Juliana “Jewels” Smith says that the Boondocks showed her that she “could be unapologetically radical and black in a comic book.”
And she is, in her comic (H)afrocentric.
The title is a portmanteau of half and afrocentric, and refers to the series’ main character, the half black, half white revolutionary-hopeful Naima Pepper. A student at Oakland’s (fortunately fictional) Ronald Reagan University, Pepper struggles to affect social change while dealing with all of the anxieties of being a collegiate millennial.
“I purposely used the soapbox as Naima Pepper’s weapon of choice to take a crack at myself and activists alike, who lean towards self-righteousness,” Smith told The Establishment, “I also wanted Naima Pepper to have black feminist politics with millennial sensibilities.”
The Boondocks comics were a big inspiration for (H)afrocentric; Smith’s comic was in part inspired by the way McGruder portrayed women. Smith says that although she likes Boondocks, she found its women characters “came off as one-dimensional. I wanted to create a world where black women were smart and thoughtful, but still given space to have contradictions.” Photo: (H)afrocentric
Another key influence was The Real Cost of Prisons Comix. Smith assigned the book for a class she was teaching at Oakland’s Laney College. Surprised with how fully her students engaged with the text, Smith realized that comics could be the perfect medium through which she could advance her own ideas about social justice.
To that end, she teamed up with illustrator Ronald Nelson and colorist/letter Mike Hampton.
Nelson says he spends about 20 hours working on each individual page, and it shows. Each illustration is incredibly clean, but not at all lacking in detail — his backgrounds are full of humorous tidbits, his characters’ outfits have a refreshing late-80s feel reminiscent of Jim Starlin and he shows a level of dedication to the depiction of hair that comic fans haven’t seen since the passing of Seth Fisher. Similarly, Hampton’s colors and letters pop with a warm, 90s feel, his limited palette giving each panel a subtle dynamism. Photo: (H)afrocentric
Smith and her team have recently finished the fourth graphic novel installment of Naima Pepper’s adventures. And, you can now follow Naima and her colorful cast of friends weekly on The Establishment.