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An Interview with Dmitri Jackson


Dmitri Jackson is a graphic novelist, freelance illustrator, and photographer based in St. Louis, Missouri.

Jackson’s work has been featured in the Riverfront Times, Curiosus Magazine, and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. For the past decade, he’s managed Frotoon Press, an independent publisher of personal comic narratives exploring music, politics, culture, and identity. He is the two-time winner of the North Street Book Prize for Graphic Novel & Memoir. His creative inspirations include Ben Passmore, Ralph Bakshi, Hunter S. Thompson, Spike Lee, Thelonius Monk, and The Simpsons.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Regarding art forms, animation was a huge influence on me as a kid. Like it is for ANY kid, right? Whether it was Disney, Looney Tunes, or anything on Saturday morning or in the Sunday papers, I was always fascinated by the illusion of cartoons and wanted to make my own one day. Over time, I realized I don’t quite have the patience to draw for 24 frames per second. So, I transitioned into comic strips because of the quicker gratification of creating a work and seeing it fly. Many early comic influences, too many to name here. But for starters: Calvin & Hobbes, The Boondocks, Mother Goose & Grimm, Garfield.

Regarding writing, inspiration didn’t come until my mid-late teens, when I began studying screenwriting and learning how to tell an effective narrative. That meant watching a whole lot of Turner Classic Movies, breaking down dialogue, story structure, etc. From that experience, probably the first people that made me want to write were Spike Lee, Quentin Tarantino and Woody Allen (I know that last one may sound a little non-PC to say). Spike, because he always demonstrated the power of social commentary and representation in film, emphasizing not only what you’re saying but also WHO is saying it. Quentin, because he has a great ear for dialogue and the rhythm of language. And Woody, because of his ability to mine laughs from the depths of his own neuroses.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

I’ve worked as a graphic designer, making books for a local St. Louis publisher that specialized in health literacy for teen and adults. Also have done freelance illustration and photography. I also make my own music.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

So, given the book’s subject matter, I initially wanted a title that had relevance to the current conversation around wokeness and the #MeToo movement. A lot of buzz words were floating around, and I tested out a few of them for the title. I started out with “Blackwax Boulevard Is Canceled,” but then thought that it was too on-the-nose. Then, I thought maybe “Blackwax Boulevard Can’t Even,” but realized that seemed too “meme-y.” Finally, I came to Blackwax Boulevard Is Listening. It felt just right because of the constant, cultural push for all sides to “hear” one another, to recognizes those who share their #MeToo stories. Plus, the title is more open to interpretation, as the reader follows the characters in the book and questions who is truly listening and who isn’t.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

Well, I drew the book cover! So I only found the idea after making plenty of thumbnail sketches and loved it instantly. It speaks to that sense of discomfort that people feel when they’re thrust into those cultural-war arguments, the hard conversations about what kind of world do we want to live in.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Since it takes place in a record store, the sky’s the limit! Definitely something by Miles Davis, Nirvana, The Who, A Tribe Called Quest, Beastie Boys, Stevie Wonder. I could go on and on and on!

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

When it comes to “listening” to other people, they aren’t always what they seem. There’s no such thing as absolutely perfect wokeness. Everybody’s still learning to listen, and it’s a lifelong process. So, a touch of grace goes a long way.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

This book was the result of five years writing, drawing and inking. The biggest reward is that it’s finally out there for people to enjoy.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I don’t talk about my next project until after I’ve finished it. I’m always afraid if I reveal my next idea, someone is gonna steal it. I’m very superstitious, LOL.

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