"You don't get a better future unless you sit down and organize to get that better future." - Mike Pondsmith, creator of Cyberpunk 2077
At this point, I'm writing this just so I can remember how it started.
It's been 24 hours since the online announcement of Afrofutures. While I remain modest (for now), the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive.
Actually, the response has been:
"Can I work on this?"
"When does it come out?"
"What is it?"
That last one is THEE question, ain't it? I've been asking myself for at least two years now, what is Afrofutures?
Well let me just say it: Afrofutures is a 17+ magazine dedicated to comics and music. It's where Black speculative fiction (and some non-fiction, but ew) can run wild...with a soundtrack.
Have you ever seen the movie Breaking a Monster? It's a 2013 documentary about three Black, 7th graders who start a metal band called "Unlocking The Truth." The movie follows the kids as they are on the verge of signing a major record label contract with Sony. Early on in the film they have this white, Disney Channel talent agent as a manager. But Unlocking the Truth are still kids! They started playing for fun. Now they are in the constant crosshairs of a corporation. One kid in particular -- lead vocalist/guitarist Malcolm Brickhouse -- keeps wanting to skateboard in-between practice sessions. His manager is on him constantly about acting like a kid, about how his song writing and vocals aren't the right type of "product", that he's jeopardizing his music career if he breaks his arm...that his attitude is wrong. Malcolm doesn't give a fuck, though. He's a pre-teen that loves metal, after all.
I saw this movie again over the pandemic. It hit me a little differently this time. Once the COVID restrictions subsided. I found myself going back into the outside world, and I kept thinking of Malcolm's metal as fuck attitude. It resonated with me in a way that I'd forgotten about myself.
I'd been barber-less for over a year. So my hair had grown the longest it ever had. Admittedly, I was smoking more. But, most importantly, your thought process really tends to shift when you see that the whole world really can just STOP (something we've all begged it to do for quite some time). Finally, I'd lost several people during the locked down. From creative inspirations that I did not personally (know like MF DOOM) to longtime family friends, my aunt, and then, ultimately, my mother.
I started to get mad. But that good mad. The type of mad where you really start to clock what you're witnessing...
I'd seen the pop culture landscape these last few years. I've seen independent Black creatives quietly build their empires -- ultimately securing the support of Netflix, Disney, etc. But I've seen more Black creatives put on indefinite standby from gatekeepers because someone up top decided the time or tone was wrong. I've seen Black creators financially live and die off the success of trade shows. I've seen a lot of corporate "altruism" go from fist-clenching conviction to "new CEO...who dis?"
That is a difficult space to continuously thrive creatively.
Creativity -- by it's very nature -- needs to be allowed to experiment and express itself authentically. In this mass media ecosystem, there is no real room for Black experimentation, fringe Black concepts, depictions of alternative Black lifestyles, or, y'know, just anything that isn't mother fuckin' Black Panther or Kevin Hart.
And that's why I got mad. Because I realized that the distribution models that now exist don't really allow room for JUST creative expression. It has to be acceptable to the mighty algorithm. It has to be picked up by streaming services. It has to be malleable. Or, as Malcolm's manager pointed out about why he agreed to manage Unlocking The Truth: "People see these kids...they think they are cute, they're very safe."
Yeah, fuck that.
I mean, I knew this already. Of course, I did. But the clarity that came from the pandemic was too 4k to ignore. I had to get back to my creative roots.
I had cut my teeth making comics in what people call "small press." It was after I went through a few climbs up the corporate ladder that I started to miss my indie motivations. I missed just making shit because I can. Because I want to. I missed the idea of getting my friends together and just building something dope.
And that's what Afrofutures is. It's "us" showing off. Without restrictions. Let's see how much damage we do.
Maybe we'll create the funny book equivalent of the Harlem Renaissance. Good or bad, maybe this magazine is the lightning rod that was Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. Maybe this is the Afropunk documentary that balloons into a thing that people will look back on and say, "That negro sold out."
Maybe. Maybe not.
That's the fun thing about the future...you don't truly know where it's going.
Afrofutures is now in pre-production.