Momolu Massaquoi (1870-1938)
(A completed manuscript of 95,000 words by Raymond J. Smyke)
Born of a warrior queen on a Liberian battlefield, Momolu Massaquoi was heir to two African royal families and served as the youngest-ever King of the Vai people. In the 1920s Massaquoi became Africa’s first indigenous diplomat serving for a decade in Hamburg, Germany. Popular among Liberians, Massaquoi had the potential to become Liberia’s first tribal African president. Betrayed by his closest friend, he was barred from holding public office and his name expunged from official Liberian history. This exclusion from politics and public memory was part of the suppression of the Liberian indigenous majority by the repatriate minority, and it ultimately led to the 1980 implosion of modern Liberia. Set against this backdrop, “The First African Diplomat” illustrates how Massaquoi bridged the wide gap between traditional African life and the Western-dominated industrialized world. This…
This is a public service announcement for all of those working to get into the game.
I have, officially, been a working artist since 1994.
I’ve actually been getting paid for making art since I was a teenager. I was getting paid for my craft since I was, about, 13 years old. For real, my parents were among my first clients, paying for my services because they understood that this was going to be my profession, not a past time.
But, as a professional, I’ve been making money off of my talent since I received my bachelor’s degree lo those many moons ago.
I’m not saying this to brag. This is just a simple fact. Indeed, my fellow creatives will tell you that making a living in this business is hard work… Extremely hard work. A lot of blood, sweat, tears, money and time went into getting to this point in my career. The fact that I can live a lower-middle class lifestyle off of this art game is a success in itself.
With that being said, if you want to guarantee that I will never work with you on a project, say these two words:
If I had a dollar for every time someone uttered those words to me for a possible collaboration, I would be a rich man.
Let’s build comes from a cat that had an idea for a comic book after smoking the finest while watching Meteor Man or Steel and said to himself, “I could make some coin off of comics, son (swupp, swupp). I’ma make a comic book the first comic book with a real Black superhero and get paid, yo.”
Let’s build comes from that dude who I meet at parties, finds out what I do, and says “Yo, I got a dope idea for a comic book. I don’t wanna tell you my idea, ‘cuz I’m worried someone will steal it like ‘ol girl who wrote The Matrix. But, you could help me make it, yo, and then we’ll both come up.”
Let’s build comes from my man who one of my boys told him about me, showed them my work and says that they should get in touch with me to get advice on how to get into the business and they approach me like we shared Pampers back in the day.
Yeah… Good luck with that, fam…
Let’s build is probably the most unprofessional phrase in this business. It’s downright insulting. It’s the assumption that I am just a dupe waiting for someone of “brilliance” to come and bless me by exploiting my talent to make his half-assed, half-baked dreams come true.
I learned to avoid the hook up because 9.5 times out of 10, those cats were not as serious as I was about the game.
Notice how I kept my examples male-specific, because no woman has ever come to me with this phrase. They understand the need to get paid.
I’ma let my comrade Damon Alums throw some dimes into the conversation.
“The folks that didn’t give you the time of day made the shift to the professional lane, and it paid off for them. Going back to the ‘lemme see if I can get the hook-up’ lane would be a step backward, and that’s not what life is about. Not that they forgot where they came from, not that they’re crabs in the bucket, trying to stop your shine, it’s just they’re at that higher level, and looking to work with folks who are at that same level. A reflection of being at that level is having cash up front. That’s just business talking. Not personal. Whether that money comes from street corner hustling, a bank loan, or quarters saved from movie theater floors is immaterial. That much I also know.”
Thank you, Brother Alums. We now return to our regularly scheduled program…
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve never collaborated with another creative or creatives. Indeed, some of the best work I’ve ever done has been in collaboration with others. Shoot, my advertising days were nothing but collaborations. Griot Enterprises started as a collective of artists and writers trying to put themselves on in the comic book industry. The Horsemen: Mark of the Cloven is in collaboration with my comrade Jude W. Mire. I’m currently involved in collaborating on an anthology, Artists Against Police Brutality, created in part by my brother-in-arms John Jennings.
