The Eternal Underdog: Jim Rugg Talks ‘Street Angel’ Anniversary Reprint
Since it first hit the stands in 2004, I’ve gone through three or four copies of Street Angel. It’s on my short-list of favorite comics — one of those books I’ve lent and given away over and over, gambling that I could find another copy, a process that’s taken longer and longer as it fell further and further out of print.
Luckily for me — and the whole new generation of readers who didn’t catch it the first time around – Street Angel is back, in a hella sweet hardcover edition from AdHouse Books (who hooked me up with a review copy, which I will do my best to hang on to for at least a few months this time around).
For the uninitiated: Street Angel is the comic Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca did before Eisner-nominated love letter to blaxploitation and 1970s comics, Afrodisiac. (Afrodisiac actually made his first appearance in Street Angel #5, which is why one of the fancier editions AdHouse is releasing comes with a slipcover to fit both volumes.) The eponymous Street Angel is Jesse Sanchez, a twelve-year-old orphan, kung fu master, and skateboard savant who fights ninjas, mad scientists, and time travelers for the poor, the forgotten, “and, whenever possible, for food.”
Sanchez is an eternal underdog, by design. “The character’s a bit of a response to characters like Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne who seem to be so melancholy all the time, and from the outside, it’s like, these guys are doing great! Why are they so mopey? So, the idea with Street Angel was to create a character no one would want to be,” Rugg told ComicsAlliance.
And there’s no question that Sanchez’s life sucks. The stoic aplomb with which she faces down her enemies is more world-weary than brave — and even though she can take out a dozen ninja between panels, she still ducks out of sight to keep a wealthier classmate from seeing her dumpster diving for food.
None of which is to say that Street Angel is a downer: it’s a fun, deeply funny book, one that still makes me laugh aloud after ten years. Rugg and Maruca approach the absurd with absolute sincerity. “I’d rather have these fantastic elements played straight, because I don’t want to mock them,” says Rugg. “It’s okay if a reader mocks them, or laughs them off, or whatever, but as a creator, I don’t connect as well with that kind of irony.”
The result is equal parts silly and celebratory. The writing is wry without being too self-satisfied, and Rugg’s art and lettering are masterful. It’s the kind of book that’s so grounded in its medium that it’s fundamentally unadaptable — a 2009 short film based on the first story in the collection is a fun watch, but doesn’t even come close to the impact of the original.
And if you’re going to get the original, this collection is the way to do it. It’s a little bigger than the SLG Publications paperback — respectable at 6″x9″, although if AdHouse is bent on keeping them as a matched set, I’d love to see them publish larger edition of both Street Angel and Afrodisiac do proper justice to Rugg’s gorgeous linework. It also collects an additional 20-or-so pages of comics, along with a color cover gallery.
It’s also really well designed — and, if you’re into that kind of thing, beautifully printed. “One of the things we did — and I hate to get too esoteric, but the book is stark black and white; it’s a lot of brushwork and hard lines, and I was trying to figure out how best to reproduce the blackline,” says Rugg. “I looked at Charles Burns’ work on Black Hole, and we actually contacted Chip Kidd to see what kind of paper he used for the Pantheon edition of Black Hole.” 130 GSM White Woodfree, for the curious.
Rugg is hoping that the new edition will bring Street Angel reach a broader audience: in the ten years Street Angel sat out of print and Rugg and Maruca attracted a wider following with Afrodisiac, the comics market has shifted — becoming, in the process, a lot more welcoming to the likes of Jesse Sanchez.
“It was a weird book ten years ago,” says Rugg. “Now I think it’s a book people can just enjoy–for humor, and for action, and for what the book is, as opposed to it being very different than everything else.”