Jiba Anderson on the ‘character of color’ template, a light seldom reached, and indie initiative

Anderson and Goffinski’s The Horsemen: Book of Olorun # 3

Not content with leaving the void of African-American characters in comics to be filled by the mainstream, Jiba Anderson didn’t just create a team of African-American superheroes (The Horsemen)–he created Griot Enterprises to bring them and other characters of color to readers himself.   Check out my interview with Jiba, whom is gearing up to produce his latest project, below: 

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A big focus of your work is creating and tapping into mythologies that happen to be black . . . You obviously grew up loving comic books.  Did you have a moment of measuring yourself against the majority of characters whom had become important to you? 

As an artist, you’re always comparing yourself to not only your contemporaries, but your influences as well. It’s the classic dichotomy of the artist’s ego and the artist’s insecurity.

In terms of creating characters of color, the natural inclination is to feel that DC and Marvel at once created a template, but we as fans of color have always been critical of that template; “The Man” hasn’t done enough to represent us in the light we would like to see ourselves portrayed.

The difference between me and other fans is that I saw the template for what it was, and I embraced it for giving us something to build upon and improve. When books like Brotherman, Milestone Media and Tribe came on the scene and were successful, I felt empowered. Those entities created a new template and gave creators of color a new standard to strive for. I took up that challenge and that’s why Griot Enterprises exists. That’s why The Horsemen, Outworld and the other titles under our banner exist.

On a purely statistical level, it’s highly unlikely for someone to be a minority and write a minority character in a mainstream capacity.  Do you think anything is lost from this? 

No.

If I were looking to build my career creating and writing characters of color for the Big Two, then I would’ve felt lost.

When I started Griot Enterprises, I knew the statistical strikes against the company. However, the expansion and possibilities of the independent comic book scene opened up the possibilities of success in the industry.

Besides, I don’t consider myself a “minority” creating “minority” characters for only “minorities” to enjoy. I am a writer and artist using my culture and interests to enhance the content of my stories. I just happen to be an African-American artist. So, I create my work based on that lens, which informs my worldview.

A grand, mature scale seems to be the common thread in your work.  In scope, The Horsemen reminds me of Grant Morrison’s and Warren Ellis’ team-based work.  Very global.  One of your goals with The Horsemen was creating a black super team–something that hasn’t been done before.  But I’m not so sure that a great street-level hero whom happens to be black has been done, either (Recently, there may be the one).

I love grand themes. I love the meta-story. Every creator should have their own voice, including comic book writers. If you really study the best modern comic book writers (i.e. Morrison, Ellis, Gaiman, Priest, etc.), they all write their interests and give their critique of the world at large.

In truth, all of my work is political and social commentary. All of my work will always honor, in one way, shape or form the African and African-American experience and from that base, expand outward to address the Global Village.

For example, The Horsemen deals with spirituality vs. physical desire; what holds us back, as humans, from achieving our full potential. My upcoming project, Outworld: The Return of the Master Teachers deals with the political, economic and social warfare against the disenfranchised. The mythological / superhero world of The Horsemen and the Sci-Fi / Kung-Fu overtones of Outworld are the candy-coated shell that aids in the swallowing of those pills, which can be bitter.

Who are the creators inside and outside of the comic book medium who’ve influenced your sensibilities the most? 

Man, that’s a tough question to answer because there are so many artists, writers and people who’ve influenced my work.

See, my work is defined by pop culture. From Alphonse Mucha to Frank Frazetta, from comic books and animation to “Grindhouse” films, these “low-brow” creations sparked my imagination. Their bold and shameless design and marketing aesthetic inspire the way that I make images and bring my message to the masses… And they are a lot of fun.

If I had to break it down, my top 5 comic art influences are Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, George Perez, John Byrne, Alan Davis and Steve Rude. My top 5 comic writers are Chris Claremont, Christopher Priest, Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Alan Moore.

As someone who’s been making indie comics for about a decade, how, if at all, have the challenges changed?  

The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years. From the emergence of Print-On-Demand to digital downloads, to the birth of crowd funding via Kickstarter and Indiegogo to Facebook, the financial obstacles of getting into this business have been drastically reduced. At the same time, comics have gone completely corporate with Disney’s acquisition of Marvel.

The line has officially been drawn in the sand. The line between Indie and Mainstream are (is) clear, and we, as independent companies, should forget about trying to beat DC and Marvel at their game. Ain’t gonna happen. We don’t have the resources. More importantly, our properties do not have the benefit of 50 to 75 years of market saturation.

More importantly, our properties do not have the benefit of 50 to 75 years of market saturation.

So, what do we do about this? We flip the script. We use Facebook. We were up on digital comics a good five years before the Big Two took notice. Indies were the first to benefit from this crowd funding hustle.

However, don’t get it twisted. This is the entertainment business. We’re still competing for attention and shelf space. We’ve got to come correct with each and every book we create. The art, story, design and packaging have to be top notch and we’ve got to market the hell out of our project. We’ve got to blog, we’ve got to tweet, and we’ve got to form alliances. We are all in this together.

The great thing about being Indie is that all bets are off. You are free to tell the stories you want to tell. You can experiment. You can help evolve the medium. And, because of the recent success of DC and Marvel, mainstream audiences are now not only aware, but now are starting to respect the power of comics and are checking for the next hot thing…

…Indies have the opportunity to fill that need.

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For more about Jiba Anderson and his work, check out http://www.griotenterprises.com/.  Jiba is also currently running an Indiegogo campaign to produce his latest project, which you can help support at  http://www.indiegogo.com/masterteachers/x/2178636

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