The fact is this: I don’t need to collaborate with them. They don’t need to collaborate with me. Neither one of us is dependent upon the other to build our repertoire. We have all had some success, built some notoriety because of our own merits. All of us have developed our craft on our own and we recognize the talent, drive and dedication in each other. We’re like-minded in focus. Because of this, we want to work with each other, thereby building collectively on the foundations that we individually established.
It also doesn’t hurt that we consider each other not just friends, but professionals.
True collaboration comes when all parties equally bring something to the table. I can’t ask someone to do something that I can’t do myself.
It’s not predatory when an artist or a writer asks for compensation for their time and their talent. It’s actually more predatory to talk collaboration than to hire an artist. Illustration is incredibly time-consuming and creating work on faith with no compensation just doesn’t make fiscal sense especially when drawing is how you put food on the table.
As a businessman, which professional artists are, you’ve got to make sure that you’re gonna eat and that the people you work with are on the same page, the same level as it were.
You know how many times those artists got burned in their career? You know how many empty promises cats have had to swallow like horse pills with no water to wash it down? Trust, if you had to deal with that level of janky hustlin’, you would be mad cagey as well.
It’s not about being greedy; it’s about protecting your talent and making sure that you keep a roof over your head.
Peep game: I’m in the process of finding funding for a Horsemen project, Lumumba Funk, that will include the talents of Arvell Jones, Larry Stroman and a few of my fellow Blaxis agents like Hannibal Tabu, Damion Gonzales, Quinn McGowan, Jason Reeves, Ashley Woods and many more.
Now, though they made the verbal agreement to be down for the cause (and, I truly appreciate the love), I’m not gonna ask them to draw, or write, page one until I have that funding in hand to pay my brothers and sisters.
Trust, they’re as impatient to get started, as I am to get them paid. But I know when I’m ready, they’re ready. And, they know that I’ll keep my word as a professional to get them squared away…
That’s beyond hustle… That’s gangster… And with gangster shit, we all eat.
In the stories I read of Liongo, he was portrayed as a scoundrel; a bully arrogant and rude blessed with strength and near invulnerability, a thorn in his people’s side. In many ways, he deserved to be defeated by the copper needle. He had it coming…
That was my first impression when I started creating this project. As I was reading through the initial research sent, the story of Liongo kept speaking to me. I couldn’t avoid it. He kept creeping into my thoughts, singing the song he sang to his mother so that he could be liberated from captivity. He begged… Nay… Demanded that his story be told.
Well, I capitulated and allowed him to tell me his tale… So, he did. And, when he was finished, I could only think of one thing:
Liongo was a jerk.
A character like that is not a hero. A character like that is no role model for children much less adults. A character like that does not inspire others to be better than they are.
But, Liongo wanted to be a hero. I wanted him to be a hero. The world needs more heroes, especially in these interesting times we live in.
The mythology of Africa is deep and rich. It is as complex and diverse as the cultures that make up the continent. As a creator, it is a world of untapped depths and precious jewels that have yet to be discovered. Those creators, those storytellers that limit themselves in the exploration of these stories do themselves a great disservice.
In my creation, The Horsemen, I delved into the myths and legends of the western part of the African continent; in particular, the mythology of the Orishas from the Yoruba culture in Nigeria, aspects of which survived the slave trade and combined with Christianity to create religions like Santeria and Candomble. I took these myths as the source material to craft my fictional world, my New Mythology that would speak to a modern world using an ancient voice. I brought my West African sensibilities to the realm of superheroes, enriching the mythology created by the European immigrants of these United States, giving this American mythology a little more soul.
The world of Liongo was different than the world of the Orishas. It was from a different region with their own way of looking at the world, which was influenced by the cross pollination of cultures from across the Indian Ocean. However, the notion of a hero, a real hero, is universal. And, as I said, Liongo needed to be a hero.
So, I took a second look at Liongo’s tale and took key elements that I thought were crucial to the character (I.e. his mythic strength, the relationship with his mother, the handmaiden, the nephew and the copper needle). I did not want to re-tell his tale, but rather create a sequel to the original story. I wanted to re-shape, re-mix the original myth, and use that re-mix to craft my original tale.
