Getting Down to the Bitter Root with Sanford Greene
Updated: Jan 24, 2020
Sanford Greene has been drawing comic for over 15 years. One of his first major projects was on WONDER GIRL for DC Comics. He's always had a "different" style that made him stand out. His style has progressed into something so bombastic and unique that it's instantly recognizable.
A couple years ago, he and David Walker did a critically acclaimed and fan favorite run on POWER MAN & IRON FIST. It was on this book that I first discovered his art and I've been a fan ever since. Every page of that series was full of humor, energy and balls to the wall action.
When BITTER ROOT was announced with the same creative team, and Chuck Brown, I immediately knew I was gonna pick it up. The book is about a family of monster hunters, set in the 1920's, during the Harlem Renaissance. How could you not want to pick this book up? The first issue has already sold out and has been a huge hit. Getting a chance to chat with Sanford about the book and hearing how passionate he is about it, makes me hope that this book stays around for a long time. If you haven't picked up the book yet, do it!!!
THIS INTERVIEW TOOK PLACE BEFORE THE RELEASE OF BITTER ROOT
Comic Lounge: Growing up, what artists or comics made you decide to become a comic book creator?
Sanford Greene: I think the biggest titles were MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE and SPIDER-MAN TEAM-UP. I was never really a big fan of the single character titles. I liked the team books, X-Men and Avengers. Those books that really stood out to me were those books that I mentioned because they had mainstream characters teaming up with obscure characters. That's how I learned about the Marvel Universe. It was awesome to see Spidey team up with Captain Britain. You can learn more about those characters when they're in those environments, in a title with a well know character like Spidey. Then you have that standpoint from the obscure character comes across just as important as the major character. So I always thought that was kind of cool. That's what influenced me.
Comic Lounge: I know POWER MAN AND IRON FIST was kind of a breakout book for you, but what was the first book you worked on in the comic book industry?
Greene: Oh man, we're going back a bit. I say it's a breakout book, but it's my breakout book the second time around. I think my first big moment was a mini-series over at DC Comics, WONDER GIRL in 2006. My style was definitely a lot different. For lack of a better word, a lot more cartoony. It was almost a derogatory statement back then, but now it's fully embraced. My style had a lot more open line, clean. WONDER GIRL was pretty awesome because I got to do characters like Robin and Wonder Woman. That was my first breakout.
Then I started doing other stuff, a little bit of everything. I did Batman, the animated version. I did LEGION OF SUPERHEROES. The I bounced to Marvel and did some Spider-Man, Hulk, you name it, I did a lot of stuff. That was during the transition of my style, I was trying to go a little bit away from the cartoony style. My editors didn't like it at the time, but I knew I had to break away from that. I also did the relaunch for RUNAWAYS, which got me really in the realm of attention at Marvel. Which helped me land POWER MAN AND IRON FIST.
Comic Lounge: When you landed the POWER MAN AND IRON FIST book was it a huge deal for you? Were they characters you followed as a kid?
Greene: That goes back to my love for MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE. It was Spider-Man and another character. or two that they introduce you to and Luke Cage was one of those characters. I remember seeing him in the back of the comics, for the house ads. They would put headshots of all these different characters when they would advertise the holiday specials that you could mail order. I would be just enamored looking at that list of headshots and trying to figure out who's who. I remember seeing Luke Cage in those ads, and he was one of the few characters I didn't know.
When I saw him again, in an actual comic, I was like "Oh man!". You know he's a brown man, a man of color, and he looked like me. It made me that much more, want to dive in and learn who he is, because to some degree I saw myself in him. That's where he quickly became one of my favorite characters. Also that tiara was kinda dope. You know back then the bombastic stuff was real popular, he had a pimp shirt and a tiara. To me it wasn't a tiara, it was a like a headband.
Comic Lounge: So you're about to launch a new book with David Walker, called BITTER ROOT. What about the relationship you guys built with him, working on POWER MAN & IRON FIST, led you guys to wanting to work on a creator owned book?
Greene: A lot of things actually. POWER MAN & IRON FIST gained a lot of popularity because of the Netflix shows. To be real, we weren't really getting a lot of love "the powers that be", because of what we created, to some degree they're not really obligated to do that. It would be nice to be acknowledged for some of the directions we took those characters, but at the same time they did what they did.
I was talking to David, we honestly would talk about a lot of things like the state of the industry in general. Then this thing kind of happened with POWER MAN & IRON FIST and we're like " We did all this work and we don't have a lot to show for it, they can pull the plug on us". Full disclosure, they wanted to have Luke Cage with his own comic series and the same thing with Iron Fist. They didn't think three titles with those characters would sustain itself, so they decided to pull ours. The whole thing was that it was gonna end on a high note, that we would go out with a bang. But we felt like we had all these great ideas and we couldn't do anything with them now because they pulled the rug from under us.
But then David was like " You know what this might be a great sign because this, honestly is setting us up to do our own thing". I quickly paid attention to what he was saying. I told him about this really cool idea that myself and Chuck Brown, the other co-writer, had about this family during the Harlem Renaissance that hunts monsters He thought it was a really great idea. We asked him to come on board and make this thing work. I was really excited about. I think I was more excited than anyone because, there was nothing out there like this.
So that's pretty much what happened. We all decided to take the plunge. All those ideas we were gonna use in POWER MAN & IRON FIST, we decide to put them in our own thing.
