For February, the Audiences Everywhere Book Club (#AEBookclub) chose Ron Wimberly’s Prince of Cats as their book. The novel, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet through the eyes of Tybalt and set in ’80s Brooklyn, has proven to be a popular choice among members of the club for its fusion of hip-hop, Japanese swordplay, and Shakespeare. We sat down with/emailed the artist and writer to ask him a few questions about his book, career, and who he would like to soundtrack the movie adaptation.
Sean Fallon (AE): How did Prince of Cats come about? What was your inspiration to adapt Shakespeare in this style?
Ron Wimberly: I’ve answered this question in a few prior interviews, so I am gonna take a different angle this time. I’m also not 100% sure of what you mean by “style”. Prince of Cats was my first shot at a graphic novel on my own. It contains a lot of themes from my childhood and my personal creative development. I’ve always been interested in the underrepresented in stories, so Tybalt was a great medium for me to tell this sort of story.
AE: Who are some of your influences in terms of art and writing?
RW: This is also a broad, maybe redundant question. I think you can see and read my influences by looking carefully at the art.
AE: At what age did you find yourself discovering Shakespeare?
RW: I had a teacher, Mr. Boss at Montrose Baptist in Rockville Maryland. I was a sophomore in high school I think. But my first experience with Shakespeare was indirect; I saw Kurosawa’s Ran on cable television, an international channel. It wasn’t in English. I had no idea I was watching King Lear.
AE: Tybalt is a bit of a cipher within the original play with only a handful of scenes. What drew you to him as a character to base this story around?
RW: The space there, the ambiguity, was an opportunity. Also, not only is this narrative of a young, violent, gangster a part of my culture at large, I have known this character or seen this character move through my life . . . maybe through myself, not to the extent of Tybalt, but in a way that many young men perform their masculinity and their loyalty.
AE: Similarly, what drew you to Romeo & Juliet as a play to adapt?
RW: I feel like this is a question I have answered so many times before, and I am never sure if there is much value to be gleaned from answering it that I don’t know how to answer it anymore. From the beginning, I was more looking to adapt Shakespeare’s process to comics, if that was even possible. That was my purpose, my question. So I would even question this notion of adaptation as a focal point. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is an appropriation of older narratives (Arthur Brooke etc.); ultimately Romeo and Juliet was just a medium for me to explore some ideas on form and subjects. I hope that the reader can figure out the subject matter in the reading.
AE: Prince of Cats is written in iambic pentameter, verse, and rhyme. Did you find yourself speaking like that in your day to day life?
RW: I am beginning to believe that every language is influenced by the poetic conventions of that language. I’m out here in France for a couple weeks. A friend of mine is a playwright. Listening to her work, I hear a natural rhythm in the language different from English. A lot of English, when I speak, I often speak in iambs, kinda counter posed. It’s natural I think.
AE: If Prince of Cats was made into a movie which artists would you like to see on the soundtrack?
RW: Every year this answer would change. My approach would be to choose the youngest, newest, farthest on the edge of street culture and select among them. Right now it would probably be Lil Yachty, D.R.A.M, Young M.A., Asap Mob, Makonnen.
AE: Who would be your ideal director for Prince of Cats the movie?
RW: It’d be between Kahlil Joseph and Larry Clark.
AE: What projects do you have upcoming? Any plans for further Shakespeare adaptations?
RW: I have Black History in Its Own Words out right now, Gratnin on Stela, I’m still working on Sunset Park . . . I have a lot on my plate. Smaller things dropping here and there, but I’m about to disappear and get it done. This may be my last interview in a while. Haha.
Featured Image: Image Comics