As a fan of comic books, finding a creative duo that works extremely well together on a book makes the comic book reading experience all the more better. This is what I’ve encountered with Greg Anderson-Elysee and Sean Damien Hill in Is’nana the Were-Spider: Drums of Ogoun. As far as a quick review, this book is a solid entry in Elysee’s ever-growing body of work within the world of Is’nana, and for Hill, it’s yet another example of why he’s one of the best artists in the game right now.
First and foremost, separately, both of these brothers are talented beyond belief. Their numerous credits are a testament to that. But together, these creators have hit the proverbial ball out of the park with their latest work.
I was fortunate to catch up with the team as they roll into the final week of their Kickstarter campaign for Is’nana the Were-Spider: Drums of Ogoun. Both creators graciously took time out of their busy schedules to conduct an email interview to give more insight into their project, their creative processes, along with a host of other topics.
BlackSci-Fi.com: Talk to me about Is’nana the Were-Spider: Drums of Ogoun, and Messages From A Goddess. What are they about, where do both stories sit within the larger Is’nana the Were-Spider mythos, etc.
Greg Anderson Elysee: Drums of Ogoun is the latest story in the Is’nana the Were-Spider series. Is’nana, who is the son of Anansi the West African and Caribbean spider god of stories, gets visited by Ogoun, the Orisha and Vodou God of War. He is put through a series of brutal tests and challenges by Ogoun, pitting him against zombies, were-creature warriors, an African dinosaur, and of course we see them face-to-face. There’s a lot more to meet the eye than just carnage but we’ll see what’s going on by the end.
The issue is drawn by Sean Hill who is absolutely, ridiculously amazing. I’ve been a fan of his for so long and I was excited when he said yes to doing this book with me. His details are insane and he did a lot of crazy stuff with design which I can’t wait for y’all to see. Walt Msonza Barna is the colorist and I am so excited to have him back on the team. He is the cover artist for Vols 1 and 2 and he compliments Sean so damn well. He really elevates things. And of course our letterer Deron Bennett of AndWorld Design finishes us off and brings us home like he always does. I can always trust in him to make us look complete by the end.
Messages From a Goddess is the back up story where Is’nana is visited by Erzule Freda, the Haitian Vodou Goddess of Love. She has a special message to give to Is’nana. This story is very opposite in terms of content and I think is a great breather after the intensity of Drums. The artwork is by my sister, Blossom Blair, in her very first comic book. Y’all not ready!
Given the previous three one shots take place at different parts of Is’nana’s life, Showtime taking place in between Volumes 1 and 2; Birthday Day being a prequel; Drums of Ogoun and Messages of a Goddess take place in the more recent/present time for Is’nana. It furthermore sets up something that was hinted at a bit in Volume 2.
BSF: Sean, how do you feel Is’nana the Were-Spider: Drums of Ogoun adds to your continually growing body of work?
Sean Damien Hill: I’ve always wanted to do something with African mythology. It’s still a genre not tapped into much. Many might go as far as Egypt but then never any further west of Africa. It’s a chance to imagine some out of the box stuff that I’m hoping folks will enjoy.
One of the things that stands out to me about this book Greg is that it’s a bit brutal than some of the previous installments in the Is’nana series, as we see Ogoun (the Haitian Loa and Orisha God of War and Iron), put our hero through the paces. Talk a bit about what it’s like creating something where the violence is a bit harsher from a writing perspective.
GE: Ha. The funny thing is: brutality has sorta always been in the Is’nana books. It’s just that it hasn’t always been the focus and they would be so far in between in terms of presentation. The fight between Is’nana and Osebo was pretty damn brutal and gory, especially when Osebo bites off Is’nana’s hand. In Showtime, one of the recent one shots, we see Is’nana become a victim of police brutality and we see him actually getting beat. But this was still the first story where the fights were legit and full on themes. Ogoun is the god of war and he feels it best to bring forth as much violence as he can for Is’nana. This is the most action packed of the Is’nana books thus far as it’s fight after fight after fight and in the end, it’s actually all for a reason. But man… Izzy goes through it.
BSF: Sean, you’re dealing with mythical characters such as Ogun, Fana, and Makau inIs’nana the Were-Spider: Drums of Ogoun. Take us a little bit through the process of bringing these well known, larger than life titans to life through your art.
