With the release of 2000 AD Regened Volume 3, the gloriously exciting all-ages version of the Galaxy’s Greatest, on 15 March, we’re not only getting a collection containing all the usual greatness of all the Regened strips we’ve seen in the quarterly 2000 AD Regened Progs, but we’re also getting something absolutely, completely new and never before seen, a Regened collection exclusive that brings back one of the earliest 2000 AD strips in a new, bold and bright reimagining.

Yes, it’s Harlem Heroes! But it ‘aint the Harlem Heroes your grandma’s going to remember!

(The return of Harlem Heroes – Page 1 – You’ve got to love that ‘Ask Your Grandma)

Harlem Heroes is a stone-cold 2000 AD classic – debuting in Prog 1 and running through the first 27 Progs. Created by Pat Mills, Tom Tully, Carlos Trigo, and Dave Gibbons, the simple concept of an all-black team playing the brutal 21st Century sport Aeroball was both trail-blazing and mould-breaking.

But that was then and this is now – which is why it’s perfect to get a couple of exciting new creators reinventing and reinvigorating the classic, Ramzee and Korinna Mei Veropoulou.

This new Harlem Heroes – just 6 pages long – manages to be true to the old whilst being something all-new, perfect for all-ages, just the same as classic 2000 AD always was, challenging those kids who wanted something cutting-edge and different. It’s packed with all the action of the original but gives you so much more, focusing on a brand-new Harlem Heroes team, led by Justice Academy drop-out Gem Giant, who’s got just one thing on their mind – Aeroball! It’s bold, it’s bright, it looks fantastic and there’s plenty of scope to see this one run and run.

So, we figured it was time to sit down and chat with the writer and artist on these new Harlem Heroes, Ramzee and Korinna.

(More from Harlem Heroes page 1 – the game begins!)

Ramzee, Korinna, nice to talk to you. Hope you’re both doing well in these weird times.

I suppose the best way to begin is to ask you to give us your take on Harlem Heroes – the return!

RAMZEE: Aeroball has become an elite sport for the world’s most richest clubs, who can only be seen by expensive pay-per-view. Gem Giant, the great grandchild of Harlem Heroes legendary captain John Giant, drops out of the Academy of Judges to reform the Harlem Heroes and bring Aeroball back to the people.

You’re only working with a small page count, but the strip has to do a lot of things – introduce the characters, the world, the Aeroball set-up, create a dynamic, establish the tension – AND acknowledge all that had gone before.

RAMZEE: Having a vague familiarity with it – I only knew that it was a sports comic that Dave Gibbons once drew – I got my hands on the old Harlem Heroes collection and my process is scientific – read the stories then reverse engineer them to learn how they worked and used my findings as a template for how to tell a Harlem Heroes story.

(Korinna’s character sheets for Harlem Heroes)

And Korinna, the art here is something completely different from anything we’ve seen with Harlem Heroes in the past, vibrant, bright, and so colourful. It’s very much the fresh reboot that brings the series and the characters into the now.

What was the thinking with the direction you went with it?

Korinna Veropoulou: My immediate thought after receiving the brief was “oh my god finally I get to do an Eyeshield 21!”. I don’t follow sports but I’m a sucker for a well-written sports manga and Eyeshield is by far my favourite! The characters, the art, the incredible pacing and dynamism helped familiarise me and actually get me invested in a sport I never had any previous interest with (American football). 

Since we were working with a made-up sport, my main mission for Harlem Heroes was to make it exciting to readers like me who normally don’t consume much sports media.  Creating a fun cast of characters was what I spent the majority of my time doing in the planning stages. It was important to me that they all looked diverse enough design-wise so that they’d be easily distinguishable when “in uniform” and they have chemistry with each other because who doesn’t love a good wholesome story about camaraderie and friendship?

Korinna was good enough to send along her quite beautiful character designs and her process images for the strip. We’ll give you small images to get the idea here, but stick around till the end of the article to see them in their full-sized glory!

(And more of Korinna’s wonderfully vibrant character sheets for Harlem Heroes)

How did it all come about? Was it something you pitched first or did Joko-Jargo get in touch about working on it?

