Creator Discusses Is’nana the Were-Spider: The Ballads of Rawhead & John Henry

Written by Robert Jeffrey

December 7, 2018

We recently got a chance to sit down and chat with Greg Anderson Elysee, the writer-creator of Is’nana the Were-Spider: The Ballads of Rawhead & John Henry about the Kickstarter for the project. Sit back and enjoy the discussion about John Henry, robots, African mythology and other topics Tell us a little bit about Is’nana the Were-Spider: The Ballads of Rawhead & John Henry? Is this the uber-crossover you’ve always wanted to tell?

Greg Anderson Elysee: The Ballads of Rawhead & John Henry is a one-shot following Volume 2: The Hornet’s Web. It’s a single issue comic book with two stories: one focusing on Rawhead and Bloody Bones, boogeymen from the South, and the other on the folk legend, John Henry. Both stories involve my character, Is’nana, meeting and interacting with them. The Is’nana, Anansi, and John Henry story is something I wanted to tell for quite a while and am excited to finally have it coming out. The Rawhead story is a lot fresher in my head as I was introduced to the legend fairly recently by David Brame, the artist, and it jump started my imagination. For those unfamiliar with John Henry, Rawhead, and Bloody Bones’ stories, how would you say they fit into the Is’nana universe? Or is it the other way around?

ELYSEE: In this first volume of Is’nana the Were-Spider, Is’nana accidentally opens up portals through different worlds, causing various characters to disappear from their world and transport to others. A few have stumbled onto our world and Is’nana’s mission is to bring them back to where they belong. We learn in this book that one of the portals somehow opened up to when John Henry defeated the steam drill machine and transferred him to a world of ruling robots and machines.

Rawhead and Bloody Bones, though, are characters who were already in our world, pretty much showcasing to Is’nana that not all the enemies he will face will be due to his errors. How crucial, in this post Black Panther film craze, is it that black people (or heck anyone who often doesn’t see themselves represented in these larger than life stories) continue to see heroes and heroines who speak to their experiences?

ELYSEE: Diversity is always important, no matter what privileged and entitled person says. It helps people feel represented and feel as if they’re just as important to be showcased and can be seen as three dimensional or as heroes, just as the “majority.” People of color and LGBTQ people are continually being seen as Other in the fantasy world and genres. It’s great to have us as leads as if we were default. You seem to be a fan of myth, whether it be the connection to African mythology with Is’nana, or Black American mythology/folklore with figures like John Henry. What about myths speaks to you as a creator?

ELYSEE: Well I grew up with mythology stories and fairytales. They were my favorites and excited me. I taught myself a lot of Greek mythology due to my obsession with Hercules, Xena, and the original Clash of the Titans. I was seriously obsessed. I’d go to the library to find any book on Greek mythology and various books on fairytales. My mom was who introduced me to a lot of them as well. As I got older, I discovered a book with mythology from various cultures and I finally got introduced to Haitian gods and I was sucked in. Over time, I grew fond of learning more and seeing what else was out there. Something draws me to these figures and it makes me feel a way that we as Black people have been sheltered away from so many of our spiritual figures and mythology heroes and stories. I think it’s time we learn more about them and be proud of them just as many of us are learning to be more and more proud of our skin and history. I’ll go ahead and tackle this right now: any thoughts on the casting of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as John Henry?

ELYSEE: Ha! I’m a little indifferent to it, actually. I’m just glad it’s being done because it’s introducing the figure to a wider audience. He’s already sort of well-known as he’s one of the very few Black legends that actually get taught in schools. I also love Dwayne Johnson, I love seeing his work. He’s not who I imagined as John Henry but I’m willing to see where it goes.

Hopefully the detractors would actually check out my book though. Money where mouth is and all that, haha. You’ve kicked butt with the campaign, standing at 122% funds raised at the time of this interview. What stretch goals can fans look forward to?

