Co-creators writer Kwanza Osajyefo and designer Tim Smith 3, artist Jamal Igle, and cover artist Khary Randolph explored a world where only black people have superpowers in their original, phenomenal, thought-provoking graphic novel series BLACK. Now, the creative team is back to continue their story in WHITE, which explores the efforts of those in power to stay in power and keep the paradigm of oppression in place. On March 4th, the creators launched a brand-new Kickstarter campaign in order to make WHITE a reality.
WHITE follows two men and the very different ways they navigate the world they live in: the empowered “X,” who butts up against the oppressive, racist policies of the United States president, Theodore Mann, who views certain superpowered black people as terrorists. As a six-part miniseries, WHITE will follow what happens when the two collide, will look at Mann’s racism and how that mirrors the systemic racism in our own world, and will examine the world that BLACK began and WHITE continues.
Mr. Osajyefo spoke with us recently about the conceit of WHITE, working with his BLACK collaborators again, how WHITE provides further context for the world he’s helped build, and what we can expect to see in the series and the Kickstarter.
FreakSugar: For folks reading this, what can you tell us about the conceit of WHITE?
Kwanza Osajyefo: The story is largely about how the United States is coping with only black people having superpowers. We’re examining this concept in a nation with a long history of institutional inequality that now has to deal with the marginalized segment of its citizenry having superhuman abilities.
Per current events, I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination to consider how the status quo might react to something like this.
FS: What can you tell us about Theodore Mann, who is President of the United States in WHITE?
KO: The Mann family had a legacy of exploiting empowered blacks and keeping their abilities a secret from public knowledge. It’s how Theodore and his ancestors made their fortune. Now that this secret has been exposed and despite allegations of his involvement unjustly imprisoning superhuman black people, he’s been elected President of the United States.
Actually, that’s part of the reason he was elected: since his family are the foremost experts on empowered blacks, they provide a sense of security for segments of the population terrified by the situation.
FS: WHITE continues the story you began in BLACK. How do the two tie together?
KO: If the themes of BLACK are the content of the universe, WHITE is the context. We initially saw this world through the eyes of Kareem — a young black man who gets shot by police only to come back to life with superpowers.
WHITE takes place three years later and Kareem is now X — the face of resistance against the Mann administration’s authoritarian policies on dealing with empowered blacks.
Theodore is pushing for a cybernetically-enhanced militia led by his son, Thaddeus. The junior Mann already has a prototype suit that he’s all too eager to use to capturing X and garnering full public support.
FS: You’re back with your BLACK collaborators in WHITE. Has the process changed in how you work together this go-around? Have you developed a shorthand with one another?
KO: I think our collaboration has evolved. We’re dialed up to ten right now, already cranking on the first chapter before launching our crowdfund on Kickstarter.
Overall, it’s still a collaborative process from designs to edits to lettering. I’m lucky to work with a team that is thoroughly invested in the project. We want to offer our best.
FS: Does the tone of WHITE differ from that we saw in BLACK or in America’s Sweetheart?
KO: I think in America’s Sweetheart, much like in BLACK, we only got a peek at the broader state of the world. We saw things through Eli’s eyes and it was a story about her personal journey.
She will appear in WHITE and we see a bit of how things have progressed for her in the current state of America.
FS: What can you tell us about the rewards backers of WHITE can expect to see?
KO: We learned a lot about what readers want by trial and error. I think we went into the first campaign with a lot of assumptions on what would entice people to back the project – which, simply put, was our comic book.
This time we took a thorough look at what comics fans’ reading habits are. So rewards are geared towards that. We have a reward for digital readers, collectors, binge readers, and periodical fans.
FS: I asked this when spoke about America’s Sweetheart, but now that we’re a couple years into Trump’s presidency, has the current climate in the United States affected how you approach WHITE?
KO: The core premise of WHITE existed well before the 2016 election, so much like in BLACK – art imitates life. That stated, it’d be disingenuous to claim that current events have not offered a bounty of material to pull from.
However, tensions in our present day are indicative of unresolved issues with institutional racism which have been normalized in the present, to the extent that we have these issues come to a boiling point.
