The Genre Bending, Music Loving World Of Sci-Fu With Yehudi Mercado

by Hannah Means Shannon

Arriving in March 2018 from Oni Press is all-ages original graphic novel Sci-Fu. Writer and artist Yehudi Mercado is a creative whose work spans different storytelling media from comics to animation and video games, but here he’s telling a story that’s very personal to his interests: combining science fiction with Kung-Fu and Hip Hop in a way that seems natural to him and makes for a lively, engaging read.

Beyond combining genres and celebrating music through the comics medium, another aspect of Sci-Fu that feels refreshingly on-point is the diversity in its central group of characters inhabiting 1980’s Brooklyn. This is a book that will entertain, surprise, and ultimately remind you that sometimes the most important adventure in life is discovering the best version of yourself and becoming that person.

Yehudi Mercado joins us on the site today to talk about his creative journey and where his new project will take readers.

Hannah Means-Shannon: To go wayyyy back, how did you go from being someone who liked to draw to being a professional animator and comic artist? Did it seem like an option as a young person?

Yehudi Mercado: Tim Burton was a huge influence early in my life, so I always planned on writing and creating my own projects. It wasn’t until college that I decided to marry my two worlds of cartooning and acting into animation. I don’t think I ever even considered a backup occupation.

HMS: How do you feel your background or ethnicity affects your work as an animator and comic creator? How do you feel that the work coming out into the world in animation and comics represents your world or interests compared to when you first started?

YM: Being Mexican and Jewish, I have a unique outsider perspective. It used to be more of an uphill battle to incorporate characters of color into projects. Eleven years ago, I was working on this straight-to-DVD animated series for a client and I took a pass at one of the scripts, changing the ethnicities of some of the characters. The client genuinely asked if black kids were friends with Hispanic kids. That screenplay eventually became my first graphic novel, Buffalo Speedway, and got some Hollywood interest, but I kept getting the response that I should change the main character from black to white so it would be an easier “sell.” I’m glad that I’m stubborn and refused to budge because diversity is finally an initiative. Outlets look specifically for the kinds of things I was pushing ten years ago, and that feels great, and I’m glad that I never gave up.

HMS: I feel like Sci-Fu very specifically addresses a lot of things missing in comics, or at least not prevalent: a group of African American characters/protagonists, a full focus on hip-hop and music and its powerful impact on people’s lives, and more. Do you feel you’re making a book that should exist and needs to?

YM: Sci-Fu never started with the directive that I needed to make a story with only African American characters—it just kind of naturally came out that way. Only later did I realize there’s only one White character and he’s only on one page in the first chapter. Sci-Fu is 100% selfishly created to be the kind of story I wanted to read. The fact that other people are really liking it is icing on the cake.

HMS: There’s a little bit of a renaissance happening right now in bringing the role and influence of music to comics, or at least accepting that it can be a theme. But it’s still hard to bring an audio aspect to a comics page. How did you meet the challenge of moving from sound to sight?

YM: I never see my ideas as JUST one medium—I even have game designs for a Sci-Fu mobile game. Weaving sound into a book seemed natural to me because when I read, I usually pair it with a specific playlist. My first graphic novel, Buffalo Speedway, has a collection of songs to listen to while you read. The following book, Pantalones, TX, starts with a song. For me, it’s about fitting the art and story to the music.

HMS: So why hip-hop and Kung-Fu in combination? What happened in your mind to bring those fandoms together?

YM: Kung-Fu had such an influence on early hip-hop because in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, second run theaters in Brooklyn and the Bronx would show triple features on weekends, so it seeped into the culture. In my mind, they always went hand in hand. The b-boy battles were like fight scenes and the best kung fu fights were like dance routines.

HMS: Can you talk to us a little bit about the differences between working in animation versus working in comics for you, as a creator? What are the primary things you keep in mind about the different needs of those two mediums?

YM: Animation takes so much longer and has so many more people working on it. To bring something like Sci-Fu to life would take years, millions of dollars, and a legion of people. This book took myself, and an assistant colorist, Dave Wheeler, about six months. But in the end, the book is 100% my vision, which is satisfying on all levels.

HMS: What was the message you wanted readers to take from Sci-Fu?  How important was that “message” above just creating something just entertaining and fun for readers?

YM: Sci-Fu is fun and entertaining, but the story to me is an about personal power and strength— which is a simple childhood lesson—but this blows it up and makes it bigger on an intergalactic level. It’s about a kid who is getting better at this skill he’s always had, and it becomes a superpower for him. He has to learn how to balance that superpower, how to be strong without pushing his friends and family away. Wax has to learn that his emotions aren’t a weakness, and his family and friends are part of his strength; it’s not something he has to do alone.

Thanks so much to Yehudi Mercado for participating in this interview and sharing his insights! Look out for Sci-Fu from Oni Press in March 2018!