BLACK is the title of the graphic novel written by Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith III with art by Jamal Igle & Editor Sarah Litt. BLACK took the publishing industry by storm. BLACK removed the veneer of comics like X-Men that used mutants as stand-ins for African Americans since the civil rights area. It asked the question: “In a world that already fears and hates them, what if only Black people had superpowers?”
I wrote about their widely popular Kickstarter campaign (it shattered it’s $30,000 Kickstarter goal in four days!) and interviewed co-creators Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3 in my article “In Depth Interview with “BLACK” Comic creators”. The ‘BLACK’ creative team shared their reactions, next steps and valuable, first-hand insights as both veteran creative talents and persons of color in the mainstream comic book industry.
This series is an all-time favorite of mine and was a top pick for my “ALL THINGS GEEK 2017 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE- Graphic Novels”. Now, the creators of “BLACK” are publishing two new titles set in the ever expanding “BLACK” Comic universe!
The first BLACK [AF]: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART is available in Comic Book shops and bookstores right now!
Raising a little black girl/boy or gender non-specific child? Stop reading. GO GET IT!
BLACK [AF]: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART is a stand-alone YA story that updates classic superhero tropes (an adopted child manifests incredible powers of super strength, invulnerability, and flight) to tell a bold, thrilling, and timely origin story for a new generation.
The book introduces artist Jennifer Johnson, who makes her graphic novel debut.
I spoke in-depth to BLACK Co-creators Writer Kwanza Osajyefo & Illustrator Tim Smith 3 and BLACK [AF] Illustrator Jennifer Johnson about BLACK [AF]: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART and upcoming BLACK [AF]: WIDOWS & ORPHANS #1 in this exclusive interview!-
Alex Yarde (AY):My kids both adore Eli! My daughter in particular! My son loved the original BLACK series but my daughter wants to BE “GOOD GIRL” for Halloween! She LOVES THIS CHARACTER! It’s billed as a stand alone however both want to know if or when the animated or live action movies are coming out?
KWANZA: Wow! That’s really cool to know they enjoyed it — especially your daughter. We did just release a Good Girl baseball cap and kids tee in Shop BLACK. No cape, but kids tend to be quite creative, so I hope that will suffice.
We’re in the early stages of the feature film, but I agree that Good Girl’s adventures would be a cool animated series.
AY: Eli’s character hit so many beats for me! It riffs like a “Girl Of Steel” but straight up tackles interracial adoption, cultural assimilation & continues world building on the magnificent premise behind “BLACK”. Was this story a logical expansion after the success of BLACK?
KWANZA: I don’t know if it was logical, but America’s Sweetheart was on my mind as a spinoff from the conception of BLACK. Creatively, I wanted to tell a story that relayed a different tone and perspective within this universe.
AY: There are striking parallels to Superman in her powerset, family life & values. Eli’s Kansas is Montana and her “Pa Kent” works at CADMUS! Her authenticity as a young black girl shine through with issues that are totally relatable and grounded. How important was that to relay to the audience?
KWANZA: It’s one of the fundamental reasons that we’re creating stories like this. These characters aren’t just black for the sake of quota or consciousness, there is a context to being black, especially in the United States, so their presence in these comics reflects our culture and experiences. Even when raised by a white family with conservative, religious, patriotic values.
AY: Her use of social media, and I loved her mother’s solution to her hair care dilemma! Her little drone speaks to an extraterrestrial origin like Superman. Will there be a “Black Krypton” where she came from?
KWANZA: Not that I have planned at the moment. Much like Kareem, Eli is unique even among their empowered brethren. Her story will continue, but I’m not exploring her roots just yet.
AY: I love the subversiveness of “America’s Sweetheart” – “as long as she stays in line and knows her place.” This is a very American attitude toward Black folks. Is that what you were going for?
KWANZA: I think the idea of the “acceptable negro” is fascinating because of the constantly changing criteria. Eli, by every measure, is a good person. She checks all the boxes for how society says black people should be American, but it’s a rather disingenuous set of requirements that ignores the inherent racism is curating black behavior.
AY: Jennifer. I loved your work on BLACK AF! How is working on a graphic novel different to game design? Are there skills you found transferable?
Jennifer: Thank you! Both comics and video games are a visual language, and to successfully depict each medium’s objectives for production, I needed to know how to depict each visual shot within a scene. My goal as a game designer and comic artist is to create an engaging experience for the end user. To achieve this, I had to plan the overall visual style of a project down to the purpose of each shot within a frame. All of my design choices must evoke specific emotional responses from audiences. For example, the color palette sets the tone for a narrative. Cool colors, for instance, are often used to set an austere tone, whereas warmer palettes often signify excitement or even anger.
So glad you loved the book.
AY: The action, tone and social commentary that drives BLACK AF America’s Sweetheart is pitch perfect! We’ve had powerful Black Women like The Walking Dead’s Michonne but I appreciate Young Black Female Heroines headlining Comics for younger kids like “Fight Like A Girl”’s Amororsa, & Marvels “Moon Girl”. Do you see a growing niche for young Black Comic readers for characters like Eli?