The lands of Zanzibar and Oman would take on a magical quality in my tale, becoming realms of fantasy and wonder, populated by fierce beasts and an evil sorcerer who would wield the power of sinister spirits taken from the Middle Eastern influence that permeates the Eastern African Coast.
Combining mythologies from the region, Liongo’s mother would be named Dzivaguru, in reference to the Shona (Zimbabwe) goddess of light and dark. She would represent the Earth, and take a position next to Elders as powerful as she to oversee and protect this magical land from those who would enslave the people of these worlds.
I made Liongo a leader of his people, a warrior that came from the veldt to unite and save this newly formed Bantu Nation from a greater threat. He became a man who sacrificed what was precious to him, his compassion and his family, to save a world. That sort of sacrifice would pay a heavy toll. That sort of man would become cold. In some ways, that sort of man would be perceived as cruel…
In short, he would become The Hard Man.
But, the measure of a hero is overcoming the obstacles before him. And, a great hero, no matter how powerful, would need help in conquering his enemies and to reclaim that which he had lost…
Who better to assist such a man than his own child… His daughter?
As Don Quixote had Sancho Panza, as Sherlock Holmes had Dr. Watson, as Batman had Robin, the Hard Man would have his Sunbird. And that Sunbird, who would come to be known as Rehema would prove to be the lynchpin that was missing in my story.
Finally, Liongo’s name would need an upgrade as well. Just as Xango, Chango and Django are names derived from the Orisha of Thunder Shango, Lionogo would be the evolution of Liongo, the final transformation from scoundrel to hero.
So, was Liongo a jerk? Yes. But, he has grown. He has matured. He has evolved. He has become Lionogo, the Hard Man…
And, the Hard Man is a hero through and through.
The Song of Lionogo: An Indian Ocean Mythological Remix, created exclusively for the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, will be available the week of February 23.
Happy Black History Month and Happy Black Future Month… Cheers!
Are geeks, especially African American geeks, elitist?
That’s something to ponder.
I’ve found that those who are most elitist are the most ignorant with a very limited pool of information to draw from. Lack of knowledge, context and history will do that to a person. I think that some would like to be thought of as the Wise Old Man on the Mountain, but quickly find their knowledge pool challenged when they come up against someone with a deeper knowledge pool to draw from.
Don’t get it twisted… Geek Knowledge Kung-Fu is real. It’s like immortals challenging each other in Highlander or Scanner battles.
Because they are embarrassed by what they don’t know, then it becomes personal and ugly and extremely uncool. They start grasping for allies and, when they don’t have numbers to back up their view, it gets all hotep (for my uninformed readers, look up the term), people get all sensitive and it gets very nasty.
Another issue that I have a serious problem with geek culture, especially African American geek culture, is the culture of complaint and entitlement. It’s like no one is satisfied with a cot-damn thing nowadays and people go out of their way to shut a thing down before even experiencing it.
Case is point: the news that Milestone Media is coming back into the publishing game. Those same people waiting for not only pop-culture salvation, but pop-culture validation as well met the thing that fools hoped for, wished for, prayed for, and ignored others, who have been carrying the torch for, with skepticism.
My man from the Comic Nerds of Color Edward Eugene steps to the mic:
Another example I can give is when news broke of Vixen getting her own animated series.
Get that. A woman—a Black woman—getting her own animated series. A really good and underused character at that finally getting the shine she’s deserved since JLU was cancelled. But what happened? The complaints started falling in without hesitation: “So Arrow and Flash get a mask, but she doesn’t?” “So Flash and Arrow can get a live action show, but ole sista girl isn’t worthy of one?” Are you serious?! DC has some of the best animation around. They could have easily stuck Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Batgirl, or some other female character in that spot but they chose Vixen. And here y’all go nitpicking over some of the silliest things I’ve come across in 2015 so far.
Thanks, Edward… I’ma take it from here, bruh…
Those are just two examples of this problem. From television to film to animation to the creative field in general, I’ve seen this happen with increasing frequency. I wish that people would seriously analyze and think before responding. I wish that people would respect other people’s opinion if that person made a logical conclusion from that same analysis. I wish some people operated with a little more class. I wish people supported, or revolted, with their pocketbooks instead of bitching.
