Published on January 19th, 2018 | by Dana Folkard
KWANZA OSAJYEFO INTERVIEW – BLACK [AF] AMERICA’S SWEETHEART
BLACK [AF]: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART, which is being published by Los Angeles-based indie publisher Black Mask Studios, introduces America’s first superhero, a black teenage girl named Eli Franklin. She is the most powerful person on the planet and sets out to give America hope as its first superhero, Good Girl. However, Eli soon discovers that it may take more than donning a patriotic costume to lessen societal divide in America.
Kwanza Osajyefo, co-creator of the BLACK universe and writer of BLACK [AF]: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART, was kind enough to take the time to talk to Impulse Gamer about this gripping new, the world it is set in and the representation of the “outsider” superhero.
For those who aren’t familiar with the BLACK Universe series, can you tell us a little bit about this world, and some of the defining characters?
KWANZA: The premise of BLACK is — what if only black people had superpowers?
The story follows a young man, Kareem Jenkins, who is unjustly slain by police, but comes back to life to find he has superhuman abilities. He’s subsequently inducted into an underground group, led by Juncture, who protects the small percentage of black people with special powers. The phenomenon has been kept secret for centuries as it would obviously be disruptive to humanity, but maintaining this secret becomes a struggle for Kareem as it leaves his people vulnerable to exploitation while exposing the truth would put all black people in danger.
This is an interesting concept. Can you tell me where you came up with this idea and what inspired it?
KWANZA: The idea for BLACK came from two places: the impact that an absence and exclusion of black voices in comics has on authentic representation and the tone-deaf analogy of “outsider” superhero angst around characters who can mostly shed their misfit identities to pass as normal white people.
That manner of using real issues regarding discrimination, bigotry, and racism as palatable escapism started to seem pretty shallow to me. So it struck me, “what if only black people had superpowers?” The moment I had the thought, the rest sort of rolled out into a socially relevant sci-fi comic.
Did you encounter any difficulties when trying to balance the light and dark elements of this story?
KWANZA: Somewhat. I don’t like the idea of being gratuitous for the sake of shock value but I also felt a need to reflect truths that, unfortunately, too many black people experience in the US. There were a lot of opportunities to have fun exploring the various ways different characters would speak, and cultural humor that wouldn’t be on the radar at major publishers.
Having the freedom to tell the story how we saw fit was important and a positive experience.
What were some of the challenges you encountered when trying to write such a politically charged story?
KWANZA: I think just the idea that it would be considered “political” was challenging but it didn’t change my approach. Any story that explores racism and discrimination is about our essential humanity and a need for equality, yet that is called political. For a person to want fair treatment, to not be unjustly targeted, to not be killed for being who they are – what’s political about that? Nothing.
How has fan reception been and what kind of feedback have you personally received?
KWANZA: Most of the reception has been enormously positive. The story seems to have truly resonated with a lot of people and that’s gratifying. BLACK introduced a lot of new characters and fans want to know more about them so that’s why we’re doing BLACK [AF] interstitial stories to explore the universe more intimately.
How do you go about creating your stories – do you have all the arcs formed before you start, or do you tend to improvise and change the story as you move along?
KWANZA: I tend to have an issue or moment I want to dissect and build some supernatural themes around that. That tends to yield a summary of the story that I flesh out into arcs. I don’t really improvise, but I do go back to plots and rewrite if the pace is off or if a page isn’t working, or to cut out extraneous stuff.
Will we be seeing more stories from the BLACK Universe in the future?
KWANZA: Yes. BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart comes to comic shops on January 31, and hits bookstores on February 13. That will be followed by more BLACK [AF] series until our next tentpole book.
BLACK [AF]: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART is on sale January 31 and available for purchase from bookstores on February 13.