Talking Comic Con, Brooklyn Super Heroes, and Craft Beer with Khary Randolph, the Illustrator Behind Brooklyn Brewery’s Newest Release

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Artwork by Khary Randolph, for Brooklyn Brewery.

“A new Brooklyn Defender is among us,” reads Brooklyn Brewery’s website. The introductory sentence perches atop a snowfall of vibrant sketches, each depicting the same muscular young man, outfitted in a trailing white hood and a pair of bright red Jordans, elbows and knees cocked and ready to launch into action. This is The Brooklyn Defender, the superhero counterpart to Brooklyn Brewery’s newest release, a juicy, West Coast-style Red IPA brewed in partnership with this week’s New York Comic Con.

For the past four years, Brooklyn Brewery has been teaming up with the annual comic book convention to produce a unique, small batch beer in honor of the uber-popular event. This year, the partnership invited accomplished illustrator Khary Randolph to join the team, harnessing his superhuman creativity and artistic talent to transform The Defender from malt to muscle. The end result? A crime fighting, craft beer-sipping badass that’s a distinct reflection of his beloved borough. (And for the first time, The Defender will be available year-round and available in bottles and draft, starting in 2016.)

I spoke to a very busy Khary earlier this week about his work, his neighborhood and his role in bringing this superpowered beer to life.

Meredith Heil: Can you tell me a little bit about your background, what you do and how you came to be involved with Brooklyn Brewery?

Khary Randolph: Sure. I’m a comic book and animation artist and I’ve been working in the field since about 2003. Since I graduated from SVA in 2000, I’ve worked on stuff like X-Men, Spiderman, Teen Titans and I’m currently drawing We Are Robin for DC Comics. I’ve been going to New York Comic Con every year for the last ten years and it’s probably my favorite show, as far as conventions go. Then earlier this year, the guy that runs the Artist’s Alley for New York Comic Con, his name is Mike Neggin, he contacted me one day and said, “Listen, we’ve got this thing happening. We think you’d be a good fit for it.”

I was interested, so I got in touch with him and he was like, “Yeah, we do this Brooklyn Defender thing every year in conjunction with Brooklyn Brewery and New York Comic Con and we really want to ramp it up this year, make it even bigger.” I guess they thought I’d be game for it, that I could, kind of, bring whatever it is that I bring to things to the table. And I was just like, “Yeah, dude!” I always trust everything Mike says, just in general, so it was an automatic, “Of course, let’s do it.”

Then he put me in contact with the people over at Brooklyn Brewery and we took it from there. We brainstormed up a couple of different ideas, and eventually settled on this character who was kind of the embodiment of what I felt was my neighborhood–I live on the border of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill–and he eventually became the Brooklyn Defender.

MH: How did The Defender come to be the embodiment of your neighborhood? What was that process like?

KR: I mean, originally, we had a few different ideas. One was the Gowanus Canal Monster, which looked like this big swamp thing, like a sludge monster. That was a fun idea, but I felt like maybe it was just a little too gross and not heroic enough.

MH: I can imagine.

KR: Right. We also talked about a Coney Island mermaid-type character, but that also didn’t feel heroic enough–it was a little too fantasy-ish. And then we came up with The Defender. This guy, he’s almost like a Batman in the sense that he’s just a normal dude, down to his clothing, which is all stuff that anyone could buy in a store, nothing crazy. He’s got a little hip hop swagger to him, with the sort of Air Jordan-eque sneakers on. He’s got a hood, because… I don’t know, I just like hoods. And he’s athletic, because I’m kind of close to the Barclays Center, so I wanted someone who looked like he could be an athlete. But this is just a dude, an everyday man, who goes out and protects his neighborhood.

I just walked around my neighborhood and looked at the people around me. There’s a lot of basketball courts in my neighborhood, a lot of young, hip, urban people. I just felt like this guy would be a good fit.

MH: And how do you see him representing Brooklyn Brewery, more specifically?

KR: I mean, beside the fact that my man likes to drink? [laughs]

When I went up to Brooklyn Brewery, I saw that even though they have a great history, there’s also a real youthful energy to that whole spot. Everyone there is young, real up and comers, and they’re all pushing to create something great. This character, he wants to build himself up and be better and make better things for the people around him, the people in his community, and I just feel like Brooklyn Brewery has that same vibe.

MH: Were you familiar with the brewery before this project?

KR: I definitely was, yeah. I host an event called Drink and Draw, which is a monthly meetup for artists at a bar called Mary O’s on Avenue A between Second and Third [Streets]. Brooklyn Brewery is always on tap there, so I was well aware of the brand and I loved the beer.

MH: That sounds super fun–do you see a lot of crossover between the comic book world and beer nerds?

KR: Yeah. I mean, for one, I think to be any kind of nerd you have to have a passion for something. And if you’ve ever stepped foot into New York Comic Con, even for like five minutes, you’d know that there’s nothing but passion there–these people really, truly care about the art form. And Garrett Oliver, if you get that guy talking about beer, you can see his eyes just light up, you know? There’s a passion there that’s bigger than money, bigger than the product. Beer people have this love for what they create, and with comics, it’s the same way.

MH: Were you in on the actual brewing of the beer, too, or were those two creative elements kept separate?

KR: No, no, that was all separate. Those Brooklyn Brewery guys are the professionals, so they do what they do and I stayed on my end and I did what I did.

MH: How’d you end up liking the beer, then? Have you tried it?

KR: Oh yes, I’ve had plenty. It’s a Red IPA, and the two kinds of beers I like the most are Red Ales and IPAs, so it worked out well for me. Even when I designed the character, I picked a red and gray color scheme just because those are my two favorite colors, so the fact that it turned out to be a Red IPA worked perfectly. It all came together nicely.

MH: New York Comic Con starts this week–how’s that shaping up for you, so far?

KR: Well, I’m a bit frazzled right now, to be honest. There’s like a million crazy things happening and I’m juggling about ten different activities all at the same time. But, other than that, I am fantastic.

MH: Sounds pretty stressful. Maybe you need a beer?

KH: Yep. It’s always stressful, but it’s always worth it, too.

Check out Brooklyn Brewery’s website for a list of brewery-sponsored Comic Con parties, in celebration of the new Brooklyn Defender.

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