Smash Pages Q&A: Kwanza Osajyefo

The team that brought ‘Black’ to life returns with the next chapter in the story of a world where only black people have superpowers.

Kwanza Osajyefo worked in comics for years at Marvel and DC Comics, including on Zuda, DC’s webcomics imprint. But in 2016 when he crowdfunded the miniseries Black, he made a lot of people sit up. The book, which was released from Black Mask Studios, asked the provocative question, “What if only black people in America had superpowers?” The resulting book was one of the year’s best comics – featuring some of the best artwork in Jamal Igle’s long career – but readers were left hanging at the end of the miniseries about what X, formerly known as Kareem Jenkins, will do next.

In the years since, Osajyefo and others have been telling stories in this universe in the Black AF books, but now Osajyefo is back with a new Kickstarter for the miniseries White. The direct sequel to Black and the middle chapter of the trilogy that is the story he always intended to tell, this book gets the band back together, including Igle, Khary Randolph on covers, co-creator and designer Tim Smith 3, and editor Sarah Litt. The Kickstarter is live now and without offering any spoilers, Osajyefo answered a few questions about White, the Black universe and what comes next.

The opening question I always like asking people is, how did you come to comics?

That is a LONG story, but I loved comics and knew I wanted to make them before I entered grade school.

So what is White?

White is the follow up to Black and the second part of the trilogy. It’s set three years later in the BLACKSUPERPOWER universe, and the world at large has learned that only black people have superpowers.

I don’t think it is a stretch of the imagination to expect that hasn’t been accepted easily, particularly in America, where tensions are palpable and Theodore Mann has been elected President of the United States – despite his alleged involvement in imprisoning and experimenting on empowered blacks. Actually, it’s a big reason why he was elected: since his family are the foremost experts on empowered blacks. So regardless of obvious ethical violations, Mann promises a sense of security for segments of the population terrified by the situation.

So that is what our protagonists are up against in White – the entire government of the U.S. And President Mann’s stumping for a program to launch militia of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers to “ensure public safety.”

Black was a really impressive miniseries when it came out, and since then you’ve very consciously taken a very different approach with each of the Black AF books, bringing in new artists and writers, expanding this world. What made it the time to make a direct sequel to Black?

I’ve always intended for the BLACKSUPERPOWER universe to be a trilogy; the Black AF books were more of a response to fans who wanted to read more stories in this world. While I imagined doing interstitial series between the main books, I figured it would be much farther in the future. But being able to provide a platform for other creators of color to play in this sandbox is a dream come true and I hope people are interested in doing more.

Was the plan to always come back to X, and did you always have this idea for Kareem and his path?

Yes. The main story is around X as a central figure in the mythos. He’s still unique in this world because of his ability to survive and adapt to any circumstance. While Theodore has acquired the most powerful position in the world, he still believes X has an ability that is key to him understanding how only black people have superpowers.

It doesn’t help that X’s abilities allow him to be the poster boy for resistance against the Mann administration. X has become a one-man revolution, keeping the government’s focus on him while his comrades in The Project continue to save empowered blacks from detainment.

How has it been seeing this enthusiasm to the first miniseries, playing in this world and with these ideas in America’s Sweetheart and Widows and Orphans and Devil’s Dye – and seeing what other people brought to this idea that you and Tim Smith 3 had? And was the hope from the start that you would get to tell more than just X’s story?

As much as I would attest to being a control freak, I love to see other creators interpretation of the gang of squirrels running around in my head. The BLACKSUPERPOWER universe wouldn’t exist if not for that collaboration. I’m lucky to work with such amazing talents as Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, Khary Randolph, Jennifer Johnson, Vita Ayala and Liana Kangas, to name a few.

It’s always an amazing surprise to see what they’ll pull from of my wild imaginings.

White is the second part of this trilogy. Is the idea to come back a few years down the road and make the third and final volume, but tell other stories in the meantime? And was the idea to get the team back together to tell this larger story?

Yes, bringing back the original team for the next part of the trilogy was always the plan. The team has been sitting on White for a while and now we finally get to start showing folks what we’ve been up to. I’m lucky everyone was available and do hope we can pull it off a third time, for the finale.

My goal is to establish a cornerstone of the universe through the trilogy and then move on to the stack of other ideas I’ve been too busy to work on. My hope is that other creators of color continue to want to play in the before, during, and after of the trilogy through Black AF.

Jamal is a great artist, but why did you first approach him about Black? How has he contributed to this world and this concept?

Jamal is a beast! I’d always been a fan of his work but when we were working on The Ray at DC Comics, I got to see a master at work. I’ve been very public about not only his speed but skill – he’s off the charts. Jamal Igle’s roughs are better than a lot of other artists finished pages. I don’t say that to flex, it’s just an objective fact.

That’s why I couldn’t think of any other artist to work on this book. Jamal grounds the book with his attention to details but his mastery of the page also allows him to break the rules how he sees fit. It’s like watching Neo at the end of The Matrix just stuntin’ on agents.

White has covers by Khary Randolph, who is always amazing – to the point of being ripped off without attribution by other cover artists – but you have some incredible people doing variant covers. Do you want to say who’s on board?

Khary straight up went HAM on the first cover to Black and it was like he unlocked something none of us could put back. It was just on after that and he’s bringing it again to White. Certain people might get upset.

With rewards for White on Kickstarter, we listened to backers and examined how readers enjoyed their comics. Collecting is still very much a part of the culture, but I didn’t want to offer variant covers just as a gimmick. Variants are supposed to be rare, something few people have.

So instead of monetary stretch goals, we’ve created backer goals where if we hit certain milestones, backers will add a variant cover into the print run – up to seven different covers, evenly split. Backers could randomly get a cover by Ashley A. Woods, Jamal Igle, Jeremy Love, ChrisCross, Sanford Greene, or one of the legendary co-founders of Milestone Media, Mr. Denys Cowan. (little Kwanza just fainted).

I wanted to ask about two things that I keep thinking about when I reread Black this week. One is Milestone, and the work that Dwayne McDuffie and others did there. I felt like a lot of the same ideas and energy animating Black that I read in Icon and Hardware and other books. Was that work an influence on your thinking and how you approached what you wanted to do in comics?

Milestone and Dwayne McDuffie changed my life. Full stop. Before Milestone, I didn’t know that black characters and narratives were so absent from comics. I sure didn’t know that black people were making comics. Once I knew that, it was a wrap. I was inspired enough to call Milestone and got to pitch Dwayne in person. Obviously, I was not hired, but he did give me essentially the Green Book for navigating comics. His advice has been my guide throughout my career.

The other thing is that Black starting coming out in 2016, but it was something that you had been thinking about for a while, I’m guessing. Have the past few years changed this initial idea you had for the series and how you envisioned this story playing out?

Somewhat. I think most of the core idea and plot have remained mostly the same. Though any project being worked on over years, especially one rooted in these themes, is going to have evolved a bit with current events.

You’ve launched this Kickstarter for White. Do you want to say a little about why people should support the book through the Kickstarter, what you’re offering?

We’re offering White exclusively through Kickstarter this time, so this will be the only way to get your hands on this printing. Retailers will be able to stock second-run periodicals after rewards ship, but we really wanted to make these books a rare offering for our supporters, because we would not be here without them.

Visit Kickstarter for more information on the campaign and to make a pledge.

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