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Thursday, March 11, 2021 

Creator-owned Afrofuturism projects

KUOW interviewed writer Jesse Holland and artist John Jennings, who're working on projects involving the concept of Afrofuturism, and it looks like they're producing creator-owned books built on it:
“In the past, these types of stories used to be passed orally, from father to son, to mother to daughter. But we’ve taken our heroes and we’ve now put them in superhero tights and fantastic costumes,” he says. “They’re still the same stories that we heard from John Henry, from Hercules, from Beowulf.”

This is why Jennings says imagining new superhero narratives that center on Black identities is hugely important to his work. As the founder and director of Megascope, a new line of graphic novels, he’s able to showcase speculative and non-fiction comics for and by people of color.

The name Megascope comes from W.E.B. Dubois and his 1909 speculative piece “The Princess Steel.” In the story, the megascope is an instrument that allows its viewers to see undiscovered stories from the past.

“The fact that megascope as a concept was discovered in one of the greatest scholar’s papers just sitting there for us to discover, I think was just indicative of the type of stories we want to do,” Jennings says.

Megascope will release its first two books this spring — “After the Rain,” which is an adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s short story “On The Road,” and “In The Heavy,” which dives into the life of a New York debt collector who loves jazz and is haunted by a loss in his life.
I think what's really commendable is their willingness to set up a line of creator-owned projects, and not waste time doing it all at the Big Two, where it could end up becoming far more of a political agenda laced with social justice themes. But it's a shame Jennings for one takes such a naive view of a certain politician who damaged the US, and things are reverting back to such a dire state now that his former veep is at the helm. That's why this news doesn't have as big an impact as it could.
“Part of it is a reclamation of the history of the future,” Jennings says. “And what I mean by that is when you think about future narratives from the 1950s, you don’t see people of color in them.”

That underrepresentation is a form of violence and erasure, he says. “By not showing someone, you’re decimating them, you’re destroying hope. You’re destroying the fact that they existed,” he says.

Afrofuturism, both creatively and politically, reclaims future narratives and envisions Black agency and subjectivity, he says.
I should point out that the Wertham hysteria of the 50s led to some of this when the Comics Code Authority was set up, and one member demanded the removal of a black astronaut from EC's Incredible Science Fiction #33, published by William Gaines, who was opposed to the attempt to censor the scene. And this was despite how the story was meant to serve as a metaphor for racial issues of the times. What was experienced then still has similarities today, where a story can be censored even if it addresses a serious issue, as turns out to be the case with Space Jam: the New Legacy. So in the case of Gaines' classic story, instead of the CCA advocating for Black African descendants to get positive representation in fiction, they get no representation at all. While in the upcoming Warner Brothers mix of animation with live-action, instead of making a statement on why sexual misconduct is reprehensible, even that gets the kibosh treatment. (Did I mention Warner Media later became the owner of Gaines' one surviving periodical, MAD magazine?)

I'm sure Afrofuturism's got its advantages, and I'll wish Jennings and Holland well with their new book line, but if they exploit this literally for partisan politics, it won't work out well. Certainly not if they let leftism off the hook.

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