Beyond Impossible: Jiba Molei Anderson’s Afro-Odyssey
In the introduction to Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction, writer and editor Sheree R. Thomas invokes Ralph Ellison’s 1953 observation that attempting to create a theory of American Negro Culture is nearly impossible without fashioning a more holistic view of American society. The assertion that speculative fiction can be connected to the African-American experience challenges white notions of black culture’s worth. Imagining a holistic and engaging future from the minority perspective assumes an agency often denied in mainstream cultural discourse. Yet, by imaging a future, creators are free from the limiting constraints in society. The creators and the audiences immerse in these imaginary landscape quietly enter into our contested contemporary landscape and question the assumption of the past and suggest different paths to the future.
In the U.S. context Afrofuturism is often seen as the counterpoint to the Eurocentric future inherent to mainstream media. Codified by scholars in the 1990s, but mapped onto affirmative visions created by and for African Americans since the nineteenth century, modern Afrofuturists draw inspiration from writers, artists and musicians in the 1970s that incorporated characters, themes, and milieus associated the African Diaspora. Vast in its permutations, perhaps the strongest link to Afrofuturism in comics can be traced from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Black Panther (1966) through Don McGregor and Paul Gulacy’s Sabre (1977) to independent comic publishers in 1980s and 1990s. With adaptations in film, TV, and animation of comic characters in vogue, questions about representation persist. At this moment the challenge/affirmation of imagining a future rooted in an African-American perspective remains a potent practice. To understand the contours of that contemporary landscape, I reached out to Jiba Molei Anderson. Anderson is an artist, designer, writer, and educator who has quietly forged a distinct Afrofuturist narrative through a series of graphic novels. Celebrating a decade of creative endeavors, the world he has created is in dialogue with a broader comic tradition, but seeks to forge a unique experience.
JC: What inspired your love of comics?
JMA: That answer is simple: my father. As a little child, I was enamored with the Adam West Batman television show. Superheroes got me early on and never let go. I started drawing when I was very young, maybe 3. The first drawing I remember doing was a Batman stick figure. One day, my father brought a Batman comic book home for me to read. The villain in the story was Two-Face. The artist was Jim Aparo. It was all over after that.
JC: How has your experience as a comic fan evolved over the years? What are the comics that mattered to you? How has that journey changed over the years?
JMA: From the first comic book I read, I was a fan of comics; not DC, not Marvel, the medium itself. I was voracious. I read it all, devouring as much as possible. I was a fan of Charlton book like The Question and Captain Atom before DC bought the line. I loved Atlas/Seaboard. They existed from 1974–1975 and were created by Martin Goodman, former Warren Publishing veteran Jeff Rovin, and writer/artist Larry Lieber (Stan Lee’s brother). They hired the best of the best for their titles (i.e. Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Alex Toth, Howard Chaykin, Rich Buckler, etc.) and offered things that would eventually transform the industry such return of artwork to artists and author rights to original characters. I was into the independent comic book scene from about 10 years old. The Pini’s Elfquest was extremely influential as well as Matt Wagner’s Mage.
Reading Heavy Metal made me aware of fantasy illustrators like Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta and it opened my eyes to the international comic book scene.
The biggest influence, however, would probably be First Comics (FC), the indie publisher from Chicago in the early 80s. I had seen the play Warp as a young lad. It was the first time I had seen an African American sci-fi superhero. FC turned that play into its flagship comic book. From there, I discovered Nexus, Grimjack, etc.DC and Marvel were my gateway drugs into the medium. The independents showed me how cool the medium truly was. In fact, the property that would become Outworld: Return of the Master Teachers, began during this period. This is how precocious I was, how much I knew that I would make this medium my life’s path. I was 11 years-old when I first started developing the concept. Outworld is my first original creation. It just so happened to take 30 years of growing and developing as a creator before I became comfortable sending it out into the world.
JC: Afrofuturism is linked to a political and social moment in the 1970s where African-Americans were engaged with a complex re-discovery of their African identity and culture. What part of that ideology moment inspires you?
JMA: All of it. I was born in 1972. My parents were newly graduated from college, smack dab in the middle of that cultural awakening. Indeed, my mother is from Liberia and my father is from the States. My birth was Pan-African in nature. I grew up in an environment where it was the U.S. outside my window and Africa behind closed doors. I grew up with the traditions, the food, the politics, the music, the art, the strength and power of African culture, the endurance, tenacity, passion, creativity and drive of African American culture. “Black is Beautiful” was more than a slogan growing up, it was and is a way of life.
JC: Your signature project The Horsemen: Divine Intervention intersect with contemporary African politics, was that a deliberate attempt to engage your audience with a global narrative?
