By the time you’re reading this, the Kickstarter campaign for the next book in the Black Super Powered Universe (White) will have launched. If you’re not familiar with the original Kickstarter campaign for Black, the campaign was a monster of a success and from following the social media of the various creators on the book, the second one looks like a crazy level up.
A couple of weeks before the launch I spoke on the phone with writer/creator Kwanza Osajyefo about his career, his creative process, his work with the European comics publisher Humanoids, their new U.S. Imprint H1, and of course the next chapter in the Black Universe.
BlackSci-Fi: Please give us a brief recap of your background for folks that might not be familiar with your name.
Kwanza Osajyefo: I’ve worked at both Marvel and DC, about 10 years between both of them and then once I left comics I got into advertising essentially. At both of those companies I worked in the online departments and then when I came into Marvel I started off as an intern, my first job fresh off out of college, but I worked at Marvel Comics and wrote articles for their site and maintained the site when things were less automated. We had to code everything by hand but that was my first job out of school. I left them and went into online editing at different publications. I did some freelance stuff for people who had license deals with Marvel and some Japanese companies that I did graphic design work for. It was a mixed bag but mostly online editorial and then an opening came up at DC to help launch their first digital imprint, Zuda and that’s how they dragged me back in.
BSF: What’s your creative process? Are you a bubble writer, are you doing thumbnail sketches with word balloons, kind of Neil Gaiman-ish or do you do straight scripts and send it to the artist?
KO: It’s a different process depending on what you’re working on. When I first wrote Black my approach to it and still part of my approach to it is I just write a quick little paragraph on what’s happening on the page, I’ve never been one to do very detailed panel descriptions, I feel personally it’s a bit oppressive on the artist. I think for the most part illustrators are visual storytellers, they’re kind of the director and it’s my job to sort of concentrate on setting the scene, the tone of it, conveying that so they can draw a page effectively. I don’t like to dictate every little single movement and it’s really unnecessary working with Jamal (Igle) because he is just a master, I can pretty much say Hector walks into the room XYZ happens and by the end of the page this has happened and he’ll quite brilliantly direct every panel.
What I’ve changed since then is that I’ve started doing dialogue along with that, so what I’ll do is the panel description and just write in all the dialogue that’ll happen on that page but still not giving it or assigning it to specific panels, it leaves a little bit of room for change and review, see if it’s working with the art and also at the same time give Jamal a little bit more insight into the intent of the page, and after looking at some of the pages were collaborating on right now this process even better.
When I work with Mark Waid for stuff with Humanoids like on Ignited we do it sort of full script, but we’re also not as precious with each and every panel, more like in this panel this is what’s going on, in this panel that’s what’s going on, but we’re not doing anything like focus in really tightly on this foot because it’s the most important foot in the entire world and a real clue to everything going on in the story.
BSF: Sort of a hybrid Marvel style?
KO: Kind of, I like the idea of just being more collaborative in that sort of stuff.
BSF: When you’re writing are you locked in the room, phones off, TV is off or are you okay going to coffeeshop sitting in the corner and working on your laptop?
KO: It depends because for the most part I get up first thing in the morning do a little bit of freeform writing but I’m constantly writing so I use this app called Google Keep which is just post-it notes for your phone and half the time people think I’m texting but I’m actually writing scripts on my phone. When I was in Paris I wrote half of America’s Sweetheart at a bar drinking wine and staring down at the city. I’ll do it anywhere it just depends.
BSF: So you wrote most of America’s Sweetheart in another country, nice.
KO: When it comes to America half of what we know comes from another country.
BSF: Let’s talk about the H1 stuff. Right now you’re one of the architects of it, you’re helping to map out this universe, the look, the style, the physics, give us an overview of the universe, if you can, without spoiling, and as much detail as you can for your personal book, that’s going to be the Free Comic Book Day one?
KO: So the Free Comic Book Day one is going to be like an overview of the entire universe all of the launch characters and that’s what that’s going to be, but the book I’m working on with Mark Waid is going to be Ignited and that’s coming out in August.
BSF: So the H1 universe is a modern setting?
KO: Yeah so the H1 universe is born out of the idea that Humanoids, that’s the parent company, really wanted to take what they’ve done in the French market, where they’re one of the biggest publishers in Europe, and bring some of that feel into the American market, not necessarily doing superheroes, something that appeals to the American aesthetic but has a good amount of French flavor, something thing as an emerging francophile really appealed to me, and it really appealed to me to do something in an American Comics style but has a different foundation to it.
So what we were really tasked to do when Humanoids first approached me was to create a universe that’s tethered in the realities of our world but still entertain people’s imagination of the supernatural, It’s something where to me the way I could really describe it as a differentiator is that we’re breaking the laws of physics by also acknowledging them. We’re very much trying to ground this in a space where something happens there are real consequences to it and it’s not just sort of par for the course.
