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Shaler illustrator achieves childhood dream

| Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
Jim Rugg
Jim Rugg
Street Angel is a graphic novel series.
Street Angel is a graphic novel series.
Street Angel is a graphic novel series.
Street Angel is a graphic novel series.
Street Angel is a graphic novel series.
Street Angel is a graphic novel series.

Jim Rugg said when he and Brian Maruca created Street Angel in 2003, they strived to create a fun graphic novel series with a protagonist unlike others in the comic scene.

Rugg of Glenshaw describes Spiderman and Batman as “very morose and solid and just these whiny guys.” He pointed out that Peter Parker has this attitude, “despite having been married to a supermodel and having defeated every villain.”

Enter redheaded Jesse “Street Angel” Sanchez, “a homeless ninja on a skateboard and the deadliest girl alive.”

“She’s an underdog; people relate to an underdog. She’s good-natured. I don’t know who wouldn’t cheer for her, and we combine that with a protagonist that is easy to identify with, who is marginalized,” said Rugg, 41, who illustrates the series, in addition to co-writing it.

In “Street Angel vs Ninjatech” (Image Comics), due out in early November, Street Angel seeks revenge upon Ninjatech, a company that manufactured her enemy’s weapons. Readers will glimpse what “bring your daughter to work day” is like within the “ninja industrial complex,” in the graphic novel containing a fight between Street Angel and the robotic “Ninja6000: Assassin of the Future.”

Like the series’ other books, Street Angel’s setting is Wilkesborough, a crime-ridden neighborhood within Angel City.

Originally from Connellsville, Rugg said that he was around 12 when he gained his cartoonist career aspirations. His comic influences include: Frank Miller , Erik Larsen , David Lapham , Jack Kirby , David Mazzuchelli and Mike Mignola . Furthermore, he said that falling in love with Pittsburgh impacted his work.

“Whenever I grew up in kind of a town, all of the superheroes were in cities,” he said. “Cities for me were just massive entertainment. Pittsburgh on weekends — I would just get up and explore the city and neighborhoods and buildings, and I loved the architecture here.”

Maruca, 45, of Point Breeze said the oversized hardcover touches upon “how beige” one’s life may get within the corporate world.

“Street Angel vs Ninjatech,” with its reds, teals and yellows, is hardly beige from a color standpoint. Rugg said that, as a child, he loved bright comics featuring superheroes wearing colorful costumes.

After earning a bachelor of fine arts in painting and graphic design from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Rugg accepted a graphic design position with a Pittsburgh manufacturing company. It was there that he met Maruca, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate, who continues to work as a technical writer at the business.

“He’s really good at comics as a whole and far more thoughtful about the process than I ever am. I just try to make sure I keep him amused enough to keep me around,” joked Wilkes-Barre-native Maruca of his collaboration with Rugg.

Slave Labor Graphics published the first five Street Angel issues. AdHouse Books published a hardcover 10th anniversary edition in 2014. While attending San Diego Comic-Con International as a guest, he landed a publishing deal after pitching Image Comics representatives ideas for future Street Angel comics. Part of what appeals to him about Image Comics is that the company’s artists retain ownership rights of their material.

“This is literally the culmination of my childhood dream — you know, (owning) my own character.”

“Street Angel vs Ninjatech” is available for preorder from Amazon, and at local stores Phantom of the Attic, New Dimension Comics, The Copacetic Comics Co. or anywhere else books are sold.

Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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