Tuesday, October 23, 2018 • Evening Edition • "At least we're not Multiversity!"

Keeping It BLACK (Interview with the creative of BLACK)

Written by Greg Anderson-Elysee on Wednesday, February 24 2016 and posted in Features

Keeping It BLACK (Interview with the creative of BLACK)

The creative team of BLACK stop by the Griot Vine to discuss the making of the book, the nitty gritty inspirations and experiences leading to its crafting, and thoughts on the various responses.

On February 1st, the creative team of BLACK launched their Kickstarter and blew past their initial goal. Amidst the on-going issue of police brutality among the Black communities, BLACK asks the question: What if it were only Black people who had super powers and what if that tied to Blacks being "hunted" by the government?

A slight bit of annoyance I've had recently when it comes to concepts like X-Men was the use of Civil Rights issues and the plights that racial and sexual minorities have faced being used as source material for stories. My issue was that for being such a great source of inspiration, being targeted and discriminated against for being born different, it's extremely telling that the lead characters used and pushed again and again were never really showcased as much as the same old status quo "majority" aside from a select few scattered around.

Here is a super hero book where the inspiration of the plight faced by Blacks in reality is connected to the reason for discord within this sci-fi tale and represented with Black characters.

With only less than a week left to their Kickstarter, the creative team found the time within their busy schedules to hit up the Griotvine talk about the book, planning and putting it together, as well as both the positive and negative responses the book has garnered...


Greg Anderson-Elysee: Welcome, everyone, to the Griotvine! Where did the concept of BLACK come from? What motivated you all to get involved and feel the need to tell this story?

Kwanza Osajyefo

Kwanza Osajyefo (Creator/Author)

Kwanza Osajyefo (Creator/Author): The idea came from being a comics reader and professional for years but rarely seeing Black people in the content or directing the creative culture.

As a reader, I gravitated towards outsider characters who were often metaphors for real life discrimination. The problem, I later found, was that in the context of their own world their fringe status didn't hold as most of these characters could walk around freely out of costume. They weren't an accurate reflection of the issue of racism.   

BLACK is motivated by the dearth of Black characters in media. It will offer more Black characters who aren't underdeveloped and underrepresented in mainstream comics. With multiple Black characters of differing perspective and motivations, one character doesn't have to sum up all of Blackness.

Tim Smith III (Co-creator/Designer): Kwanza came to me with the concept years ago. And in seconds I was hooked. I had met Kwanza years ago and I knew that he would be great to work with. So it was an easy move to work together and start planning this out. They say success does not happen overnight. I am happy to see all the time and care we have put into this story come to this moment.

Jamal Igle

Jamal Igle (Interior Illustrator)

Jamal Igle (Interior Illustrator): Kwanza, Sarah [Litt], and I worked together about four years ago on a four-issue miniseries for DC Comics called The Ray and again later on an issue of Smallville: Season 11, so we became friends at that time. Although in truth, I had always heard good things from people who knew and worked with Kwanza at Zuda Comics.

So when Kwanza and Tim -- who I'd met at various shows and really liked -- showed me the pitch, I jumped on board immediately. It's one of those "it's so simple, why did I think of it" concepts that you immediately just instinctually know is going to be unique.

Khary Randolph (Cover Artist): It was the right time for this story, based both on where the comic book industry is at and on current events. This is one of the best times in the history of comics for telling stories that aren't the norm. Content truly is what sells books these days. We think we have a story that needs to be told.

black cover01HIRES by Khary Randolph

Greg: So the initial hook with BLACK is the idea that only Black people have super powers and the consequences that happens due to it, such as the government trying to capture and suppress these individuals with these abilities. I feel like there's a lot of symbolism there, especially with the fact that we'll never see the potential these victims may have had in the comic years. Did that play a part in the conception and can you talk about that?

Jamal: I would agree, and I think that there's a certain open world potential and curiosity that helps drive the story subconsciously for the reader.

Kwanza: It's not really symbolic so much as situational. I'm trying to entertain the idea in a real world manner. If this was happening, had been going on for centuries, how would individuals, groups, and governments react?

BLACK is about humanity's internal struggles with power, tribalism, and survival.

BLACKfunded promoart new

Greg: Who is Kareem Jenkins? Can you tell us a bit about the other characters that will play a part in his tale?

Kwanza: Kareem is very loosely based on my cousin who passed away when we were younger. He's a typical inner-city kid, poor, not bad, but not always good. He's trying to survive and we're along for the ride as he deals with this new aspect of his life.

He's taken under the wing of Juncture, a man leading an Underground Railroad type of organization for empowered Blacks. Juncture is doing what he can to help people around the world survive, keeping them under the radar of government and other organizations.

Tim: What I can talk about is how I tried to capture the look for them -- what they would wear and their attitude with the overall look.

Kareem, to me, is a character that has had his world flipped upside down. I imagined what it would be like if I found out I had abilities that made me extraordinary. I wanted to keep the look fantasy, but not too much -- that would make BLACK look like a mainstream comic.

