In a world that already fears and hates them – what if only Black people had superpowers? That’s the question Kwanza Osajyefo wanted to answer when he created BLACK, a comic book that blends conventional themes with the reality of current times. After a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised over $91,000, the comic book that explores police brutality, profiling and resistance hit store shelves in October, with its first issue selling out.
EBONY.com caught up with Osajyefo to talk character diversity, the emotional toll of the creative process, and what happens when comics stop being polite and start getting real.
EBONY.com: The premise for BLACK is rooted in reality, but with some people literally believing Black people are superhuman, how much of the comic is fantasy versus you all turning a mirror on society?
Kwanza Osajyefo: It’s both. The idea is largely taking the superhero trope of an ostracized minority and applying it to real-world issues instead of just using metaphor. The science fiction of people with powers parallels with race and allows me to tell a more candid story that speaks to human truths.
EBONY.com: One of the big things to emerge from the Black Lives Matter movement is the power of organization, will we see the characters in BLACK come together to form a collective?
Osajyefo: I’d point to characters joining forces as another trope in comics, but when they do so in this story it is a natural reaction to the conflicted perspectives that Blacks having superpowers would give anyone.
EBONY.com: How was the creative process, emotionally speaking?
Osajyefo: It’s been a mix of excitement and melancholy. There’s the thrill of telling a story from a Black perspective, but the reflection of actual issues made it tough. Khary Randolph, our cover artist, set the tone for BLACK with his covers. Since they hit so close to home, it takes a toll on him. But, because he believes in the message, he keeps turning in some of the most compelling covers comic readers will see this year.
I created this out of frustration that during my entire career, the industry was, and is, driven by a white male perspective. That this single perspective is supposed to be the one that appeals to everyone is wrong. Why can’t a Black perspective appeal to everyone?
EBONY.com: You’ve worked with both Marvel and DC and have been vocal about the insertion of Black characters not being enough. What does full inclusion in the industry look like for you?
Osajyefo: Full inclusion requires Black leadership, or leadership of color, to be fair. There is this systemic crutch for leaders of the comics industry to lean on: Many say there are no qualified candidates of color. That makes it easy to rest on your laurels and make no effort to understand why you may have fewer candidates or can’t seem to hire applicants of color. It allows people to stay in their comfort zone, maintain status quo, and not have their position usurped.
Only recently, with consumer data showing huge growth among non-white readers, do you see brands like Marvel and DC diversifying their characters – long before they diversify their staffs. So you have that White male perspective still driving the narrative.
EBONY.com: The pages from the first issue are powerful, both in terms of artwork and dialogue, are you concerned about push back from stores and fans?
Osajyefo: Nope. How can you be concerned about reflecting something that happens in real life? People on Reddit thought it was unrealistic. Tamir Rice’s death really happened.
EBONY.com: Wait, what didn’t people think was real?
Osajyefo: They thought it was unrealistic that cops would just roll up and blast some unarmed kids. There is some irony in people judging BLACK by what they think the book is about going solely on what they read in the first five pages. How is judging the book on those few pages any different from what motivates the police to act in the comic?
EBONY.com: At the risk of diving too deep into the future, do you see BLACK as a standalone comic or part of a larger comic universe?
Osajyefo: My original intent was to have three books that span the entire history of the story I want to tell in BLACK. During the Kickstarter, it became clear that people want more but I’m not the sort of author to follow the trend of writing a comic ad nauseam. There are too many stories to tell for me to even consider that. BLACK features characters who make decisions with repercussions they have to live with. I have to figure out how to tell stories that show what those repercussions are or how a character got to a point. Perhaps as retrospective stories while we work on the next book.
EBONY.com: In Donald Trump’s America, how important are Black superheroes?
Osayjefo: We need Black superheroes – now more than ever.
The faces that are coming back into power are not new. These are same hucksters who stated that stop and frisk worked. The same who believe all Black people are alike, living in hellish inner cities. The same who profit from prison slave labor.
They will try to spin the same demonization of Blacks that were woven into America’s tapestry long before the 13th Amendment was signed.
Pick up the latest issue of BLACK here.