Volcanic Justice: An Interview with Kola Boof, Creator of Volcano Woman
Author Kola Boof sat down to discuss her latest creative endeavor, Volcano Woman — a comic book she created with the expressed purpose of giving black people, black women/queer people in particular — heroes that reflected their own experiences and that were borne of a pro-black ideology.
Robert Jones, Jr: So tell us: What is Volcano Woman about? Why did you choose to tell this story in comic book form? Why did you choose this particular character to create?
Kola Boof: The story is about a black American family refusing to be silenced by forces that want to stifle their creativity. Their superpowers, bequeathed to them by African ancestors, are what give them the ability to tap into their creativity. But the forces ruling the airspace don’t like black people having such power or spiritual growth. So the more and more powerful this family becomes, the more U.S. political forces turn them into what I call “targeted individuals.”
KB: I created Volcano Woman because I’d always wanted to see certain elements in a comic book. I have previously put down the Marvel character Storm, as most African women do, but I’m going to stop doing that. It was important to me that black children have access to a comic book in which the black folks look authentically black. It was important to me that the world know how much I love and cherish my gay brother and all the gay members of my family. It was important for me to show the vitality and complexity of a deaf black person and the richness of black grandmothers and black religious people — be they Christian, Muslim, or Animist Traditional Africans.
KB: Since childhood, I wished I could see all of that in a comic book setting because I loved Superman — he’s my very favorite of all superheroes — and I loved Wonder Woman, the Hulk, and Aquaman. But why couldn’t they be black? Lastly, because my birth parents were murdered in front of me in Sudan when I was six years old and UNICEF miraculously found a home for me with black Americans, I wanted to be the African author who invents black American superheroes because it’s usually black American writers, such as my hero Roxane Gay, writing African superheroes.
I’ve lived nearly 40 years in black America. This is my tribe now, whether we like each other or not. This is my cultural atmosphere, my central formation. So I want black Americans to someday remember that the African they adopted deeply loved them and tried to give back to this culture in myriad ways. This is just one of those ways.
KB: And of course key in Volcano Woman is to dismantle white supremacy. As a Sudanese person, that is the one gigantic issue hindering my relationship with black Americans. I just can’t see Blackness represented or enriched by anything but phenotypical Blackness itself. In Africa, “black” is not your culture; it’s not your tribe. Black is your skin color, your hair texture. It is your symbolic flag. Cushites of Sudan taught that Blackness was the proof. And no matter where I live on Earth, I, as a Sudanese who is conscious and proud, will always extol that in my work and messages.
RJJ: You also chose to make a young black girl the lead artist on this series. Tell me about that.
KB: When Russell Wilson offered to let me use his name on this project as publisher, I told him that it was extremely important that we have a black American woman artist be the principal force behind the images. I had my favorite all picked out. I had no idea he would end up being the one to hire a teenaged black American student who calls herself a nerd and speaks Japanese. That girl is Crystal Crossley and she’s now in college. But she came right in and brought my vision to life. She gave me the Retro 60s-type look and feel that I wanted the book to have. And even though our budget is very limited, and we don’t have the working conditions of DC or Marvel yet, Crystal and I have gotten the basic premise out there to the masses. Hopefully they will support us and give us the opportunity to grow and improve.
RJJ: What are Volcano Woman’s powers?
KB: She is a fertility goddess, which means that her chief power is over the womb. She has the ability to turn adults back into infants, thus forcing them to start over in life and become better people. That’s enormously scary if you think about it. She can fly. She can spew raging fire from her mouth. She has the ability to hypnotize. She can summon earthquakes and generally effect earth, wind, and fire. Her one weakness is the glowing womb-dot on her belly. Like all African fertility goddesses and ancient queens, she must keep a shaved head in order to channel the ultimate femininity. So she is bald.
Lastly, Volcano Woman was given a pair of magical earrings by her ancestors. When she takes off her earrings, each one of them turns into an ancient goddess. These are Volcano Woman’s back up team: NoorPani-Pantra and Baast. This effectively makes Volcano Woman three superheroes in one. She’s a walking Charlie’s Angels and the Supremes.
RJJ: You also did something we don’t get to see very often in comics: Create black superheroes who are in love or in relationships with other black characters. Was that a conscious choice? What do you make of creators and products that consistently insert a non-black character into romantic relationships, almost as if to say that black-on-black love is impossible?
It was natural to me as a black person — without even thinking — to show and celebrate black love. The father of this family will be shown later on and we find out how passionately he loved Carolee [Volcano Woman’s mother]. Nessa Tyler [Volcano Woman’s secret identity] is going to have a symbiotic relationship with black men because her womb is their power source and Piru’s [Volcano Woman’s brother] boyfriends are black because we’ve shown that since childhood, Piru has always been unapologetic about who he is. He got kicked out of school for beating up those who taunted him for being gay. He has always chosen his own reflection. This to me is the mark of healthy black folk. We are just like whites or Asians or any other people who want to see one’s self continue on.
