damn it, we can at least try to please 80% of the fans.’ We try to get most of them. So I think people will vibe with it. I think they’ll be shocked, no pun intended, by the tonal shift from this season and the first season. It’d be like, ‘okay the first season was alright. This is ‘safe’ This next season the gloves are off…”.
Q: On the pressure of picking up one of Milestone’s biggest characters?
ND: “This is always an emotional question for me because it’s a lot of pressure, because you’re a fan of this character. You love this character. You love the comics. You love what Milestone’s doing, and you feel that pressure. A little bit of imposter syndrome, because you’re like ‘I want to get it right. Am I the right person for it?’ And then you’re almost looking for other people to do it and then they’re like, ‘No, no you’re the guy to do it.’ And you look on the internet and there’s people saying the direct opposite of what everyone at DC and Milestone is saying. You’re like, ‘uhh, okay’”
“… when I was doing the first issue, John Paul Leon passed right as I was finishing that issue and that’s one of the best artists to have ever drawn Static at all. So you obviously feel kind of rough. You don’t have a Dwayne McDuffie to reach out to. You don’t have a Robert L Washington to reach out to. You don’t have John Paul Leon to reach out to. Denys is busy, Reggie’s doing, what Reggie’s doing. You don’t really have too many people that you can call on all the time, so you kind of have to figure it out for yourself; and it can be hard.”
Q: On the possibility of any new villains for Static
“There’s a couple but, really….I don’t want to spoil anything”
BCL: Ebon is a character who was created for the original “Static Shock” cartoon instead of originating from the comics, but there was not much exploration of his background. With your freedom to reinvent him, how does this comics version of Ebon compare to the animated version?
ND: “I don’t know if that’s a good question. We definitely lean into something, I [don’t] want to spoil it, but like we lean into something that was stated in the cartoon but we never really explored, as it pertains to family. He’s very similar to the cartoon…but he’s a little bit more mature in terms of his abilities and his personality. I mean he still feels like Ebon. He still is Ebon. But it’s like, you could tell in the cartoon there were things that they couldn’t really do because it’s a cartoon, but we don’t have those restrictions here, so we can really explore just how incredibly powerful and dangerous Ebon can be.”
Q: The concept of community came up several times in this first series. Is this going to remain a major theme throughout “Shadows of Dakota”?
ND: “Uh, yes. That’s all I’m gonna say.
Q: Will Virgil have a love interest in Season Two?
ND: “We toy with the idea. I think I mean…I can’t really say. I know I have a ‘ship for Virgil and I know…how can I say this without spoiling? There are much more pressing matters at hand than that in this season, but we hint at a few things. Much bigger fish to fry. Yeah…it’s hard to keep your partner happy when you’re out trying to save Dakota.”
BCL: This is your return to Static after Season One, but this time as co-writer, as well as artist. What has it been like co-writing with Vita Ayala?
ND: “It’s been great. They’ve been very encouraging, and it’s cool because we’re very different, but we’re very similar in some ways. They hate this comparison–but I’m like the younger sibling that has the action figures. It’s like, ‘oh, I think we do the cool stuff’, but Vita is the person that’s kind of like the more well-spoken, well-mannered. If I have an idea, they don’t really shoot it down, they’re like, ‘Okay, why do you want to do that?’. And they asked me to make sure I know why I want to do it, and then when I explain it to them, they’re like, ‘Okay you got it’. Or I’ll come up with an idea which I might think might be too much and I’m like, ‘oh, maybe this is a little bit…you know,’ and then they’ll kind of be like, ‘well we could do that’, and I’m like, ‘oh’, and they’ll like expand on it. So it’s been really fun. I really don’t want to spoil anything. I’m trying to dance around it, but Vita’s been great.”
Q: We see Virgil’s Bang Baby friends continuing to play a role in this series. Are we going to get to learn more about them and their abilities?
ND: “We see a few [of] Virgil’s friends with their abilities, but it’s mostly focused on Static and Ebon and what’s going to happen when they meet. You see hints of other Bang Babies here and there, but it’s really about those two.”
Q: On Twitter, you said that this latest season is not the “cartoon”. In what ways do you think people will be most and least receptive to the changes that you and Vita have made?
ND: “It’s one of those things where they’re characters from the cartoon, but the tone is very much in line with the original comics; if that makes sense. A little bit more mature, a little bit more real. But I think the audience has grown up as well. How do we bring more mature young adult and adult themes to the story and not keep it so kiddie? There is a young adult series coming out anyway–like a younger book [“Static: Up All Night”, written by Lamar Giles with art by Paris Alleyne, slated for release in June]. So we took it in a more mature direction. I think people will really be torn between who to side with. I think that’s going to be the more interesting part to see who sides with Ebon, and who sides with Virgil or Static. Yeah that’s gonna be fun to see.”
