Indie Comic BLACK strips the veneer off Mutant as metaphor for the black experience in America.
“BLACK” is the title of a very ambitious new graphic novel written by Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith III with art by Jamal Igle & Khary Randolph. Editor Sarah Litt formerly of Vertigo Comics will oversee production. BLACK removes the veneer of comics like X-Men that used mutants and as stand ins for African Americans since the civil rights area. It asks the question:
“In a world that already fears and hates them – what if only Black people had superpowers?”
BLACK tells the story of young protagonist Kareem Jenkins, gunned down in a hail of bullets by racist police, yet somehow miraculously survives and escapes with the help of Juncture, a mysterious mentor who reveals to Kareem a secret known only by an elite few: An unknown percentage of the world’s black population have superpowers. This has been known for millennia and kept secret from those in society who seek to exploit these abilities for their own gain.
“With BLACK, we’re looking to tell a great story, but we’re also purposefully challenging the pop culture status quo, which is dominated by a White male aesthetic,” says BLACK co-creator Osajyefo “BLACK tackles the very real and palpable issue of race, which is at the forefront in America and around the world. We are trying to confront the issue of race head-on by creating a world in which only Black people are superheroes — and the BLACK superhero trope isn’t subtly cast under a label of mutant, inhuman, or meta-whatever. It is also both thrilling and liberating to create the superheroes we’ve always wanted to see — and, frankly, be — outside of the entrenched publishing system.”
”BLACK is important because aside from age and abilities, I can’t distinguish between Sam Wilson (Captain America) and Miles Morales (Spider-Man),” Osajyefo tells The Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “I mean, I enjoy both characters, but they are very ‘Cosby Show’: cookie-cutter, inoffensive blacks who don’t reflect contrasts within black culture itself. Most publishers lack the internal insight to create content that expresses black culture in a way that really reflects us.
With the $30,000 Kickstarter campaign launched yesterday the team behind BLACK hopes to have a digital comic midyear, and an exclusive graphic novel later in the year.
“We’re open to distribution partners for physical periodicals and the graphic novel, but whatever that latter product is, it will be different from this Kickstarter run,” Osajyefo says.
Artist Jamal Igle will provide artwork for “Black”– as well as original art to some fans who participate in the Kickstarter effort.
As for the comic itself, Igle says that he’ll try to apply a grittier approach to this story.
“While I’m known for a certain aesthetic when it comes to my work, I try to bring a different approach to every project I do. It’s no exception with ‘BLACK,’ as well,” Igle tells Comic Riffs. “I’m going to try and introduce a grittier element to the pages — a more graphic element. I think the more grounded approach will make Kareem, Juncture and their struggle against the more realistic foes we’ve set up in this story pop.”
As to whether a tale like “Black” could ever be told at a major publisher, Osajyefo says the short answer is no. The main reason is, he says, is the continued lack of diversity in editorial positions in the industry.
“I think that the reasons why such stories have not been told by a major publisher is interesting to dissect,” he says. “In my 15 years of experience between Marvel and DC, I’ve only met two other black editors, and they were assistants — and no black women.”
“The point is that the absence of black characters is symptomatic of a systemic lack of inclusion among the stewards of these characters,” he continues, “That isn’t to suggest an intentional omission so much as a self-perpetuating environment lacking any perspective that isn’t white male – I think that pretty much sums up the comics industry for the past seven decades.”
“Black stories cannot be a commodity to benefit the whim of oligarchies, now that they’ve figured out there is money to be had from consumers of color,” said Osajyefo, while noting Marvel’s recent controversy over initial limited diversity among the ranks of its hip hop variant cover artists.
“The context of ‘Black’ reflects an experience that now has more visibility thanks to social media,” he says. “It may attract one demographic more than others, but it parallels current events – so it is a universal story. I do want the support of black people, specifically because we need to take ownership of our narrative.”
For more information or to contact Mr. Osajyefo directly at the projects Kickstarter
all art – Jamal Igle & Khary Randolph