Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of your original graphic novel, BLACK [AF]: America’s Sweetheart! For our readers who may be unfamiliar with the title, what inspired you to tell this story, and what was the genesis of your collaboration?
Kwanza Osajyefo: Thank you! The premise of the BLACK universe is, what if only black people had superpowers.
America’s Sweetheart is about how a young woman, Eli Franklin, in the wake of the public dealing with this phenomenon, decides to become a patriotic-themed superhero to try to inspire hope and quell fears of empowered black people.
Jennifer Johnson: Thank you! Eli’s character immediately drew me into the universe of Black. Although she is a the most powerful being on Earth, Eli is just a 15-year-old child. After reading the story, I was eager to convey Eli’s uncertainty and naivety, but also her courage and selflessness.
BD: What do you hope that readers will take away from this project, and how do you hope that it will impact the comic book industry as a whole?
KO: Regardless of my intent, these stories are subject to what the reader brings to them. My aim is to expand on how a world where only black people have superpowers would impact a girl raised with conservative, religious, and patriotic values.
As for the industry, there is still a lack of black female characters in mainstream comics, especially as the main protagonist. There’s also a lack of perspective as the scramble to diversify doesn’t address the lack of inclusion for black voices. So, I hope America’s Sweetheart inspires young black women and shows them they can forge a place for themselves and create characters who reflect them.
JJ: Comic books have been increasingly tackling issues of racial and gender diversity. America’s Sweetheart provides a new platform for recognition and representation in comics. Eli represents the change that I hope many young girls can identify with.
BD: What are you able to share with us regarding your combined creative process, and what were some of your creative influences?
KO: For America’s Sweetheart I was inspired by characters like Icon from Milestone. He was a superhero archetype who also held conservative values. The black experience isn’t monolithic, so I wanted to tell a story that exposed a different area of the BLACK universe.
JJ: I was heavily inspired by young superhero icons like Spider-Man and Riri Williams. My design choices came from everyday activities. I watch films or walk on the street, observe fashion, and imagine how Eli would dress in that specific world. I also had to consider how Eli might react to our current political climate, as well as her goals and motivations.
BD: Kwanza, do you feel that your previous work on the graphic novel, BLACK (2016), influenced or furthered your interest to create within the superhero genre?
KO: Reader response to BLACK made it clear that there was room to expand and tell more stories than I’d intended.
I think of BLACK more sci-fi as stories, but America’s Sweetheart definitely uses more traditional superhero tropes.
BD: Jennifer, as America's Sweetheart is your debut graphic novel, what was your greatest takeaway from your creative experience, and what do you look forward to on future projects?
JJ: Inspiration was a huge benefactor in the development of this novel. I found ways to nurture creativity, through reading other comics, to watching films. I will draw inspiration from wherever I can find it – sometimes in nature, friends or world news. On future projects, I look forward to more opportunities to express myself and promote diverse voices in comics, games, and illustration.
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find out more about Black [AF]: America’s Sweetheart and your other work?
KO: People can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @blacksuprpowrs or blacksuperpowers.com — comics are available on Amazon, ComiXology, and through our publisher, Black Mask.