Friday, March 12, 2010

Self Praise for the writer of Lucius Hammer!

About 8 months have passed since I have unleashed Lucius Hammer to the masses. I have been so busy trying to score cartoon deals, video game licenses, and other creative compromises that I have begun to lose track of what the hell I was doing any of this for in the first place. It's the book, man. The "Book" or "Comic Book" is the thing! If we don't have the book then we have nothing. It is also true that people have had a chance to react to my book over the past few months and the reviews have been mixed but encouraging. Very few people really get what I am creating at this juncture but as I build momentum it will be obvious and that's when it's all going to get out of hand. A lot of folks have compared Lucius to Superman (he is like Superman to a degree but he can't be that much like him because he's black!) and some folks think that this is a spoofy riff on seventies blaxploitation heroes like Black Dynamite (Not at all, Black Dynamite is more like Austin Powers in black face, Lucius Hammer is a black superhero.) Anyway, I thought it would be interesting for you readers and myself, the writer, to look back and review my own issue. The book starts out just like I imagined it would. John Henry to me is that seminal African American literary figure that is emblazoned in my childhood memory of trips to the school library on Wednesdays. My first page bursts out proudly with a triumphant shot of John Henry, hammer in hand on some mountaintop, and the narration of course provided by Lucius proclaims that the famous steel drivin' man is his biological father. I instinctively did this because of my love for this tall tale American Myth and also because I want Lucius to have some mystery and romance tied to his origin. I think it gives his whole background kind of this mytho-historical lean it needs to capture the imagination of readers and my own interest. I want to write about this character because I know there is so much there to work with and explore. Also it will give me an excuse to do a John Henry comic book some time down the road. After this we roll into what I refer to as my miniature legend pages. Here is where I took a lot of influence from the first Superman and Batman Comic books...I wanted Lucius to have a simple, yet grand origin story that had some elbow room for interpretation. In fact I would say this first story is a mélange of tall tale, autobiography and standard superheroic origin. I also felt that not many black superheroes had been treated to a fancy dancy origin like this one before so I went for the full on Smallville kind of story and dove headlong into man of many adventures storyline. We could have illustrated his strengths as a youngster better, in fact I have a revised script where I show him tussling with bears and diving to the bottom of lakes to grab catfish that I hope Christian will consider doing for the deluxe graphic trade…but I still love the flow of the first issue. The funeral and death of his mother is visually moving and poignant I think from a standpoint that most black characters in comics don’t have parents that play such a significant role as Lucius’ does in his life. His adventures out west evoke images of Buffalo Soldiers and black cowboys. His involvement in prohibition definitely will warrant a story or two about the numbers game which was called policy and South Side Chicago. Still another period I am fascinated with in history is the time of the Negro Baseball leagues and I wanted to plug Lucius into that era so that I could tell a superhero as an athlete story. Then the World War 2 stuff is going to be a blast. I kept picturing a young Jim Brown playing Lucius Hammer in a Dirty Dozen style army flick. Some folks have claimed that they thought Lucius Hammer was going to be something else. Maybe a parody, a comedic take on seventies heroes, more of a blaxploitation thing played strictly for laughs and afro jokes. No…some of that will be there. The sixties and seventies are the period in which Lucius makes a global impact as a superhero so a lot of images will be of him with the black power fro kickin but this is the study of a superhero in time…a black one. There are many things to consider and talk about with regard to black superheroes and Lucius is the nucleus of this secret history of “black masks”. I had written a fairly cool series of action panels showing Lucius in a ticker tape parade, coming home from the WWII, in his dress uniform. I also planned for you to see a complete page displaying the Harlem Knights, a group of organized but illegal black capes, who seemed to appear around the end of the Harlem Renaissance. But things happen…Christian and I are both working full time gigs during the day, of course we wanted to give you the ultimate comic book experience but there are just so many hours in a day. Christian made some changes that initially I didn’t like. Looking back now, I see his brilliance and his economy of images; the exact placement of word bubbles and captions boxes…the subtle silhouettes that speak volumes in one panel. The training page where Lucius decides to develop himself as a superhero after witnessing the Harlem Shadow is an example of powerful, basic panels that suggest a major character arc over the span of four panels. This is definitely the kind of book I read as a kid and the kind I’m eager to recapture for so many people out there who have been bitten by the grim and gritty bug. This comic book is fun. It’s not rocket science. It ain’t Shakespeare or Dark Knight. But it’s fun and that’s what I set out to do. Mission accomplished.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Nothing New Under the Sun?

