Afrofuturism — a genre known for its forward-thinking celebration of Black excellence — continues to grow in its impact and relevance in our lives. Projects like Dirty Computer by Janelle Monáe and Star Trek: Discovery, which have Afrofuturist influences and components, are mainstream examples of the genre, signaling a cultural shift that is long overdue. In an ever-changing world that is adapting to the call for better representation of Blackness, visionary pioneers such as Tim Fielder are sitting at the center of it all.
Fielder, an "OG Afrofuturist," according to his fans, is also a seasoned comics writer, graphic novelist, illustrator, cartoonist, and he has even presented his own TEDxTalk on Visual Afrofuturism. Fielder is an established veteran in the world of Visual Afrofuturism and comics, but now he's pioneering a new frontier in the genre, becoming the first author to publish a fully rendered Afrofuturist graphic novel with an original story from a major publishing company. INFINITUM: An Afrofuturist Tale, which came out on Jan. 19, 2021, from HarperCollins, tells the story of an African king named AjA Oba, who is cursed with the gift of immortality and all that it encompasses. As a man born in an ancient past, AjA faces his unending future by exploring love, self-redemption, and defining for himself a purpose in the universe.
Fielder tells SYFY WIRE that Visual Afrofuturism is different from Afrofuturism novelist works because of its ability to capture futures that envision Black people being more than what current systemic structures suppress Black people to be — something that is not often done in pop culture.
"I have been doing Visual Afrofuturism my entire life and I've always done stories that featured Black characters in speculative or science fiction scenarios. It's just simply what I've done," he says. "INFINITUM is the culmination of literally decades of doing this work, and it is really the first time my work has reached a mainstream audience and it's quite fulfilling for me to be able to get my vision of what Black life in the past, present, and future looks like."
He continues: "It's one thing to write in words about Black futures. It's completely a different animal to actually draw that; to show what it looks like... And to do that is, in and of itself, a radical act. It's radical because you're showing people that look like you, people that look like me, in spaceships, and we don't die."
Fielder took inspiration from people such as Akira Kurosawa and Jean "Moebius" Giraud, Enki Bilal, and Philippe Druillet of Heavy Metal Magazine, an American sci-fi comics magazine that became popular in the 1980s. These influences may not have been Afrofuturist themselves, but their unique styles and aesthetics shaped Fielder's visual art style and love for science fiction, fantasy, futurism, and steampunk themes. He was also influenced by trailblazing Afrofuturist novels such as Wild Seed by the late Octavia Butler and Nova by Samuel R. Delany. Their books are revered for their social commentary on topics such as racial injustice, classism, anti-colonialism, feminism, and sexuality. Not only do they serve as monuments for modern literary Afrofuturism but they also heavily influenced the central themes and visual aspects of this project as well. These elements are visible, and subsequently keeps the genre of Afrofuturism alive while also pushing it forward.
"INFINITUM is... a summation of all that I have loved and has loved me back," Fielder explains.
"There's no question of that. It's Black Panther and Get Out. Specifically, those two films opened the door," Fielder says. "Without Black Panther and Get Out, you don't have [HBO's] Lovecraft Country. Without it, you don't have Watchmen... but you also don't have INFINITUM"
What particularly sets INFINITUM apart from other Afrofuturist works is its unique storytelling devices and techniques. Using an immortal character, Fielder explores the Black experience from a historical context. In doing so, he sets up a framework rooted in classic Afrofuturist elements for a future as we have never seen it written or drawn before. This framework allows us to suspend our binds to cultural and physical concepts of race, and paints a masterpiece of a world — and worlds beyond it — filled with endless possibilities and expansion.
Fielder notes that the book's unconventional (but riveting) story structures allow for readers to metaphorically and literally imagine Blackness beyond the confines of the institutions and systems it is usually trapped within.
"When you deal with a character who's immortal, who lives forever, you have all of these dramatic opportunities to look at different things both from a personal point of view, meaning from the point of view of the character, but also from the point of view of the historical time looking back at the character itself," he says. "So, we are able to live through history through the eyes of that character, and to be affected by it and also hopefully to experience what it's like to shape history, which is partly what the character does as well. So, it was a practical storytelling device but also... it's about time we got to be able to do that."
Perhaps the most essential aspect of INFINITUM: An Afrofuturist Tale — and indeed one of the most important tasks that any good Afrofuturist work aspires to — is that it addresses the very human nature of Black people. In many projects, especially in entertainment and visual arts, Black people are often over-sexualized, demonized, and erased. Doomed to be detached from any character development, Black characters such as Anthony Mackie's Falcon or Ray Fisher's Cyborg (both of whom will likely get a fairer shake in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and Zack Snyder's Justice League, respectively) are repeatedly robbed of the true essence of the human experience. This subsequently stifles the representation of the Black experience and produces false images of what it means to be Black. However, Fielder took a different approach to this issue by owning his passion for showing Black people "at our most epic, but also at our most complex."
"That's really, really the primary objective with this book, is to make the audience the target or anybody from any ethnicity, any gender... any persuasion can get into INFINITUM 'cause it is a story ultimately about the human condition; it's a story about redemption," he explains. "Anybody who's alive can understand on some level — whether they succeeded or failed at it — everyone can understand the need to seek redemption, particularly when we make mistakes or we have regrets."
Ultimately, Fielder's newest release has the opportunity to open up a new arena for Afrofuturism to expand into. It creates a precedent for Black comic writers and artists alike to craft stories that portray Blackness as more than just a cultural characteristic to be ruled by the politics of an inherently anti-Black and indifferent world.
Most importantly, it imagines a future where Blackness is not bound by worldly exports and can go beyond the physical restraints of bigotry. As we finish out Black History Month, it is crucial to recognize the foundations and historical context of movements like Afrofuturism. However, it is equally important to take note of groundbreakers such as Tim Fielder, who are continuously pushing the culture forward and shaping the future in real-time.
"I would like for [INFINITUM: An Afrofuturist Tale] to be a North star for people who come after me," Fielder says. "It would be really, really quite fulfilling to be a beacon for other creators to feel like, 'Hey guys I did it.' You not only can do it, you should do it.'"
Fielder's INFINITUM broadcasts a call to action for current writers and Afrofuturists while also setting a tone for young, aspiring Black creators. He makes it clear that artistic mediums like comic books and movies may be regarded for entertainment purposes but they still maintain the responsibility of being culturally conscious and forward-thinking. With works such as this — both on the pages and the silver screen — the possibilities can extend across galaxies unknown.
He concludes: "There is strength in numbers, and with numbers come all of the economic impact and the cultural impact, and it's time to get to that business."
INFINITUM: An Afrofuturist Tale is available now in stores everywhere.