SH: Well first I try to identify the culture those figures are coming from and read up a bit on them. Usually figures like that have a particular purpose in that culture so whatever visuals I start to brainstorm have to represent that. Then I go into visual research on the culture itself, I see how they represent themselves just to make sure I’m not putting that character into any generic thing. Also seeing how a culture represents itself can inform you of that particular figures function with those people.
BSF: One of the things I appreciate your work is that you’re able to keep a great balance between introducing these larger than life deities/ mythological characters, and keeping Is’nana’s story pretty grounded. The guy just wants to keep the people of his realm/ world safe, without having to always be put to the test. How do you strike that middle ground with telling stories like this?
GE: I’m just a fan of character work and development, relationships, and the way they can shape a person. A solid foundation of character work will keep me so engaged. The sweet visuals and action are icings on the cake. Is’nana is a coming of age story and I while writing and coming up with each story, I try to break down what exactly is Is’nana learning about himself or about the situation he’s in. In what way is he growing or are we the readers learning something about him. While, yes, a theme is to use each story to introduce a different Black deity/mythological or historical figure, I try my best to remember, again, that it’s a coming of age thing and Is’nana is trying to figure out himself in the midst of all this madness and chaos.
BSF: With your career you don’t do just one thing. You write mythical superhero adventures. You’ve written sports autobiographies. You’ve written afrofuturist science fiction. What drives you to focus on so many different genres?
GE: I just love stories, man. While horror is my favorite genre, if you give me a good plot and characters, I can read or watch anything. I don’t discriminate when it comes to what genre entertains me. I love it all. So I think that ends up showing up with my own writing. Sometimes I even find it difficult to pinpoint what genre some of my stuff is and I find that to be a lot of fun. I first and foremost go in with a general story in mind and go from there. The genre will reveal itself as I develop the story. But sometimes it’s just there in the back of my mind.
BSF: Sean, on the art side of things, your work is extremely intricate, melding the best of comic book storytelling and fine art. This is put on beautiful display in Is’nana the Were-Spider: Drums of Ogoun. This may sound like a huge question (lol), but how did this wind up being your style? Is there a particular artistic method/ influence that moved you towards this way of art?
SH: When I was a kid my mom and grandfather were into some different stuff lol. I remember trying to read Paradise Lost as a kid because I was so impressed with the artwork in that book. She also had Stephen Kings The Stand which had a lot of illustrations from Bernie Wrightsen.
As I got older I did go to an Art High school with Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Dc which gave me a heavy fine arts background. I think at that point I thought I’d never be a comic artist but I could probably be a painter. I even had mentor in Kofi Tyus, who was pretty much a father to me who’s a fine art himself. I guess I never shook all the traditional training out of me when I finally started to pursue doing comics.
BSF: How fun is it to do what you do for a living?
GE: It’s crazy fun. Although at the moment it’s still not enough to supplement living and surviving, the fact that it feels like I’m getting closer to it fills me with excitement and pride. I love writing and if I had to choose between all professions, this would be what I want to do for the rest of my life.
SH: It’s absolutely incredible, it’s not easy. But sometimes I feel like God only built me to do this. The fear of a blank page is still terrifying but the absolute love for it is what pushes me to problem solve and get something down that might hopefully impact someone.
BSF: What’s a piece of advice that you like to give to artists coming up in the industry?
SH: I think the thing I would strongly suggest is to tell your own stories. Don’t worry too much about getting hired by someone or get obsessed with developing a style, because learning through telling your own story can develop your voice as a storyteller. Once you have a voice you have a style and once you have that your work tends to stick out more from a sea of portfolios. Just learn to do you. Besides it’s a waste of time to be like someone else, I’ve been trying to be Bernie Wrightsen for years and it hasn’t worked yet lol
BSF: You’re in a space as an indie comic book creator where you’re constantly growing your library of work. This can be difficult at times for a variety of reasons. What do you think keeps you going as a creator?
GE: If I’m not going to tell my stories, who will? Seriously?
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Robert Jeffrey II is a professional writer (comic books, tabletop gaming, prose fiction, and video games) with over 18 years of experience. He has worked for such clients as DC Comics, the Centers for Disease Control, Son of Oak Gaming, 133Art Publishing, RAE Comics, SUBSUME Media, and Nitto Tires. He currently works as a video game writer for developer Blowfish Studios.