Off parole and house arrest, Greg McKinney is glad he still has his hair. He plans on attending next year’s San Diego Comic-Con International, the major convention of professionals and exhibitors, and may swing by the Alternative Press Expo, a large gathering of independent, self-publishing and alternative comic creators.
“I guess I’ll get some models from an escort service to help sell comics,” McKinney’s gravelly voice declares over the phone. “You gotta find the right ones. It’s all about fun.” He chuckled.
The idea is to dress-up those escorts in skintight outfits like those popularized by his characters. Namely, Barberetta, a crime noir graphic novel about a blond bombshell/gun for hire who gets mixed up with the mob and goes Denzel Washington on their ass. Press releases, interviews, and reviews have appeared on SB WIRE service, Pacific Book Review, and have been mentioned on Prison Law Blog. But marketing the book has been a challenge while on parole. “I work two shifts at a warehouse, managing catalogs and shipping and delivery. I’m finally making more than $10 an hour.” He explains. “Now I can finally do what I want without a PO breathing down my neck.” But finding time to finish his next two graphic novels, which were illustrated and inked before he left prison, is going to require all of his dedication.
McKinney’s work has a unique angle. For Barberetta he says, “The MOB has been the subject of many great narratives, but the authors are simply recycling and rewriting the concepts. Therefore my main goal was to hit readers in the face with something totally different.”
Born in Ft. Worth, where he lives today, he relocated to Fort Walton Beach, Florida and began selling drugs. He was good at it. When federal agents closed the net, McKinney was labeled the Pot-Kingpin of Northwest Florida. So he has some insight into the way things really work in the underworld. He’s taking a new direction with his life and wants to be successful in comics, but it is long hard march to the top.
Readers have accepted him. Angie Simplains was impressed in her Amazon review: “Great Job. It was a fun read with nice graphics! Keep it up :)”. Some first-time readers have expressed the same opinion. But discerning comics’ fans will immediately recognize something else that sets McKinney’s work apart.
Greg studied at Joe Kubert’s Graphic Art School where he received a degree in penciling. Reviewing some of the suggestions that Kubert marked on McKinney’s work, I asked him what he got from it. “Man, everyone has their own style. He (Kubert) taught me a lot but when you go to do something it’s different.” Ultimately, he says, you just go-for-it.
In an exclusive interview with Michael Dooley and Steven Heller, both editors and art directors of such periodicals as PRINT Magazine and New York Times Book Review, legendary artist Joe Kubert responded to, “Do you encourage experimental narrative?” He said, “Absolutely.” Which may explain the confidence McKinney presents in his work.
It is bold.
Another indication of McKinney’s attitude towards comics is divined by Kubert himself in that same interview. “What qualities do you look for when accepting students to the Joe Kubert School Of Cartoon and Graphic Art?” Kubert thought, then answered, “The most important quality necessary is a commitment, a very strong commitment on the part of the person who wants to come to the school. That this is a decision that they’ve made not only out of curiosity or because they think it might be good for them to make a living at it. It’s a matter of dedication.”
McKinney certainly has that.
The journey to graphic arts began with inspiration from the square jawed approach of Frank Miller’s Sin City. “I’ve always had ideas, writing crossed my mind but everything I see is really visual and comics were a way to get that out there. Learning how took more work than expected but this is the only medium that could tell these stories right.” He set out to create his own phantasmagoric prophesies of alternative reality: his first was Manimal Vice. Think The Island Of Doctor Moreau meets Bad Boys II.
He finished the graphic novel in his cell and started another. Building story-telling techniques and style under Kubert’s tutelage. McKinney amassed a library of rough work he planned to publish after release. And he’s doing it NOW.
Working inside prison was a catalyst for sanity throughout his ten year sentence. Each year of it he watched development in the legalization of marijuana feeling that “By the time I get out the shit will be legal everywhere.” His comics aren’t invaded by bitterness. Instead they embrace the energy and creativity that pulled him through it.
His comics got wilder and wilder.
By the time he was finished three full-length graphic novels filled his locker. The idea was to publish the most definitive one first, Barberetta. But a trilogy of jewels is ready for the crown McKinney has crafted in darkness. The next book, his best, should come out soon, Monster Force. If Elvira were still around it would be a perfect feature introduction, a reunion of classic baddies including The Wolfman, Dracula, and Frank, whose cigar chomping death wish establishes him as leader of the crew monitored by a disgraced Old Catholic Priest on a mission to stop evil decreed by the Pope.
Imagine Robert Kirkman’s Battle Pope with a major dose of ‘don’t give a fuck’ and you have a picture of McKinney’s next project.
“I’m just having fun,” McKinney explained. “If it sells, readers like it, then I did my job. But for anyone to sit down and do all this work there has to be some reward. It all begins with asking yourself am I going to enjoy this?” He has answered, yes, four times. His first mini-comic, Zombie Dope, is available on Kindle. Though readers didn’t foam at the mouth for it, it was a necessary stage in his development as an artist.
McKinney has perfected his form. His work evokes the scent of a cult-following, drafting some unforgettable scenes, like Barberetta’s self-service or the dispatch of Satan at the End of Monster Force, involving a dramatic time-bomb double-cross through a closing arcane portal, while Frank lights a cigar off the surrounding rubble-fires saying, “He wasn’t very tough.”
It’s as if an even more garish Quentin Tarantino existed in another dimension, drawing comics AND doing some time.
When his go-for-it graphics work it is magic, portraying his unique lens on reality. At his best McKinney stumbles along making you feel something. For example, on one page a hippopotamus prostitute goes down on Tony, a tiger-man detective in Manimal Vice; in the next panel we only see Tony’s broad smile, slicing the darkness like a Cheshire cat. That’s exactly how McKinney sees readers, after they experience one of his bound-to-be cult classics.
“The bottom line is I do whatever the fuck feels right,” he says.
You can contact Greg McKinney by e-mail: GWMcKinneyGraphics@yahoo.com