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August 1, 2004

{     Interview : Ahmed Hoke     }    

Ahmed Hoke is a modern day renaissance man; having cut his teeth on hip-hop production, video game design and political discourse he's now landed in the unique position of being an American artist working in the Japanese manga style. Hoke's manga, @Large, is groundbreaking on several levels- it scores points for not only being original (it's the first hip-hop manga) and for being faithful to the culture it depicts (@Large pulls no punches when it comes to realistic language and violence) but for the style it drips with as well. This is a new form of art- somewhere between graffiti and anime, comic-books and traditional manga. It's the kind of crossroads that breaks rules and opens doors. Ahmed Hoke is bum-rushing the show.

Adam: I don't think there's anything more American, more groundbreaking and original than the fusion of cultures that form @Large. You've done manga one better, and you've accurately represented street life in a format that's never been used by other artists and writers in the US to do so. That being said, I know this can be kind of a hard sell to both the hard-core manga kids and the hip-hop heads alike. What's the reaction been like from each crowd?
Ahmed: So far the reaction that I've noticed from the Hip-Hop heads is probably the strongest. They seem to be the ones that are reacting positively to the jokes in a real way. I believe it's because they can relate to the characters and the scenarios in the story, and that was always my intention to begin with.

What inspired your decision to work in manga?
I picked up on anime and manga when I was enrolled in art school. Some of my buddies were heavily into it, seeing movies like Ninja Scroll and Akira changed my ideas of what could be accomplished in an animated/illustrated format. Ever since then, I decided that I would like to work in that medium, should the opportunity present itself.

What's the first manga you picked up, and what do you think is the best you've read so far?
The first manga I read was probably Blade of The Immortal, published by Dark Horse. I've seen plenty of manga before that, but never picked up on it as far as following it consistently. Incidentally, I also think Blade of The Immortal is the best I've read, although I really like GTO (Great Teacher Onizuka) as well. That is a hilarious series.

I know you've cut your teeth on graffiti culture, and @Large drips with it. Who do you feel has influenced you the most in terms of graffiti and whose work do you most respect and admire?
I was influenced by a lot of writers I came up with out here in Los Angeles, guys like Chase, Earn 1, UCA (Under Cover Artists)� my crew, basically. Other crews like WCA, KGB, CBS, BAD all the original old-school heads that know me, they all contributed to me developing a style of my own and following through with it.

A lot of graffiti writers interested in making a career of it go the gallery route, offering their work up for a different kind of scrutiny and attention. Is that something you've thought about, and where do you stand on graffiti as fine art?
I think the gallery route is a legitimate forum to an extent. It allows guys to get exposure on a commercial level and, if it is done right, can build a fan base outside of the traditional crowd that follows graffiti religiously. I don't know about terms like �fine art' anymore. Most of what I see classified as fine art these days is pretty self-indulgent, and a lot of it is just wack. Being that graff is an element of Hip-Hop, it is the ultimate art form that absorbs all styles just like so-called rap music. The best way of seeing it is in its rawest form, which is on the walls or trains. Still, I like the idea of bringing graff to all mediums, which is kind of what I'm doing with @large, so looking at it like that, I suppose it's all good.

One of the things I love about graffiti is that you're giving it away. You're not taking that train home with you, or that billboard, or that brick wall. You're putting your work out there for people to admire, for it to be seen. Manga is a lot like that, though on a much wider scale. How do you feel about your work being distributed on a global scale?
I'm excited about the possibility of people around the world having a chance to appreciate the work. I think that is the dream of every kid that ever picked up a pencil, and I couldn't be more pleased right now.

Are there plans to translate @Large into Japanese or other languages?
As far as I am aware, the translation issue is something that TOKYOPOP is looking into right now. They publish books in several countries. I'm probably not the best guy to ask about that, though.

Are you down with some Japanese pop-culture; anime, video games, cute mascots, schoolgirls, etc.? If so, what are your favorites?
I really dig a lot of it. Pretty much everything you just named, I'm feeling. I'd have to say I'm into some of the J-pop girls and how they look, the styles and everything, word. No real favorites yet, I'm still learning.

Do you have any desire to see @Large in an animated format? Anything happening on that front?
Yeah, there is some interest on a few different levels. TOKYOPOP is actively pitching my book to several people as a future animated production. For myself, I will be having some flash animated sequences on my website in the near future.

How do you feel about seeing your characters in 3-D, as a line of collectible toys? Any plans for that?
That is one of my serious goals right there. I just think the characters would be fresh so, yeah, I am definitely pursuing that avenue.

