The continuation of the BLACK Universe continues in the all-new graphic novel BLACK AF: America’s Sweetheart. In America’s Sweetheart, similar to the premise of BLACK, in the world where only black people have superpowers… a black woman enters the stage as America’s first superhero!
“Eli Franklin is a 15-year-old girl living in rural Montana — and she just happens to be the most powerful person on the planet. In the aftermath of the world learning that only black people have superpowers, Eli makes her debut as the superhero Good Girl, on a mission to help people and quell the fear of empowered blacks.”
I got to talk with Kwanza Osajyefo about the next chapter in the BLACK Universe and why in 2018, a black woman is America’s first Superhero.
Terrence Sage: For the continuation of the BLACKverse, you’ve opened it up to a large degree with Eli Franklin. Where did the story for her come from?
Kwanza Osajyefo: Although BLACK was always intended as three books, BLACK [AF] America’s Sweetheart was in my mind as a spinoff from its conception. I wanted to explore how events from BLACK impact other places and black people of different perspectives. Eli Franklin is from a rural Midwestern area and was raised with conservative, religious, patriotic values. Those views are part of the black experience and I was inspired by characters like Icon. I really wanted to dive into how a person who views the world in that way would deal with superpowers.
TS: Eli is essentially the Supergirl of this World and comes into contact with all types of threats throughout the book, how did you want to differ the villains in this graphic novel from Black?
KO: Because the superheroics happen between beings who are physically invulnerable, I wanted to make the struggle in America’s Sweetheart emotional. What’s at stake in the story is how the characters’ view of the world will determine their role in it.
TS: Where did the art direction of having the entire story in color come from versus keeping the black and white style?
KO: Because the protagonist’s perspective is less mature, I wanted the book to reflect the colorful optimism that would exist in the same world as the previous book. We also felt Jennifer’s artwork (she colored the whole thing as well) conveyed that optimism and the color would appeal to a YA audience.
TS: Why is the story of a young black girl being the first Black Superhero in the public eye, the story we need kicking off 2018?
KO: I think it’s a necessary story because there is dissonance between what the US says it is and how this country acts. Eli is meant to represent America’s ideal self, but can that exist in a nation that is actually rather cynical? A young black woman raised with apple-pie ideals, taking on the role of a patriotic superhero, in a country that has clear issues with her race and gender is an area I think is fascinating to explore.
TS: Where does the end of America’s Sweetheart leave Eli, X, and the rest of the BLACKverse? (If you can hint at the future)
KO: The end leaves us with more story to tell. Both of these characters’ stories will continue.
TS: How important was it to show that Eli is essentially estranged from her adoptive family in several ways? From being a black girl to having superpowers in a world where people are doubly afraid of someone like her if push comes to shove.
KO: I think being homeschooled and raised in a sort of curated way can be isolating even if you’re blood-related to your siblings or parents. Add on being black and having enormous power and you can only imagine how alone a person might feel. At first Eli thinks she is the only person in the world with superpowers, and learning that’s not the case is a huge catalyst for why she decides to don a flag-themed costume and help people.
TS: What do you think the BLACK series of stories is showing readers about the black experience alongside the superheroics and fantastical elements?
KO: That the black experience is not this monolithic thing and there are varying perspectives on our shared histories. The science fiction elements of these stories are juxtaposed with themes to highlight them and make the stories more fun.
BLACK AF: AMERICA’S SWEETHEART is available in stores now from Black Mask Studios.