Q&A: Percy Carey (writer of Sentences: the life of MF Grimm)

Hip hop has always had a connection to comic books, with super hero references slipping into songs and the mini comic Outkast inserted in their ATLiens release. All the same, last week’s publication of Sentences (Vertigo, $19.99) marks a new level of relationship between the two.

A true hip hop autobiography, the book relates the life story of Percy Carey, better known as underground emcee legend MF Grimm, through the many trials and tribulations he faced. The book begins in 1994, as Carey and his brother were shot on the way to meet with record execs. Instead of a record deal, Carey ended up paralyzed. His brother died.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketCarey struggled for several more years, selling drugs and guns, finally ending up in prison. There, he decided to struggle to better himself and those around him. In a recent exclusive interview, we talked about the story behind the story.

Jean-Claude Van Doom: I guess we can safely call this the first hip hop autobiographical graphic novel. How did you come to decide to tell your story in that way?

Percy Carey: The credit goes to my editor [at Vertigo]. Casey Seijas spoke with me and gave me the ability to get it accomplished. He really knew my story already. He was a follower of my music. Took me step by step and taught me the format. It was done by him reaching out to me and giving me the opportunity.

For you to say it’s the first of its kind, that’s a blessing to me. A lot of my life is the first of its kind. Finally I’ve found something I’m capable of getting accomplished. I recently made and distributed the first independent triple CD, with 60 songs. Every time I’ve done something, it’s out of, I want to say desperation to a degree. Before I met Casey, I couldn’t see tomorrow. He’s extended my life. I see a great future in the comic book industry.

JCVD: Had you ever read graphic novels or comic books before?

PC: I grew up reading Superman, DC, Batman. I always had a fascination for the Hulk. I never assumed that that would be something I would one day do. I’m just happy to be part of that.

JCVD: How did Casey approach you with the idea?

PC: He asked me to write about my life. My life, I found it very boring. He said, “No, it’s not boring. You just got to sit down and do exactly like you do with your music.” I realized there’s a lot of similarities. It became easy to get it done. But the true magic is to edit.

JCVD: What did you think of it once it was finished? What did you think of the art?

PC: The artwork is amazing. It lived up. I’m very proud. I’m proud to be part of Verigo. I’m very happy to still be alive today to teach others not to make mistakes I made. My arrogance. My ignorance.

JCVD: Your story is a hard one. There’s a lot of bad stuff in this book, both bad things happening to you and you doing bad things yourself. Was it hard to be that forthcoming about what you’ve been through?

PC: It became easier to go through it. One of the reasons I’m still on the planet is to learn humility. Being vain and arrogant, it will cloud your vision. It was a process I needed to go through. It was more therapeutic to express all the trials and tribulations I’ve gone through.

JCVD: The writing style was very direct, I thought, almost like journal entries. Why did you decide to go that route, as opposed to being more lyrical?

PC: I feel that my music, my style is very straightforward. Today’s type of emcees, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with them. I have a very simple style. I just like to keep it simple. I feel I made the proper transition from music to writing a graphic novel without leaving my essence — releasing my energy into the world and expressing what I see and what I feel. It feels like I’ve accomplished that.

I have a lot to learn within the comic book industry. But I do respect the medium to the fullest. If it’s worthy, I thank everyone. If it’s read by those that can get something out of it, then my job is done.

JCVD: With the book being so focused on hip hop and gang culture, how do you think people from very different backgrounds will be able to relate to what you write?

PC: To overcome adversity, to have the will to continue to live, to go forward when you’re told you can’t, or when you tell yourself you can’t. I think that’s something that’s all over the globe. It’s everyone’s story. You can alter it, you can change up the scenario. But it’s about struggle.

There’s so many young ones that are going through so much more than what I’ve been through. You can match it up to anyone. I’m a strong believer that everyone’s problems in life is equivalent.

JCVD: I know you’re trying to reach out to kids who are coming up, tempted with the same things that you faced. How hard is it to connect with them, to overcome that environment?

PC: The only thing you can do is give help or advice or information and hope that people receive it. I can say it’s something that is desperately needed. I’m part of the problem, you know. What the generation now is doing or not doing, I had the opportunity when I was their age to make a change. I chose to go into temptation and be selfish. What’s going on now, it’s hard for me to reprimand them. I’m still part of the problem. I have to change that before I can say what they should be doing or shouldn’t be doing.

It’s too easy for the emcees or whatever to turn around and say what the young emcees today aren’t doing. Nobody wants to take blame. There was a lot of positive emcees in the ’80s, ’90s, but they didn’t get coverage. They didn’t get support. Now it’s out of control because it’s a big business. When it first originated, it was just about a voice.

JCVD: Your lyrics from songs that are included in the book are pretty rough, both in language and content. Do you ever wish you could go back and change that?

PC: I’ve had time to experience things that changed me. Being around little children. Seeing how easily they’re influenced. People tried to manipulate my way of thinking. My lyrics hopefully were a reflection of what I’d done, or what I was doing or what was being done to me.

You gotta be careful when you time travel back, because you don’t know what you alter. What I got out of it created what I am today.

JCVD: One of the hardest parts of the book of course is your brother Jay’s death. After that, it was interesting that instead of letting police handle the case, you let justice come from the streets. It seemed like that was one thing in the book that you weren’t apologetic about. Do you still feel that way?

PC: It was focused on me being a human and my human emotions of dealing with that circumstance. What I was trying to get out [in the book] was that there was a thought process. I thought it out. Those were human emotions. I thought my life was over. It was a different time, a different era, a different way of thinking.

I don’t want to just be apologetic about everything in my life. Whether it was negative, positive, it’s about what can I contribute to the planet? That’s what I feel it’s focused on. You can still do things, no matter what. I can’t make no apology for the way I was thinking.

It’s like if you bump your elbow, and your arm hurts 15 years later. I’m not in pain. I’m beautiful. I don’t have those types of angers anymore. My anger is more focused on my need to educate myself. This is something I neglected for so long. I owe it to them to bless myself and educate myself.

JCVD: Beyond this book and music, what do you do to spread your message?

PC: I go to schools. I talk on career day about entrepreneurship, distribution. I go to hospitals. I’m working to help other people who are parapalegic or who suffer from paralysis. I think I do it more for me. They make me feel an energy. The world is designed at the moment to make you forget about people quickly.

JCVD: Do you think you’ll keep working in comics?

PC: I’ll do more with Vertigo of course. Also, I’m entering the realm of film. I see a future beyond music. I’m working on an animated film called Crumbs –- with cookies and candy that’s actually alive, a creative world in an urban setting. I’m more focused on going into the realm of fantasy.

JCVD: Thanks again to Percy for the interview. If you haven’t already, check out Sentences.