When I grow up, I want to be Milton Davis. Let me tell you why.
He’s an Atlanta-based chemist, the entrepreneur heading the pioneering Afritopian publishing house MVmedia, a key figure in the development of Sword & Soul and Steamfunk, the co-editor of four anthologies including Griots and Griot: Sisters of the Spear with Charles R. Saunders, the author of numerous adult and YA novels including The Woman of the Woods and Amber and the Hidden City, the co-producer of the new animated series From Here to Timbuktu, and the co-developer, with fellow Afritopian creator Balogun Ojetade, of the breakthrough role-playing game Ki Khanga! Ki Khanga is innovative for numerous reasons, as you’re about to hear, but especially because it’s the first standalone Afritopian RPG ever made.
I spoke with Milton Davis by web video on December 19, 2018; in full disclosure, I tried to get co-creator Balogun Ojetade in the same call, but the gremlins who destroy online conversations made sure that couldn’t happen. But Balogun joined us in spirit. Milton Davis and I discussed:
Along the way, Davis explains that Ki Khanga uses “ashé” as part of its point system; ashé comes from the Yoruba religion of Nigeria, Benin, the Caribbean, and Brazil, and is the cosmic-cognitive power to create and alter reality.
I began by asking Davis what makes Ki Khanga different from all other RPGs, including ones with African content.
Nalo Hopkinson is one of the most acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writers of our time. The Routledge Companion to Literature and Science calls her a luminary in the science fiction community. Her Afritopian career began with the late 20th Century breakout novel Brown Girl in the Ring, a dystopian science fiction adventure set in near-future Toronto featuring an African-Canadian heroine and the gods of Nigeria, Benin, and the Caribbean.
Hopkinson's career has ascended through books such as Skin Folk, Sister Mine, The New Moon’s Arms, and many more. She’s also a professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside in the only dedicated SF writing programme anywhere in the English-speaking world.
Recently Hopkinson added another accomplishment to her dazzling career, as a comic book writer in Neil Gaiman’s DC-Vertigo Sandman universe on the series House of Whispers with artist Dominike Stanton. I knew that writing comics, with their extreme economy of words, was a special challenge for novelists, who revel in the luxury of whatever word-count they choose.
So I spoke by web video with Hopkinson on December 23, 2018, and we discussed:
For many Africans, comics were an excellent entertainment of our childhoods, but we still had to face that most comics creators pretended that we didn’t exist at all. The comics universes were places we could dream of visiting, but the on-page demographics made it clear we couldn’t become citizens.
Yet over time, North American culture has increasingly embraced being universal, so that Marvel and DC have added or enhanced numerous African characters, as well as Indigenous, Latin American, and Asian characters. But even though the Big Two have featured more African characters and hired more African creators, there still aren’t many of us on the inside and we don’t answer to African editors or publishers, so we still don’t control the fates of characters who look like us.
But thanks to creators and indie publishers such as Kelvin Nyeusi Mawazo, that’s changing. Mawazo is the creator of Black Sun, a science fiction-adventure series set in the futuristic world of Alkebulan, about an heroic group of people struggling to liberate their world from a devastating invading armada. The comics are amazing, and fans are loving them.
One production aspect of the comic that seems almost science fictional itself is that Mawazo doesn’t use pencils, pens, ink, or even paper to create the comic. Instead, he uses 3D digital models to create the art entirely inside his computer, and finishes the work in Photoshop. Since I’m producing a graphic novel myself using a similar approach, I was eager to find out how he does what he does. And fortunately, he’s posted video tutorials right on his website BlackSunComics.com.
I spoke with Kelvin Mawazo by web video on December 30, 2018. We discussed:
Along the way, Mawazo refers to PSDs, or Photoshop files, and I refer to rendering, which is the digital process of turn posed, virtual 3D objects into completed 2D images—kind of like taking and developing an old-fashioned photograph.
Daniel José Older probably saved lives working for a decade as a paramedic, but I’m sure he has elevated plenty of souls as a novelist.
He wrote the YA historical fantasy series Dactyl Hill Squad, which made him a New York Times bestselling author. He’s also penned the Bone Street Rumba urban fantasy series, Star Wars: Last Shot, and the award-winning YA series the Shadowshaper Cypher. That won him the International Latino Book Award and was shortlisted for the Kirkus Prize in Young Readers’ Literature, the Andre Norton Award, the Locus, and the Mythopoeic Award. Esquire put it on their “80 Books Every Person Should Read” list. He’s also a musician, and you can catch his music at danieljoseolder.net.
