by Deanna Destito
When a new, trendy drug is causing devastating effects on the black empowered community, Indigo and Detective Waters begin investigating who is behind the phenomenon. Slated for release in December of this year, Black AF Devil’s Dye is the latest four issue mini-series in Black Mask Studios’ Black AF world The creative team – editor Sarah Litt, writer Vita Ayala, artist Liana Kangas and cover artist Maika Sozo – sat down with The Beat at NYCC ’18 to discuss how the book came about and why stories like this are important in today’s world.
The Beat: How did you come together to do this mini-series?
Sarah Litt (editor): So this came about because when we started Black initially and we started Black AF one of the goals that we had, Kwanza [Osajyefo] and I and Tim [Smith 3], was to incorporate other people into our world and have them tell not only our stories but our stories through their eyes. And because we’ve all worked at Marvel and DC we know that there’s not a lot of diversity and you have people telling somebody else’s story. We wanted for other people to tell their own stories in their own words. So Kwanza, rightly so, did not want to tell the story of a mixed race black woman. And I agreed with him. But we also wanted to work very much with Vita [Ayala]. We knew we wanted it to be a bit noir, a little bit darker in tone than our other books. I had seen Liana’s [Kangas] work in Mine and I had seen it on Twitter. I also saw her back and forth with Vita on Twitter and I knew they had a really good relationship. And it’s very important to have a good relationship with your artist. And Liana’s art is absolutely perfect for this. Then Maika [Sozo] came on.
Vita Ayala (writer): We were blessed with Maika’s covers.
Litt: Her covers are just breathtaking. We always go sort of for a theme and sort of for a different look. We like to stand out on the shelves. And these covers that Maika is doing are phenomenal.
The Beat: How does it fit in with the rest of the world?
Ayala: It takes a character that was briefly featured in the original series, Indigo, and then expands. It’s from her perspective. You see a lot of the players from before. X is in it. Detective Waters (no longer detective) is in it. They go back to the base and all that stuff. But really it follows Indigo in her investigation of what’s going on.
The Beat: Is there potential for an ongoing for this or maybe more future minis?
Litt: I would certainly never rule anything out. I’d be happy to work with this team on a million different books. If people like this character and people like this book we are always willing to write more.
Maika Sozo (cover artist): As far as I’m concerned Indigo is now a part of the family in my art world. I will probably draw her on my streams or something anyway. She lives on.
Ayala: I think one of the strengths of this line is you can dip in and out from different perspectives but you always have the opportunity to go back.
The Beat: Kwanza did the plot. How much were you able to do with the writing?
Ayala: Kwanza did the basic plot…but he left me a lot of room to really go in and play with the characters and explore their voices. I was afforded a lot of freedom which was cool.
The Beat: Did you draw from anything personal for this project?
Ayala: Like with anything else that I work on I try and bring myself and a question that I want to explore into it. There’s definitely a little bit of that. One of the things Kwanza wanted to push was this idea of trauma but also how someone moves on from that. And what it is to be a survivor of that. You know when you ignore a problem? And it gets bigger and you don’t want to deal with it? When you have to deal with it, where do you go and how do you do that? And it’s bigger and bombastic because it’s a super powers book. It’s basically about dealing with things that happen to you or the people around you in a way where you work through it and you come out stronger.
The Beat: When you did the art, where did you draw inspiration?
Liana Kangas (artist): Having Sarah contact me first, it was really cool to get artistic freedom. I’ve always wanted to do a noir comic. I would definitely consider this a noir in my style. To be able to have this ability to try new things has been a great experience but also Vita included me on multiple steps of the process. Even including me with the story. We collaborated. Character design is mostly by Tim.
Ayala: The main characters, yeah.
Kangas: But I did get to do some good designs. Getting inspiration from myself and from Vita, it’s been a good way to collaborate. I think [a challenge] for me personally was drawing a licensed character that I don’t have complete control over what they look like. But it was really fun to research. Sarah helped me out so much with that. To be able to say, does this look like my style but stay true to the character design? I want to do them justice.
The Beat: In today’s political climate, how important is something like this?
Sozo: It’s dire.
Ayala: I think it’s really important because we are talking about trauma and generational trauma which is something that marginalized groups go through that non-marginalized groups don’t really understand. So this is a way to talk about that. We’re trying to approach this story from the inner life of the character. It’s not about re-traumatizing people. It’s not about playing with the tropes. We’re trying to be as authentic as we can to the larger experience. Because we don’t get to talk about it as much. We don’t get to talk about all of the little ways in which being black is difficult. We’re told to stop talking. Indigo, she’s white and black. And she has to move through the world in a way that X who is a black male does not. There are all kinds of nuance that we get to talk about in the umbrella of the black experience.
Sozo: I appreciate projects like this. Having worked on a few other things, I’ve been asked to do designs for bigger companies and they would say we want a black female but list off every stereotype available. As a black woman I don’t look like this. Why does she have to be this way?
Ayala: I’m black and Puerto Rican. But I’m a light-skinned black person and we don’t get to see the full spectrum usually. And that’s another thing we really wanted to do. Liana and I talked about that a little bit. Even just putting into the material in the background different kinds of black people. Different kinds of black women…It happens all the time. Is your blackness enough? Your experience doesn’t count. Liana does a really good job of showing the variety of humanity that black people have.
Sozo: No pandering.
Ayala: It’s nice because it’s a conversation about us through our voices and we’re inviting people in. It’s not exclusive of people who are not like us but it’s on our own terms. And that’s really important.
Check out the first issue of Black AF “Devil’s Dye” This December.