We’ve covered Greg Anderson Elysee’s work quite a few times on the website. Just check out a search for the creator here. There’s a reason we keep coming back to his work, and One Nation: Stronghold is yet another example of why he stays on the BlackSci-Fi.com radar. In One Nation: Stronghold, as summarized, “In One Nation the Tenth are a group of Keramats (metahumans) whose interventionist philanthropy rocks the world’s status quo to its foundations. This volume tells the origin of Stronghold, the Tenth’s resident muscle, growing up in rural Louisiana while coming to terms with his sexuality and his racist family history.”
Greg took the time to answer some questions in an email interview about the series, where we discuss the One Nation universe, Damian Strong, focusing on the black LGBTQ experience in comics, and writing fight scenes. Note: The Kickstarter for the series ends in 21 hours from the time of this publishing.
BlackSci-Fi.com: Talk a little bit about what brought you to the OneNation universe.
Greg Anderson Elysee: A few years back when Is’nana the Were-Spider was still my first and only book, Jason Reeves, the creator, and publisher of the OneNation universe, approached me about writing the Stronghold character and helping to flesh him out. I thought it would be a nice way to stretch my creative muscles and to also work on someone else’s sandbox than just my own. It’s been fun adding to the mythos of this universe and being able to even create some fun characters for it.
BSF: This story brings with it a discussion about the black LGBTQ experience with its title character, Damian Strong. Talk a little bit about Stronghold, and his experience as a gay black male with albinism struggling with his sexual identity early in the story.
GAE: As much as many people complain about Black characters starting to be written as members of the LGBTQ as if it’s surpassing the representation of straight Black characters (talk about bias and bigoted ignorance), representation of Black queer characters is still pretty low and they’re barely focused on as the main character. Damian’s struggles, I personally feel, hasn’t really been showcased too much in a lot of superhero comics, at least not in the way my team and I do. He’s a Black biracial man who grew up with his white family, who are sadly racists and homophobic, and deeply religious.
Damian struggles with his sexuality, wanting to please his family, and also tries to deny his Black side as well, by straightening his hair and trying to pass. There are a lot of nuances and things that people of color go through, on top of being queer which is a whole new set of discrimination they have to deal with as well. And then there’s the lack of representation of people with albinism and if they are, they’re usually villains. Jason and I really wanted to touch on all of that and give something fresh, new, and authentic.
BSF: How important is it that we continue to see representation like this within speculative fiction? Specifically, black speculative fiction?
GAE: I grew up wanting to see better representation in general of marginalized people. It meant so much to me when I’d see Black characters being able to be as awesome as the default white characters. They made me feel less alone in some sense, that I could be as heroic as them, as powerful, as dynamic, as layered. When I saw queer characters represented well… holy crap! Making this more of a norm helps people feel wanted and feel like their existence matters. Art saves many many lives. Being able to see yourself is a very powerful thing.
BSF: There’s been some very homophobic push back to seeing the experiences of LGBTQ members of the black community captured in speculative fiction, most recently in Lovecraft Country. Why do you think that such criticism continues to exist in our community, and what do you as a creator try to do to push back?
GAE: Ignorance, really. People are conditioned to be hateful and bigoted and they really don’t give a damn who they hurt. A lot of ignorant Black people want that right and power to be oppressive just as they are oppressed, spewing the same rhetoric that white fanboys have against their existence and showcase in the media. They’ll find any type of excuse to suppress LGBTQ voices and it can stem from lack of exposure, conditioning from their families from years of homophobia, their Christian or other religious upbringing, and even self hate as there’s proof that many homophobes have some lingering same sex feelings within themselves.
In the end, I couldn’t give a shit about those people. This book is for ones wanting to enjoy a solid and layered story, although it’d be nice to change some mindsets at the same time. They’re whining and moaning will go nowhere because more and more representation is happening anyways. So boohoo.
BSF: You’re adding to a growing universe with the OneNation brand. Talk about how it feels to be able to help grow a connected super powered verse where people of color are the one’s in control.
GAE: Man, it feels dope! Jason Reeves and his crew have done a great job with characters and given we both share the same views when it comes to the showcase of our people in a better light, I’m excited to be able to create characters who can fit his universe. If he plans to do more with them, I’d be happy to see where they go.
BSF: How fun is it to get to write superhero action? Is there a certain way in which you lay out or pace your fight scenes?
GAE: You know, each book is different when it comes to action scenes. There are some where I have a clear cut idea of what NEEDS to happen. Usually that’s due to some sort of page constraints. There are other times where it’s a back and forth between the artist and I, as if we’re creating choreography.
Sometimes I give the artist free reign but with some notes and guides as to what I’m looking for or who should have the upperhand or any particular points I need touched on. It depends on the book, working relationship with the artist, what works for them as well, budget and page constraints or freedom. With this one, I was pretty hands on in the writing of what needed to happen and Antonello, the artist, did a great job in adapting my words into awesomely dynamic layouts.
BSF: Please give some love to your art team, lettering, editors, and the whole OneNation: Stronghold team.
GAE: Oh, most def! Antonello Cosentino is the line artist and we’ve worked together in the past on what’s supposed to be my creator owned series, Marassa. We had a wonderful time working together and I love how he designs characters and how he expresses movement with them. And his expressions are also beautiful. When Jason and I were going through so much time looking for artists, I suggested Antonello given I didn’t want to stop playing with him.
Carlos Lopez is our colorist and he’s done some awesome work on other books like Amazing Spider-Man, Old Man Logan, and X-Men. He’s added so many beautiful dimensions to Antonello’s already magnetic line work. The images just pop out of the pages, really driving everything else to further life. I’m geeking out thinking about it, ha! And of course, Loris Ravina is our letterer. He’s been a regular artist for 133art and I totally understand why Jason keeps him on! The dude knows what he’s doing while putting his own stamp on things. I’m excited to have such a great team put this book together.
And there’s our showrunner, Jason Reeves, the creator of Stronghold. He does a great job making sure the wheels are churning and so easy and fun to work with. Very professional in how he works with people on his roster. He allows me freedom and challenges me at the same time and respects his team. Trust me, that says a lot in this business.
BSF: Talk a bit about the future of the series, and where readers can expect to go from here.
GAE: We’re going to go even further into Damian’s history. We’re going to see what shaped him growing up to where he is now as a seasoned superhero in his 50s. We’ll see more of his story of his family, his best friends, and lover and then the fact that he comes face to face with all of them now as an adult. How has he grown and how has their relationships shifted. Strength and resilience. I hope people take a chance and join us on this journey. I’m very proud of this book.
Check out the Kickstarter here.
Robert Jeffrey II is an Atlanta based freelance writer who has worked for such clients as DC Comics, the Centers for Disease Control, and Nitto Tires. He is the co-writer of Radio Free Amerika, the writer of RET: CON, the creator/ writer of the Glyph Comics Award winning/ nominated Route 3: Vol 1, and the creator/writer of Mine To Avenge: The Book of Layla. He’s contributed to the Dark Universe: The Bright Empire and The Scribes of Nyota prose anthologies. He is a graduate of the 2017 DC Comics New Talent Writers Workshop. You can reach him at www.robertkjeffrey.com