Black Sci-Fi: Tell us about yourself.
STEPHEN MARK PANTOJA: I was born in raised in New York City and have lived in every borough except Brooklyn. I started out in Harlem and spent my formative years in the Bronx. Currently I am living in the Rio Grande Valley section of Texas.
BSF: Please, how much do you know about sci-fi and comic books?
STEPHEN MARK PANTOJA: I have been a lifelong sci-fi fan starting with Star Trek (believe it or not, I was a big fan of Dr. M’Benga) and Star Wars (personally, I preferred Lando Calrissian over Han Solo). That segued into a love for comic books with a decidedly sci-fi emphasis such as The Micronauts and Rom: Spaceknight, to the traditional super hero titles like the Squadron Supreme and Justice League International.
I originally intended to become a comic book artist and attended the High School of Art & Design. I also managed one of the biggest comic book shops in NYC at the time, Jim Hanley’s Universe, further increasing my knowledge of all things sci-fi and comicdom related. It was while working at JHU that I got my first paid writing assignment for Visual Assault Comics, an indie company.
After that I concentrated solely on writing and majored in film at the City University of New York. Since then I’ve written and produced two short films (Recoil and Black Pearl), a line of children’s books and a T.V show for multiracial kids (The Amalaganimals), and several screenplays that have been adapted into novels under Pantoja Press. My stories run the gamut from vampires (The Paladin: Blood Bank), zombies (Dead Bang), to crime capers ($TASH). My newest work is a fantasy trilogy entitled Bronze Aegis, and has been described as “An ethnic Game of Thrones”. I’m also working on two sci-fi pieces, Planet Fubar, and Mosaic: The United Systems of America.
As a multifaceted artiste I draw inspiration from the a variety of sources (ie. Octavia Butler, R.A. Salvatore, Roger Zelazny, Nancy Collins, Michael Golden, George Perez, John Byrne, Dwayne McDuffie, Spike Lee, F. Gary Gray, Quentin Tarantino, and Guy Ritchie to name a few).
BSF: On one of your websites I found this: “Some writers create stories, Stephen Mark Pantoja creates worlds.” Can you please explain this?
STEPHEN MARK PANTOJA: I first coined my quote “Some writer’s create stories, I create franchises.” several years ago during a pitch with an artist I was hiring to illustrate my script, The Paladin: Blood Bank, and it just stuck with me. I tend to think several steps ahead and it shows in most of my writing. Very few of my works are stand-alone stories. Most are part of a bigger picture or continuity and I usually have more tales to tell with a particular group of characters.
BSF: The has won the BETA Award for Best Youth Program, what motivated you to write such great books?
STEPHEN MARK PANTOJA: Growing up multiracial (half Black and half Puerto Rican) there were not a lot of characters I could really associate with and I knew within NYC I couldn’t be alone. As a parent I didn’t want my kids to wonder why there were no multiracial personalities like themselves in in comics or cartoons, so I set out to amend that by creating The Amalaganimals. Comprised of group of kids who are all based on hybrid animals (i.e. Luxly the Liger, who is half lion and half tiger), The Amalaganimals is aimed at not just multiracial kids but all kids and teaches them about diversity, tolerance, respect, heritage, as well as life lessons on how to counter bullying and not to lie or steal.
There are currently four books in the series and based on their success, I was able to create a live action T.V. show based on The Amalaganimals for public access in NYC. The show featured puppet versions of the main characters and was awarded the BETA Award for Best Youth Program in 2012.
BSF: You have received two awards: Winner (2011) -The ActNow Foundation’s The Next 15 Minutes Script Competition (‘$TASH’) and Winner (2012) -Bronxnet’s 2012 Beta Awards: Best Youth Program (‘The Amalaganimals’). Tell me how you felt when you got these awards.
STEPHEN MARK PANTOJA: In addition to the BETA Award for The Amalaganimals, my screenplay $TASH was selected as a winner of the 2011 The Next 15-Minutes script competition. It was an honor to be included with the likes of Shaka (Newlyweeds) King and Cole (After the Storm) Wiley, both of whom have gone on to have their scripts made into movies. $TASH is set in Manchester, England and revolves around the Black ‘yardie’ gangs there. It’s a crime story with dark humor in vein of Guy Ritchie-like films Snatch, and Lock, Stock and two Smoking Barrels.
BSF: What are the challenges you have faced in the course of your success?
STEPHEN MARK PANTOJA: My biggest challenge has been representation, without an agent I have little to no chance of getting my work seen by producers. Film festivals and script contests were one avenue I’ve tried in the past but they can be costly in the long run. So I’ve decided to partner with Lulu Publishing and self-publish my work under my own brand, Pantoja Press. It’s hard work but ultimately more rewarding and I retain control and full ownership of my properties.
BSF: Finally, what advise do you have for young entrepreneurs who want to be successful like you in their profession?
STEPHEN MARK PANTOJA: Start writing right now. Just do it. If you have a story to tell write it down now, Don’t wait, don’t talk about, be about it and write it. Don’t procrastinate. It’s not going to be perfect the first time. It never is and you’ll, go back and edit it later. But it won’t exist until you start writing it. Write all the time. I do. I carry a notebook with me all the time, and even when I don’t, I’m writing in my head. Write, write, write. And, let people read your work. Let them critique it. Get used to others feedback, good and bad, and use it to hone your craft. Only you know the story in your head you can write it.
Maurice Waters started his career in the Philadelphia media market as a reporter, producer, and programming assistant. Starting in the 90s, he has produced and hosted numerous Black Sci-Fi Panels and workshops along the East Coast that focused on the Black Sci-Fi enthusiasts and those who are trying to break into the sci-fi industry. He’s worked with Temple University’s PASCEP program, Art Sanctuary’s Celebration of Black Writing, and the Big Apple Comic Con. For 6 years he was the Vice President and Event Coordinator of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC) in Philadelphia. This national convention is the largest gathering of its kind on the east coast. Through his works, he realized the demand for Black Sci-Fi products was increasing; and being a longtime collector himself, Waters decided to combine his passion for the genre with his extensive media experience. As a result, he started BlackSci-Fi.com; a website that focuses on sci-fi, sci-fact, fantasy, entertainment, news, people, places, events, and the impact of those events on the African American community. Waters states; “We seek to inform and inspire the imagination of individuals who aspire to live beyond the boundaries of everyday life.”