#S4MBlerds: My conversation with the creators of Tuskegee Heirs
January 26, 2016 at 8:03 am
Tuskegee Heirs: Flames of Destiny is the next evolution of content in the blerd community.
There have been other breakout titles. There have been successes worthy of celebration before. But, for those of us who have been paying attention, it’s not hard to tell what lies in the future for this franchise if given the room for take off. With the perfect mix of history, stylistic interpretation, and appeal to a younger audience, Tuskegee Heirs creators’ Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham know exactly what they have on their hands, too.
Based on the true stories of the Tuskegee Airmen, this series is a futuristic sci-fi/fantasy adaptation following a young, black cast of characters fighting an artificially intelligent race of enemies whose goal is to destroy the population. The Kickstarter campaign to fund the project has tripled it’s $10,000 goal in a short time and continues to grow every day.
Greg, Marcus, and I went back and forth in the DMs for a day or so and agreed to meet up on a Sunday at a Thai restaurant inside Sugar Loaf Mills, a mall in Atlanta, GA. I didn’t want it to feel like a formal interview, so I treated it like a bro hang and brought the best blerd friend I have with me, @ReverendDrDash.
So Dash and I pull up to the mall at 11:00 am, a full hour before we’re supposed to meet Greg and Marcus – clearly we’re excited.
The entire place is pretty much deserted except for the mall walkers. Everything is closed but the food court. So we sit and wait, making random conversation about things we’ve read, shows we watched, and various scandals on the timeline, specifically the Crab Raccoon debacle. Dash thinks that the tweeter was a victim of autocorrect and that there possibly may be a deeper conspiracy at play, I just can’t be sure.
At 11:45 we make our way towards the Thai spot, and it isn’t long before we see them walking up. Marcus is wearing a Spider-Man shirt and a Kangol, or some variation thereof. Greg has on a blue hoodie. We make the customary daps and pounds and introduce ourselves to each other.
Where are you guys from?
M: He’s laughing because there’s a story. Man, listen I was born in Louisiana. I don’t have any memory of it, but I was raised in San Diego during my childhood. Then I came here to Georgia.
What about you?
G: It’s a long story as well. My dad was in the military and my family’s from Missouri. I was born in Alabama actually.
Dash: What part?
G: Selma. But I think we only lived there a few months. I’ve lived in England. I’ve lived in Idaho.
So I really want to know. Why comics? When you were kids, what drew you to this sci-fi/fantasy/comic book world?
M: I didn’t get my first comic until I was about 7. There was a neighbor of mine, he was older than me and my brother, and he showed me a Wolverine comic. This is before the animated X-Men came out. And I’m like, “Why does this dude have claws coming out of his hands? What do you mean he can get shot and heal up? That’s beyond crazy. I love it.” So, Wolverine was my first real comic character that I read books about. I saw Superman and Spider-Man on TV and in movies, but Wolverine brought me in and I was hooked. And then from there, X-Men the animated joint. [When it came on] I was like, “Shut up! Everyone! It’s on TV.” That’s still how Wolverine sounds in my mind, so Hugh Jackman needs to try to sound more like the cartoon.
From there, I still didn’t collect comics though. I wasn’t a collector, I was for the art. I was already drawing game characters, Ninja Turtles and other cartoon characters or whatever, but once I got comics I started trying to draw Wolverine. I started trying to draw that style and I wasn’t good at it at all. My brother made sure to let me know that. That’s why I followed comics.
What about for you?
G: My first memories were in England. And we would hear about stuff, but we didn’t have cable and all the stuff I have now. So when I was a little kid, I got toys. I got Star Wars, like the big dolls, big GI Joe dolls, and I had this Spider-Man. It was like a stuffed doll kind of thing, but it had velcro hands and feet. And I didn’t even really know what Spider-Man really was. Then we moved to Idaho and it was the same thing.
Star Wars was so popular at that time, that’s all we had. We were in the middle of nowhere. We’d have to drive 30 minutes to go to Dairy Queen or McDonalds – an hour to go to a movie theater. All I could do was read. So when I was in the second grade, through my Scholastic reading program at school I ordered Empire Strikes Back, the novel. It was like 300 pages. So I got it, I got my dictionary, and I read the whole thing all on my own. It just opened my mind. I read those books before I saw the movies. So I knew everything about it. I knew things that people who saw the movies didn’t even know. Books opened up a whole new avenue for me. When I finally was able to get my hands on comic book, it was crazy.