KWANZA: I’d rather it not be a niche, as I’m confident people of all backgrounds will be geeking out on Black Panther. I do want young black people to see themselves reflected as more than a checkbox for publishers and creators to exploit.AY: I’m looking forward to BLACK [AF]: WIDOWS & ORPHANS featuring Anansi and Hoodrat investigating human trafficking & child soldiers. Which though I feel will have a different tone than America’s Sweetheart, the program Eli is a part of is basically a state sanctioned equivalent. Is that accurate?
KWANZA: Somewhat. You saw some of the characters she interacts with in BLACK, but she and they are all willing participants.
Ts3: Anansi and Eli are complete worlds apart for sure.
Eli has a humble upbringing, her actions stem to good intentions. Anansi, on the other hand, has a troubled past that shapes his actions to be much more violent.
Anansi comes from a broken system, modern-day slave trafficking, and one in which we show that neither the government nor small, independent organizations are capable of stopping.
A part of that and tied to the book is how children are used as tools for purely evil needs and desires. It’s a comic, so we turn up the action with some ninja moves and superpowers.
But it’s core plot is a story that is sadly non-fiction.
Tim and I first came up with the concept of BLACK almost a decade ago, It’s a thrill to see these characters come to life through his art in the pages of this series. -Kwanza Osajyefo
AY: Without giving too much away,how many more BLACK titles are in development? Can you speak a little about any crossovers, team-ups or “Crisis” titles involving the entire BLACK Universe?
KWANZA: Quite a few more BLACK [AF] stories, I hope. I’ve scoped out about eight more. As for crossovers/big events — not really my style but the next tentpole book will reflect events from the interstitial concepts. These stories connect but readers don’t have to “collect them all” to understand what going on.
AY: Is there anything you’d like to share with my readers about the future of BLACK titles?
KWANZA: Just that I know fans want more content, for us to go harder, and explore characters in this world even further. We’re working on how to achieve that in the near future.
Ts3: I want to take this moment to thank the readers for their support! It certainly has given me an energy to add more to the comic universe Kwanza and I have created. I’d also like to thank all the others who have added to our success: Jamal [Igle, artist], Khary [Randolph, covers], Sarah [Litt, editor], Dave [Sharpe, letters], Derwin [Roberson, colors], Jen [Johnson, artist, America’s Sweetheart], just to name a few. Matt [Pizzolo] over at Black Mask, our publisher, has made it possible for us to expand the world more! Studio 8 is turning Black into a movie! The future is so BLACK, I have to wear shades!
Following the publication of BLACK [AF]: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART, Black Mask Studios will publish the miniseries BLACK [AF]: WIDOWS & ORPHANS starting in April.
The four-issue series will reunite BLACK co-creators Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3, with Osajyefo writing the series and Smith illustrating it. The series highlights Anansi, one of the characters introduced in BLACK, and marks the first BLACK series to be illustrated by Smith, who designed the characters that Jamal Igle illustrated in the first BLACK comics.
I’ll have more on BLACK [AF]: WIDOWS & ORPHANS closer to it’s April debut!
Best part is I’ve made it super easy for you! Of course hit your local comic book shop or bookseller if you can, use https://www.comicshoplocator.com/storelocator
But if you can’t, the Amazon Prime links provided for BLACK [AF] AMERICA’S SWEETHEART & the original BLACK Volume 1 are below.
These black creatives are MAKING Black History. Support their efforts!
Check out the shop BLACK online store for apparel, art, comics and more!
Happy Valentines Day! I love you too Geek Nation!
About Jennifer Johnson:
Jennifer is a game developer, designer, and illustrator from Toronto. She is fascinated with portraying otherworldly landscapes and strives to promote diverse voices in speculative fiction.
About Kwanza Osajyefo:
Creator and writer of BLACK, Kwanza Osajyefo is a former digital editor at Marvel and DC Comics – best known for launching DC’s Zuda imprint, which published series like the award-winning Bayou, High Moon, Night Owls, Superton, Celadore, Black Cherry Bombshells, Bottle of Awesome, and I Rule the Night.
About Tim Smith 3:
Co-creator and designer of BLACK, Tim Smith 3 (A.K.A TS3), has been working in the comic industry for over 15 years. He created and self-published Red After the Party, and has worked on hit titles for some of the biggest publishers in the industry! To see more of TS3’s work, check out: http://www.ts3art.com/.
About Sarah Litt:
Sarah Litt has been in the publishing industry for over a decade. She started at Penguin and later moved to DC/Vertigo, where she worked on graphic novels. She was later recruited to work with the DC Digital team in LA. Back in NY, she is currently an editor for The Princeton Review.
About Black Mask Studios:
Bringing the punk rock ethic to comics c/o co-founders Brett Gurewitz, Steve Niles, and Matteo Pizzolo, Black Mask supports creators telling awesome and important stories. Check thier website here.
Image credits- Named Creatives / BLACK MASK STUDIOS