RAMZEE: I got a telepathic mail from Joko-Jargo (AKA Olivia Hicks) about pitching a new Harlem Heroes story – which I was obvs totally down for and I put forward Korinna in the discussion about the artist for the book – I sent over some art Korinna drew for a project that we worked on that didn’t get off the ground, and wonderfully, Korinna was given the green light to illustrate it and then I knew that the comic was gonna be awesome – I just had to make sure to create a story that will fire her up to draw and write lines that readers would find exciting and funny to read.

KV: I feel so lucky because I was approached directly by Ramzee before getting in contact with our editor Olivia, I felt like I didn’t have to do anything and it just kinda fell into my lap! I’m so thankful to be involved, this project came during a time where I was feeling quite low about myself and my career, it definitely felt like a culmination of all the work I had put in up to that point.

I met Ramsey during either MCM comic on or Thought Bubble when I first started doing comics. I’d previously heard of his work from our comics buddies Shane Melisse and Sajan Rai, they always spoke very highly of him so I remember being very excited when we finally met irl!

(Korinna’s roughs and inks for page 1 of Harlem Heroes)

It’s unusual in that it’s an exclusive brand-new story in Regened Volume 3, the first one to be included in a collection that hasn’t been in the Regened Progs.

RAMZEE: The comic debuting as a collected edition exclusive is really smart because not only does it act like an incentive to buy for magazine readers but it’s something extra for book readers who don’t read magazines/comics.

KV: I didn’t think about it too much, when I get a cool script to work off of I get tunnel vision and pool all my focus into making the most kickass art I can within the limitations I’m given. 

Of course, Harlem Heroes is one of those iconic legacy 2000 AD strips, part of the early DNA of the comic – but the pair of you are WAY too young to be aware of any of that!

So, given that you definitely weren’t reading it when it started, how did you approach doing this reboot/reinvention?

RAMZEE: My approach to writing this project was two-tiered. I wanted to write a story that delivered on the madcap future sports action of the original iteration – staying true to the absurdity, ultra-violence and social commentary (sports commercialism and Roman Empire-like brutality of television).

But I also wanted to reflect today’s vision of the future and not that of the 1970s. One that reaches beyond race to include other genders and leans into black sci-fi traditions such as Afrofuturism in the look of the characters.

Olivia, Korinna and I were all keen to have a nonbinary team leader and that’s how Gem Giant as born. We didn’t explicitly point to it but we had it expressed through Gem’s gender presentation and pronouns whenever they are referred to.

(Korinna’s roughs and inks for page 2 of Harlem Heroes)

And what did you think of the original Harlem Heroes?

RAMZEE: I thought that the original Harlem Heroes comic was a very brash and exciting sci-fi sports comic that had the very British sensibility of not taking itself too seriously and being absurd and tongue-in-cheek. There are even deep moments like when the Heroes visited the Museum of Sport and learned about their opponents, the Flying Scotsmen, fictitious working class history of the oil men of Scotland. Oh, and the cliffhangers were bonkers amazing!

KV: I’m gonna be honest, I had never heard of or read Harlem Heroes before Ramzee approached me to work with him on it. It came as a surprise because the premise of the story felt quite ahead of its time as there mustn’t be many comics from the 70s featuring an all-black cast. What I think worked in our favour is the amazing source material we had to draw from, Dave Gibbons is one of the GOATs so it made it much easier for me to draw inspiration and visual reference from his work.

Unsurprisingly it’s a bit dated by today’s standards, eg I found it a bit difficult to distinguish between the characters as they didn’t have as much variation between them as I’d like. This made it easier to choose what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to do differently.

The main challenge working with an all-black cast not being black myself was to create characters that felt “real” and not just slap on a darker skin tone and call it a day. Unfortunately, this highlighted there was a big gap in my art education that I didn’t realise I lacked until the last minute. It is very important to me that I do my best to depict diversity as realistically and respectfully as I can. I’ve still got a long way to go but I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of the most talented (and in my humble opinion) most groundbreaking artists of colour working in the industry today. In particular I remember meeting Ghanaian artist Gyimah Gariba at TCAF a few years ago. He talked about his mission to create new shorthand for black features, which is evident both in his animation and comics work (Shortbox’s Navel Gazer is a beautiful example of just that) . So I thought hell yeah, that sounds awesome I’m gonna try my best to my make it my mission too!

