‘Black’: A World With No White Superheroes

BLACK_promo01-1“In a world that already fears and hates them—what if only Black people had superpowers?”

That’s the tagline for a Kickstarter campaign for Black created by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, Khary Randolph, and Sarah Litt.

I’ve been pulling back from Kickstarter but I immediately backed this one. I wasn’t alone. The project met its funding goals very quickly but there are still a few days to go to back the comic and get in on this story.

Why am I so high on this project? I’ll let the creators tell you themselves, as I interviewed Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith III about their project this week.

GeekMom: What is it about the superhero genre that appealed to you about communicating your thoughts about current society?

KO: Reading is a self-motivated action in which people are intrinsically the most receptive to an idea. Stories have long been a means by which we entertain and illuminate each other through perspectives that may or may not be our own.

It’s why I love the medium of books so much. Superheroes are just a fun and familiar genre to tell a story that relates to a real issue humanity struggles with. That’s what BLACK is truly about.

TS3: It’s like this parallel world where your imagination can take flight. Where the possibilities are endless and ideas take shape based on the reality we live in day to day.

GeekMom: Were the ideas germinated in this setting? Or is there something unique to the superhero genre which allows you to examine the issues in ways that another genre wouldn’t?

KO: Superheroes have often been used as an allegory for issues like racism. The difference I saw was that most of these characters, in the internal context they existed in, didn’t truthfully reflect the external context they drew from.

That is to say, Wolverine doesn’t get pulled over by the cops for driving a nice car. Chris Rock does. Cyclops can take off his mask and walk down a street in Florida unassailed. Superheroes have a well-established “outsider” trope in them. The concept of Black simply felt like a natural story to tell.

TS3: I don’t think I would label this as “superhero.” Yes, the powers that the characters in BLACK have will bring a level of responsibility. But when I am designing them, I don’t think of them as superheroes. It’s too mainstream for me to think like that with this book. It’s not bad, per se, to have that in the back of my mind, I just need to make sure that the look and feel of this is something familiar to all yet unique enough to make it stand out from any other book out there.

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Image: Jamal Igle

GeekMom: Was there a specific incident within current events (for example the #blacklivesmatter movement) that made you feel you had something to say around the injustices which we see play out on the national stage?

TS3: Those events and many others that affect our lives as Black people, and the lives of family and friends, will always find a way into everything I do. It hurts me emotionally to see anyone suffering, but more specifically, if I see someone that resembles me—that has the same cultural background as me—suffer, then yes, that does hit me pretty hard. I am from Cleveland, East Cleveland to be exact. I am proud of where I come from, so when the young man Tamir Rice was shot, that hit me. The frustration that comes from that is high. I can channel that into my work, I can add the emotion I have into my work.

KO: No. I came up with the idea for BLACK over ten years ago. What social media has elevated in modern society isn’t a new story, just more visible. Spike Lee clearly put a spotlight on issues of police brutality and murder in Do the Right Thing—that movie is nearly 30 years old.

To that point, what I have to say on the matter is more adding to a voice that is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore.

GeekMom: Will this story be complete in itself or is there the potential to address these issues further in additional stories with these characters?

TS3: I’ll let Kwanza take the lead on this one. But yes! Kwanza and I have been talking about this story for years now. That’s a lot of time to really dig deep on ideas.

KO: The huge response to BLACK has made it clear to me that people want more story. The book we’re campaigning for via Kickstarter is definitely a complete story, but there is potential to explore this idea further.

One of our stretch goals is to produce the diary of one of the main character’s ancestors as a mobile illustrated short story.

GeekMom: How do you view the progression of minority representation in comics over the years? Luke Cage to Milestone to now?

KO: I think we still have a long way to go. Characters like Luke Cage and the whole of Milestone were more inspired approaches to diversity than the more commercial attempts to rebrand classic icons into characters of color.

The effort is appreciated, but I think the slightly tone-deaf approach comes from where I see the actual problem, inclusion of Black positions in the upper echelons of the creative influence.

