Q&A: John Jennings | Graphic Novels Spotlight 2019

Like W.E.B. Du Bois’s fictional megascope—an instrument that allows users to see forgotten aspects of history—John Jennings’s new Megascope line, launching this fall as a subimprint of Abrams’s ComicArts, will delve into the past and future, reviving classic stories primarily by creators of color.

Like W.E.B. Du Bois’s fictional megascope—an instrument that allows users to see forgotten aspects of history—John Jennings’s new Megascope line, launching this fall as a subimprint of Abrams’s ComicArts, will delve into the past and future, reviving classic stories primarily by creators of color. Jennings (media & cultural studies, Univ. of California–Riverside) most recently, with writer Damian Duffy, illustrated the Eisner Award–winning graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. Author Bohnenkamp interviewed Jennings about his vision for the imprint and the medium’s future.


Your second Butler adaptation, The Parable of the Sower, comes out in January 2020. What has it been like working with such honored source material?
Kindred was extremely daunting because...there was a lot of pressure on Damian and [me] to get it “right....” We’re two cisgender, ­hetero men, and one of us is white. How dare we take this black feminist narrative by a woman who is so revered? We tried to do the work justice as much as possible, to push it into this different medium. [Kindred] was trial by fire. Sower is very prescient, with our political climate such as it is. It’s not escapist—it could be ­tomorrow.

What types of stories and voices do you hope to highlight through Megascope?
When I pitched Megascope to Abrams, we were already doing Butler’s two books, and I was thinking there are other authors...of color who have wonder­ful stories that people will respond to. I started thinking about what an imprint centered on people of color...would be like. People are really touting this idea of diversity across the board, and speculative fiction by and about people of color has moved into the mainstream, for now. What we’ve seen are black superheroes—Black Panther, Black Lightning, Luke Cage—but you have these other narratives dealing with magical realism, horror, sf, and fantasy that are as vitally important. For 48 years, I have been exposed to white subject matter...and I think it’s great [that] those characters are there, but people who are white can connect with these characters [of color] as well, because we’re all human.

Do you consider your comics political?
I think all art is political.... One of the first things you see with Captain America is him punching Hitler in the face. Superman is an immigrant; he represents Jewish immigrants trying to fit into an American space. As a black artist, I don’t have time to make things that are not political. If you are an artist and you are using [art] properly, then you are trying to exact some type of change.... If you’re in the game just to make something adorable, that’s nice—but that’s also a political choice. What comic books and artists most significantly influenced you? I grew up reading the classic Silver Age comics.... 1970s Ross Andru–era Spider­man, Neal Adams’s Batman, Frank Miller’s Daredevil were a huge influence. My mom got me hooked on horror early. Folktales, mythology, legends, superstitions—I was into all of that stuff. And also my grandmother…. The two major influences on my creative mind: an older black woman with Cree/Native American ancestry doing some sort of folk medicine practice, and my mother, who was a massive consumer of action and horror movies and who also got me my first comics.

Can you talk about any other forthcoming projects?
[Duffy and I] will follow up The Parable of the Sower with The Parable of the Talents. I also have a book out with Rosarium [Publishing] called Box of Bones, a black-and-white super­natural noir, and Blue Hand Mojo, also with Rosarium. On the curatorial side, the second volume of Black Comix Returns, a collection Damian and I did together, and Cosmic Underground (Cedar Grove), with Renaldo Anderson, a catalog for a show we did at the Schomburg Center [for Research in Black Culture] (Unveiling Visions: The Alchemy of the Black Imagination, 2015–2016).


This interview was originally published in Library Journal's June 2019 issue as part of the Graphic Novels Spotlight Mass Appeal.

 

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