Since their inception in the late '30s and early '40s, comics have been used as a force for social change. In the '30s and '40s they spoke out against Hitler, and fought the Nazis right alongside our soldiers. In the '60s and '70s, superheroes fought for racial equality and upheld ideals brought about by the Civil Rights movement. So what is the struggle of our generation — of our today?
Every day it is impossible to scroll down a news feed or turn on a television without seeing countless tragedies surrounding police violence and strife in the African American community. Police brutality, racial profiling, and racial equality are topics that ceaselessly find their way on the tips of everyone's tongues, and in a country that boasts about its equality, it becomes harder to accept that these transgressions continue. The comic book world is aware of this as well. That brings us to a six chapter mini series that is hitting the shelves this fall called BLACK.
I first heard about this title back when it launched its kick-starter in February and now with it on the verge of release I felt compelled to share it with the community here at Movie Pilot. Anyways, I got a hold of series creator Kwanza Osajyefo, and I did a quick Q&A with him about his upcoming graphic novel:
Interview With Kwanza Osajyefo, Author Of BLACK
Q: So in the description of the comic, you say "In a world that already fears and hates them, what if only Black people had super powers?" (great concept by the way), would you mind expanding a bit about what is going on in this series?
A: 'BLACK' takes place in a world very much like the world we live in today. One in which we’re still struggling with race issues, in particular those involving Black people. The main character, Kareem, is a victim in a police shooting, and that’s where the story diverges from our reality: He wakes up in a ambulance, unscathed.
That immediately thrusts Kareem into a world that’s been very purposefully hidden from public knowledge — a world where only Black people exhibit superhuman abilities.
Q: Obviously we have seen several tragedies in the news, especially over the past year or so in regards to police shootings and racial profiling. Now I know that this concept has been brewing for a while, but was there any particular moment where you saw something like this happen that may have contributed to the story you put forward?
A: I came up with the concept for 'BLACK' about 10 years ago. It was a combination of my experiences as a person of color in the US mixed with a love of comics.
In those stories, heroes are shunned by society and still have to survive. In that context these characters wore flashy costumes that they could take off and pass as “normal.”
It made me think about how eyebeams and retractable claws are not a strong parallel to the issue of bigotry they represent. Because, for the most part, they can hide in plain sight — mutants were not getting pulled over for driving a nice car, or murdered because they are in the wrong neighborhood.
Black people don’t get to pass in society like an X-Man hoping to not be discovered. We walk down the street and there are people putting targets on our back for no reason other than skin tone.
'BLACK' is my way of tethering sci-fi to relevant and important issues.
Q: To steer away from the story here for a second, I want to say I LOVE the cover. The use of the noir style emboldening with red conveys a certain eeriness and is the first thing that kind of drew me in. Now, I've seen the sketches that you have put up on the page, but will the final product keep that same kind of noir feel to it that you see in the cover, or what exactly would you say the tonal scheme will be for your book?
A: The cover theme was brilliantly conceived by Khary Randolph. I had a number of suggestions — mainly a single, impactful focal point — but after telling him the plot he created a cover that succinctly incorporated the story and current events in a simple yet complex piece of art. And that’s tone of the book, a concept that is simple to grasp yet with many layers to peel back.
Jamal Igle’s interiors help ground the fantastic because these characters don’t live in a world where they can thwart societal norms and the world isn’t fundamentally changed — for better or worse.
Q: Thank you so much again, it has been great chatting with you about BLACK, I look forward to reading the graphic novel when it hits shelves in September, and I wish you and your team the best of luck! However, I do have one last question for you, and that is if people take anything away from BLACK what would you hope it to be?
A: That this is science fiction, but the issues it touches upon are not. 'BLACK' does have a certain perspective but it is not a book for any one group of people. It’s part of the American story whether some are willing to acknowledge it.
We’ve been fed a particular narrative for so long that something like 'BLACK' may seem disruptive, but it’s been part of our story since before any of our time; we just need to listen — or in this case read.
Why I Support BLACK
As someone who was raised Jewish, I have learned most of what I know about prejudice through the history of my own people. Throughout their history, my ancestors struggled through hate, slavery, and flat-out murder by the world around them. In the Jewish community we have a motto in reference to the holocaust: "Never Again." It is in reference to the fact that while we were being placed in ghettos, rounded up like cattle, and slaughtered by droves, the world turned its head away rather than take a hard look and tell Germany: No More. "Never Again" is about ensuring that in the face of another such struggle, that we (not just the Jewish community, but the world) will not turn away again.
Now I look around at the world, and more closely the country I live in, and what I see scares me. The hate that has been sewn over generations has been unleashed tenfold it seems, and victims are at every corner screaming upon deaf ears for help. I see this graphic novel as an opportunity to lend society a bunch of hearing aids and wake up to the world around them, to allow the cries of those victims be heard. I write this article because I feel that this comic embodies those words, that mission: "Never Again." Even the smallest voices can move the world to change, and I feel that this voice could be a loud one.
Once again, I want to thank you Kwanza Osajyefo for the opportunity to talk to him about his upcoming work, I realize time to be very valuable and for as talented a creative team as his it means a lot that they would take that time to talk to me about their project.
BLACK — In a world that already hates and fears them, what if only black people had super powers? This series' first issue hits shelves September 28, 2016.
What do you think is the most important message of a comic series like BLACK?