Pen-and-ink representin'

Chilltown's comic hip-hop milieu is drawn into the real world.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Ki became a fan of hip hop because hip hop is a style of music she believes cannot be co-opted and watered down the way other forms of black music have been in the past.

Y'all talkin' 'bout those l'il hip hop cartoons be steady hangin' out in Chilltown? Professor G and them? That midget wannabe gangster K-Deuce? That Cousin Itt-lookin, blonde dreadlock-wearin boy Plad? Mad-minded Marv? Lele, with the nails of a million miles? Her best friend Winonie, with the hair of a million styles?

They a dope l'il crew and all that, but it ain't the same old comics, yo. These characters from straight out the 'hood. Ain't like nothin you never seen before. Check, it's an all new day, dog, and Chilltown comics comin straight outta New York with that new horizon under lockdown.

Yo, Ki? Girl, you done thrown a bomb out here with this thang. You 'bout to blow up like Hiroshima in a box, you know what I'm sayin?

Once upon a time in these here not-quite-yet-but-tryin-to-be United States, there were places where cartoons were afraid to go. Places where Superman would get turned out like a trick for wearin that silly-assed outfit. What kinda superhero wears blue tights with itty-bitty fire engine red hip-hugger briefs on the outside? And those knee-high matching red boots? Man, please. Homeboy be lucky if he got out the neighborhood with his cape still on lookin like that talkin' 'bout who he gonna save. Better save his own ass first. Don't worry 'bout that Kryptonite, G, worry 'bout how you gonna get outta town.

Besides, you know the man's a playa hater, and that's the one thing ain't allowed in Chilltown. This ain't for punks, wannabes or fakes. If you lookin' for Casper, he don't live here. This ain't about ghosts, it's about what's real. And funny. And hip. And urban. And new. And it's definitely about targeting the under-25 crowd. Past that? Unless you down like George Clinton, you liable to start buggin'.

So check the slogan: "Chilltown: where MAD is scared to go."

OK, here's the standard English for all the squares in the house.

Chilltown's creator, Ki, started putting together ideas for a hip-hop comic book nearly four years ago. Now, girlfriend's standin' on the verge of giving the hip-hop community its first successful cast of cartoon characters. She is one of this year's few recipients of the much-coveted Xeric grant for the the best self-published independent comic book. She has a distribution deal with Diamond, the world's largest distributor of comic books. There's been interest from television for a possible series. Considering the impact of hip hop on American culture, Chilltown is long overdue.

Before she became a creator of comics, Ki, now in her mid-30s, was an accomplished keyboardist who played with Art Blakey, Dizzy Gillespie, Chuck Berry and others. After more than a decade, she began to tire of the scene.

"The creative energy that made me get into it (music) in the first place kind of eroded," she says.

Ki became a fan of hip hop because hip hop is a style of music she believes cannot be co-opted and watered down the way other forms of black music have been in the past. The roots in the street run too deep which, ironically, is what makes it so appealing to the hundreds of thousands of young suburban white kids who comprise rap's largest consumer base.

To say that Ki has been consumed with the project would be an understatement.

"I'm doing everything myself, basically," she says, which includes promotion, mailings, design -- and creating the Web site where the characters will soon be found at Ki plans a totally interactive room where visitors will be able to hang out with the Chilltown Comics crew -- in a virtual reality sort of way.

"I completely designed the characters, and that's a hard thing because I'm not an artist," she says.

So she hired several top-notch artists who have done work for such well-known publishers as Marvel Comics to help put her dream on the page. Because she has transported the Chilltown characters around inside her for so long, she knows each one right down to the last detail. There's K-Deuce, a wannabe rap star always trying to hook himself up a record deal. Plad, whose face is hidden behind blonde dreadlocks, is a nod to rap's Caucasian audience and the author of his own comic book within a comic book called Reck. The mad scientist, Professor G, created the scent, Eau D'Splang, with many more creations to come in future episodes. ("-- it's a substance that changes anythang that's stank into your own personal favorite smell," is how the professor explains it all to K-Deuce, his little brother.)

Then there's Lele, with nails as long as most folks' arm, who talks nonstop, mostly to her best friend Winonie, whose hairstyles change constantly from resembling the Empire State Building one day to a peacock the next.

So, yeah, it's a different kinda neighborhood. But yo, if you down with hip hop? Check it out, G.


Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail him at [email protected].

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