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All the Hyphens: Greg Anderson-Elysee on Is'nana the Were-Spider

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Tuesday, January 19 2016 and posted in Features

All the Hyphens: Greg Anderson-Elysee on Is'nana the Were-Spider

An interview with one of our own! Greg Anderson-Elysee on his new self-published comic!

Brooklyn-based writer, actor, filmmaker, and model Greg Anderson-Elysee has been not only an active member of The Outhouse forum, but a writer and reviewer for The Front Page as well. He's written a lot about his own extensive interests when it comes to media and pop culture for The Outhouse, and his most recent effort for us is The Griot Vine, a cursory look at issues of minority representation in comics. Anderson-Elysee is also the writer and creator of a new comic, Is'nana the Were-Spider. Drawing upon his interest in the folklore of the African diaspora, Anderson-Elysee channels the work of such authors as Neil Gaiman and Raymond E. Feist to write a modern take on ancient non-Western mythology. The one-shot comic is crowdfunded by Anderson-Elysee via Kickstarter, and the campaign was fully funded within three days. The pledges for the comic continue to grow. 

In a stunning conflict of interest, The Outhouse caught up with Anderson-Elysee (which wasn't difficult, since he works here) to talk about his comics debut. 

The Outhouse (OH): How long has Is'nana The Were-Spider been gestating? When did the concept for this story first come to you? Why was now the right time for you to get into writing comics?

Greg Anderson-Elysee (GAE): Is'nana the Were-Spider first burrowed into my mind about two years ago. I was working on another project, which I had to shelve for now, but I was still developing some ideas for the character and his background.

I've been trying to get into comics since I was in middle school! [laughs] That has always been my number one dream and it feels good being able to finally have that dream become a reality. And I do feel it's a good time due to the current trend of black indie books coming out and the support of them from a lot of readers. It feels like a current movement of sorts and I'm glad to finally be jumping in on it after being such an avid supporter.

OH: How were you able to assemble your creative team?

GAE: Man, I feel like I lucked out with my creative team. I searched a bunch of different sites for an artist and I came across so many great, talented ones. When Walter Ostlie responded to one of my ads, his webcomic Shiver Bureau quickly showed me a great sense of fun, dynamic storytelling. When I reached out to him before deciding on an artist, we vibed extremely well and we started a very good rapport and we learned we shared the same love for a lot of the same comic book artists. After getting him on board and some pages into the book, he introduced me to Lee Milewski whose lush colors really added to the surrealism I wanted to toy with. It really helped the story pop.

Joshua Cozine came on board to letter when I reached out to his team of letterers and designers and he help cement the mood for the final product. I was so excited to see the lettering, it really makes a big difference in the end. And finally the cover artist, Walt Msonza Barna, is a very talented artist from Zimbabwe. It's great having someone from Africa contribute to the book. I first saw his work for Ajala: A Series of Adventures and reached out to him and he shocked the hell out of me with the final product.

I am very very proud of the work produced by my team.

OH: What is your relationship to the African folktales you use as the basis for IsnanaP1.jpgyour story? What makes them resonant for you?

GAE: I love reading Africana-based folklore, whether it's African, Caribbean, or African-American. I always feel that a lot of Black folktales are gradually disappearing from people's minds and from modern Black culture, unlike Greek mythology which continues to be taught and represented. So Is'nana became the mouthpiece to continue his father's legacy, his father being Anansi, the Spider God of Stories.

These characters are a part of my culture as a Black man and it always made me feel a way when I'd mention a character like Anansi to some of my Black peers and they'd tell me they've never heard of him, but they obviously knew some Greek or Norse characters. There's so much potential for great stories with a lot of these characters. I enjoy trying to learn more of other Black based folktales and I hope this can show that there's an interest and there's potential for some fun modern takes and stories for them.

