Making its digital debut March 5th, 2018 after a successful Kickstarter campaign, where they raised more than double their asking goal, The Invention of E.J. Whitaker is the first of a planned five issue series about Ada Turner’s dream to create the world’s first flying machine.
In order to pursue those dreams, Ada works under a pseudonym, but when news of her invention lands in the papers, Ada starts running into people who want to meet E.J.. The summary explains that word got out after Ada patented her machine, but that isn’t really clear when you’re reading. The endpaper mentions the patent but since Ada’s machine isn’t 100% operational, either, a blip in how patents work could help clear up those questions.
Historical fiction means George Washington Carver can be a father-figure to Ada, but it also means writers Shawnee and Shawnelle Gibbs, can pay respect to flight’s unsung pioneers. Most people know the Wright brothers and what they accomplished in 1903, but Abbas ibn-Firnas and Otto Lilienthal could be inventors the Gibbs sisters made-up, for all their names register.
Related to Ada’s choice to use a pseudonym in this series, being an inventor isn’t about becoming famous. The circumstances that pressured Ada into becoming E.J. are sexist, but the joy of inventing comes from creating, not being recognized.
History tends to remember success stories best, but that’s also not the reason inventors invent. Like E.J. Whitaker writes in a letter at the start of the issue, there are no failures in science. Every mistake is a stepping stone for the next person to build on, until eventually the combined effort results in a new idea. Credit might fall on whoever adds the finishing touches, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the people who came before. It’s a positive outlook on setbacks that young readers will gain a lot from being exposed to in this comic.
E.J. Whitaker, or Ada Turner, is a fictional character, but the point is that she could’ve been real. History may have forgotten her, or maybe we know her by a pseudonym, but The Invention of E.J. Whitaker is open to the possibility that women flew in 1901. Who’s to say that’s not true?
While E.J. Whitaker’s identity wasn’t kept secret during the Kickstarter, penciller, Mark Hernandez, lets the art hold off on revealing Ada’s gender. In the beginning, E.J. Whitaker exists as a pair of gloves, typing, and then flying an air craft a few pages later. The first time we see her face, Ada’s wearing a leather pilot’s helmet and goggles, so it’s still a beat before we know she’s a woman. Her pseudonym uses initials that could be male or female. It’s small-mindedness that makes people conclude she must be a man.
Inked by Shanna Lim and Hernandez, with colors by Hasani McIntosh, the opening pages feel like the chalk drawings in Mary Poppins. You could jump inside and the world would come to life. Ada’s partner is an automaton, Jessie, that she patented before her flying machine. Letterer Emi Roze uses a playful, robotic font for Jessie’s speech, and boxy, radio balloons. Instead of a shiny metal, that would make Jessie futuristic and highlight the fact that she’s mechanical, McIntosh chooses a golden butterscotch, with specks of red and green. While there’s no mention of Jesse being sentient, Ada treats her like an equal, and expresses concern for her feelings.
A back-up story, written by the Gibbs sisters, with art by Earl Womack, gives Jessie a solo adventure, but also expands on the shady Townsend Corporation. Mr. Townsend is one of the parties determined to meet E.J., and the main story sees him send Phinneas Smith to Ada’s door. Filling up the doorframe like Gandalf in The Hobbit (minus the friendly motives), he’s persuaded to leave, but isn’t the type who will stay away long.
The Invention of E.J. Whitaker #1 will be available to purchase March 5th, 2018 at http://www.ejwhitaker.com/.