Kwanza Osajyefo on Writing Black AF Americas Sweetheart

first_img Watch These Movies Before ‘Don’t Let Go’‘Cannon Busters’ Is The Black Anime We’ve Been Waiting… Stay on target What if only black people had superpowers? That dream (or nightmare depending on who you ask) is the premise of the world of BLACK, the comic book series written by Kwanza Osajyefo for Black Mask Studios. And when we say world we mean it. The Black storyline has just expanded with the release of Black AF: America’s Sweetheart, a spin-off graphic novel.Whereas the first arc of the BLACK comic series is a serious, conspiracy-laden introduction to this world and its implications, America’s Sweetheart is a more colorful (literally thanks to new artists Sho Murase and Jennifer Johnson) exploration of a more traditional way the world could go. With the existence of super-powered black people now public, teenage girl Eli Franklin emerges as one of the first public superpowers saving lives and, more importantly, fighting fears.However, the narrative in Black AF: America’s Sweetheart remains just as political and committed to interrogating how modern, unequal society would react to an event like this based on real racial history. It even manages to expand on its concepts in fascinating yet inevitable ways with some new tricky cosmic sci-fi conceits. We couldn’t stop thinking about it after we read it. Fortunately, we also had the opportunity to talk with Osajyefo about BLACK, politics, spin-offs, and Superman’s privilege.What were some of your inspirations for Black AF: America’s Sweetheart?Part of the inspiration was ICON from Milestone Media; I think black conservatism is a fascinating aspect of US culture. The idea of aligning with beliefs and politics that, despite best efforts to convey otherwise, are actively antagonistic to your freedom as a person requires a mental dynamic that is worth exploring.Yet, I didn’t want to create a stereotypical right-wing or supplicant protagonist, so instead I created Eli Franklin to be the aspirational patriot that characters like Superman and Captain America represent. What happens to a person who is intrinsically altruistic and fundamentally represents the best of American ideals if they are black and the most powerful person on earth?I also wanted to present a black girl who wasn’t a construct of uncultured perspectives, because, including my mom – all my heroes right now are black women. They have been crushing it (world is just catching on) and I look up to so many, it’s a very long list.Before America’s Sweetheart there was the original BLACK comic series. How do you intend for the two to co-exist? Can people read America’s Sweetheart with no previous context?America’s Sweetheart takes place after the events at the end of BLACK. I wanted to tell a story of the aftermath that wasn’t cataclysmic and could focus in on how these events would affect one individual.Characters from BLACK appear in this book, but it is primarily about Eli’s journey and a standalone story.What made you want to do this spin-off? Was there something you wanted to do here you couldn’t do in the main BLACK series? How does this expand the universe and are there other ways you’d like to push it further? BLACK is intended to be three-arc series, but oddly America’s Sweetheart was always on my mind as a side-story to tell following BLACK. It wasn’t until the success of the first book, and fans wanting to read an expanded universe, that we worked out with Black Mask to do these character-focused explorations as interstitials between the main books.I’d really like to try comics storytelling in other mediums, that’s always in the back of my head. Right now, this is the format that seems to work for people, but as we expand I’ll definitely be looking at other mechanisms.Is the goal to have other Black AF graphic novels focusing on new, specific characters? Do you want to continue the stories of these characters or maybe even bring on more writers and artists?Eli’s story was a special case; America’s Sweetheart somehow always existed alongside BLACK in my mind. Subsequent BLACK [AF] stories will explore other characters who appeared in the first book. BLACK [AF]: Widows and Orphans (coming out in April) is a story that follows Anansi and Hoodrat.I do think once I’ve established a few more foundational elements of the universe, it would be something I’d be open to–inviting other writers to explore. If this universe became a platform for other black creatives to tell stories, that’d be lit.America’s Sweetheart, and BLACK before it, seem to take the implicit racial metaphors of certain classic superhero narratives (X-Men, Superman) and make them explicit text. What was it like as a writer to reverse-engineer those comic book ideas into a more realistically racially charged world? Challenging? Creatively satisfying? Cathartic? Depressing?I wrestle with the first one, because part of the inspiration for BLACK was that The X-Men sort of commodifies the discrimination and systemic inequality that exist in reality for black people. To me it wasn’t a reversal so much as removing a veneer on what bigotry actually is.The same goes for America’s Sweetheart, because it’s intellectually dishonest to ignore that, despite being an alien, Superman is, on the surface, an acceptable white male. Can a black girl with the same exact ethos be met with that level of acceptance? Much of the conflict in America’s Sweetheart is Eli’s idealism versus the United States’ cynicism.It isn’t depressing, but for me as the writer stories like this have more at stake.Several black characters challenge Eli’s decision to be a superhero as a force for positive change through the US government. And they present arguments I think many black readers would find very logical and compelling. But even as she’s hurt and becomes less naive it doesn’t seem like Eli loses her optimism. Is that the mindset you want readers to walk away with?I think that many black people in the US have a pragmatic view of the US. It’s often confused for pessimism but even at its most disillusioned there’s this hope that exists alongside it. Baldwin touches on it when he says “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” Some see that as sardonic but I see inherent hope in those words, a want for the person to hear this retort and understand a need for equanimity and empathy.Eli wants the world to be as she was raised to believe it should be. Is that naive? I won’t spoil how things unfold but optimism can change in light of circumstance without being besmirched. My mother often said to me “Worry about the things you can control, and don’t about the things you can’t.” I think accepting something like that even when you can throw an oil tanker across the country is more about growth as a person versus a loss of hope.Buy Black AF: America’s Sweetheart.Buy Black Vol. 1.Let us know what you like about Geek by taking our survey.last_img read more