Smash Pages Q&A: Greg Anderson Elysée

The creator of Is’nana the Were-Spider discusses the new volume of the series, which is currently up on Kickstarter.

Greg Anderson Elysée is the creator of Is’nana the Were-Spider, the award-winning horror-fantasy series. Over the course of three volumes, the story has managed to navigate a world that’s mundane and also features the character interacting with mythological and folkloric characters from Africa and the diaspora. The new volume of the series, Showtime, is a change of pace for the series, a more playful story, but also a darker one, as the main character has to deal with what it means to be a young black man in America today.

Elysée is kickstarting Showtime, which runs through the end of the month, and he was kind enough to talk about his mythological influences and how he writes characters.

To start, how did you come to comics?

I’ve been collecting comics since I was in the second grade. I picked up Superboy #19, and I became a diehard obsessed nut. Over time, I guess I just started to love it so much that I saw myself involved in it. I’ve been writing since I was very young, and I’ve always loved art, and so combining the two seemed like a natural fit for me. I’d say in middle school and high school I realized this is what I want my career to be. Reading works from creators like David Hine, Dwayne McDuffie, Christopher Priest, Peter David… they really help shape my love for writing comics at the time. It wasn’t until 2016 that I published Is’nana the Were-Spider.

Where did the idea of Is’nana the Were-Spider start?

Is’nana the Were-Spider is based on the stories of Anansi the Spider, of West African and Caribbean folklore. I use the series to introduce more black mythological gods, deities, and figures from mythology, folklore, spiritual stories and beliefs. I would ask people if they knew who Anansi the Spider was, who is probably one of the most well known Black gods. A lot of people had no idea who he was. Including a number of Black people I would ask. I felt like a lot of the knowledge of these Black figures and Black stories were dying. I wanted to find a way to help them live again. Is’nana is the next generation after Anansi the Spider. I was also inspired a lot by Greek myths growing up, but the thing is we know the Greek myths and European folktales because we’re educated on a lot of them. We’re not required to know about Black gods or Black figures of the same ilk in our education. I wanted to change that narrative.

Is’nana is also a coming of age story. It’s about mythology, but you made a coming of age story about Anansi’s son in contemporary America. Why?

For one, I’m a huge horror nut. I am also into coming of age stories. I loved them growing up and to this day I love seeing coming of age stories. I enjoy many different Black coming of age stories. That’s something we don’t get too much of – at least not too much in the mainstream. I would love to see more variety of the types of Black coming of age stories that can be represented and showcased. It felt very natural that if I’m going to be showcasing a character who’s a child and starting to learn about our world, it would be fun seeing this child do all these crazy, fantastical things but also remember that he is a child and learning about himself and learning about how the world works. Which is why in the most recent story, Showtime, I wanted him to meet kids his own age and be introduced to the reality of being a Black kid in America.

We don’t often see horror-fantasy in a coming of age story, especially with non-white characters.

Correct. I thought that was a fun and different direction to go in. I’m always mixing and matching a lot of different genres when it comes to my writing, so this was a nice fit.

I’m curious where that comes from, because I think that how you mix and match genres and types of stories defines all the work of yours I’ve read.

I just like variety. As I mentioned earlier horror is definitely one of my favorites, but that’s not all I consume. It’s the same when it comes to music. I grew up obsessed with hard rock music. As I got older I got more into R&B and Hip Hop and I continue to gravitate to many different genres. I feel it’s the same with regards to stories and movies and that showcases in my writing as well. It’s something that comes very natural. I don’t always go “this story is going to be this type of genre.” Certain things just start to flow in from certain genres and I let it come naturally.

You really enjoy playing with folklore and mythology and different types of stories. I’m sure that a lot of people don’t know these characters, or which ones are West African vs. Haitian vs. American folklore vs. from wherever.

Some of that was also intentional. I’m a fan of stories that do not spoon-feed things to me. I enjoy researching things and not always having the answers right away so when it comes to Is’nana and showcasing characters, I’ll put in hints so that people can do their own research on who these figures are. I’ve had many many people contact me and say they learned so much on their own about characters and mythologies that I showcased. That feels like I’m doing my job.

I do love that approach. You write the mythological characters the same way you write other characters, and today people have Wikipedia and a million easy ways to research. I think it also speaks to the fact that you’re not writing a guide to mythology, you’re writing a story involving mythology.

I never thought of it that way, but that’s exactly what it is. I’ve definitely had people tell me that when it comes to my writing they feel it gets the message across without being preachy. It’s not something that I take pride in, not being preachy, because I feel that there’s a lot of work that I enjoy that may come across as preachy to some people. And so I feel like there’s some merit to it, there’s definitely an audience for it, but it’s also something that when it comes to my own writing, I’m definitely a fan of subtlety in a lot of ways so to hear people say that is pretty cool.

You mentioned the book earlier. Tell me about Showtime, the comic you’re kickstarting right now.

I wanted Is’nana to finally interact and meet children his age and gradually build a supporting cast. It’s also a tribute to breakdancers and street and showtime dancers that are very common in New York City culture. This is my tribute to them. It’s a tribute to my students who were breakdancers. It goes hand in hand with what I’m trying to do with Is’nana, which is a celebration of Black stories, Black art and Black culture. I wanted Is’nana to go on a journey of being a child and finally being introduced to racial tensions, which are very common in city life, especially for children of color. I wanted to really showcase that this is a completely different thing for him. He hunts down monsters and fights powerful figures, but being hated for his skin and being a target for it is something he’s never had to handle. I wanted to show how it affects his mind and the lingering effects when someone is targeted by the police, which is something that I feel a lot of people who aren’t people of color may not see.

The sad thing is that I wrote this story years ago and it’s only now getting out. It sucks that this situation – and that scene where he’s a subject of police brutality – is still extremely relevant. The discussions we’ve been having this past year didn’t inspire me to write this story, no. Cause see, this is our reality, and a lot of us have been dealing with it forever.

I wanted to ask about the coloring. It’s very colorful, very expressive.

I wanted something bright. This is a celebratory story. It’s a story of a Black kid enjoying himself and discovering a new passion and learning he’s good at it. Miguel Blanco’s pencil work is very fluid and fresh. I wanted someone who knew urban culture and New York City culture and the youth. That was one reason why it took so long for this story to come out. I wanted a very particular look.

When I got Angael Davis-Cooper to come in with the colors, I thought it complimented Blanco’s work tremendously. It fit the vibe and tone and mood I was going for. Most of the previous stories of Is’nana were very dark and sort of muted because they were more dark fantasy-horror, but for this story, Angael was perfect for the dynamic I was going for. And of course, Deron Bennett adds his stamps on the letters. There’s a reason why he’s a multi-nominated letterer, he brings an added dimension of storytelling and finishing touch to an already beautiful book.

I also have to mention Khary freakin’ Randolph, who is the cover artist. I’ve been a huge fan of his work since way before when I was a fanboy running through artist alley aisles and being excited he was doing Adventures of Spawn. And I was ecstatic that he signed on to do the cover work for Showtime. I highly recommend people to pick up his work with Brandon Thomas, Excellence, from Image Comics. And there’s also a fun little bonus short by David Brame, who has become a regular Is’nana artist, whose work I’m always hype to receive in my inbox. 

People can see that the preview pages looks and feel different from the previous volumes and was this always your plan, to have a character you can put in a lot of different situations and types of stories and play with tone and approach from book to book?

Correct. As I said, I enjoy variety and being able to dabble with different types of storytelling and art styles, which is why I’m working with different artists and trying to get a different feel. It’s exciting for me as a writer to see different artists put their own spin on the character. I try to be very open minded and experimental with my artists as well and try to give them some leeway to mess around with ideas, just as long as it continues to honor the core elements of what the story and theme is about.

And the book is finished and it’ll be out before the end of the year?

All the pages are done, from the writing to lettering. I have to finalize the production before we print it. Some fun goodies in the back pages. We just need the money to fund it. I don’t want people to wait too long, but they’ll be getting it before the year is out.

Are you working on anything besides Is’nana?

There’s Stronghold, a book that I’m working on with 133art, edited by Jason Reeves. It’s about a superhero who’s part of his universe, One Nation, and we’re covering his backstory. This is a character created by Jason and he contacted me a couple of years ago and asked me if I was interested in fleshing out the character. He is a biracial Black man with albinism who grew up in Louisiana with the racist and homophobic, religious white side of his family and he’s also gay. We see his upbringing and having to deal with his family, who are bigots, and seeing his acceptance of himself as a gay Christian. It’s also very action packed. I’m very excited. I’m also working on a project with T.J. Sterling who is the creator of Okemus. We haven’t announced anything yet. I teamed up with Ray-Anthony Height of Midnight Tiger for an anthology called Maybe Someday and am also working on a pitch for Noir is the New Black anthology.

As far as Is’nana, have you been thinking about what to do next?

Oh, yes! The next one is called The Drums of Ogoun, which will showcase Is’nana meeting Ogoun, who is the Haitian god of war – and he’s also an Orisha god of war as well. Is’nana is going to go THROUGH IT!! It is being drawn by Sean Hill, who’s this amazing artist who completely wows me every time he send me a new page. He’s a monster. His pages are just amazing. Marco Pragnotta is the colorist.

So you’re keeping busy.

Only thing I know how to do.

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