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: