In a world that already hates and fears
them – what if only Black people
“After miraculously surviving being gunned down by police, a young man learns that he is part of the biggest lie in history. Now he must decide whether it’s safer to keep it a secret or if the truth will set him free.” -BLACK
Welcome to the world of BLACK!
Black is a new Sci fi action adventure comic book series that touches upon some of the major social issues that America is currently facing in the African American community.
Creator, writer Kwanza Osajyefo and artist Tim Smith 3, team up along with Jamal Igle, Khary Randolph and Sarah Litt to bring us the new groundbreaking graphic novel, BLACK. Published by Black Mask Studio, Issue 1 was released in October 2016. I picked up both variant covers at this past NYCC. I couldn’t wait to finally read the story after hearing about it through the team’s Kickstarter.
“X-Men meets The Wire, BLACK’s Kickstarter blazed through Black History Month 2016 earning $91,973, more than three time its funding goal!” -Black Mask Studios
I felt goosebumps just reading the first few pages. This is such a heavy concept, I had to keep reading. Kareem Jenkins is a typical inner city kid that gets racially profiled and gunned down by the police. He soon discovers that he has a gift, powers which are only manifesting in black people!
I got the chance to speak with Kwanza and Tim about BLACK, assembling a team, social injustice, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
1. “What if only Black people had super powers?” How did you first come up with the premise for “Black” and how long were you initially working on this project?
Tim Smith 3: Wow, it has been a very long time now. We are going back years here. Kwanza, whom I have known for years before this all started, came up to me and said he had an idea. Within only a few lines I was on board. We started going back and forth on story and concept art. It had a different title in early 2000, but the idea was exactly the same. Thinking back on it now, it feels so crazy. Like looking at your baby when it was just crawling. Fun times for sure!
Kwanza Osajyefo: I came up with the concept over 10 years ago after my time at Marvel and sometime before joining DC Comics. In that post-90s glut, post-Milestone era, it was clear to me I was in the extreme minority of black comics professionals and that was reflected in the material major publishers put out.
These fringe status heroes obviously resonated with people, but they were allegories and certainly didn’t reflect me as reader or real issues that exist in society.
BLACK is many things, my love of comics expressed but also a response to the context and content of the comic book industry.
2. How did you assemble a team together to collaborate on this book, and how did Black Mask Studios get involved?
TS3: Kwanza has a clear vision of how things should play out. It’s been in his head for so long. When you think of something all the time and even start creating it, you really go back and forth on what makes it work. I’ll let Kwanza go into how he approached the team.
After the Kickstarter was really moving along, we were approached by Black Mask. It felt like a good fit for sure. I could not be happier.
KO: Back then I frequented MoCCA when it was in the Puck Building and ran into Tim. He has a unique aesthetic and his character designs have silhouettes you don’t see in mainstream comics. I hit him up to partner with me on BLACK.
I met Jamal Igle and Khary Randolph through work and comics functions respectively. Both were on my radar for a long time, so it was mostly a question of whether they’d agree to work on the project.
I worked with Sarah Litt at DC, and knowing her editorial background, I knew she would be right for this.
Black Mask came into our lives after the Kickstarter campaign was completed. We’d been approached by a number of publishers, but Black Mask had a similar ethos to the BLACK team, so we felt they’d be the best partners.
3. As a team did you ever have disagreements creatively on the direction that you want the story to go?
TS3: We are all pros with years of experience to bring to the table. A part of that is knowing what your job is and doing it well. So no disagreements at all. More like a well-oiled machine.
KO: Nope. Teamwork makes the dream work.
4. “Black” will consist of 6 chapters, did you already have the whole story written out ahead of time?
TS3: Kwanza can explain better than I. But we did talk about how to get a clear story that begins and ends with a complete story to walk away from, and at the same time leave room for growth.
KO: The plot has been written for a while. I like to dialogue after I see the roughs; even though I know what will be said by characters, the timing and emphasis needs to be flexible. Plus, I sometimes just get inspired by Tim, Jamal, and Khary’s art, so that helps keep things fresh and flowing.
5. Do you have any thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, and how have the headlines regarding police brutality and racism played a role in the creation of “Black.” How do you convert such heavy themes into a comic book story?
TS3: Race, inequality, disconnection from the police and citizens, those are old topics of discussion. And with the concept of BLACK, one of the first things you have to ask yourself is how it plays in this type of story. Much like any other comic that deals with a current topic of its time, there has to be a hero or protagonist that rises from the ranks to speak out. Comics gives us an outlet to be seen and read in a way where the imagination can openly explore the topic.