It’s a gloriously self-contained short, but one that also opens things up for the future. I’m presuming you’re hard at work planning the glorious future for the Harlem Heroes and their ascent into Aeroball stardom?

KV: Maybe we’re working on some new stuff… hehe!

RAMZEE: Our lips are sealed lol!

I certainly think it’s got the potential to not only go for an extended run in Regened, but it’s also the sort of Regened strip that could easily make the transition through to 2000 AD itself.

Now, for those who aren’t aware of you – let’s do a little ‘who the heck are you?’ here!

Ramzee, readers might know you from the reboot of Cat Girl in the Tammy & Jinty Special. And Korinna, you’re the creator of The Adventures Of Croblin. But how did you get your start? And what have you worked on so far?

RAMZEE: I got my start making small press comics. I was nominated for a British Comic Award, and one of my comics caught the attention of an editor at Rebellion who asked me to pitch for Tammy and Jinty and that was my first shot at the Big Time lol!

KV: I started doing comics quite late in my art career despite the fact that it’s been my “dream job” since I was a child. I made my first comic in 2015, a tiny little 6 page horror story called SAPRO and eventually worked my way up to longer stories. I’ve done a few self-published titles like SAPRO 1 & 2, sci-fi story LDN2050 and of course my webcomic Adventures of Croblin. I also worked on anthology projects as part of a collective such as Comic Book Slumber Party’s Escape from Bitch Mountain as well as more recently Smutcomic, a collection of smutty stories by female-identifying and non-binary artists from Greece.

Korinna, let’s talk about your art a little more here. How do you work? Digital? Old-school, a combination of both?

KV: I work exclusively digitally these days, 7 years of living and working in tiny flats in London doesn’t make it easy to work traditionally! I use sketchbooks to sketch and plan everything out before moving onto my trusty iPad Pro to do the rest.

Can you give us an idea of the process of putting together a page?

KV: My process is pretty straightforward. I start by studying the script, I like to rewrite it by hand on a piece of paper highlighting bits I want emphasise or tweak. It really helps to visualise how the story is gonna flow which makes creating the panel layout a bit less daunting. I try to condense as much as I can into as few panels possible to ensure everything is readable and dynamic, this usually happens in the thumbnail phase. Then I put down the layout and the text on my “canvas” to see how much space I have to work with before moving on to pencils, inks and finally colours. Inking is my favourite part of the process, it’s what I look forward to the most!

We’ve touched on this above, but what was the thinking on making it so dazzling and different?

KV: Because it’s fun! I love colour and I love action so I just wanted to have as much fun as possible every step of the way.

In terms of Regened in particular and kids comics in general, what are your thoughts on where we’re at and where we might be going?

RAMZEE: Kids comics – middle grade and YA, are flying off the shelves and are on the top seller lists. Libraries are keen on them too. It’s not all superhero stuff like Ms Marvel but also fantasy like Hilda and Witch Boy and also a lot of coming-of-age queer content which is very close to my heart.

KV: I really struggle to keep up with the latest releases so I’m definitely no expert at predicting what the industry is gonna look like in the future. I will say that I definitely think kids should read more comics and the industry should cater to that. As a European who was raised on a steady diet of Asterix it came as a huge surprise to me that a large majority of people in the UK didn’t read comics as kids.

With Harlem Heroes, plus your other all-ages work, how do you go about constructing something that’s perfectly all-ages?

KV: Whenever I create work for a particular age group I always start by asking myself “what would I have LOVED to see at that age?” and go from there. 

One of the things I try to keep in mind as I work on stories for a younger audience is to make them age-appropriate without patronising the audience, kids are smart and will know when something isn’t up to par!

RAMZEE: I go into Toonami Mode! Lol! I watched a lot of cartoons growing up and still watch a lot of anime and animated shows like The Owl House and Final Space – and on top of that reading stuff like Squirrel Girl and Miles Morales: Spider-Man and so can very easily slip into the All-Ages creative headspace. But I think what set 2000 AD apart from its inception, even Regened, is that it’s an edgier kind of all-ages book. They stuck out from the other comics in the market because they recognised that young readers like a little transgression, a drop of punk in their stories that kept them being too squeaky clean.