To that point, it wasn’t much of a stretch to envision people in a world where only black people have superpowers fearfully electing a questionable candidate as President of the United States.
FS: Beyond being entertained, what do you hope readers get out of their experience with WHITE?
KO: To explore the social construct of race, particularly white identity as a context for how people would react in a world that has superhuman black people. It’s a sci-fi reflection of our reality in which the protagonists are now more exposed and are navigating a larger landscape with a more prominent target on their backs and what they do to survive.
FS: Is there anything about what we can expect to see in WHITE?
KO: Expect WHITE to turn the story up to 11.
The Kickstarter for WHITE is now live! Check it out here and consider donating to make the next chapter of Kwanza Osajyefo’s epic a reality!
From the official press release:
How does America react when only black people have superpowers? In the sure-to-be-controversial six-part comic book series WHITE, co-creators Kwanza Osajyefo and Tim Smith 3, Inkpot-Award winning artist Jamal Igle, and cover artist Khary Randolph reunite for the sequel to their acclaimed graphic novel and Kickstarter sensation, BLACK.
“How does a nation struggling with a history of racial inequality cope in a world where only black people have superpowers?” said Kwanza Osajyefo. “Our story asks: In a time of supposed inclusion and diversity, how far will those in charge push back to retain the status quo?”
In WHITE, Theodore Mann, whose family exploited empowered blacks for centuries, is now President of the United States. Mann’s administration has exacted controversial measures to deal with the empowered he’s deemed terrorists and is stoking national tensions to win public support for Mann First, a cybernetically-augmented soldier program. The main person standing in the President’s way is X – once known as Kareem Jenkins – who has become a symbol of resistance against the Mann Administration.
In 2016, the BLACK Kickstarter campaign was a crowdfunding sensation, and both the campaign and the comic book series’ subsequent publication generated national headlines and coverage including the NEW YORK TIMES, EBONY, ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, NEW YORK MAGAZINE, and THE WASHINGTON POST. For WHITE, the original BLACK creative team―Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, Jamal Igle, Khary Randolph, Sarah Litt, Derwin Roberson, and Dave Sharpe―will return for the second part of a planned trilogy, and will be joined by inker Juan Castro. If funded by Kickstarter, WHITE will be a 6-part, ad-free periodical comic book series. The first printing – with variant covers – will be exclusive to Kickstarter backers. Comic book retailers will be able to order standard editions directly from Black Mask after rewards are shipped.
“We’ve been lucky to build the world of BLACK through Kickstarter and at Black Mask Studios, but to continue telling stories the way we want, we need to keep challenging ourselves, and the publishing paradigm, by making these special first printings of WHITE exclusively available through this crowdfunding campaign,” said Kwanza Osajyefo.
The number of backers of WHITE will unlock Kickstarter exclusive variants by comic book industry legends: Ashley A. Woods, Jamal Igle, Jeremy Love, ChrisCross, Sanford Greene, and Denys Cowan. “My goal with the BLACK covers was to evoke an emotion that would stop the reader in their tracks,” said cover artist Khary Randolph. “I’m thrilled that some of the biggest artists in comics will also be a part of the Kickstarter for WHITE.”
Issue One of WHITE is estimated to be delivered to backers October 2019. The limited edition variant of the graphic novel and comic book shop retailer bundles will ship to backers in early 2020.
“We’re thrilled to return to the world of BLACK,” said Tim Smith 3. “This is the second part of a planned trilogy and we can’t tell the story or finish what we’ve started without the support of Kickstarter and our fans who have encouraged us.”
“The overwhelming support we received from the Kickstarter community took us all by surprise,” said Jamal Igle, the artist for WHITE and the creator of MOLLY DANGER. “We were initially a little taken aback by just how much BLACK resonated with readers. As a comic book creator, there’s no better feeling than getting this kind response. Meeting fans of BLACK at comic book conventions and hearing from backers is gratifying and inspiring. We’re thrilled to be back, telling the story in the way we envisioned it, on our terms.”