JMA: Definitely. Following the Pan-African mindset and my dual cultural nature, I wanted The Horsemen to reflect my worldview. I wanted to show a very modern Africa, which was more “real-world” than “Wakanda.” I was extremely tired of the “famine and underdeveloped” narrative that the continent is saddled with in this country. I also wanted to address the problems that Post-Colonialism left behind on the continent as well.
I wanted the world of The Horsemen to feel real, free from the mythology of Afrocentrism and its adherence to Egyptology. I wanted to work with a different African faith system, a system that when The Horsemen was created (in 1997), no one, I mean NO ONE, was thinking of. No one was thinking of using the Orishas as a launch point for a comic book world at that time. I wanted to focus more so on the Western part of the continent where my family, and the majority of African Americans hail from. I wanted The Horsemen to be different and contemporary… It needed to be different and contemporary.
JC: Your emphasis on telling stories that are different and contemporary comes through in The Horsemen. It is a saga more inline with something like Jonathan Hickman’s Pax Romana or Rick Remender’s Black Science. What are your plans for the The Horsemen’s world?
I’ve always been a fan of alternate dimensions and, mythology is great tool in exploring that concept. Unlike the Marvel Universe, which treats the gods of myth as aliens from other planets, I prefer to think of mythological beings as realized potential if certain roads were traveled as opposed to others. In the broadest of strokes, you could link my work to Hickman’s or Reminder’s even though The Horsemen precede both of those titles by a good number of years. The Horsemen universe is in a state of expansion right now. In the current series, Mark of the Cloven (series writer) Jude W. Mire and I are expanding the world of “post-Spark event” Africa and the emergence of Lumumba City. This book is extremely political and social in its scope. The United States is in an economic shambles and Africa has become the new superpower, the new land of opportunity. A reverse Underground Railroad has emerged as the U.S. has adopted the Retention Act, an extreme piece of xenophobic legislation, which prohibits Americans emigrating to the continent.
Now, in this political hot potato, you have the bastard children of the Deitis also known as the Cloven (the opposite number of The Horsemen). They despise their parents and they see taking over African and destroying what The Horsemen are building as their opportunity to usurp control of the world from their elders. We’re three issues in so far, with the next three coming out this year.
Simultaneously, I am working on a major project called Lumumba Funk, which re-imagines The Horsemen as if they were created in the 70s and became a major hit during that era. This concept is such that a completely different team of Horsemen exist… Before the ones we’ve seen currently in the books that already exist. I did not create these Horsemen. Someone else did. Lumumba Funk will tell the history of the 70s-era Horsemen as well as give an overview of the influential story arcs and how The Horsemen influenced, and was influenced by, that era. Ultimately, the Horsemen saga, what I’ve coined The New Mythology, is one of spirituality and realized potential. It’s the saga of what happens if humanity put the B.S. of petty superficial divisions aside and focused on the big picture. And, we need to… Ragnarok is coming!
JC: Afrofuturism has been marginalized in the public’s mind as “outside.” Yet, it falls within the conventions associated with speculative fiction. What do you think makes Afrofuturism seem so different?
One word: Afro. The minute you assign culture, especially African-based culture, to a concept, it immediately becomes the other. It immediately becomes exotic. It immediately gets the “side-eye.” The idea is this: people in the “mainstream” limit African Diasporatic creativity to either music or… well, just music. When we write, we must write about “struggle,” whether historical or current because, after all, we are maligned, we have been treated unfairly. We don’t have the luxury, much less the wherewithal, to think beyond struggle, to imagine, going beyond the physical concerns of this world.
So, when we do, when we truly create, truly imagine it becomes a big deal… Not just to the “mainstream,” but to ourselves as well. And, it becomes a politically defiant act as well. It’s too deep and we’re too weird. We use the coded language of our culture to tell our stories and the “mainstream” can’t decipher our language. We rock these esoteric concepts that our people have been told we can’t generate and they look at us with a cultural suspicion. So, we’re marginalized while people try to figure us out. When in truth, we’re about five steps ahead of the game.
JC: How can fans contact you?
JMA: Fans can contact me at www.griotenterprises.com, the nexus point for all things from the Future of Entertainment. They can also join The Horsemen: The New Mythology fanpage (https://www.facebook.com/thehorsemennewmythology?ref=hl) and the Griot Enterprises fan page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Griot-Enterprises/415449001872707?ref=hl) as well… Cheers!
 Sheree Renée Thomas, ed., Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora, First Edition edition (New York: Aspect — Warner Books, 2000).
Originally published at scifipulse.net.