Juncture, to me, is cool and keeps his composure. You can't just walk up on him and rattle his cage. If you COULD do that, then you would never know it. He would never let you see it. And if he smiles, then that just means he has something cooking in his head and is 100% sure of the outcome. I wanted to make sure he had an air of seriousness, firm like a stone wall, yet cool enough where he can walk into any situation and walk back out with no problems.

We also have a female character named Indigo. I love her look! I love her character! I see her as calm on the surface but under that is a mass of movement. Like she is always thinking about everything and never lets it show. When I drew her out, I imagined what a person's facial expression would be if they never had to blink. I thought of her as ultra fresh and clean. The kind of person you notice the moment she walks in a room, but you never notice her leave.

02162016indigo quote

Greg: Within the realm of this story, is it common knowledge beforehand that Black people have superpowers or is that something that gets released to the media as the story progresses?

Kwanza: It is not public knowledge that Black people have superpowers in the story – only a small percentage has powers and keeping that from public knowledge is important.

Tim Smith 3

 Tim Smith III (Co-creator/Designer)

Greg: I'm curious: does the one-drop rule come into effect with these abilities? What about a person who is bi-racial or part Black? Will that be explored in any way?

Tim: I love this question because it's the type of question I think a lot of folks are wondering. It's the type of question that makes the book special. People are thinking up all kinds of scenarios about the book, the plot and the characters. I just can't wait for people to see it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I.

Kwanza: You'll have to read BLACK to find out.

Greg: Dang! Are there any personal experiences you all felt the need to incorporate in these stories and can you talk on some of them?

Kwanza: Not personal so much as shared. There is a context to being Black that isn't addressed in diversity efforts among other publishers. BLACK isn't intended to preach a platform so much as elevate a perspective that has not been in comics.

Khary: I think everyone here can relate to being an outsider, to being different. The whole superhero genre is built around individuals who are not the norm, who can do spectacular things, who rise to the occasion, and stand against evil. BLACK is telling this same story, but with a twist that revolves around race. This is a tricky story to tell. This cover was very painful for me to draw. I know what it's like to be stopped by the cops for "walking while Black." I know the pain of being called a nigger to my face. I know what it's like to be shadowed around a department store because they think you're going to steal something. All of these different experiences go into the artwork and help shape a narrative that only we can tell.

Khary Randolph

Khary Randolph (Cover Artist)

Tim: For this, yes it gets personal. Not in a way where I would vent frustration out into the work. It's really the opposite of that. I have always wanted to create something from the ground up. I have always wondered what a world of super powered people would do in good and bad circumstances. I have been in situations where things got ugly, and where things worked out well. I need my work to reflect as many sides of my experiences, good and bad.

 Greg: When discussion of race gets brought up in "geekdom," in particular: comic books or mainstream genre mediums, there's always a bit of backlash. Why do you think these topics of race and getting fair and equal representation are such an issue for a lot of consumers?

Kwanza: Because for most of its history, there are not many Black people in influential positions in the comics industry. If you look at the leaders of this industry, comics are still under the guidance of a White male aesthetic and approach to making content.

Comics are something of an echo chamber, and while I don't think the exclusion is often malicious, it is self-serving. Calling that out means you're challenging the status quo to examine their failings. That is a hard thing to swallow. Few of us are awesome at acknowledging our foibles.

But times are changing; these agencies are losing ground to a more democratized system fostered by technology. Consumers are empowered to explore their options and are bored with the formulaic content that used to be the only game in town.

02212016overdrive quote

Jamal: I think that anything that shakes up what people consider the "norm" is seen as controversial to some, but it's long overdue. Not just with a story like BLACK. Race and racial diversity are still touchy subjects for many people. We are less than 60 years beyond the Civil Rights era of our country's history. There is an entire generation that still remembers Jim Crow Era America and a portion that wishes they could go back to it. In the entertainment industry, there is a constant evolution of what is considered the societal norm. When Sidney Poitier's Virgil Tibbs slapped Larry Gates' Eric Endicott in In the Heat of the Night, it was referred to as "the slap heard 'round the world." It was shocking, it upset audiences, but it was a bold step towards creating an equal playing field in the minds of viewers; that there was a Black protagonist that wasn't going to kowtow or be marginalized.

Part of changing minds is giving them something new, whether they know they need it or not. Exposing people to different points of view is our right and responsibility.

02192016bass quote

Tim: It's just something that's not normally seen in our society. Growing up in American culture, we look at T.V., movies, and ads where the majority is represented as amazing and inspiring characters. So when the minority gets seen it's not the norm for them to be presented in the same way. We are getting to a place where it's normal to see the minority as the hero, but it's slow coming. I keep thinking of that lyric the hip hop group 3rd Base said back in the day in that cut "The Gas Face":


"Black cats are bad luck, bad guys wear black,

must have been a white guy who started all that."


This is something that's ingrained in our society from long ago.

Khary: It's an uncomfortable conversation. Nobody thinks that they are a bad person. So when they are confronted with things that might make them question beliefs they've held dear for a very long time, they naturally feel defensive. For a certain percent of the population, the status quo is just fine the way it is. But if you're on the other side of the coin, you're gonna raise your voice and make sure that you are heard. And with the advent of the Internet, the volume level is higher than ever.

