“Battles Are Cultural” – Kwanza Osajyefo On The WHITE Kickstarter Campaign

by Hannah Means Shannon

This week, a new Kickstarter campaign launched for the sequel to the critically acclaimed comic series BLACK, taking the form of a narrative that fans should’ve seen coming, but is bound to be surprising and startling in its own unique ways. Writer Kwanza Osajyefo, designer Tim Smith 3, artist Jamal Igle, and cover artist Khary Randolph bring us WHITE, which follows the life of Khareem Jenkins, who after being gunned down by police, discovers he is a powered individual, and now takes the stage as “X”, a stage where emerging powers among black people are causing racial tensions to become racial explosions.
BLACK and WHITE are also set in the same universe as spin-off graphic novel. BLACK AF: America’s Sweetheart and the the universe continues to offer opportunities for expansion.
In WHITE, we witness the rise of an American President, Theodore Mann, who deems powered black people to be “terrorists” and is setting up super soldiers to counter the threat rather than looking for a new social synthesis that can create peace.
Kwanza Osajyefo joins us today to talk about the roots of WHITE, its real-world implications, and the expanding universe of the comic.

Hannah Means-Shannon: Heading back to Kickstarter, do you think you’ve changed your approach to the platform at all over time, or fine-tuned campaigns in any way to reach your audience as you’ve gotten to know them better?
Kwanza Osajyefo: We’ve refined our focus on what rewards we offer. I think the first time we were inexperienced with what would entice backers and offered extraneous things. We heard quite clearly that people were invested in the comics more than any chachkies.
We also learned more about what formats and reading preferences people have. There are very distinct segments of comics lovers, so with WHITE we’re appealing to those tastes.
We’ve also already started production so that we don’t miss deadlines. Issue one should be done by the time the Kickstarter ends.
HMS: How are you feeling right now about the expansion of the world of BLACK and its continuation? Not everyone manages to make a creative success out of a world to the point where others can play in that sandbox and sequels are in demand.
KO: Pretty great. It’s satisfying in that some idea I had years ago is coming to fruition, and surprising in that it’s come about in ways I could not have imagined.
I’m delighted that I can start opening the world up to other creatives because I have a very definite end to my exploration of this world, but I look forward to leaving it in others hands.

HMS: Hearing the ideas behind WHITE, my first reaction is that this is the perfect concept for a sequel, and I’m almost surprised I didn’t realize this was coming. When did you realize it was the correct next step for the property?
KO: It’s been my intention from the conception of BLACK that this would be a trilogy. WHITE is a natural progression from the previous book because where the former was about the content of the protagonists’ personal journeys, the latter is the context that frames the world they exist in.
WHITE is my exploration of how structural inequality in the US cements itself in white identity. In particular, how whiteness is so intricately woven into America that even naming it pulls at a thread that disrupts the fabric. I wanted to examine how whiteness isn’t about race but is a destructive – and self-destructive – moral rhetoric to defend exploitation, crime, and terror.
HMS: Okay, so obviously there are real-world parallels between the current presidential administration and President Mann in WHITE, but actually there are also parallels to many presidential administrations, unfortunately. Is that part of the point? How did you pick what qualities to focus on out of such a glut of potential source material?
KO: I suppose, like BLACK, some would consider WHITE timely, but, to your point, draws from a long tapestry of US history. It’s intentional, again because it is documented and almost, to some extent, predictable. Current events have certainly narrowed some of my focus, but much of the glut you mention stems from repeated behaviors.

HMS: The idea of cyber-soldiers being set up to counter the powered black people of the comic is also a really stunning, scary development that I feel I should’ve seen coming, too. Is the only next step in a climate of fear the building of bigger weapons? Are there any alternative ways of thinking among the non-powered characters in WHITE that suggest what the road not taken could have been?
KO: Western colonialism and dominance have primarily been buoyed by one thing – superior weaponry. Theodore Mann’s family has exploited empowered blacks for centuries. He futilely sought to unlock the nature of that superhumanity for himself by capturing X. But when you have racial status, legacy wealth, control of the government, and the most powerful weapon – fear – you’re not exactly holding a weak hand. And how that hand is played is what WHITE explores.
HMS: What sort of reaction are we going to see in WHITE from powered individuals in the face of this cyber soldier threat? Is there any way to address this tension before the break out of all out war?
KO: It will be varied, as in real life. I think as Americans and comic book readers we’re forgetful and desensitized to how conflict arises, especially with today’s soundbite and clickbait media. America took two years to enter WWII, ten years to officially get into the Vietnam War, and two years to go to war with Iraq.
There tends to be a lot of tension before a conflict, and war isn’t always the result. Battles are cultural, political, and ideological long before a shot is fired. How the characters in WHITE navigate these tightropes is what, I think, will make for an interesting story.

HMS: Can you tell us a little about what the team members on this book are bringing to WHITE and also about campaign allies who will be contributing to the campaign?
KO: The entire core team of creatives from BLACK are back working on WHITE with Tim Smith 3 and myself. Khary has already delivered covers to the first issue and trade, while Jamal has all but finished issue one. Of course, all to the credit of our editor, Sarah Litt – she keeps this ship running.
We’ve also got Ashley A. Woods, Jeremy Love, ChrisCross, Sanford Greene, and the legendary co-founder of Milestone Media, Denys Cowan, offering variant covers on issue one of WHITE should we hit specific backer goals.
We think it is a great way to give backers something really unique and that specifically marks their contribution to this project. We could never do it without them.

Thanks very much to Kwanza Osajyefo for taking part in this interview!
The Kickstarter for WHITE is live now, and runs until March 31st, 2019. The campaign offers digital subscriptions, graphic novel format, and retailer bundles of all 6 issues of the comic!

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