ELYSEE: David Brame and I are doing trading cards! I’m extremely ecstatic for that. Growing up, I was also obsessed with comic book trading cards and loved the art on them. David is experimenting with his style and colors and we’re going all retro with it and it’s been a lot of fun. If we can reach $10,000, everyone who pledged for the physical copy of the book or higher will get 9 free cards of various Is’nana characters and mythological/spiritual characters who have appeared in the book thus far. Right now we have Is’nana, Anansi the Spider, Papa Legba of the Haitian faith, and John Henry. We’ll also be having Osebo the Leopard, the villain of Volume 1; Kantite and Queen Mmboro, Ti-Malice and Bouki of Volume 2; and Rawhead and Bloody Bones. Talk a little bit about your writing process. How does an idea like this go from a kernel of an idea to finished script?

ELYSEE: A lot of it starts from research. I love to read about Black culture, stories, myths, faiths and spirituality, and so on. I’m always online reading articles, searching for deities and folklore figures, and buying books on them. I’ll try to let my mind wander and come up with concepts and ideas in incorporating these figures and characters into Is’nana’s development. I’m always jotting down ideas in my notebooks or phone. I also never write in order, so I have a lot of fun putting the pieces together and figuring out the order and pacing. I then form a first draft, send it to some of my critical friends, see what’s working or not working, then develop about 2-3 more drafts after until I’m finally satisfied and send to the artist. And of course, as the layouts and pages come in, another draft will form organically until the finished letters. How has it been working with Is’nana series regular artist Walter Ostlie and newcomer to the Is’nana franchise David Brame?

ELYSEE: Walter stay trying to escape me but I’m like his ball and chain. I refuse to let him go! It’s always a blast working with him. He’s such a great guy, very funny. I’m always challenging him with my ideas and he hates me for it but he says it does make him a better artist. He challenged me with this John Henry story. He hates me for writing a lot of dialogue so he dared me to write a story with no dialogue. Thus the John Henry story we have here. But I still managed to add the actual John Henry ballad, haha.

David Brame is a godsend. The synergy we have working together is really awesome. I always get lucky with artists I work with and he’s no different. We go back and forth with ideas and concepts and I’m joyful each new page or art he sends me. I mean, look at his trading card art! Lastly, John Henry kicking Robot butt? What fever dream did that arise out of lol?

ELYSEE: Haha! Honestly, this has been a concept I’ve had in mind for YEARS! I can’t tell you how I came up with it, but it only made sense. And it’s an awesome visual. I’ve been developing a story of John Henry against robots and machines with Tim Fielder, creator of Matty’s Rocket, for a few years now. Given both of our schedules, I decided to use the concept for Is’nana. Aside from John Henry in the Robot Apocalypse, they’re both extremely different from each other. What can fans look forward to from Is’nana in the future months to come?

ELYSEE: I may be doing more one-shots due to the reception. I’ll see what happens but it’s definitely something I think can work on, and it gives readers more regular output while I continue to develop the character. Therefore A LOT more Black deities and figures and monsters!

Also, a side note, I’m hoping people can check out my upcoming book Marassa, a fantasy sci-fi book about space pirates in the future, also taking from Black culture. It’s going to be a zany ride!

Head here to pledge to the Kickstarter.


Robert Jeffrey II is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in such publications as UVC Magazine, JaDore Magazine,, and The Atlanta Voice Newspaper.He was chosen as a participant in the DC Comics Class of 2017 Writers Workshop . He is a regular contributor for the Tessera Guild, and his comic book work includes client work for the Centers for Disease Control, and Nitto Tires. His comic book writing includes work on such award winning/ nominated series as his creator owned series Route 3Radio Free AmerikaTerminus Team-Up, and Soul of Suw. He’s yet to fulfill his dream of pop-locking to save a community center.

Head to his website here, and you can follow him on Twitter @SYNCHRKJ, Tumblr @robdawriter , and Instagram @robertk.jeffrey.

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