comic book cover Nat Love a Cowboy's Life written and drawn by R. Alan Brooks and colored by Lonnie MF Allen

Comic Book about Black Cowboy Nat Love

Q&A with Author & Illustrator R. Alan Brooks
comic book cover Nat Love a Cowboy's Life written and drawn by R. Alan Brooks and colored by Lonnie MF Allen
Portrait photo of R. Alan Brooks

Photo credit Joe Rogers

Would you mind sharing some of your background? How did you become an author and illustrator?

When I was 5 years old, my father, a journalist, introduced me to comic books, because he wanted to encourage a love of reading in me. From that time, I was always a dedicated fan, going to conventions in the '80s—often as the only Black person (and the only child). I spent years drawing, until about 14 years old, when I got waylaid by my love for battle-rapping. I stopped drawing, in pursuit of making hip-hop, but kept reading comics. But in 2010, I started hanging out with a local group of comics creators called the Denver Drink & Draw, and began drawing again, casually. It wasn't until 2016, however, that I decided to try out writing a graphic novel, and I have to tell you, I LOVED it! I put out my first book in 2017, and haven't looked back.

What was most striking to you about Nat Love's story, and how did you try to capture that?

I have a somewhat personal connection to this story in at least two ways. First, my mother's last name is Love. Second, my father bought me a series of Black history comic books when I was a kid, and one of them was about Nat Love! He first learned of Nat Love back when he was in college. He intended to write a book about Nat Love, but only got as far as an intended title, They Call Me Deadwood Dick. (That was a nickname that Nat Love was given.) I didn't know about the latter, until I told my father that I was writing and drawing this comic about Nat Love for the Denver Art Museum. Then he told me his excitement about this historical figure! So, I worked my father's title into the art of my comic.

Can you describe some of the aspects of your creative process? How do you begin?

I read Love's autobiography, and looked for connecting themes that I could use to distill his story down to a few pages. I noticed that, even in slavery, horses provided a way for Love to find freedom, and that trend continued throughout his entire life. I knew that I only had a limited number of pages to tell the story of this man's life, so I identified 6 major moments from his book, and decided they would be the major parts of my story. I decided to represent this by drawing those major moments as large illustrations, and then using smaller, inset comics panels to convey smaller details. It was my hope that the big moments would provide emotional anchors for the reader, and that the smaller illustrations would fill in some of the blanks.

Once I had it sufficiently scripted out, I drew rough sketches of what I wanted the pages to look like. After a few changes in that stage, I began to draw the actual pages, which took me anywhere from 8–12 hours each. I recruited my friend, comics creator Lonnie MF Allen, to do the coloring of this story, because I know him to be skilled in the area. He and I discussed the tone that I was going for, and what I wanted to convey through the colors. You may notice the presence of red in these pages. Often, because there's so much going on in the drawings, I wanted Lonnie to use red as a way to bring the reader's eye back to Love's face, and the experience that he was having. After the coloring was done, I added the lettering, and used the caption boxes as another tool to lead the reader's eye through the story.

What projects are you working on now that you're excited about?

In May of 2022, I'll have a story (that I wrote & illustrated) in a mystery anthology, called Denver Noir, by Akashic Publishing. I'll be the only graphic novelist in that book. Next year, we should be filming a movie that I wrote, and I'll be coming out with a few new graphic novels, including sequels to The Burning Metronome and Anguish Garden. I'll also be continuing my award-winning weekly comic for The Colorado Sun, called "What'd I Miss?"

About R. Alan Brooks

R. Alan Brooks teaches writing for Denver’s Regis University’s MFA program, and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. He’s the author of The Burning Metronome and Anguish Garden (graphic novels featuring social commentary), as well as his award-winning weekly comic for The Colorado Sun, “What’d I Miss?” He hosts the MotherF**ker In A Cape comics podcast, which focuses on marginalized members of the geek world, and has written comic books for Pop Culture Classroom, Zenescope Entertainment, and more. In addition, Alan is a musician and noted stage host, regularly emceeing celebrated events, like the DINK Awards Show, and Arise Music Festival, and has given a TED Talk on the importance of art.