I think you get a lot of that in comic books because you’re often operating off of very weird loose science, but in the real world will you take something supernatural and put into place it could have some very interesting implications, if a person were to run at the speed of sound or light or if a person were to try and lift an entire Battleship there are laws of physics that should apply to that, but we let it go because it’s what we’re used to and that’s fun is fantasy and stuff but I also think there’s a lot of fun in setting boundaries for yourself and then trying to press against that and see how that can make for equally entertaining storytelling.
BSF: That’s the line on the H1 universe, but we still need a little bit on your book.
KO: Ignited is our flagship book that’s coming out. It’s really hard not to spoil that one because it’s something that is very near and dear to my heart. When I came up with the concept for it, it was between myself, Carla (Speed McNeil) and Yannick (Paquette) and stuff, coming in with ideas but Ignited almost spun fully formed out of my head what it was and I really want to tell a story where essentially you have these characters who have a purpose, they have a mission in life and often when people have a mission or something that’s really important to them, in a standard comic book setting, they’re going to go out and do it, and again
BSF: It’s a team book with the young protagonist but not teenagers more like college kids?
KO: No, they’re definitely teenagers. It’s a teenage book, but it’s a lot more grounded than say like here’s a bunch kids who all of a sudden get abilities and along with that come costumes and a really cool base and some magical mentor, and the ability to have these super existences. One of the things I’ve always thought was really weird with teen comics there’s always this sort of like a safe haven for the heroes. They always have access to these best vehicles and just a lot of things that are going to be on the table, if someone were to really gain a superpower because if the world that you’re basing it on is already our world, then there’s definitely a lot of limitations to that. Because when we look at your current superhero world there are all these rules that exist.
For one, a lot of these worlds already accept the fact that there are a lot of vigilantes swinging around everywhere. It’s just par for the course and it’s kind of ridiculous because if someone in our reality were to have abilities out of the blue and suddenly be swinging or flying around or anything super, especially if they’re wearing masks, that’s going to have real implications. Or it might not have any at first, because people forget how big our world is, we see these larger-than-life characters and assume that the minute they emerge everyone will know about them but what if they’re in the Midwest or the Ozarks doing some local hero stuff?
Who’s going to actually know, maybe people in the town and they don’t talk about it. Maybe it’s just not making the local paper and that person has to hitchhike to a bigger city to actually get noticed. Those are the kind of things we thought about when we were looking at how to tell superhero stories that had a little bit more impact on the world around us for the reader.
BSF: Are you going to lose the masks and capes or are there going to be secret identities?
KO: I can say we definitely play with that, but it won’t be in the way that people are expecting. I think again that’s par for the course when you talk about superpowers are people just immediately have on some level here’s the domino mask, here’s all the standard fare with being a superhero and all these rules in place, that’s how they operate. And what we are really, really trying to do is not mimic the standard tropes, so there’s a lot of stuff we will play with in terms of capes and masks that people will find interesting.
BSF: For the most part you’re using American and Canadian talent, will H1 be using any European talent for the books?
KO: That I don’t know when it comes to that sort of stuff. When I do get
some insight into stuff like that who’s going to be working on certain books,
like Cheryl Lynn Eaton was my first, first choice for Omni and I’m so glad she said yes but I do think there’s an attempt
to have that cross over between the two market so I’m definitely excited by the
idea of these H1 books also appearing in the European market just because I
want to be in that market, but for talent I think it’s been my editors choice,
he’s been using some notable talent here in the US, John Cassidy is our Chief
Creative Officer and Mark Waid is our Chief Super Awesome Writer (Director of
BSF: Switching gears a little, is this (White) the next phase of Black?
KO: I guess it depends on how you look at it. For me, this is actually the second part and the AF books have always been intended as these Interspatial, in-between moments of the three main arcs. My intention was for the Black Super Powered Universe to be a three-parter, very much in the vein of Star Wars, Empire and Return of the Jedi, as of the tentpoles for the entire universe and the stories as in-between, before and after those three points but to me, this is the second part coming out.
BSF: Okay so Phase 2. I know what the title is. Is it okay if we go with the title for this next chapter?
KO: We announced the title very purposefully right after New York Comic Con, when the H1 stuff was being announced, I also announced the name of the next book, I did that knowing there was so much noise going on that we could kind of slide it under the radar if you catch it, but the next book is called White.
BSF: This takes place about how long after Black?
KO: White takes place three years after Black. For anybody not familiar with what happened in Black, it was essentially the launch of this universe basically asking the question, “what if only black people had superpowers”? Black focuses on this young man named Kareem Jenkins who gets shot and killed by the police, comes back to life, finds out he has powers and he’s part of a small percentage of black people who have had superpowers for centuries, but it’s been kept secret.
Ultimately that secret becomes known and three years later down the line we’re in White and one of the main antagonists from Black, Theodore Mann, has been elected president of the United States and as someone whose family over the centuries has very much exploited empowered black people, he’s got some controversial policies that he’s putting in place in order to stir the tension that would naturally arise if a small and historically oppressed part of the population suddenly has superpowers.