02222016adams quote

Greg: That brings me to this next question: Jamal Igle posted a link one day to a forum where a bunch of white racists responded extremely negatively to this book. What came to your minds when you guys saw that?

Kwanza: Fleeting anger, then sadness, but I remembered that there are 7.4B people on the planet so the opinions of near 0.0% yelling down their anonymity well doesn't matter.

Jamal: It just reinforced exactly why a story like BLACK is needed.

Tim: I was not surprised. There is something negative to be said about everything. I ignored it. I moved on like I always do. When I was in fourth grade I was taken on a field trip to the county jail to see what life was like in there, I assume to warn me not to end up there. I was told what I should NOT be, rather than what I could be.

I was once told as a kid I would be in jail by late teens. Then I was told I would be in jail in my twenties. I did not listen to any of that noise.

02182016washington quote

Khary: Just another day at the job. (Laughs) You don't present a book like this without knowing that some people aren't going to be a fan.

Greg: Why did you guys feel the need to self publish rather than release it through other known publishers? And why Kickstarter?

Kwanza: We're open to partnering with a publisher, but considering what we've discussed about how the industry works, I didn't think we'd find a receptive ear to BLACK – and we didn't need to.

Platforms like Kickstarter mean we don't need to ask for permission to produce BLACK. We've validated that people want this sort of story on our own.

Tim: Kickstarter gave us the freedom to do what we wanted. I doubt a publisher would have given that much freedom. We needed to move forward with this with no one saying what we should be doing. We did not need to pitch it, we needed to do it they way we wanted to.

Khary: We do it because we can. The freedom of self-publishing can't be beat as far as getting your voice out, unfiltered. And Kickstarter (and the fans) has been the engine to power us forward. It's been tremendous seeing it all play out.

BLACK promo03

Greg: Were you guys expecting the insane response and support you received with the Kickstarter? How did you all feel seeing it?

Khary: Hell naw. I knew it would get funded, that much I was confident in. But all this? Naw, not ready for this at all.

Kwanza: [I felt] elated. I didn't imagine we'd have the success we did so quickly and then continue to break our stretch goals.

Jamal: I knew we'd get the funding but the response has been insane, in a good way.

Tim: I felt it would do well. I thought we would hit our goal. I did not think that it would blast off this well! I knew we would hit the moon, but we shattered it, too! Happy is an understatement. Thanks to Kickstarter for the tools to do this. Thank you to all who supported this! Thanks to the team of folks I am a part of who made this happen.

Greg: Can you tell us a bit about the creating process?

Jamal: Tim is designing the series and we're going to be drawing it traditionally in a "Manga" size format. So, fewer panels per page, and I'm going to be using my inner Katushiro Otomo to really build the artwork.

Sarah Litt

Sarah Litt (Editor)

Tim: I have been cooking this up with Kwanza for a few years now. So we do a lot of back and forth with getting the look just right for the characters. I start with a description and the overall role of that character. I do a few rough sketches. I think as far out of the box as I can. Then fine tone it to what's needed for the final look.

Kwanza: I prefer to play it loose so that we can tell a visual story together. I'd written previous iterations of BLACK in a traditional format but am now taking more of a "Marvel Way" approach to scripting.

Khary: I'm just the cover guy. My job is to sell the book with artwork that will grab your attention and make it so y'all appreciate all the hard work that's going on in the inside. My job is easier in comparison, but nonetheless nerve-racking. I spent almost a month trying to come up with an image that would properly convey the emotion behind what BLACK is all about. I knew this thing would be plastered everywhere and I would be lying if the prospect didn't give me a couple sleepless nights. Thankfully it worked.

02232016anansi quote

Greg: What difficulties do you guys come across with creating this project and what challenges and difficulties do you guys feel you are prepared to face come post-publication?

Khary: There will undoubtedly be more push-back, you have to brace for that. You can't imagine the number of tweets and status updates we've written and then killed because it would be pointless to respond to the hate. We have these conversations every day. But at the end of the day, all we can really worry about is creating a product that is dope enough to live up to the hype. That is all I care about at this point. Negativity doesn't move me. I'm here to create something good, represent, and hopefully inspire someone else to do something great as well.

Jamal: As for the book itself, we're professionals. We will definitely get some push-back, but it's not like I haven't had to deal with that sort of controversy before.

Tim: Difficulties? If we do what we all do best, I foresee no difficulties.

Kwanza: None so far. *knocks on wood*

I can't predict the future, but I'm lucky to be working with a great team so I feel confident we'll get through any difficulties.


Click HERE and support the Kickstarter today! Ends Monday, February 29th!



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About the Author - Greg Anderson-Elysee

Gregory Anderson-Elysee is a Brooklyn born and based filmmaker (director and editor), playwright, comic book writer, model, and part time actor. He was one of the first writers and interviewers of The Outhouse. He is the writer and creator of the upcoming book Is'nana the Were-Spider. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

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