Q: Fans have such a special relationship with Static. What do you think it is about Virgil that makes him such an enduring character?
ND: “His compassion and his willingness to put himself on the front lines and be vulnerable. Even in the face of villains, he still tries to reach their humanity. And I know that sounds kind of fluffy, but it’s true. That’s what he’s like at his core, plus his intelligence; like how smart he is. I think it’s always resonated with people. His overall optimism. When I write Virgil or draw Virgil, I try to make him feel like someone you would really want to be your friend–like you would want someone like this in your corner. That’s kind of the drive when writing him and making sure that even though he is smart, he is also still learning. He doesn’t know everything, so it’s important to keep him in a constant state of learning. They always said that Virgil is the strongest in the Dakota verse, but I was like, ‘if that’s that’s true, we need to see how he becomes…we need to put him in situations where he has to learn how strong he is’. The only way he’s going to learn how strong he is is if we give him strong obstacles to face.
Q: The first issue of “Shadows of Dakota” seems to be themed around consequences, especially tied to what happened in Season One. Can you tell us how this new arc draws from the events of the first season?
ND: “Without giving too much away, we’re challenging Virgil and putting him in situations that really shine a light on that optimistic, can-do attitude of his. Is he fighting for something that could actually be a problem? He’s young, and he thinks he’s doing what’s right, but are there other nuances to it that he’s not quite seeing yet. We just put Virgil and the reader in really tough spots and then when Ebon comes up, it’s made even more complex because you’re like, ‘I kind of side with him too”.
“There are consequences for Virgil. Trying to take matters into his own hands in the first season, and kind of the ripple effect of that. It’s gonna be a wild ride I’ll say that!”
Q: Will Virgil finally get his collapsible disc to fly on this Season?
ND: “I think we did something to where he has it to where it’s like some type of metal that just like morphs, or whatever…It’s like there’s some kind of like grainy sand or metal that just shapes into whatever. I would like to bring that in, but I think there’s probably got to be a sleeker way to to do it. We’re still figuring that out, but he has a disc.”
“Why don’t you ask me about the garage? That’s what I want people to ask me about! The junkyard in the garage, the whole gas station. No one’s asking me about that? I have been wanting to bring in the gas station for so long. I’m like, ‘when are we gonna get his lair?’, you know. That’s just my thing as a fan. He kind of needs a headquarters, doesn’t he? Are we gonna do that? There are times where even as a fan, I want things that the other fans want. I’m just like you guys. I have no idea how many times I bring up the stuff that you guys want.”
Q: Can you talk about drawing the effects of his powers on the page?
” I don’t want to spoil anything but first of all, Virgil is insanely powerful. Let’s just go ahead and establish that he is insanely powerful. His only real weakness is his ignorance of that power and how strong he actually is. He doesn’t know that yet. He’s still a kid, so right now he’s using his stuff at a very base level which is obviously shooting electricity out of his hands and catching things with electricity and all of that, but eventually he will learn that there is more to electricity and electrons and you know all this other stuff brain–waves. There’s a bunch of stuff that he’s has yet to tap into and each one is going to be interesting to draw visually. I think what I first did was the very base they did in the cartoon where they would use like the actual TV Static to show like his powers. We kind of do that in the comic, but there are some other abilities that he has that will be visually different as well that won’t just be involving him shooting lightning out of his hands. There’s more to it than that.”
Q: Do you and Vita have planned moments where the reader will be like, “I didn’t know Virgil was capable of doing that?”
ND: “[Laughter] Yes. I think it’s not just just Virgil though, it’s also some moments with Ebon to where you’re like, ‘that’s legitimately terrifying’ that he can tap into. For Virgil to level up he has to be presented with someone that forces him to level up, and Ebon is definitely that person.” He is essentially Virgil’s scary god-brother. Virgil has thought that he can handle things. Now he’s met someone who is not only older, but more cunning than he is and for lack of better words, is kind of Street. He’s kind of the direct opposite of Virgil and I cannot wait for the readers to go on this journey with both of these characters.”
Q: How many different outfits will we see Virgil rock in this series?
