Philadelphia artist Jamar Nicholas returns to the bookshelves in 2015 with “Leon: Protector of the Playground,” a graphic novel featuring a hip kid hero following in the footsteps of his superhero mother. Nicholas joins the Black Tribbles at WHYY Studios
Each month, prolific Philadelphia podcasters, the Black Tribbles (winners of the 2014 Streaming Project of the Year award), visit Speak Easy with special reports on everything sci-fi, comic books, movies, video games, cartoons, and other stuff that every nerd needs to know.
A devotee of the funny pages in his youth, Jamar Nicholas turned dreams of writing his own daily comic strip into something better. In the ’90s, the online comic “The Jamar Chronicles” put the Philadelphia-based artist on the map, and he gained national acclaim in 2010 for his graphic novel adaptation of Geoffrey Canada’s “Fist Stick Knife Gun.” Jamar developed into a scholar of his craft, lecturing on comic book creation at Arcadia University and Moore College of Art while joining colleagues in the Comic Book Diner, a podcast about the comic book business.
Jamar returns to the bookshelves in 2015 with “Leon: Protector of the Playground,” an all-ages comic featuring a hip kid hero following in the footsteps of his superhero mother. Leon dons cape and goggles to save the denizens of Robert Guillaume Elementary from life’s daily conundrums using the power of common sense.
1. Who is Leon? And is he modeled after anybody from your personal life?
Leon has a few ideas melded into him from different places. One, the main one, is that since he is an only child in a single-parent household, represents me the most. His look stems slightly from one of my failed comic strip pitches, about a young man finding his way through adolescence. The character himself is the hero and main protagonist in an unnamed city, where he is the upstanding son of Miss Magnificent, the super-heroic protector of the commonwealth.
At of the beginning of our story, Leon doesn’t have powers, but uses his common sense and adventurous spirit to get through all obstacles. Plus, he has a utility belt with snacks in the pouches!
2. Robert Guillaume Elementary, though? Do I smell a closet ‘Benson‘ fan here?
We all grew up in a time when there wasn’t a lot of black faces on TV, and Guillaume was one of them. I don’t think he gets enough credit. Plus the name of the school is an easter egg to what his character in “Lean on Me” called himself as that schools’ principal.*
3. How much fun are you having bending superhero tropes on their ear with Leon, his Wonder Woman analog mother and the rest?
I love it. You’ve almost seen everything with super heroes, so you’ll see that this graphic novel isn’t stuffed with super people, but taken into context in a world where super things happen, and everyone is so over-stimulated they hardly notice. I think you’ll enjoy how I mix things around.
4. Is writing Leon stories the gift that keeps on giving?
I’ll be honest and say that it’s been a bit challenging. I’ve been trying to put myself in the shoes of a 6th grader and starting there, rather than having small adults, like say with “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Peanuts.” I want to make the content feel just right, and as I learn more about who Leon is, there’s parts of him where we disagree, but I don’t want to force it. You’ll see the focus on the book in parts is through the eyes of his classmates dealing with him, and when he goes home, it switches. We all exist in different ways to whoever views us, and I want to be respectful to all of those voices.
5. Can I get an omelet at the Comic Book Diner or is it something else entirely?
Comic Book Diner is a virtual studio consisting of my artist colleagues Rich Faber and John Gallagher (creators of Roboy Red). We’ve done projects together and run a podcast about the business of comics under the same name.
6. Why are there hundreds of fat Wonder Women on your site?
I have a blog called Big Beautiful Wonder Woman, which I curate. I offer cartoonists the job of illustrating a heavy Wonder Woman and stand back and see what happens. I like the conversation about iconography, body image/awareness, and the construct of beauty and power.
Or you can just laugh and point. I won’t judge you.
* The name Robert Guillaume uses for himself in the 1989 feature film is not suitable for these public interwebs but His Name Is Classic.