Comic Lounge: Could you talk a little more about the premise of BITTER ROOT? What are the long term plans for it, do you have an endgame for the book?
Greene: The Sangerye family, are a family that has been, for lack of a better word, predestined to be in charge of keeping these monsters at bay. Better yet they've been entrusted with the task of healing monsters if you will.
I told David it would be cool not to really explain why these monsters are around and to let the readers come to that conclusion. The monsters exist for a reason, they've been around for centuries. The matriarch of the family, she, first encountered them during the Underground Railroad. The technique, Bitter Root, was used to ward off these evil monsters during that time. She wasn't the user of it, she just witnessed it. She thought it was absolutely incredible and wanted to learn it. Those who were the keepers of this "technique", they didn't really want o entrust a young child with this ability, but she begged them and pleaded with them. At the end of the day she wanted her life to be more than just running and that was technically what everyone was doing anyways, running for freedom. She wanted to help in a greater way.
She gained incredible stature and notoriety with how she got with this technique. They ended up entrusting her with it because she was young and they hoped that she would carry it on and it would grow in her possession. Most of these wielders of this technique were all older and no guarantee that they'll be around.
She and a few others migrated to New York, Harlem specifically. She starts a family with some of those that ran with her and basically trained her entire family in this technique. They got pretty advanced with it, a few of the members of the family were experts in building with technology. So they used steampunk technology to advance the bitter root technique.
They're an agency and they fight, and they're fighting for a reason. They're fighting for a greater reason. That's where you as a reader, will learn more about the family and the dynamics of the family. In the family there's a divide in philosophy on how to deal with these monsters. One half believes in trying to save them and purify them, because these monsters were once human. The other side of the family, they believe in "by any means necessary". No questions asked, no ifs, ands, or buts. You take 'em out.
Those two philosophies cause a rift in the family. You'll find out in the story, why?
We have an ending in mind but its a little down the road. We hope to make that happen we the support of the fans.
Comic Lounge: The book sounds awesome. I can't wait to see your art in the book. Your style is different than the usual "house" style that you see sometimes at DC and Marvel. You're art almost has a hip-hop/punk rock mash-up of explosiveness. How did you develop such a unique style?
Greene: Over the years, I've gotten more comfortable with the direction of the style. It goes back to the cartoony aspect of things, I used to be gun-shy because "the powers that be", wanted to create this, as you said "house style". They weren't really comfortable with this expressive, as you said "in your face", style. For me, that was a negative. It made me feel like I wasn't good enough or I just wasn't up to the standards of the big companies.
Their are other artists that felt the same way, that are very successful now in being expressive. We all come from that "school" where cartooning is priority and everything else is secondary. We firmly believe in, that we come from the school of cartooning and anime, urban culture, and all those different aspects. Those are the things that we put into our work, artists like Skottie Young, James Harren, Khary Randolph, Paul Pope, Sean Murphy, Eric Canete. Paul came before us but he still came from that "school". All those guys kind of had the same fight, with having this style and labeled as being something that doesn't appeal to the masses. Each one of us, we all found a way to bring about that voice, that independent voice. I think the industry is better for it.
I mean it's almost like how Hip-Hop was back in the early 90s, or even the late 80s. There was so much variety everyone had their own voices, all unique. It wasn't just this one style. So just having that, it really feels like that now with all of these artists. Some of the directions that were taken back then, the decisions that were made, we're able now to have a lot more voices.
Comic Lounge: I know BITTER ROOT is the only book you're currently working on. Are there any other characters you would like to work on in the future or would you prefer to stick with creator owned?
Greene: There's always characters I would love to work on at the Big Two. There's one, I'm not gonna say it, that if they mean what they say, I'm definitely gonna be elated to do. I can't tell you which one of the Big Two, but I've already had some conversations about this character. It would be really cool to work on. So yeah, I want to do more, there's certain itches that still need to be scratched. My hope is to do that in the next year or so.
But BITTER ROOT is top priority. I'm just ready to rock and roll on the series. I'm already on issue four and I'm just excited to get into fans hands.
Comic Lounge: I know some artists have gone mostly digital with their art. Do you prefer 'old school' or do you like to work in the digital medium?
Greene: I ultimately love the tactile aspect, with the brush and the pen. But there's always that moment, you know have a Cintiq at home and I use that as well. I go back and forth, but ultimately it's that brush and pencil.
Comic Lounge: What advice can you give to artists out there, trying to break into the industry?
Greene: Draw every day, don't waste a day. I tell students all the time "As much as you pick up that cell phone and check Instagram, you should be sketching". As a matter of fact, I gave a challenge to some of my former students, I told them "You should do a sketch every time you look at your phone". Most of them realized how much they look at their phone. Haha.
The idea is, it's second nature to just grab your phone and thumb through it. Sketching should almost be that way, it needs to be second nature That's a hard thing, it's not gonna come naturally. Even having the phone, at first it wasn't a natural thing. You had to learn how to navigate through your phone when you first got it. You were excited about it though, you were willing to sit and go through all of the instructions or whatever it is and learn all of the features because you wanted to do that. You wanted to be able to use that phone to the point where it's second nature. It almost needs to be the same way when it comes to art. IF you're serious.
That's the thing, most students say that they're serious but when it comes to that type of work, that's few and far between. But that's what you have to do. So.. there you go.