And yes, you hit the nail on the head, Robert. White supremacy dictates that black-on -black love is impossible. In some way, Western dominant culture has convinced even the black race that you must have some form of Whiteness in play to validate any and every combination of black human interaction. It’s absolutely evil. Yet the majority of black people on earth are white supremacists. We don’t understand what that term means. It’s not always hostile or violent. It’s simply an innate belief that the presence Whiteness is necessary for things to be normal or fully human. Virtually all of us in the West believe this.
RJJ: Also, you did something very daring by creating the character of Piru. He’s both unabashedly black and gay, and in a relationship with a black man. I understand that lot of people are mad at you for creating him. What was your reason for creating him and what kinds of feedback have you received about him?
KB: In every novel I write, every script I’ve written, I basically insert my real-life brother, who is gay and who is one of the most important people in my life. We’re both adopted and grew up together. He always protected me, always took my side, always kept me from committing suicide. That’s why Piru had to be in the book. Piru is pure love.
Sadly, we received a huge backlash over Piru being so prominent in the comic. He is not just a blip or a minor character. He is nearly equal to Volcano Woman, and that is how I wanted this story to be told. A sister and a brother united. That’s a key trope for me. But it’s so very sad that so many black people don’t want to acknowledge and celebrate our gay family members. We ignore that the most loyal, the most ride-or-die folks in our families are often the gay members.
RJJ: Also, you introduce a great deal of mythology and spirituality from the African continent into your comic. Can you tell us what cultural traditions you’re drawing from, from which regions of the continent?
KB: The mythology in Volcano Woman comes directly from my birthplace in Omdurman, Sudan. This is Cushitic first, Nubian second, Heka third, A.D. Nilotic fourth, and modern revised Kemetic last. We use real actual North African gods and cultures, usually Cushitic instead of Kemetic, which came later. For instance the goddess Isis is presented in our book using her original name “Goddess Eset.”
RJJ: Speaking of sexuality, your characters are unabashed in theirs. Have you received any criticism about Volcano Woman’s revealing costume? Many in the West see that as exploiting the female form. How would you respond to that critique?
KB: If possible, I would have Volcano Woman be topless. But Westerners see that as nudity. But let’s be frank here: many black Americans have a problem supporting a black woman who is bald and dark skinned. So we are forced to at least present the lead superhero in a format that is commercial and marketable. She can’t have a fat nose or be too thick because then no one would purchase the book. Russell Wilson has been the one to make me realize that we’re doing so much here. So I definitely concede that we play on Volcano Woman’s beauty and sexual vitality. But she looks very similar to me, how I actually look. So we do exist in that form, too.
RJJ: May I ask what are Piru’s powers?
KB: Piru’s powers are not completely worked out yet. We’d love suggestions from you and the audience! Piru can fly, he is empowered at his core by the Muslim Nile River god Ashera, so he must drink the water from people’s bodies in order to keep the Nile within him surging with power. He has the power turn back time, as we saw when Philadelphia was destroyed and he brought not only Philly back to life but also his deceased lover, Dondre. Piru is also a fertility god. He will soon have a lot to do with making women fertile.
RJJ: You also gave Volcano Woman a terrific love interest, Shane Champion, who Crossley draws as extra-fine. LOL! Tell us a little bit about him. And what’s the deal with his mother? Why does she hate his love for Nessa?
KB: Haha! Shane is foine because that’s who we black women be thinking about during fantasies! There is nothing in life more beautiful than a good looking black man. And even if most of us can’t have a Shane in real life — he’s basically what Steve Trevor is to Wonder Woman: a romantic notion.
His mother Felicity, however, is extremely self-hating. She wants her grand-babies to look “high-yellow” with so-called good hair and blue eyes. She always hated her own dark skin and wanted Shane to lighten up the family, which really needed to be explored in this comic book because millions of black people secretly hold the views, fears, and beliefs that Felicity holds. We all know this woman, yet many are disgusted that she’s openly and truthfully portrayed. We’re ashamed of the fact that Felicity represents our block parties, our Spades games, our maternity wards where people audibly decry that their newborn “came out too black!”
RJJ: Why did you choose to go the independent route with this book as opposed to going to DC, Image, or Marvel?
Going Independent was….well, let me tell you how the comic book got financed. I was on Twitter and a group of us African sisters were explaining to black American sisters why we hated Storm from X-Men. You know…she’s basically a White Swedish woman dipped in chocolate, created by a white man. In Kenya, where parents struggle to keep teenagers from skin-bleaching, Storm is a hero simply because she’s Kenyan but doesn’t look anything like anybody living in Kenya. So anyway, during this Twitter discussion, an old friend of mine, Debra Keeler, a wealthy Southern white woman, suddenly says, “If you want to do your own comic book, Kola, I will back you financially.” She gave me the money to finance Volcano Woman. Later on, as the word got out to the comic book industry that I was hiring artists and creating this exciting new character, Marvel Comics tried to step in and buy Volcano Woman. But the catch was they didn’t want me to have control of it. They also didn’t want Piru or the heroes’ deaf mother, or any of the supporting characters. They simply wanted to buy Volcano Woman alone. So I turned it down. I own 50% of WOKE Comics, the company Russell Wilson helped me set up to publish it. He, along with John Jennings, showed me the ropes of the comic book industry.