It’s interesting how people are hoping that DC Entertainment would give Milestone back their characters when Milestone has owned them from jump.
It’s also interesting that people still feel that Milestone fell off due to poor business practices.
It’s also interesting how some people feel that now Milestone is back, indie creators should go to them to have their books acknowledged.
It’s extremely interesting that people are still fronting that these brothers, that changed the game an inspired a generation to do for self and create your own, that created classic characters like Static, Icon, Hardware and more.
Y’all make me laugh sometimes. You really do…
At the end of the day, my question is: what happened to embracing your culture? What happened to self-definition, self-determination, self-love and self-respect? Why are so many people still defining themselves through another’s lens?
Sorry… I’ve got my bowtie on and holding the Final Call in my right hand at the moment.
I feel that geekdom, especially African American geekdom is, to some extent, an exercise in passive creativity. Meaning, not everyone has the ability to create, but everyone has the ability to imagine. Now, the process of imagination, especially in this country and in our culture in particular, is stamped down at a very early age. We’re taught that the ability to not only imagine, but to create, is for those who have the resources and time to create these notions of fancy for all to enjoy.
And because our natural ability has been stunted, and because so many of us still seek our self-worth through the other’s lens, we tend to never be satisfied. We’re always hoping and praying and always expecting to be let down all at once.
I know, I know… “You getting too deep, Jib.” But dag, y’all. I’m looking at the current entertainment landscape and I am seeing some very diverse interpretations of us, from us and from others.
Yeah, you may not dig Tyler Perry or Lee Daniels, but you have Ava Duvernay. You may not dig Scandal, but you’ve got Blackish and Sleepy Hollow. You may not dig Power or Empire, but you had The Divide (how many of y’all saw that show). You may not dig Mighty Avengers or the new Captain America, that’s why you’ve got Concrete Park, Wildfire, The Horsemen, Hunter Black, Bounce, the Legend of the Mantamaji, etc.
In other words, if people stopped complaining for a minute and really used the internet as the dearth of information that it is and not be lazy about it, if more cats flexed a little critical thinking and less knee-jerk opinion, if more people stopped looking for acceptance and accepted themselves, ourselves and the diversity of OUR culture (and it is mad diverse), if we were more active rather than passive participants, I think we’d all be in a lot better shape.
To be clear: I am ecstatic that Milestone is coming back to the publishing game. I am over the moon that this company, which inspired me to create not only my own properties (thank you, Denys Cowan) but also my own company, is coming back in full force. I am proud to be sharing the space with the company that started it all.
I ain’t scared. I’m ready. A lot of us are. The real cats are ready to share the landscape with their spiritual elders. The game done changed. The space done changed. This is what is supposed to happen. Not a monolith, but a group of publishers, focusing on proper representation, at different levels, working the marketplace.
This is how you challenge the Corporate Two. This is what the Black Age of Comics is supposed to look like…
We are the sun, stars shining brightly in the firmament… With the Silverbacks back in the game, we are the standard and we are the solution. We not only stand on the shoulders of giants, We are the giants…
For real, though… Just like the New Black Movement… It ain’t about one leader, it’s about many leaders doing for self, showing true diversity of content, insight and viewpoint.
Just like the African Diaspora has many countries and cultures, so do Black Comix and so does Black Creativity.
Damn bowtie… Y’all buy the pies… They’re sweet potato…
This post is going to be slightly left of center from what you’d usually expect from this little black duck, but I promise you that it will be no less fascinating that I what I’ve written about in the past.
I had the extreme pleasure of attending fellow Chicago artist Larry Cutler’sFaces on Fire gallery show and lecture at The Art House, a gallery supporting emerging artists through studio courses, professional development and exhibitions. I found it… interesting that he did not conduct the lecture based on his own work. Ginny Voedisch, an art historian for the Art Institute of Chicago, gave the lecture.
There was a method to the madness of the situation as I soon came to realize speaking with the artist after hearing someone else describe his work as he stood next to her. While, by his own admission, he was not a great public speaker, a personal conversation with him was engaging, passionate and informative.
JA: Ok, obvious question first: what is your artistic educational background? Are you formally trained? Self-taught?