ND: “Quiet as it’s kept, I have been wanting to change Virgil’s costume for so long. I met with Ryan Benjamin, I think it was a Comic-Con, and I told him, ‘this is all your fault. You drew this duckbill hoodie thing in the, I think it was the preview issue, so I didn’t have much to go off when they brought me on, so I was like, ‘okay, I guess they’re going with this,’ so I had to kind of work around the parameters of that. Then they ended up liking it and I’m like, ‘this is temporary, right?’ ‘No, no, no. That’s gonna be his main look,” So I told him at the table, ‘I just want you to know that this season I’m going to destroy it. I would like to be able to change it. I think we’ll see a few different outfits that Virgil will wear, without spoiling anything, but I think we’ll see a few outfits, yeah.”
Q: Will Static be part of a Milestone crossover this season?
ND: “Here’s what I will tell you guys–keep an eye out for the Milestone 30th Anniversary Special, okay. You’ll see something that you’ll be like, ‘oh, this is really cool!’ If you’ve seen the main cover art that’s been out there so far, you should have an idea of what’s gonna happen. I just actually met with Chris and Marquis about it yesterday and we walked through it and you guys are gonna like it. Just take my word for it. You’re gonna like it. There’s some really fun, deep, Milestone cuts. We’ll be able to talk about it more in a couple weeks.”
Q: How did you land the Static job?
ND: “I drew my own version of Static where I had a trench coat, which I’m probably, if I can, [going to] bring that version into this comic and make it canon. But I drew it and people really, really liked it. He had the long coat and everything, it was what he would look like today. They were still trying to find the artist and Denys Cowan had commented on something and he’s like, ‘oh, you should check your inbox,’ and I think I got an email about it. I kind of had a Scott Pilgrim moment where I got an email, but it didn’t say, ‘do you want to draw Static?’ It was like, you know, ‘something uh, DC fandom, Milestone, blah, blah, something, would you be interested X, Y and Z,’ I was just like, ‘free work?’ No, I don’t want to do that.’ That’s what I thought it was. I was like, ‘what is this, spam?’ Then Denys had commented on Instagram and was like, ‘umm, hey. You should check your inbox, blah, blah,” and I looked for that name and I’m like, ‘wait a minute, Denys Cowan! Oh god!’ So then I immediately replied to him. They had broke down to me [that] they wanted me to do some Milestone pages and I think Reggie had written it, and Denys was going to be doing the layouts, and I was gonna follow his lead on that. It wasn’t until after they’re like, ‘yeah, we want you to do Static, like for real’ At first I was a little like, ‘uhh, is [Olivier] Coipel not available?’ I like, name people that could do it better than me. I was like, ‘I think there’s a few people that might be better qualified for this.’ But they just really insisted that I I’d do it and I kind of felt like, ‘well, Nik if you don’t do it and it gets out that you were asked to do it you turned it down, you’ll never hear the end of that’. But at the same time, I’m like, ‘oh, what’s this going to come with’ and I had no idea so I was like, ‘okay, well I’ll do it and see where it goes’ and then I end up getting…really attached to it and I just wanted to kind of make it be the best it could possibly be. The more I went back and watched the cartoons and read the old comics, I was really invested. I just have all this useless Milestone information in my head and I’m just trying to apply it to the work now.”
Q: Who is your dream character? Who haven’t you already worked on who you would love to write or do art for?
ND: “I would like to get back to doing my personal stuff, honestly. I can say I wanted to do Batman Beyond and then you guys let me do the Static Beyond thing, so I got to have fun with that for a little bit and play in that world. I think maybe Spider-Man is something I would like to do. I’d like to do Blade. I would really like to do Blade at some point. I like stuff like that. It’s tricky, because I think what I’m doing with Static, I know that I would never be able to do with Spider-Man. Marvel would never let me have this much say over how this story goes and I’m grateful for Milestone and DC to like trust me…So I’m trying to have fun with that and I really don’t have much else I want to do outside of this. I want to do my own stuff, but I would say I’m pretty spoiled right now.”
Static: Shadows of Dakota #1
(W) Nikolas Draper-Ivey, Vita Ayala (A) Nikolas Draper-Ivey
Static is back! Though Virgil and his friends might have been able to stop the government’s off-the-books prison operations in Dakota, a powerful new threat lurks in the shadows. The mysterious Ebon is cutting a bloody swath through the underworld on a single-minded quest to find his brother. Against this backdrop of exploding violence, innocent people are finding themselves in the crossfire. The breakout creative team of Nikolas Draper-Ivey and Vita Ayala have returned to make Static’s life, and Dakota City, very complicated indeed-you’ve never felt shocks like these!
In Shops: Feb 07, 2023