At Image Expo, Ronald Wimberly (Prince of Cats) took the stage with a jittery energy that made you sit on the edge of your seat. I’m pretty sure I leaned forward and thought “Dis gon’ be good.” His first project with Image is called Sunset Park and to paraphrase his description, it’s about a “sinister force that comes across the East River and changes things in Brooklyn”. The room exploded in applause.
Referring to the Brooklyn neighborhood and the ever-present spectre of gentrification, this gothic horror comic is likely to delight and stimulate readers. The promo image features a Warhol-esque blipster with a mean scowl and a sword juxtaposed with a laidback, academic brotha, all framed in the profile of a woman giving the most epic side-eye. It’ll be done in the style of epistolary novels with the main character, The Cartoonist, discovering the underbelly of this neighborhood through letters, images and other ephemera he discovers. The comic is set to span the ’60s, ’80s and today, and Andy Warhol and Michel Basquiat might make appearances. When we spoke, Wimberly mentioned listening to a soundtrack of trap rap, art punk, and Velvet Underground while working on this project which I’m calling post-gentrification punk-hop horror. What he is building is a story of methaphorical vampirism with some actual vampires thrown in for good measure.
Wimberly also teased a second project called Slave Punk. This is the one I’m most excited to see, though I’m going to refrain from taking to social media and asking him about it every week. Slave Punk is the story of a genius engineer and slave who works with his sidekick … who just happens to be his owner. Here, Wimberly is rebuilding an American mythology that problematizes one of America’s greatest early resources: slaves. It also places Black people in the steampunk movement, where they would have existed historically, but so far have been lacking in representation. It’s a project that could reinvent the genre.
These books are clearly commenting on our current times, but also so far ahead of how anyone is thinking about them. Considering he’s a relatively new creator, these projects are far beyond what anyone would expect and they’re going to be highly anticipated.