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Indie Comics Spotlight: Robert Jeffrey II is creating the characters he never saw growing up
This month, Indie Comics Spotlight is dedicated to African-American creators and publishers in the indie comic book space in honor of Black History Month.
Originally from Chicago's South Side, Robert Jeffrey II used to love to read copies of The Amazing Spider-Man his mom would bring home for him. As Jeffrey was raised on a steady diet of Milestone comics, Batman: The Animated Series, and Star Trek: The Next Generation, it's no wonder he decided to pursue comics himself.
Jeffrey has been loyal to the indie game from the start, publishing his first comic, Radio Free Amerika, with Terminus Media in 2015. A post-apocalyptic tale about a DJ with only his turntables and hip-hop to save the world. That same year, he released the superhero origin story Route 3, about a teen who is a "living weapon" being chased across the Southeast for his abilities, aided by a savior training him to use them. Jeffrey was also a part of the 2017 class of DC Comics Talent Showcase and wrote a story about John Stewart that debuted in the comic anthology.
SYFY WIRE got a chance to talk to Jeffrey about his current project Mine to Avenge, working as an indie creator, and why he's a huge Green Lantern fan.
What are some of your favorite stories and authors?
Two standouts for me: Greg Rucka's Queen and Country and Dwayne McDuffie's run on the first story arc of Icon. Queen and Country is an annual read for me. I love the series because it takes the world of spies and espionage thrillers and just lays it completely bare and raw. I love the fact that most of the people in the story are fractured to some extent, but continuously strive to do the right thing. Plus, Tara Chace [the protagonist of the series] is one of the most underrated heroines in the comic book industry.
McDuffie's Icon is, to me, what Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns is to other folks. He and the creative team of that book take the idea of the hero and his "sidekick" and turn it on its head. And I love the hell out of it. In "Rocket" Raquel Ervin you have a heroine who challenges this paragon of truth, [in] "Icon" Augustus Freeman IV [a hero who urges you] to just do better, and give a damn. [She teaches him] to step away from the Booker T. Washington ideal of "pull yourself by your bootstraps" and help his people. Their ideologies don't meld together, and that's never glossed over. That's completely opposite of what such a relationship like this in comics normally is.
Added to this is the fact that she, a black teenage girl, is the narrator, protagonist, and focal point of this story. That blew my mind because the industry wasn't providing us characters like that at the time. Raquel's story is one that I fell in love with, and she's on my bucket list of characters to write for.
Next to his work on Justice League Unlimited ("Epilogue" is a friggin' masterpiece), McDuffie's writing here is some of my favorite, and that's saying a lot with a career as groundbreaking as his.
Who inspired you the most to create your own comics?
To be honest, my immediate family. My mother and my brother were extremely supportive of me building these worlds that I would often come up with. My mom would say, "BJ." That's my nickname. "I may not understand it. But if it makes you happy, do it."
My father was a big nerd and a writer himself. So he was the guy who loaded me up with Stephen King, Octavia Butler, Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Ludlum, etc.
Was Route 3 based on anyone you know?
Sean Anderson, the protagonist of Route 3, is that hero that I always wanted to find in the pages of the comics that I loved reading, but only sparingly saw. Sure you had Static, Synch (from Generation X), Jubilee, Cyborg, etc. But I wanted more.
So though he's not based on a particular person, he's probably an amalgam of all of the nerdy folks that I grew up with.
You were lucky enough be part of the 2017 class of the DC Talent Showcase and were featured in their Showcase comic. How did that come about?
After about 14 years of freelancing, writing comics, and building my portfolio with client work, I applied for the 2017 DC Talent Development Writers Workshop for a second time. I submitted my samples of Route 3: Vol. 1, and Radio Free Amerika: Season 1, and fortunately I was accepted along with five other talented writers to take part in the workshop.
Why did you choose Green Lantern for your story in the DC Talent Showcase?
John Stewart has always been a personal favorite when it comes to the Green Lantern Corp. I know that's sacrilegious to say, since a lot of fans of that part of the DC Comics universe see Hal Jordan as the ultimate Lantern. John — and other Lanterns like Jessica Cruz and Simon Baz — just stand out to me more, especially as a writer.
When going through John's history, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to dig a bit further into his backstory with his mother during the New 52 run. Here you have a woman who is a community activist fighting for the people back in Detroit, and on the other end you have her son who feels the need to answer the call to serve his people as a Marine. There's still that sense of service.
What is your newest comic, Mine to Avenge, about?
Set against a cyberpunk backdrop, Mine to Avenge is a centuries-spanning tale of revenge which follows a team called the Retribution Cabal that fights a host of supernatural beings. This war is fought on behalf of the descendants of America's original sin, slavery.
You are also the editor-in-chief of BlackSci-Fi.com. Tell us about the site and what its focus is.
Black Sci-Fi.com is the premier digital destination for sci-fi news, events, culture, and entertainment and the measure of their impact on Black culture. We seek to inform and inspire the imagination of individuals who aspire to live beyond the boundaries of everyday life.
Topics which we cover run the gamut from reviewing the latest indie/mainstream comic books released to highlighting the contributions of people of African descent to the S.T.E.M fields.
What stories do you want to tell in the future?
I'm leaning a lot more into the sci-fi side of things, so I'm hoping to pitch a few series on that front. Whatever I write, my goal is to make the work as inclusive and as grounded as possible, if the story calls for it. In terms of client work, I'd love to have a shot at writing for more licensed properties in addition to my own creator-owned works. And yes, I've got a bucket list.
Right now I'm writing an Afrofuturist/time travel series called RET:CON for publisher 133Art. The second issue of Mine to Avenge is being drawn and colored right now, and I'm working on another project that I'll hopefully be able to talk about sometime soon.
Also pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Hopefully that will lead to more work, so who knows?