Years ago I needed some career advice and even though we’d never met, I emailed Older, and he immediately made time to speak with me by phone. Since then it was clear to me he was a righteous cat. So it was a real pleasure to speak with him by web video on December 23, 2018. We discussed:
Doug Drexler is an absolutely amazing artist in the magic of making movies and television. If you’re like me and grew up watching US science fiction and fantasy movies and TV, then you’ve definitely seen the make-up work of Doug Drexler in films such as The Hunger, Starman, Dick Tracy, and Star Trek: The Next Generation—he was the artist responsible for creating the decades-older Jean-Luc Picard in the classic episode “The Inner Light.” But even if you didn’t watch science fiction and fantasy, you probably saw his work in Manhunter, Liberace, Fatal Attraction, Three Men and a Little Lady, or The Cotton Club.
But unlike plenty of professionals who achieve expertise in their fields, Drexler chose to expand his range of excellence into other fields, thus ensuring his career longevity throughout changes in technology. He became a designer on shows including Deep Space Nine and Enterprise, and the movies Star Trek: Generations, First Contact, and Insurrection.
Then he went to work in visual effects, helping to create movies such as Starship Troopers and Defiance, and the TV series including Star Trek: Voyager, Battlestar Galactica, and Caprica, the pilot movie Virtuality, the Galactica web series Blood and Chrome, and the remastered director’s edition of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
Drexler’s outstanding work won him a BAFTA, a Saturn Award, and an Oscar for Dick Tracy, two Emmy nominations for The Next Generation, and two Emmy Awards and a Visual Effects Society Award for Battlestar: Galactica.
Doug Drexler spoke with me by web video on December 21, 2018. We discussed:
LINKS THAT DOUG DREXLER HIMSELF PROVIDED:
Noam Chomsky is a pioneering linguist and political analyst who has been called the most important intellectual alive. He’s spent decades documenting the crimes of US imperialism and corporate power, and how the US government and corporate media engage in propaganda that he compares with totalitarianism. He risked prison in the 1970s by working with Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers, a document trove exposing massive US crimes in Southeast Asia that at least three US presidents had lied about or covered up.
He’s the author of more than 150 books on linguistics and politics. His latest release is Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change.
I’ve been interviewing people a long time, but the first major interview I secured was through CJSR FM radio in Edmonton, and it was with Noam Chomsky back in 1993. To be completely honest I was extremely anxious. Like plenty of people in my circles I revered Chomsky for his accomplishments and his relentlessness. I was so nervous that when he answered my telephone call and asked me how much time I needed, I couldn’t bring myself to say “an hour,” so he kindly just offered an hour.
To put that in perspective, I some times struggle to get minor celebrities and authors no one has ever heard of to give a few minutes to help me promote their work. Chomsky, one of the most-interviewed scholars alive and one of the most quoted in history, had nothing to gain for himself by giving me an hour. I’ll always be grateful for his generosity.
When we spoke by telephone twenty-six years ago, we discussed:
The world has changed in uncountable ways in the twenty-six years since Noam Chomsky and I spoke by telephone. So, a few reminders about the changes, and some expressions:
Many Americans assumed that following the one-term presidency of George H.W. Bush, the US would become a less violent superpower. But even after the first US-Iraq War of 1990 to 1991, the US continued to bomb Iraq regularly to enforce its aerial occupation. Under Clinton the US attacked Somalia, waged war in the former Yugoslavia, invaded Haiti, and bombed Sudan and Afghanistan. But as Chomsky notes, these attacks were not in the style of its war against Vietnam.
The term “propaganda model” as created by Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman is the analysis of how corporate media works: through concentration of ownership among the super-wealthy, being subordinate to wealthy advertisers, and relying on government and corporate mouthpieces to present their claims about society to the exclusion of almost all voices that challenge US government and corporate power systemically.
“Intervention” means assassination, bombing, invasion, overthrowing governments, and even reducing countries to slavery, as France, the US, Canada, and others did to Libya when Barack Obama was the US president.
Chomsky also cited an earlier US attack against Libya, the 1986 US bombing code-named Operation El Dorado Canyon. Mobutu refers to Mobutu Sese Seko, the Western-backed dictator of Zaire, which is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Finally, I posed a question to Chomsky in which I said that because US invasions were declining, there would not likely be a case in which the US was overstretched due to fighting three simultaneous wars, or what Che Guevara called “three Vietnams,” but I hadn’t anticipated that under a then-unimaginable Obama presidency, the US would be engaged in five simultaneous wars and imperial occupation wars in 2011: against Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, and Somalia.
I apologise for whistling feedback during first 2 minutes; after that, the audio is pretty good, especially considering the technology we had in 1993.