I’m behind deadline on Issue Four. Part of it is due to visiting relatives, busy summer schedule, and the day-to-day of trying to write around running a business and having three daughters.
Another part of it goes a lot deeper.
To fill you in, in case you don’t know, I’m working for Griot Enterprises on writing a serial novel set in the comic book world of the Horsemen created by Jiba Molei Anderson. It’s a black comic (not an African American comic. If you don’t know the difference, message me).
Now, in this comic, the Horsemen, a group of super-heroes from Detroit, imbued with the powers of Yoruba gods, destroy a portion of Nigeria, unify Africa, and start building a technological utopia there. The U.S. has become repressive, outlaws emigration, and is basically a police state.
Where do they build this utopia? Right next to the crater of the city they destroyed to wake up Africa. A place they considered the epicenter of the continents problems and wiped out; Abuja. You know Abuja? Of course you don’t. What Americans really know the names of cities in Africa? I’ll give you something you do know though.
Bring back our girls.
We put our fictional city that represents hope, literally, on the same place that Boko Haram militants went and stole almost 300 girls from their school. When the news came about what happened I recognized all the places. Where the school was, where they’d been taken, where the military was ineffectually responding from, all because of my researching the region for the book months earlier. And now, while I was writing about an idealistic dream for Africa they were simultaneously being raped, beaten, and sold into slavery. The dream and the reality are so very, very far apart. It was excruciating. More than half the characters in the Horsemen are women. Brave, intelligent, funny, amazing fictional women, meant to inspire girls, specifically black girls. Like the ones that were taken. Girls not so different from my own daughters.
Chapter Three, which I wrote during that crisis, was incredibly hard to write. The sadness, the desire for the world to be different, to change things, was difficult to deal with. I pushed through it and Jiba and I made the best issue of the series so far. Then I moved into Issue Four.
Eshu and a Chicago cop partner up to deal with a problem with the underground railroad leading to Africa. So in the previous issue, I was writing in Abuja when the girls were kidnapped. This issue and I was writing a white cop protagonist when Ferguson explodes. And I’m transfixed. What the fuck is going on? To say that I’m stunned is an understatement. Jiba and I created a proto-military America as an exaggeration! A god-damned example of an extreme to illustrate a problem. But for some reason, here it is, happening for real. Reality just caught up with our doomsday vision of America. Oh sure, not entirely, but here, in the microcosm of Ferguson, I’m watching what we created as the terrible future manifest itself. The same horrible thing that the Horsemen created hope in Africa to counter. And again, the dream collides with reality.
As an author, I want to create things that mean something. Jiba likes to say “Everything I create is protest art.” As a black man surrounded by a white industry, he’s absolutely right. I, on the other hand, don’t automatically create protest art just by creating. I’m not a woman, or a minority, and there’s no shortage of guys like me creating all manner of stuff all the time. I’ve got to do it intentionally. While many of my short stories are “fluff” and lack themes, overall, the work I’m most proud of are the stories that illustrate the human condition, make a statement, or reveal something about ourselves. It’s one of the things that has always drawn me to horror writing. Much of the human psyche is governed by fear and horror allows a writer to poke the uncomfortable areas. It inspires self-introspection, growth, and awareness. It’s why, despite being very different subject matter, I was drawn to the Horsemen. It does the same. For some reason I thought it would be easier than horror. I was dead wrong.
For as difficult as they are to write, at the end of the day, horror stories are personal. The difference with the Horsemen is that it’s personal and cultural and global. A personal fear or issue is yours to control. Cultural? Global? That shit is out of your hands. Those horrors remain. They’re real. They stand in the world and point guns at you, steal your children, and fire tear gas. The best you can do is band together with others and hope to god you gather enough of you to fight them, because alone? Alone, they swallow you. They bury you. They end you.
It can really make you want to quit. It feels futile, hopeless, like tossing pennies into the grand canyon to make a bridge. It is so small in the face of the real world. Next issue has to do with prisons. I don’t even want to guess how the real world intersection might happen there because the American prison system is already a terrible thing.
But no matter how small it is this book Jiba and I are writing is a fantastic. It promotes diversity, inspires hope, busts stereotypes, and all of that is good. Seriously good. Whatever comes, Jiba and I aren’t stopping this project. This protest. It doesn’t matter how big the tide of darkness reality swells over us or how wide the canyon is that needs crossing. You don’t stop fighting just because your opponent is bigger than you. This world makes me sad and angry and vengeful and the tools I have to combat it are tiny but you can bet your ass I’m going to use them. How do I keep going when your hope is smashed by the beasts of mass rape, police murder, and civil injustice? You get stubborn.
I just keep telling myself; “How do you eat a whale?”
“One bite at a time”.