Okay, a few old standards… Ramzee, I know we did a bit of this with the Cat Girl interview, but always good to do it all over again!

What are your formative comics? How did you get into the medium?

RAMZEE: I discovered Tintin comics when I came to live in the UK as a 5-year-old. I loved them. Herge – a Belgian! – taught me English! lol I was then big into 90s X-Men and The Flash as well as early Image but when I discovered Manga it was game over and its been my major comics diet but I still read a bunch of American comics – Brian K Vaughan is my favourite comics writer ever.

KV: Oh god where do I begin? One of the best things about growing up in Greece is that comics are sold LITERALLY on every street corner, so I’ve been reading them since infancy. The bedrock of my practice is the franco-Belgian masters (Asterix, Lucky Luke, Tintin, etc), the Italian teen comic W.I.T.C.H., and Donald Duck Comics, Don Rosa’s work in particular. After that, I discovered Manga at the age of 13, read anything and everything I could get my hands on! 

My top 10 changes depending on the day but some of my all-time favs include Akira, Dorohedoro, Ron Wimberly’s Prince of Cats and anything touched by Moebius! Oh, and Tank Girl, I read a lot of Tank Girl

And what about 2000 AD?

LV: I got into western comics late and only started reading UK comics when I moved to London in 2010. The first 2000 AD title I bought was Alan Moore And Alan Davis’ DR & Quinch and I’m slowly growing my collection from there. I’ve always loved 2000 AD’s vibes, aside from including some of the most talented UK artist there’s a unique humour and edginess you don’t see from our American colleagues.

Also – Dredd is the best superhero film ever made and I will die on this hill 

RAMZEE: I got into 2000 AD in my early 20s when I started to venture out of my comics bubble. Unlike the grim and serious sci-fi comics of that era, 2000 AD had a sense of humour and a twist in every tale.

What about influences on your creative work- who or what lit the creative fire under you to get you doing what you’re doing now?

LV: God there’s too many to list, but as cheesy as it sounds it’s all my fellow artists that keep the flames going! I’m so lucky to be part of such a vibrant and supportive community in the UK, Greece as well as globally. Comics is a solitary, demanding, and, frankly, thankless medium but it’s so comforting that we all root for each other and cheer each other on!

RAMZEE: My biggest influence was going to my first small press show in 2011. It both blew my mind and lit a fire under my arse to make comics. I didn’t come out of my creative cave with my first comic efforts until 2015. Still, the UK small comics scene is very inspiring to me and such a lovely, awkward community.

Finally, as always, feel free to go deep on whatever you have on the cards for the future – new projects? More Harlem Heroes?

RAMZEE: Fingers crossed, more Harlem Heroes. I’m writing and in talks about a few projects that I’m too chicken to talk about in case they evaporate for whatever reason, so I’ll say the safe thing: Watch!

LV: The current state of the world keeps forcing me to change my priorities every two weeks so I tend to go with the flow these days. What I want for the future is to work on as many fun and exciting projects as I can while preserving my sanity and wellbeing. Oh and more convention after-parties, I love those!

Y’know, that’s a damn fine way to end right there – we could all do with following Korinna’s example and doing our best to preserve sanity and wellbeing! And yes, it will be great to get back to convention after-parties!

(Regened Volume 3 – Cover by Nick Roche, colours by Gary Caldwell)

Thank you so much to both Ramzee and Korinna for talking to us. If you want more from Ramzee, he talked to us here about the recent reinvention of Cat Girl and you can find out more from both of them at their websites and socials – Ramzee’s website, Twitter. Korinna’s website, Twitter.

You can find this brand-new, action-packed, and all exciting Harlem Heroes in 2000 AD Regened Volume 3, which comes out on 15 March. And if you want to catch up with the original Aeroball action, you can find the Complete Harlem Heroes at the 2000 AD web shop.

And finally, be sure to scroll down to see full-sized versions of all of Korinna’s process art and character designs!

And now the process pages from Korinna – Page 1, roughs, inks, colours and finished page…

And from Page 2 – roughs, inks, colours…