ComicsVerse’s Brandon Davis had the pleasure of speaking to Karl Bollers at the Black Comic Book Festival!
The following transcript has been edited for clarity.[divider style=”shadow” top=”12″ bottom=”12″]
ComicsVerse: Greetings viewers, my name’s Brandon Davis, and we’re coming at you live from the Schomburg at the Black Comic Book Festival, and I’m here with Karl Bollers, and you’re watching Comicsverse. Vampires and slavery in the 1800s. Can you tell us a little more about it? You know, I know you got a Kickstarter on the horizon and everything, so maybe the viewers want to know a little bit more.
Karl Bollers: Sure, I definitely can do that. I describe it as sort of Django Unchained meets Dracula. It tells the story of Coby Black, who is a slave who was separated from his wife, sold to one of the plantation owners. He escapes and tries to get back to free her, but while he’s doing that, he gets bitten by a vampire, and what that does is it changes him into a vampire as well, and it changes the complexion of his skin, so now he has a chalky white complexion, and what he has to do is he has to pass himself off as a white man in the South, pre Civil War, in order to basically find and get revenge on this slave owner, who ultimately ends up killing his wife. There’s a twist to that. Whenever he drinks blood, his skin goes back to its original complexion, so he sort of has to stave off his hunger in order to find the man who killed his wife.
ComicsVerse: That’s some crazy stuff now. It’s crazy that you’re going into this horror comic about slavery, considering your past works on, like, you know, X-Men, Sonic the Hedgehog and everything. How is that, I don’t want to say it’s a crazy transition, because, you know, you’re pulling from different aspects of actual history, but how would you describe that transition of going from something a little easier to write about to horror and something horror in many aspects?
Karl Bollers: Well, I’ve worked in corporate comics for almost my entire career, and I grew up enjoying superheroes. It was a dream of mine to work for Marvel and to write those types of characters, so I really enjoyed doing that. But now I wanted to branch out and tackle tougher subjects with more diverse characters, and basically do work where I can say something and speak to people on a different level, on a deeper level, and that’s sort of the inspiration for projects like Emancipated Black and Watson and Holmes, which was my previous project, which was a reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes characters as Black men living in Harlem and doing detective work. So yeah, diversity, you know, just being able to say something deeper.
ComicsVerse: Right, and that’s a great thing to hear, you know, nowadays, because diversity is something we really need. Like, not just like in the news, but also in various types of media like comics and everything. How would you say diversity is being treated right now when it comes to comics? Like, there’s so many different titles and everything, whether it’s Marvel, or DC, or Valiant, but do you think it’s getting the treatment and the respect that it deserves right now, like it’s doing something?
Karl Bollers: Well, I’d say on the independent level, on the grassroots level, like many of the creators who are here at the Schomburg today are independent creators, and I say that they’re doing excellent work in terms of diversity. Any comic that you pick up here, you will see different unique voices. On the mainstream comics level, the corporate level like Marvel and DC, I think that when they approach diversity, they approach it on a superficial level, and they think that, well, let’s take one of our mainstream characters and replace them with a Black guy, or with a woman, or a transgender, and they think that that’s really diversity, but diversity is actually hiring Black men, and Black women, and women, and transgenders, and people, you know, of those backgrounds to actually work on the characters in editorial, and, you know, as being the people drawing and writing the books. That’s where you’ll really see the change, not changing the characters, but changing the staff and the pros who actually produce the books.
ComicsVerse: I agree, I agree in a certain way. And since the bigger companies are kind of, they’re like dancing around with the idea of diversity, but, you know, giving them these temporary spots as the big names. We should focus on the more independents, you know, especially here at the Black Comic Book Festival. So, what would you recommend to kind of help us get us started on where to go or how these different artists can get their voice heard or show these changes?
Karl Bollers: Well, there are a lot of great books here. A lot of great creators are here as well. I mean, right next to me, these gentlemen, Robert Garrett, he’s the writer of Ajala, and Ajala’s, you know, she’s a Black female teen, and you really don’t see that in comics. I can’t think of a mainstream comic book company that does that. I know Marvel does it with Ms. Marvel, who’s, she’s, I think she’s a Middle Eastern, but here you have a guy doing it at the grassroots level, and it’s not, it’s not a big event. You know, when Marvel does that, they really kind of point signs like, “Hey, we’re doing something different here! “We’re doing something different here!” He’s just doing it on his own, and it’s not, you know, it’s not a big, it doesn’t have a big sign pointing to it. It’s very natural. My friend Greg Anderson-Elysee is here. He does a book called Is’nana the Were-Spider, and it’s really rooted in African folklore. And I look at it as sort of like, it reminded me of, you know, if I had to go with a mainstream reference, it was like Thor, but it’s sort of rooted in African folklore with Anansi the spider god, and it’s sort of like the adventures of his son, who’s trapped in the mortal world.
ComicsVerse: Those sound like amazing titles. Now, going back to your comic book a little bit, what are you looking forward to the most with this comic? You know, you’re making a statement, pointing out these different horrors, and you’re having the protagonist go through so much with slavery, and you know, turning into an actual demon of the night, in a way. But what are you hoping that readers can get out of it, and what is something you’re looking forward to in your own story, like for the readers to get ahold of? You know, you don’t have to say it entirely, you know, plot and everything.
Karl Bollers: Well, ultimately, I want to tell a story that has a beginning, middle, and end, that isn’t open-ended like so many comic book series that just go on, and on, and on. With this story, I’m hoping to say something a little deeper. It’s not just going to be a vampire murder fest. Saying something about race, family, the passage of time, and racial relations, and also how people are judged based on the color of their skin, and what that ultimately means. Is it about the color of your skin or the content of your character, as they say? And in this book we have someone who is more accepted, and they have more privileges when they become a monster than when they were an actual living, breathing human being. And so, it’s sort of an ironic twist in that sense. That’s what I hope to explore.
ComicsVerse: Is there another genre, like maybe another type of story you want to tell that’s in this realm?
Karl Bollers: Oh yeah, there’s definitely, I want to use, the next project I would like to do is I would like to do a story involving time travel, that sort of deals with sort of a love story, time travel love story, but ultimately it’s a tragedy because the love gets lost. And there’s a story that I want to do about aliens on another planet, where humanoids who look like us are sort of the minority, and they’re the majority with all the privileges, and all the sort of aspects that come with being a majority in power, but seen through the lens of aliens and humans.
ComicsVerse: All right, sounds good. Do you have any other projects along the way, aside from this one? And also, when can people get their hands on this book?
Karl Bollers: Well, we’re going to be doing a Kickstarter for Emancipated Black very shortly, where we’re going to get a lot of support. Hopefully, you know, myself and Arvel will be able to garner enough support with my fans and his fans to launch a successful Kickstarter. And we hope to do this as a 200 page graphic novel for print, so that everyone can get the story all at once, instead of, you know, on a monthly basis.
ComicsVerse: All right, sounds good. And when can we expect the Kickstarter to launch?
Karl Bollers: We’re going to be launching that within the next few weeks.
ComicsVerse: All right, sounds good. Well, thank you for having us today, Mr. Bollers. We really appreciate the changes and the things that you’re trying to bring to the comic book industry itself, and that’s something that we really need nowadays, so thank you very much for your time telling us.
Karl Bollers: Thank you.