It’s much easier to digest the concept of race and other social matters in a fictional world.
And BLM is NOT saying “only” those lives matter. Let’s be clear on that. It is a statement on being seen as equals. To be given a chance like any other person, be it real or in a comic. There are so many directions to take what the BLM movement means as a whole and to an individual. But in the end I feel it boils down to fairness.
KO: Black Lives Matter is the current platform for an issue that is older than all of us. That BLACK remains relevant from when Amadou Diallo was shot to Philando Castile isn’t something that I find comforting. Black Lives Matter exists because, since the passing of the 13th Amendment, institutional marketing of the black man as a criminal has poisoned American perceptions of us for generations. People care less about the lives of someone that is perceived in that manner. It’s why you see so many people rationalize brutality and murder: They’ve been trained to see black as not human. That continues to today. Thanks Nixon and Reagan, you fucks.
6. Professionally, what’s your goal? How do you plan to make a difference with “Black” and stir up conversations about race and social injustice?
TS3: That’s a great question. For me, this is a comic, pure and simple. Yes, it has a message. And yes, it delivers that message with a punch! We do not pull any stops. You will not find what we are doing in your typical comic. That’s what makes this unique. My goal is to bring a huge “What if…” to the comic racks. We have a book that’s willing to open the box of ideas that have not been explored.
KO: The goal of BLACK is to tell a compelling story. If a story is good, it will be worth discussing, but I can’t control how it will be interpreted, even when I’m doing my damndest to provide a perspective.
7. What do you see in the future for “Black”? Do you see any potential spin offs or a continuation of the series after the 6 chapters?
TS3: There are ideas aplenty, you have to wait and see.
KO: Yes. The response to BLACK has made it clear that people want to see more of the world we’re presenting, so that is being worked on. The original intent was for three pillar books, but there is definitely room in between to explore.
8. Tell us about the protagonist Kareem Jenkins, and what the secret organization PROJECT represents.
TS3: I’ll let Kwanza dig into this one.
KO: At the outset, Kareem is pretty average; he’s seen his share of tragedy already but hasn’t let it bring him down. He’s not a bad kid or a good one – he’s got some hustles. Still, it doesn’t warrant what happens to him and his friends. Fortunately for him, he survives, but the reality of why he lives thrusts him into the underlying machinations of our world.
9. Can you tell us the significance of the imagery of a young black man in a hoodie. What do the visuals on the variant cover by Ashley A. Woods represent?
TS3: The image for issue 1 cover is a reference to the shooting of Trayvon Martin. But more to that, it’s also saying that this can be anyone. Mistaken identity, acts of unnecessary violence, these are issues we are dealing with today and have been for years. From this we are pulling the attention to a concerning situation in our society in a fictional comic setting.
KO: Khary came up with that, inspired by themes in the first chapter of BLACK, and has been taking that same approach with subsequent chapters. Ashley’s cover hints at some of the history in BLACK, which readers learn may stretch back longer than the current story.
10. Why did you decide to make the comic in B&W/ and not in full color?
KO: I personally like black and white comics better – I’m a big manga fan. In my opinion, black and white pages are less distracting and allow you to imagine and focus more on the story. You can interpret and impress more without every panel being dictated to you.
11. Have you received any negative feedback?
TS3: There is always something negative said about everything. So yes, we have. BUT good feedback is also there, and plenty of it! The huge showing of support has been amazing. It has completely overshadowed all the negativity.
I mostly don’t even focus on it unless someone calls it out to me. What I am focused on is giving the best I can to this. And that’s been going very well.
KO: It’s a comic in which only black people have superpowers so…yes. The overwhelming response has been positive, which on the internet is surprising, regardless of concept.
12. Anything else you’d like to mention that I didn’t ask?
TS3: Live, love, and read comics! This is a great story, and I am proud of what it has become and where it can go.
CHAPTER 2 OUT TODAY!!!
Kwanza Osajyefo (Author)
Tim Smith 3 (Designs)
Jamal Igle (Illustrator)
Khary Randolph (cover art)
Sarah Litt (Editor)
Matt Pizzolo (Publisher)
Steven Walker (Art Assist)
Robin Riggs (inks:7-20)
Sarah Stern (tones)
Dave Sharpe (letters)
Ashley A. Woods (Variant Cover)