Meet the cartoonist behind ‘Detective Boogaloo, Hip-Hop Cop’

Jamar Nicholas, 42, is a West Philly native and current resident of the Oak Lane neighborhood who grew up aspiring to be a cartoonist.

”I’ve never wanted to do anything else,” he said.

He attended CAPA High School with members of Boyz II Men and The Roots — whose success reinforced his dedication, he said. “People do accomplish what they set out to do. Not everything is a daydream.”

Nicholas, who has been creating comics since 1997, studied animation at University of the Arts before focusing on his comics full-time.

He adapted Geoffrey Canada’s famed memoir “Fist Stick Knife Gun” into a graphic novel, and expects to publish “Leon: Protector of the Playground” this fall. He also works as an adjunct professor at Drexel University, Moore College of Art and Design and Arcadia University.

Currently, Nicholas’ is publishingDetective Boogaloo: Hip-Hop Cop,a neo-noir serialized comic strip that is being printed right here in Metro. It’s a story set in 2002 about a break-dancing detective investigating a rapper named “Ice Tre,” who somewhat resembles Nelly.

Metro caught up with Nicholas to hear about his outlook on the world of comics and his response to critics of his work.

What is the genre of your work?
Detective Boogaloo is basically a hip hop soap opera. That scratches one of my creative itches, because I’m a Philly kid who grew up in the 70s in the beginning of hip hop, so this is my love letter to hip hop that mixes that in, and also outrageous characters with superpowers . You can kind of think of it like a hip-hop version of Dick Tracy.
Why are you publishing it one strip a day?
The way people ingest this kind of entertainment has changed over time; from newspaper strips to comic books, now people read things on Kindles, iPads. I still think there’s something very important and approachable about having comics in the newspaper. To me, it’s definitely a challenge … you have this really small space every day to tell a story — and end it on something interesting. Also, not all comics have a punchline at the end. I enjoy the challenge of creating stories that are funny in a different way than you’re used to reading.
It’s not the fat cat who hates Mondays and likes lasagna . Those aren’t the stories I want to tell.
It seems like your style could be described as cartoony, why is that?
I enjoy being able to fudge the laws of the universe that I’ve created.
There’s a trend in comics right now where everyone draws these hyper-realistic superheroes and it looks kind of dull.
Has working as a black cartoonist caused more challenges for you?
The way I look at it is, if something didn’t work out for me, do I blame the fact that I’m black? Or that I did the wrong thing for the wrong people? You just don’t know. I’ve tried to live my life in thinking that not everything is going to work for all people and you just need to keep throwing things at the wall until something sticks.
I’ve seen that thought process bury people — ‘Oh, they’re holding me back.’ It haunts people into submission. Or they say, ‘That’s something I can’t approach so I’m not going to try.’ I’m not going to think in those terms.
Metro has heard some readers complain that Detective Boogaloo shows stereotypical images of African Americans. How do you respond to that?
I understand, at face value, you see an image and it upsets you, but at the same time, if you can understand the context, things will make more sense.
If you open up the Metro to my comic and see a rapper with a gold chain, you could say ‘Where are the positive images?’ wherein you’re reacting to a character with a unique voice in a bigger story. There is balance in my work.
I’ve done work about anti-bullying and positive black images. It offended me to think that someone would believe I would do something so negative and put it out into the world with nothing else behind it. That was a shock to me.
Everybody has an opinion. I just hope you give it a chance. … My work is like that, you just have to ride with it for a little bit.
Meanwhile: the Black Panther film is set for release in 2018. What do you think about the state (or lack) of mainstream black superheroes?
One of the battle cries of comic book fans is people of color aren’t represented in mainstream comics — when are we going to get this?
I’ve gone on the record to say, if you’re waiting for Disney, this huge mega-corporation to pander to you, you might be waiting for a long time. You’re waiting for your favorite super hero to be black suddenly? I know scores of artists who have comics about black heroes. Why don’t you check that out? There are new voices that are trying to get you to hear them.
The Black Panther movie — that’s cool, I’m glad to hear that’s happening at some point, but I’m not winding my watch by that. I have my own stuff, I’m doing my own work.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.