Actionverse, Catalyst Prime & Marvel: Ray-Anthony Height On Making More Inclusive Comics

by Gary Catig

Ray-Anthony Height was one of the many artists tabling at Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con last weekend. I was fortunate enough to interview him about his projects Midnight Tiger, Superb, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, as well as working in comics as a whole.
Gary Catig:  I’m glad you’re able to do this interview. Starting off with an easy question,  what brings you to Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con? Have you been here before?  What have your experiences been while tabling here ?
Ray-Anthony Height: I’ve been here pretty much every year since it’s started. I think I’ve only missed two years. I love it, I love the con. Regina, who always invites me, has been great. It’s usually a good show; it’s expanded over the years. It’s gotten bigger and better even when they changed the name. It was Comikaze originally, and now it’s Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con. Still the same show, but it’s better. It’s bigger, and I like tabling here.

GC:  Moving on, I would like to congratulate you. You had a successful Kickstarter campaign for your creator owned work, Midnight Tiger. For those not familiar with the series, could you describe what it’s about?
RAH: Midnight Tiger is basically Peter Parker in Gotham if he was a black kid. It takes place in a city called Apollo Bay. It’s the story of Gavin Shaw. Superheroes don’t go to his city, but this one time there was one that he found being attacked in an alley. He was just about near death and Gavin decided to try to protect him. In the middle of that, the person who as trying to kill the hero, named Lion’s Blood, also attacked Gavin and put him in the hospital. Gavin was in a coma for three days and when he woke up, he had super powers gifted to him by the guy he tried to save.  He decided instead of taking the name of the hero that saved him, he was going to stay in his city, who did not have a hero, and protect his own city.
GC: Unfortunately, you’re not able to continue on with the series after the Kickstarter. Vito Delsante will be taking over the writing duties, and they will be based off your plot ideas.  My question is: how much freedom and independence does Delsante have to execute the specifics of the plotlines? Are you going to be involved or provide input with the stories moving forward?
RAH: Vito and I already kinda worked that out. We started out with the plots. It’s pretty open, but here’s the thing: I trust Vito with the character so much. He did such a great job in Actionverse because he and I worked together on the Midnight Tiger issue in Actionverse. I feel as if Vito is the closest thing to me writing it. Although I’ve had other great writers that helped me starting out like Dewayne Feenstra who we first worked together on the first series. He’s great and he moved on to do his own book called Arrow Girl.
But Vito and I, along with Jamal Igle, helped create Actionverse which is a superhero line of books at Action Lab Entertainment. They did pretty well and I got busy. I wanted to do more things, but people wanted more Midnight Tiger. We decided to give it to them, so I made a deal with Action Lab to license the character and that’s how Vito Delsante and Eric Van Elsande are working on the book now. I will still be involved. I’m doing the covers and I already did the plot, but Vito does have some freedom. There will be some changes; you’ll have to read it. They’re very tiny, but the theme of the book will remain the same.

