Kwanza Osajyefo got his start in comics as an intern at Marvel Comics, and later worked at DC Comics. During the decade at the publishers, something that particularly struck him was that there “weren’t a lot of people of color” at these companies.
“That immediately related to me, in that there was a lack of representation in comic books of black people, any people of color,” says the 42-year-old, who lives in the Bronx. “When there was, it definitely was not coming from a place that was informed about the culture.”
He would see books like “X-Men,” which dealt with the idea of discrimination. “But in the context of the book, these characters didn’t really have those same issues,” Osajyefo says. “It was kind of like diet segregation, diet discrimination. And so I kind of wanted to scrape all that away.”
That’s when the idea for his comic “Black” popped into his head, he says. “What if only black people had superpowers?”
About a decade later, in 2016, he Kickstarted “Black,” alongside his co-creator Tim Smith 3.
“I was like, ‘Let’s put the idea out there. If it sucks we’ll know because nobody will give us money to launch and then we can give it up,’” Osajyefo says.
People gave them money. A lot of money. The goal was $29,999, and they hit $91,973 by the time the Kickstarter was over.
“We hit our goal in, like, three days and then exceeded it by 300 percent,” he says. “So I definitely think we tapped into something unique.”
The original “Black” miniseries is out now, and has been collected in a trade paperback. Osajyefo says that the response to it has been great, noting that “people really feel like I’m reflecting the culture and the breadth and depth of what that entails, because black people aren’t like this monolith; we don’t all think the same thing, like the same things.”
New release, and the first “Black” spinoff book, “Black: America’s Sweetheart” is also in stores, written by Osajyefo with art by Jennifer Johnson. It follows a 15-year-old teenage girl from Montana who gets superpowers, leading her to fight evil under the name Good Girl.
“After ‘Black’ … I really wanted to explore the idea of what happens in the same universe but a different setting. Like, let’s place it someplace rural Montana, with a young woman who’s adopted by a white family, but she’s raised with conservative, religious, patriotic values — all of that American apple pie sort of thing that we like to aspire to, but don’t always hit the mark,” Osajyefo explains.
“And I thought that was something interesting to explore because people who hold those views — they’re black, too,” he continues. “They’re having the black experience. The Condoleezza Rices out there, the Colin Powells. And that was something I wanted to put forward and explore in a story that really took a character like that through altruism. Because she’s ultimately a good person. That’s what I wanted her to be, is someone who actually believes in what America can be. And deal with the harsh reality of our own cynicism. Even though there’s a superhero fight in it, the real concept is that emotional one.”
If you go: Kwanza Osajyefo and artists Tim Smith 3 and Jamal Igle will be signing at Forbidden Planet NYC on Feb. 21 at 7 p.m., 832 Broadway, fpnyc.com, must buy book