In “City of Walls,” art really does imitate life.
There are no robots, superheroes or even an obligatory vampire in the graphic novel series, just three ordinary kids — Daniel, Jin and Ariana — with uncommon fortitude coping with extraordinary circumstances.
The three characters are brought to life by Bay Ridge’s Shaun Noel, while Park Slope’s Abede Lovelace brings to life the fourth — the shut-off urban jungle called Kowloon. Some of his gritty renderings of desolate rooftops and creaky fire escapes could be mistaken for snapshots of Brooklyn, but Lovelace says the borough plays a more subtle role.
“The neighborhood politics, the close quarters, the clash of different types of people, the class warfare, race — these things are particularly acute in Brooklyn especially right now and especially in my neighborhood,” says the 30-year-old artist. “It’s great food [for thought], and I definitely draw on it.”
Daniel, Jin and Ariana’s struggle for a better life somewhat mirrors Noel and Lovelace’s plight as comic book creators.
There are priceless moments when strangers approach them at comic book conventions and rave about “City of Walls” and how they’re excited for issue No. 4, which will be unveiled at New York Comic Con, from Oct. 8-10 at the Javits Center. Or when original artwork from “City of Walls” was selected for the School of Visual Arts’ show called “Ink Plots: The Tradition of the Graphic Novel” at the Visual Arts Gallery, running from Oct. 8-Nov. 6.
Other times can be “spirit sucking,” said Lovelace, like when the pair didn’t receive a single order through a catalogue that was sent to thousands of vendors.
And then at the last New York Comic Con, Lovelace and Noel arrived bleary-eyed but relieved after staying up for two days and learning two computer programs in one night to get their book to the printer on time.
But when they got word that the machinery broke down, Lovelace said he “looked up at the sky and just started laughing. It was over. Fate beat us. We walked into the Con with no new issue.
“Then, just like that, it worked out. They got the machine fixed, they got our book set up and three or four hours later when the Con actually opened, we had our books.”
Noel and Lovelace have learned to survive such low moments of self-publishing, but now they’re trying to figure out how to balance their lives. Lovelace has a wife, Mariangela, a 4-year-old daughter and works as an assistant to Marvel inker Mark Morales. Noel is 32 and his job — “mostly database stuff” — keeps him stationed at a computer.
Making time to dream up the continuing adventures of Daniel, Jin and Ariana is hard. Life intercedes. Loved ones come first. Bills must be paid.
So it might only be 20 minutes this day or an hour a few weeks later, but somehow they manage to return to “City of Walls.”
“The reason I stay up hours on end to get this book lettered, trek to convention after convention, spend money which you know you will not get an even return can be summed up in one of my favorite quotes from Toni Morrison: ‘If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,’ ” said Noel.
Find “City of Walls” at Bulletproof Comics [2178 Nostrand Ave. near Avenue H in Flatbush, (718) 434-1800] and St. Marks Comics [148 Montague St. between Henry and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 935-0911]. For info, visit www.cityofwalls.com.