GC:  Part of the reason why you’re stepping back from Midnight Tiger is because of you have a regular ongoing series. You moved from the Actionverse to Catalyst Prime with the series Superb, that you do with David Walker and Sheena Howard. 
Before talking about the series itself, can you discuss your experience working at Lion Forge and Catalyst Prime in this new superhero universe? Can you touch upon the focus and emphasis on diversity amongst these characters, but also amongst the creators?
RAH: It’s funny you ask that question in that way, because a young lady just bought issue 4 of Superb with her mom and brother and I was talking to them about the series. We’re trying to do something here with Catalyst Prime at Lion Forge. Basically, let’s not talk about diversity, let’s do it. Let’s really show with our efforts versus something else. And they did it. They put their money where their mouth was. It’s not just diversity in characters, it’s diversity in creators. That really spoke volumes to me as a creator of color, to work on something that showcases diversity in such a big way.
I honestly believe that Superb is one of the most diverse books. Not only is there a young teenage black girl as one of the main protagonists, she shares that top title with Jonah Watkins, who has Down Syndrome. Lion Forge is really one of the top publishers. They have made such a change in the best directions and to do this in such a big way.  Although Jonah may not be the first superhero with Down Syndrome, the exposure of him and Kayla in Superb is huge.
Then we have David Walker who’s working on Luke Cage now and he did Power Man and Iron Fist at Marvel.  He has a ton of things and he’s such a great representative of diversity. We have the first black female Eisner winner, Sheena C. Howard, working together on this book. Talk about diversity here, man, it’s fantastic.
There’s more characters that are coming in Superb. If you haven’t gotten there yet, we just introduced Abby, who is an Asian female. It continues to grow. The other books like Noble, Accel, and Incidentals, all those books in Catalyst Prime, they’re all diverse. Anybody can find anything in that whole representation in those Catalyst Prime line of books. I think it’s great and I really enjoy working with such top talent.
GC:  I know you briefly went into what Superb is about, but is there anything more you would like to add about the series?  Also, with regards to the character design of Jonah/Cosmosis and Kayla/Amina, did you come up with their looks yourself or are they based off someone else’s design and you then did your own interpretation?
RAH:  It’s collaborative. Let’s just go out and say it’s collaborative. For me, what I got were character descriptions. Not necessarily the descriptions of exactly how they look, but who they were, ethnicities, some personality stuff and the direction they wanted the looks to go in. We batted around a couple things. I went in there and did some designs. Got them approved by our editor, Joe Illidge, and Carl Reed, the art director. It was definitely collaborative.  At the end of the day that’s what it is. But I’ll say my hands touched it a lot. Let’s put it that way.
GC:  You’ve done the creator owned thing with Midnight Tiger. You’ve also worked with big established characters like X-Men and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur. Now you’re currently doing Superb, which isn’t your own thing, but you’re the first to play in that sandbox so you can influence it a lot. How would you compare and contrast working in those three different situations and do you have a preference or enjoy one over the other?
RAH:  That is a really good question. Everything has its pros and cons. Doing it for myself, it’s just me in a bubble, which is great. I have creative control. I don’t have to get anything approved from anyone, which can be good or bad. When you’re too close to something, even if something doesn’t work, there’s usually no one there to tell you that might not work. But I usually try to get other people’s opinions any way that’s why I have people like Vito Delsante and Jamal Igle. You know my friends who are also professionals. In that environment, I like the creative control. I like to be able to do my own thing.
Marvel actually lets me do that too for the most part. I get the script and it’s totally collaborative too. We get an email thread and everyone’s on the email thread, like the writer and the artist, or the inker, or whoever is working on the book.  We all know what’s going on with each other.  There’s not one voice dictating everything, which is great, because we can vibe off each other.  It’s more fun that way too, honestly. I love that, but I am playing with other people’s characters so there is only so far I can go and so far the group can go. It’s Marvel, and Disney owns Marvel, so there’s some control there. But these are characters I grew up loving, so I’m going to enjoy it, man.  It’s just great and I want to put my stamp on it.   want to just enjoy the work environment.
I’ve been lucky to have great editors. Every editor I’ve worked with Marvel, DC, Lion Forge. Not DC, I haven’t worked for DC yet, but I’m sure I will.  At Marvel, my editor is awesome and they try to let me do my thing and it works out.
With Lion Forge, our editor, Joe Illidge, is a guy who wants to make you better.  And that’s good.  That’s valuable. He understands the human side of being a freelancer too, and that’s not typical for editors. It’s like, “Hey Joe, I’m having an issue and I’ll need a couple days.” He’s just a good person in the sense that he cares about the creators. You can’t beat that as a creator. You want to do good work. I want to impress this dude. That’s where I’m at with Lion Forge. In all aspects, I work with some great people. The best in the business. That’s great people during work, and great people when work isn’t involved. I feel like I’m lucky.

GC:  Lastly, I’ve tried to cover as much of your work that I know of.  Is there anything else you would like to plug or is there something we should keep an eye out for from you in the future?  Or if not, can you discuss what fans can expect for the latter half of this first arc in Superb?
RAH:  Oh ok. I can’t. Not about Superb. We try to play Superb close to the vest. We want you to buy the books. For me, I’m not in control of the whole thing. I like to give little teasers to wet people’s whistle so they want to buy it, but we do enough of that. The guys who control the Catalyst Prime books, they know what they’re doing, so I just let them do that.
For Superb, it’s really getting hot, man. The action’s pumping up. I know people tell me it’s a lot of wording, but we’re building character right now. We want the characters to mean something to people so when they are in peril or they’re going through something, you’re with them. You feel something. In those first three issues when it’s mostly talking, that’s on purpose. Now that the action’s here and all these cool things are happening, now you’re engaged. You definitely don’t want to miss what’s happening.
I can say the trade for the first few issues will be out in December. The first week of December. At the same time, I want to say when issue 5 will drop, but I’m not sure. Look for that. That’s going to be pretty awesome. There’s stuff that I’d like to say, but I can’t.
For Marvel, I don’t know if I’m going to be back on X-Men Blue. I hope to do so sometime next year, but I’ll definitely be back on Moon Girl again. I don’t know when.  Moon Girl issue #24 just dropped this Wednesday and I did a little spot because it has vignettes. It’s really cool. You should definitely pick that up; it’s fun. It’s probably the most fun book, just pure fun book, that I work on. I’m so happy to be part of it. I know I’m only a little part of it because Natacha Bustos is amazing. She is so much a part of Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, that I want to be like her when I’m drawing the book. I do, I seriously do. That’s one of my favorite books to work on. I mean X-Men is definitely one of my favorites books, but just pure fun wise, that’s the book.
Superb is more like: I need to do this book.  Because we need to show people of color and more diverse creators [creating] people of color and more diverse content. That’s basically it. That’s what we’re trying to do, and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be on the ground floor, and I am. I am happy about what’s happening there. It’s a good thing. That’s like chicken soup, you know what I mean? I know I did a good thing working on this project. That’s how I feel about Superb, and I think people should buy it. It’s something we need and need more of.

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