That’s kind of where things take off and he’s trying to implement his Mann’s First Program, which are these cybernetically enhanced super soldiers that are going to be led by his son Thaddeus, so he’s trying to drum up public support for that and in the midst of this universe, in this United States where the public now knows the secret and they’re kind of freaking out.
BSF: There going to be setting up concentration camps or labs to study them?
KO: It’s a funny thing because what I found interesting approaching the story like this is that yeah people often think of the immediate extreme versus how something like this would be handled on a global scale like how an administration would deal with something like that, you say concentration camps and immediately you drum up visions of World War II and Japanese internment camps that we had in the US and even now with the border and all these places we have where are all these young people in cages.
It’s always kind of a game of optics with politics and that’s kind of what I’m playing within White because nobody is going to ever really come out the gate and be a full-on dictator, that kind of stuff happens over time, so no we’re not going to come out with full concentration camps but there is definitely a lot of political pressures
I think what is interesting about White is much like with Black, we took a very character focused look at this black character who is our sort of POV being drawn into this world as things having escalate and explode in this world is just kind of focused around the central character and while Kareem is still the central character in White, Kareem is looking at the world in a much bigger scope, and seeing how these characters are existing and surviving in a much larger world is much more than this one young man struggling in this situation among the people.
BSF: In my head, I’m seeing this is going to be crazy. So when does the Kickstarter start?
KO: We’re launching the Kickstarter at the beginning of March and our intention is we’re offering four awards. The awards we’re offering are catered to what I’ve seen people’s habits shift to, what they read and how they consume comics. One of the rewards we’ll be offering is a digital subscription to read White online and our entire back catalog, you’re going to have all-access to everything that’s going to come out and everything we’ve done previously.
Another reward is going to be a collector’s item first issue, which the more backing we get the more variant covers were going to get added to it, we have some notable artists that are going to be contributed to it, we have Ashley Woods contributing if we hit a certain backer goal, we also have Jeremy Love, Criss Cross, Sanford Greene, and Dennis Cowan doing covers if we hit certain numbers.
KO: I was really blown away when I met Denys at San Diego and he already knew about Black and I tried very hard not to let my voice crack when he said he was familiar with it and I happen to have a copy on me so I gave him one on the spot. He agreed to also do a cover if we hit a certain backing number so the cool thing is the more backing the more rare that first issue is going to be so it’s going to be this really cool collector’s item which I thought would be an interesting way to do it because there is that market that exists in comic culture where people just love to have that collector’s item first issue. And then the other one, of course, is going to be the full collected graphic novels because of
And the last one is going to be basically all six issues of the series because people like to collect, I came from collector’s culture myself. And people want those six issues. Everybody wants to see what those six covers are going to be and we want to still provide that and that’s something that people and retailers can get their hands on exclusively through the Kickstarter. We’re looking to publish the physically printed material and start shipping in March of next year if we get it done sooner will ship it sooner. That’s the great part of doing this and doing it on our own. We’re saying like “hey we’re going to ship it out by March” but if we’re really firing on all cylinders like Jamal’s pretty much penciled the first issue already.
BSF: I was just wondering if you would be in the 2020 cycle of books because then will you be flexible to adjust things as the political landscape shifts around
KO: Yeah, we’ve had the grand benefit of being timely I think with this book hitting in 2020 will we’ll have something out there that will be kind of in sync with where the public mind is in terms of the most powerful seat of government in our country.
BSF: More of a fanboy question, if you could do any types of side stories you have things in between just to help give flavor to the universe.
KO: And that’s just something that’s just born out of people wanting to read more of the characters after we launched Black. America’s Sweetheart is weird one because that was something I’d already had in mind in that universe but my intention was to always tell the story with these threes pillar stories and then have the benefit of people wanting to play around in the universe themselves. With Devil’s Dye, in stores right now, I didn’t write that one I just kind of did a loose plot and Vita Ayala has been really chopping it up right now, doing some great stuff and hopefully, we’ll find other writers who just want to play in the universe.
BSF: And the biggest type of playing around is crossing over, so could you see Image or maybe Lion Forge doing a crossover with you guys and what would that kind of look like?
KO: I don’t know, that be interesting no one’s approaches to do any sort of crossover like that but if that was something as people were interested.
BSF: And now it’s out there.
KO: I wouldn’t say no to that immediately but right now my focus is to establish the foundation of this world because I like the idea I have a finite life on this and once I’m done with that third arc, putting a bow on the black super-powered universe and hopefully other people will want to keep going with the characters and the stories but for me that’ll be kind of it, so who knows what the future holds for it.
To be a part of comic history go to their Kickstarter page for White.
George Carmona 3rd is an Artist/Writer, former Milestone Media Intern, former DC Comics paper pusher, current book lover, and lifelong comic geek. He is the author of the DC Super Friends Joke Book from Penguin Random House. You can find his work at FistFullofArt.com or follow him on Twitter at GCarmona3.