Whenever I am approached about writing by folks who are fascinated by the fact I can string two sentences together successfully, I inevitably say at some point in that conversation, " there is nothing new under the sun." I'm not sure if William Shakespeare first said it but I wouldn't doubt it. Who would know better than he? I say this because all of us writers and artists are plagiarists to some degree. Influenced and shaped in some form or fashion by the billions of words and images that we have seen since springing violently from the womb into this loud, raucous world of ideas. It's like a tapestry or pyramid scheme, we keep building on what has already gone before in this world of art. There are of course times when someone ventures boldly outside the established borderlines of what is considered contemporary or current to create that "new strain" which is repulsive to the masses but avant-garde to an elite minority and so in time becomes the new norm...but for the most part we are all copy cats. My Lucius Hammer saga is an interesting example of generational stimuli provoking me to step forward and weave my portion of this literary tapestry. As I have said previously, I became enthralled at an early age with the notion of superheroes, loved Greek Mythology, Richard Roundtree and Isaac Hayes were regular names in my household, and Bruce Lee was Elvis on my block. All of these influences have come full circle in my literary psyche to spawn Lucius Hammer. The idea of a pantheon of Black Superheroes was always the impossible dream and then one day...I figured out how I could make it work. Using my varied archive of influences, Lucius Hammer emerged...a wholly original and creative invention in itself because he had never existed before in the public domain but there because of the musings of a little black boy who really was affected by the blaxploitation films and Spiderman comics of his youth. The collected effects of pop culture throughout my lifespan have given birth to Lucius Hammer. Now what I find fascinating about all this psychobabble I am spewing is that as I am trying to release Lucius Hammer and build a franchise out of thin air with which to support my constant craving to write and create; to fend for my family financially; and to achieve the success each of us human beings strive for to some degree in our brief existence...I find that there are other projects out there that are suspiciously similar or could be considered of the same vein as my precious endeavor. Afrodisiac is an independently published comic book that I have yet to buy but want desperately for my personal collection because I am a sucker for black superheroes. Jim Rugg is the artist and I am not sure of his age but he clearly was impacted by the seventies and all of it's counter culture trappings, especially the myth of the Afro-American Stud. This is the same mythology that is the stuff of Quentin Tarrantino's wet dreams (no offense Q.T, I have the same wet dream!), the story of the physically imposing, impossibly talented, handsome negro private eye, outlaw, samurai or whatever who doesn't take orders from the "man"; lives his life on his own terms, beats the hell out of anyone who gets in his way and sleeps with all the chicks (all colors of course but white ones are the most alarming in a literary perspective because they have been put on a pedestal). Afrodisiac encompasses these elements as does the recent Black Dynamite movie and Afro Samurai. The fact that these types of movies or books are arriving again are not a surprise to me being a citizen in a country that has a black president. Feelings of race pride are stirring; confidence is building in a black community that quite frankly had become accustomed to working for the company but never in a million years dreaming of being the CEO. These are the same feelings that produced the spate of movies that some call blaxploitation and others call black power cinema. Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Jim Kelly are the holy trinity of black power cinema...Richard Roundtree and Ron Oneal are the pope and archbishop of black manhood and mystery in the seventies. There is a weird super-hero wish fulfillment going on when you watch Shaft...and this is a universal wish fulfillment obviously as evidenced by the three projects I just referenced (Afrodisiac I believe is produced by a white creator, Black Dynamite by black creators, and Afro Samurai by a Japanese artist!) So I say all of this to demonstrate that all of these ideas or notions of the Uber-Buck have been transmitted down through the agents of cinema and publishing and are culminating in a cultural boiling pot of frustration that is our present society. Writers like myself who were born in the late sixties, early seventies who just caught the edge of the Black Male Power Fantasy (however taboo it may have been at the time, "it" did exist and still does) have channeled the residue of that exposure into a renaissance of the black hero. George Lucas has said many times that he was influenced by Flash Gordon and Joseph S. Campbell to create Star Wars. I bought the book "Hero with a thousand Faces" and had a hell of a time understanding any of it. But one concept struck me hard in the dome that I think is a brilliant assessment of human beings and our storytelling culture: A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.[2].

This idea that our stories of heroes follow paradigms deeply embedded in our human psyche is apparent in everything we read and aspire to be but in terms of black literature, there seems to be very little investigation into the nature of the black hero, male or female. So this blog is the start of that investigation. Whereas I was first discouraged by the appearance of something that seemed to "steal" my thunder so to speak in theme and presentation, I now have come to realize there is room in our human experience for more than one myth; more than one hero or heroine. It's all in how you tell the story...because there ain't nothin new under the sun.