LC: I’m self-taught and self-teaching. My wife is a formally trained artist, mostly mosaic and mixed media work. However, I don’t like her teaching me anything. I’m very stubborn. I have to get messy and do it myself.
JA: What is your medium of choice when creating? What is the usual scale you feel most comfortable working? Why this medium as opposed to others?
LC: I use dense drawing paper. I mean, reeves of it. Most recently, I started using cradled wood panel with acrylic, inks and gloss mediums. I like brilliant color with an ease of mark accuracy. I like that it varies when mixed with glosses, different varnishes and finishes.
JA: Why use faces as your major means of expression? What was the moment that put you on this path of exploration? I’ve noticed that you stay away from natural skin tones in your work. Is this a conscious decision? If so, why?
LC: Faces tell it all: the expressions, the soft and harsh lines. All of my doodles, my graffiti in and around the faces reflect the stressors, outside pressures, how we adjust and deal with the day to day. It seems to get harder every day with family obligations, financial stress, and general physical and mental health… It all goes on the page.
JA: Your work is reminiscent of street art. Your style takes on a very naïve view of the world, childlike in many ways. Your use of color is extremely bold, almost garish with a touch of the grotesque at moments. Who, and/or what are your influences when creating your work?
LC: People I see. People I watch and meet and speak to. For example, I met a veteran. I needed to about his trials, tribulations and experiences. It’s the same with a new face at my home away from home: Pound 4 Pound Boxing Gym. That’s my peace; drawing, sweating and just bullshitting with the guys at the gym.
JA: You have studios in Chicago and Highland Park. Does the change of environment, from urban to suburban, affect your work? If so, how?
LC: Sometimes being in different places, Israel, Las Vegas, Kansas City, Chicago, etc., give my inspiration for the pieces that I create when I get home or back to the hotel room. It could be a movie. Other times, most times, I just start with no plan and see where it goes.
JA: What is your statement on the human condition with this exploration? What would you like the viewer to experience when they look at your work? What kind of emotion or thought are you hoping to elicit from the experience?
LC: I want people to feel what I feel! Sometimes, it’s very sad and soulful. Other times, there is hope! I feel that knowing what others have been through, their life experiences, motivates me to “see the light.” My art is very emotional and every face is different in shape, color, contrast and what surrounds them.
There is a separation from the head and the body. Sometimes, I feel that I am just floating through time. It has always been very difficult for me to explain using words. My hope is that everyone will see something that strikes a cord… or, a lot of cords.
I find a common thread with everyone I speak to. I’ve been a successful salesman for 30 years. Somewhere, we connect. So, my hope is that I can have people look at my art and find that connection.
As I looked at his art with fresh eyes while we talked, I felt the connection he made with so many others. Their stories became his, woven into the tapestry of his work, their large eyes, happy, sad, demented, elated, tired and knowing speaking volumes of the lives that he touched and had touched him.
Cutler is a true man of the people, gregarious and charming. He has worked with veterans, ex-convicts, and fighters. You know, the other guy, the cats that people in “polite society” try to avoid. I found that the work was less about him and more about the people he interacts with. He becomes their voice and tells their stories through his art, through his faces. With his work, he becomes a storyteller chronicling the human condition.
We ended our conversation not with a handshake, but with a hug as if we had known each other for years. Larry Cutler is a man with a big heart and a beautiful soul. His love for humanity shines through.
And, through drawing the faces of others, he reveals his own truth…
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY BLACK PEOPLE: The Dieselfunk Edition!
Mob bosses. Nazis. Flappers. Jazz. Bootleggers. Marcus Garvey. The Tulsa Race Riots.
This is some of the stuff of the era of Dieselpunk – an often grittier sibling of Steampunk.
Dieselpunk is a sub-genre of Science Fiction and Fantasy that includes – but is not limited to, or bound by – the aesthetics, style and philosophies of film noir and pulp fiction and featuring retrofuturistic innovations, alternate history and elements of the occult. Think the movies Captain America: The First Avenger, Sin City, Hell Boy, the Indiana Jones films and The Mummy (1999 – 2008) trilogy.
Dieselpunk is set during the Diesel Era – a period of time that begins at the end of World War I and continues until the early 1950s.