RJJ: Talk a bit about Winter, Volcano Woman’s arch-nemesis who was formerly known as the “Unnamed Daughter of PhumKut.” There’s a strange scene in which Volcano Woman defeats her by returning her to embryo status and giving birth to her. Can you explain the story behind this?
KB: Winter is one of my favorite characters because she brings enormous mystery and suspense to the story line. She was once a powerful demonic goddess and in order for Volcano Woman to achieve her full powers, she has to redeem this demonic spirit by giving birth to it again. This is a standard African Nilotic principle: the eating or the consumption of your enemy to regurgitate them in your own image. The is what white people mastered when they conquered the world. They devoured other races and manufactured them in the image of Whiteness, even gave them the white dove as the symbol of all-seeing hope, wisdom, and purity.
So Nessa/Volcano Woman killing this demonic spirit and then giving birth to it again, bringing it back as a 14-year-old girl named Winter, who, by the way has no memory that she was once a demonic spirit, is a nod to that complexity of the battle between good and evil. We Sudanese believe that you can’t truly be black or African unless you are born from a black African mother. So now Nessa must take this girl redeem her by embedding the sacred goodness of the black crow (as opposed the the symbolic white dove) into her consciousness. Will Nessa be able to achieve it? Or will Winter have her own vision of what she wants to be? Will Winter’s demonic past spirit get loose and take the child back over? It’s good soap opera as the story develops. That chasm is always there between this mother and daughter.
RJJ: You also did a short animated clip of Volcano Woman. How did that come together? Will we see more animated content?
KB: I don’t think our budget will allow us to do another animated video. But I really wanted something special to kick off our debut. Someday, when Volcano Woman is 75 years old like Wonder Woman, people can watch that animated video for nostalgia’s sake and really be inspired by this small group of black women fighting to put out a black woman superhero.
KB: YouTube refused to upload our animated video if you remember. No explanation was given. Then Vimeo uploaded it as “mature” and has it blocked from their general audience as though it’s porn. Getting stores to carry black comic books, getting Diamond to do distribution, is an extremely daunting task. The people in charge of serving the public are overwhelmingly white and they will literally make excuses for not carrying certain product, especially comics that feature black people.
Our book is so thoroughly black and ridiculous claims were made that Volcano Woman is nude. There are hundreds of comic books where female characters are dressed even sexier than Volcano Woman.
RJJ: Without giving anything away, what can we expect from upcoming issues of Volcano Woman?
KB: Upcoming issues will see a major revelation about Carolee. Barney Frost will be executed, which is just the beginning of his maniacal evil. A triangle will develop between Piru and his two loves, Dondre and Kirkland. A new character named Church Lady will be integral to the plot. Helena Bloodworth’s secret comes out. And the mother-daughter relationship between Volcano Woman and Winter will be very entertaining and difficult.
RJJ: Do you have any plans to create any additional comic books?
KB: Additional comic books: From day one I’ve envisioned Piru having his own book and Debbie agreed with me on that being a good idea. But it’s so hard getting subscribers. People praise the book but won’t buy actual copies. It’s like pulling teeth. So we have to get a following first. Netflix is actually looking at Volcano Woman right now and discussing several elements with us. They approached us about a possible girlfriend for Luke Cage and that’s ongoing. They’ve spurred us to get an agent.
RJJ: What is your opinion on the current state of comic books and entertainment media in general?
KB: I don’t have a high opinion of the media at all. I do like some of the black comic books I’m reading and I’m hopeful to see the movie version of Black Panther. That’s about it, though.
RJJ: Is it true that Serena Williams’ people were interested in Volcano Woman as a possible film vehicle for her?
KB: Yes! We got feelers from representatives of Serena Williams before the comic book was published and that made us really excited. Apparently, she was taken with the original art work. This would be a great project for any black actress and I want to VOLCANO WOMAN to have the stature of Wonder Woman.
RJJ: What’s next on the agenda for Kola Boof? What other work can we expect from you?
KB: I have a major book with fellow Sudanese author Francis Bok (Escape from Slavery) entitled Dark Victory coming in 2018. I have two upcoming novels: I Am My Own Daughter and She Wiped It on the Wall. I also have a nonfiction book, Feminists Need Dick Too, which is my version of a self-help book. It’s a memoir of my love life in a way. I’m also resurrecting my video series.
Kola Boof is a world-renowned, award-winning writer and a bestselling author of such works as Long Train to Redeeming Sin, Flesh and the Devil, Diary of a Lost Girl, and the Sexy Part of the Bible. Her comic book series, Volcano Woman, can be purchased online at the WOKE Comics website. Boof can be found on Facebook and Twitter.