TS3: I think it certainly has made its way into comics culture deeper than it has ever been. I feel that it still has much more to go. But there is an interest there, and the public seems to want to see people of color represented in comics. And that interest will lend itself to having more attention placed on the characters. And that’s great! The key is to make sure the general audience accepts the work, but the minority also must feel that it represents them well. How many comics stories and characters are written about the Indigenous People in this country? I am sure those characters do not represent them 100% as a people. The same for Black people. Yes, the representation is moving forward, but it still needs that personal touch added in there, it needs that care if it is going to be considered and taken seriously.

GeekMom: What do you hope your readers learn from the story? What do you hope they take away after finishing this book?

KO: BLACK really explores the truth that humans are flawed. Some things we do are fundamentally and universally wrong, but often we’re making decisions without all the information, looking only at our own experiences and perception of the world around us.

Our actions are not often black or white. We’re united as a species in working together to overcome our weaknesses.

TS3: I am not looking to change the world. I want to have a book that is as unique and exciting as any other book you would read. If it moves folks to do great things, like world peace or even simply doing the dishes, I am game for that! I want folks to open their minds to the world of comics and show them that you can tell great stories that do not have to follow the cookie-cutter methods and layout of mainstream books.

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Image: Khary Randolph

GeekMom: Why did you decide to use crowd funding through Kickstarter platform rather than distribution with an established publisher?

TS3: Freedom! Yes indeed. At the end of the day, we needed to do this without someone saying “you can’t do that.” Kickstarter is the perfect place to allow us to create something we will stand behind. We don’t hide our names, we don’t pull punches. We are making something here that we feel has an impact, and Kickstarter has the tools in place to allow for that to happen.

KO: Due to the issue of exclusion that I mentioned, and from my years of working in the comics industry, I don’t think many traditional publishers would understand BLACK as a concept. I need to validate that it had an audience and its intent through a social platform.

I think BLACK fills clearly empty space that many publishers are not aware of. Something like BLACK would not organically occur in the current publishing world, where systemic exclusion is still at play. The internet is a more democratized community where one voice can join many to create something that represents a wider perspective.

GeekMom: I know Jamal Igle had a Kickstarter with Molly Danger. Was this helpful in setting up the BLACK Kickstarter in terms of logistics (distribution, etc)?

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Jamal Igle. Photo: Karine Igle

TS3: Jamal is a smart man. With or without his knowledge of Kickstarter, he brings his a-game in every way. I also did a Kickstarter sometime ago, and it got funded! So I bring in some knowledge, too! But the whole team has done super well on brainpower and talent. Sarah Litt, Khary Randolph, and Thor Neureiter (who did the video).

KO: Jamal has brought a wealth of experience to the project. His advice was definitely key in marketing, timing, and execution.

GeekMom: What is the age bracket for this book? Young Adult (High School) appropriate or…?

TS3: When I was young, and I mean like 7 or 8, my dad said I could not use swear words. I had to make sure I did not say anything that would get me in trouble. BUT, he knew I had a love for comics, so he said I can write and read whatever I wanted as long as it was creative. So at a young age I read some pretty heavy stuff, thus I tried writing it also. I found (and I am sure he knows) that if it’s not this thing that’s hidden away or meant to be “off limits,” then it becomes something I can understand and not make it a horrible thing. I found that I did not abuse the ability to read what I wanted or write swear words.

I say that in my roundabout way of answering this question: You make the call.

KO: I thought YA was 9-12? BLACK definitely leans more mature than that. I’d say high school and up.

Thank you so much gentlemen!

I have two teenagers (a son and a daughter). So my call? This project is something I’m very excited to share with them.

Now. What are you waiting for? This is the last week to join me and many others in backing this very important story. You can find the link here: BLACK

I'm a 52 year old mother of two teenagers. I'm also an electrical engineer. I love comic books, single malt whisky, wine and The Grateful Dead.