Are you into the whole Hong Kong and Japanese hip-hop and graffiti-influenced toy scene? If so, whose stuff do you love?
Naturally, I try to follow a lot of what is being done by Kid Robot. They seem to be good at what they do. I wouldn't mind working with them at some point.

Manga in Japan is a widely accepted form of entertainment, and it really knows no boundary when it comes to age or gender of its audience. I'm glad to see TOKYOPOP recognizing a mature audience here in the US and giving you room to do it the right way. Have you run into any resistance from the "comics are for kids" crowd, or anybody intent on censoring your work?
That's interesting. I can't say that I've had anyone approach me in that manner. Perhaps they are still in shock so far, ha ha. Only time will tell.

You've spent some time doing the comics-thing. What's your take on that industry and how it differs from what you're doing now?
From what I can observe, manga artists are afforded a little more freedom to explore their imaginations, and that is the biggest difference I see. The comics industry went through a semi-depression after the big boom in the early �90s, but it's recovering nicely with the boost from Hollywood and all the movies getting made. Interest is returning, and overall I see more creativity from the usual suspects, so that's a good look.

I know you've attended some pretty massive comic conventions, and having been through a few myself I know how insane some of those kids can be. Do you have any good stories to tell about the cons, and what has been the typical reaction from that crowd about what you do?
I love going to the Cons and meeting people. The kids and the fans who are passionate about the work are what keep everything going. I still chuckle at some of the outfits, but that's what it's all about, geek central. It's cool to be a geek these days. I don't really know what the crowd thinks about my work yet, being that it's my first manga, but we'll see this year.

The info blurb on TOKYOPOP's website for Vol. 2 states- The hip-hop world is always struggling to find a balance between "keepin' it real" and "payin' the bills," two concepts intrinsically at odds with each other. That juxtaposition seems to be central to @Large. In the same vein, Kanye West throws out the lyric "Always said that if I rap I'd say something significant, but now I'm rappin �bout money, hoes and rims again" on his new album. Your characters seem to embody this give and take, and you as their author have an awareness of this conflict. Do you think we're doomed to cling to the bling, or can we see through it to the reality of our situations?
I think that people are just starving for a new style. Hip-Hoppers have always been about flossing and showing off, that's a big part of the culture. It's possible to keep it real while still being flashy if that's what you are about. The problem comes in when everybody is just biting, that shit is horrible. It's nothing new, though. There will be a new style once people get sick of costume jewelry and huge rims eventually. Just like when dookey gold ropes and chains went the way of the dinosaur, it's bound to happen, ha ha.

How much of you ends up in your characters? Do you ever get a little autobiographical?
There is some of me in each of the characters, so, yes, it's semi-autobiographical. I probably identify with Rust and Broke Rogers the most�Rust for the struggle to get fame as a graffiti artist, and Broke for the cynical attitude I get from dealing with "the industry."

Are you still producing hip-hop, or has that been put on the back burner?
Yeah, I still make beats, and I also still write rhymes�that won't ever stop. I have to focus on the artwork right now, but the music is always right there bubbling under the surface. Sometimes I have to get into the music a little before I am energized enough to draw all these pages. The two are kind of feeding off of each other right now.

What are you listening to right now?
Right now, I am really feeling a lot of underground groups. People like MF Doom, Madlib, the whole Def Jux camp, Ghostface and the WU still getting rotation these days. I also think Alicia Keys and Jill Scott are wonderful. Missy Elliot is dope in her own way, that's pretty much it.

Hip-hop is the catalyst for a lot of the action that goes down in @Large, and I was hoping you'd give us a taste of who and what might be on a theoretical "Soundtrack to @Large". (If you've got specific tracks in mind that's cool, if not just throw some artists at me.)
I wouldn't mind seeing some of those artists I just named, but I would also like to see some of the more old-school heads like the Beastie Boys, and Masta Ace�shit, even Roxanne Shante would be fresh, bring back the old school. Seriously, though, KRS 1 would have to be involved being that he did so much for the game, and he was also a graffiti artist. Those are a few right off the top I can think of.

On top of being incredibly talented, you are also incredibly intelligent. I know you've got some solid political views, and since this is an election year, we've been giving everybody we interview a chance to speak their mind. I was hoping you might grace us with your thoughts on the current administration and the future of America.
Well, to be truthful, I would just like to say that I don't support this administration. There are many things I could point to that would make me sound like a conspiracy nut that I won't go into here, but for the sake of this interview, I'll just say that I hope we get a new President in November.

    » Buy @Large at Tokyopop.com.

Comments

hi guys nice stuff well my name is ahmed can u grifitie my name and send me it at ahmed3212333@yahoo.com

Posted by: ahmed at September 22, 2007 5:44 AM
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