OH: You state on your Kickstarter campaign page that you wanted to focus on traditional African mythology that you feel is being forgotten. This desire carries through to the text of the story itself, in that the lead characters talk a lot about the importance of not being forgotten. Did you originally intend to be so intentional in how your characters reflect your personal feelings about the place this folklore occupies in modern thought, or is that an element that came along later in your creative process?

GAE: Loss of culture or self I feel plays an important part in a lot of stuff I do. Sometimes it's subtle, sometimes explicit. I personally find it to be rather dangerous, losing so much of our background. We lose an essence of ourselves as people. I think it only made sense incorporating my subconscious theme into the character's voices themselves and making it literal. I think it gives it a solid foundation of what I'm trying to do and it may hopefully resonate in some way for people who see what i'm trying to do.

OH: Is the existentialism expressed by Is'nana, the main character, a reflection of any similar feelings you have about your own life and/or art?

GAE: Haha. Funny thing, every time I write something or create characters, people always say the character sounds like me. They tell me I do a good job making them sound different or be different from each other, but something always reminds my characters of me. A lot of my feelings I can definitely see incorporating in Is'nana himself, especially with trying to find himself while having responsibilities. I think it's a common feeling among many people and its definitely what makes us human.

OH: The character of Anansi is traditionally depicted in storytelling media as a "trickster," but in Isnana, you depict him as an "elder statesman," trying to pass down a sense of duty and the importance of good works to his son. What compelled this change in how you treat Anansi?

GAE: No change. This is still the same Anansi the Trickster. It'd be no fun if I stripped that core essence and characterization of the character. He's still quick witted and a bit of a jerk and teaser. Is'nana is moreso kind and selfless and I feel that is what sets the two apart even though they generally get along and they love each other. I think for a lot of people, things change when their child gets involved. In a way, he's allowing Is'nana to own up to his responsibilities but trying to guide him, but not all guidance from Anansi is good guidance.

OH: Isnana is also the story of the relationship between a father and a son. Is this a particularly important theme for you?

GAE: I find relationships to be very important for all types of characterizations. Parental figures play a big part in a person's development and I partially like the idea of a fantasy story focusing on a Black family, a father and son in this case. When you think about it, father/son relationships in fantasy stories aren't really that prominent. And this is also a bit of an ode to my own father and I.

IsnanaP2.jpgOH: Your Kickstarter campaign was fully funded in three days, and with over three weeks to go, you are now focusing on Stretch Goals (you also received a Project We Love designation from Kickstarter). To what do you attribute the success of your campaign? Have you thought much about more Stretch Goals, should the campaign continue to generate support?

GAE: I find the response to be extremely overwhelming. I honestly really didn't see that coming, especially being so nervous for it in the beginning. I actually had a nightmare a couple of nights before about it. And I did something a tad risky, I suppose: I launched the Kickstarter the day before I announced it, and I was shocked to see so many people pledging and sharing it on social media without me having said anything much about it. I was shocked to see how much people were interested in this product and the story and a lot of amazing people started going out of their way to spread the word. I feel very blessed, man.

As for stretch goals, I made one to help me get funds to add more story context to the comic book, so it'll be a longer book. I'm still not sure if there will be another stretch goal but I'm thinking about it. I just hope people are happy with the book and the rewards!

OH: Do you and/or your creative team have a desire to see Is'nana the Were-Spider become available to readers outside of the Kickstarter? Do you see the potential to become picked up by a publisher?

GAE: Well, right now it's being self-published. I personally wanted to experience that aspect of the business myself and learn the do's and dont's. I'd like to get it on some shops and some online stores, obviously Amazon, Comixology, and Peep Game Comix.

I'll definitely consider seeing if a publisher can pick it up some point in the near future.

OH: You've written a lot about issues of representation in the comic book industry. In addition to fulfilling your personal desire for storytelling, are you also making the transition from commentator to creator specifically in order to address the problems you see in this area?

GAE: Ha! That's a great question! I'm not making that transition specifically for that, especially as it's been my dream to make comic books since I was a kid. But it's definitely something that reinforces and pushes me as a creator.



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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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