STATIC’s Nikolas Draper-Ivey on His Anime Influences

Like many of us, Nikolas Draper-Ivey‘s earliest memories of anime and manga revolve around Dragon Ball Z. But when Draper-Ivey’s father saw his son’s interest in animation he suggested a life-changing story. “He showed me Akira at a really young age,” Draper-Ivey shared. “He was like, ‘You need to see this.'” And he was right. Katsuhiro Otomo’s iconic adaptation of his own landmark manga is still shaping the artist’s work today. In fact, Static: Season One #4 has a variant cover that pays homage to the groundbreaking movie. So we chatted with the artist about how anime and manga shaped his wider work and the fan favorite Static series he draws alongside ChrisCross, written by comics superstar Vita Ayala.

The variant cover for Static #4 shows Virgil in his original cartoon costume striding towards a manhole with the Milestone M on it and the title that says Static in both English and Japanese

DC Comics/Nikolas Draper-Ivey

After falling in love with those classic pillars of anime, Draper-Ivey found Weekly Shōnen Jump. Sure he’d read Dragon Ball, but when the beloved Japanese comics magazine came to America he suddenly found a smorgasbord of new stories. “I got into Shaman King, that was my first manga of choice. The style was so cool to me. Also Hikaru no Go, those were my two favorites. Takeshi Obata is so underrated to me. He’s got such a kinetic, fun, and influential style. He doesn’t get enough praise in my opinion.”

A page from Static shows someone dipping underneath a massive ring of fire

DC Comics/Nikolas Draper-Ivey

The action packed Shōnen stories that he loved drew Draper-Ivey in with one thing: “The stakes,” the artist enthused. “It’s the consequences these characters have to deal with. I love that about manga. When something goes wrong it just keeps escalating and it’s like, ‘Oh man, how do you deal with this?’ It doesn’t get wrapped up neatly with a bow. I love that.”

A panel from Static shows Virgil crying in front of the flaming ruins of his house

DC Comics/Nikolas Draper-Ivey

While Draper-Ivey grew up with these stories and still loves them, he had to take a step back when it came to how they influence his own work. “It’s kind of funny, because I love manga and anime. But I found that if I was gonna make my stuff stand out and let my anime and manga influences come through ,but still have my own voice, I had to not look at anime and manga,” the artist laughed. “A lot of mangaka are not sitting around reading manga all day. They’re watching movies, they’re looking at different mediums. So I let that trickle into my work and then I was able to fuse it together.”

Bringing those differing influences to Static came with one clear vision. “I knew right away I wanted it to feel cinematic, I wanted it to feel like a movie,” Draper-Ivey explained. But he also wanted to make sure it felt unique and unlike any other Big Two series. “I didn’t want to approach Static just like an American comic book. And I think in issue four you’re really going to get some panels that showcase that.” He also looked to anime studios like Studio 4°C and MAPPA. “I wanted to paint certain panels to look like keyframes of animation. Sometimes I wanted it to look like, ‘Oh, this is a screenshot of an anime.'”

A trio of characters in Static

DC Comics/Nikolas Draper-Ivey

It’s a dynamic visual choice that shines through, giving Static a wholly unique look. And one of the places that Draper-Ivey’s most obvious anime influence comes in is the vibrant fashion and character designs. But for the artist it’s all about authenticity and creating an international look from real life. He said, “I have a lot of magazines from Japan. There’s a store in New York called Kinokuniya. I’ll go there and kind of look at the fashion trends that are in Japan, but then I also combine it with the trends I see here in New York. I try to fuse that together to create something that feels kind of futuristic but also has international appeal.”

An illustration by Nikolas Draper-Ivey shows a young man wearing cool streetwear

DC Comics/Nikolas Draper-Ivey

Draper-Ivey was keen to make sure that he brought that style and influence to Static. He also wanted to subvert the idea that American comics somehow aren’t aware of anime and manga and its massive influence. His cover playing on the famed Akira poster leans into that wish. “The Akira cover came to me while I was biking,” he recalled. “I was listening to the Kaneda theme. And I was thinking, ‘How could I do something with Akira and Static?’ I got off my bike and I saw the cracked ground and I saw the manhole cover and I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ and it almost seemed too easy.”

An illustration by Nicholas Draper-Ivey shows three young people in high fashion clothes leaning against a wire fence

DC Comics/Nikolas Draper-Ivey

Rushing home to bring his design to life, Draper-Ivey wanted to make sure the piece was as close to Otomo’s work as possible. That’s what inspired the painted style and gave the cover its life. It was also important to Draper-Ivey that he satisfied fans of Static with a little nostalgic hook. He explained, “Even though he has a different costume now, I went with the one from the cartoon. That’s the one a lot of people know.”

With issue four headed to shelves and Static: Season One in full swing, Draper-Ivey also has bigger dreams for Virgil. And once again it all comes back to anime and the films he loves so much. “I really want Warner Brothers or whoever to—if they want to really do something cool—they should make an Animatrix style Milestone movie!” Now that’s something we’d really want to see!

Static: Season One #4 hits shelves October 12, 2021.

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