We would walk to the store and sit for hours, because we didn’t have any money, just reading. And they used to have comic books in regular stores.
Dash: He doesn’t know anything about that. He doesn’t know about going to the drug store and copping comics. That’s where I used to go.
I know nothing about that. That’s amazing to me.
G: We were on the Air Force base and we would just walk in there and sit there for like 2 hours reading.
Actually, when I met Marcus, it was because I had an idea for a comic and another friend I had knew people who could draw. So he would bring people to me and it wouldn’t work. Then I met this cat, and while I’m explaining to him what I want this stuff to look like, he’s knocking it out. This is like 15 years ago. So I was like, “Yeah, he’s the guy.” So, he and I continued working together ever since then.
So when did you guys know this is what you wanted to do professionally? Were you families supportive about it?
M: When I got out of high school I was working at a movie theater. My pre-wife came up to the theater and asked if I was still drawing. I said, “Yeah, I’m still drawing.” She said, “Well my uncle works for Cartoon Network.” I said, “You better stop playing. Are you for real?” And she was for real. So, from there she introduced me to her uncle and I showed him my sketch book. He said, “Alright, yeah. You’re good. I can get you some work.”
They needed someone to draw the Power Puff Girls – just the blue line. They needed somebody to do clean pencil art for the comic, at the time. This is around the year 2000, 2001. So I started doing that man, and I literally still have the receipts for how great that money was. And after that I was like, “Hey. I don’t want to do business cards anymore, or logos. I want to do this.” So I started freelancing and I was able to do character art, cartoons, and comic art. I never did a comic book, other than what we’ve created together but, that was the moment I knew what I wanted to do.
I didn’t know I wanted to do a comic until I understood the real business of it – after we actually did our [first] comic and we didn’t understand how to do the financial part. If you’re paying $10 to print one book it’s a bad business plan, especially if you’re only selling it for $4. So we’ve had those conversations a number of times throughout the years. We held off until we could get the business right. So, we did his children book and that went well.
G: As a kid, I loved writing. But, unfortunately I never even considered making a living of it. I played sports, and was pretty wrapped up in it until I started college. My first literature class was an essay writing class. For some reason, my professor loved my essays and always highlighted them in front of the class. That would be the first time I felt that I may be able to do this for a living.
Some concept art for Tuskegee Heirs:
For the people that have never heard of it, explain the premise of Tuskegee Heirs and where the idea came from.
G: The idea started with Marcus. We’re constantly coming up with unique ideas, so when he gave me the basic premise, we just started breaking it down until it was fit for consumption.
M: Tuskegee Heirs is a futuristic sci-fi adventure that follows a squadron of young, gifted aviators, who are forced to become Earth’s last line of defense against a menacing race of artificially intelligent villains bent on destroying civilization. I spoke with an older gentleman during a book event that was frustrated with the lack of interest of aviation among youth. Upon hearing this, I told him about an idea I’ve been thinking about regarding making the Tuskegee Airmen a cast of young pilots. He was instantly excited by the concept. After finishing up our conversation, Greg and I fine tuned the concept later on that night and came up with the name Tuskegee Heirs.
Your Kickstarter campaign has raised over $36K in the time it’s been up, which is a huge success. In your opinion, what about this idea created that kind of support?
M: I believe there’s multiple factors including the real actual families tied to the history of the pilots, the idea of teaching young kids real history while entertaining them, and the fact that something like this has never been done before now. I think people can see that what we’re trying to do can actually be achieved with the proper funding.
G: I think that people genuinely care about the Tuskegee Heirs. People are ready to see new perspectives. The history behind it – empowered young ladies, intelligent young men. And it doesn’t hurt to have Marcus on the visuals.
Marcus, stylistically you’ve said that your inspiration for Tuskegee Heirs has been based on anime. What are your favorites?
M: Tough questions based on the huge library of anime out there, but I’d have to say Princess Mononoke is way up there as one of my most favorites due to the unique and complex story telling. There was no real good guy or bad guy in that film, but every character had their own just motives for what they were working towards. Even the ending of the movie only partially resolved anything between the character cast and story line, save a few of the supporting characters being killed. Loved Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, DBZ, Ninja Scroll, and the list just goes on and on.
What was the last comic book you purchased?
M: The new Ultimates with Blue Marvel leading a cast of heroes to meet Galactus.
G: Niobe and it’s dope!
Finally, before we get out of here, name your top 5, dead or alive, comic book characters of all time. (We hashed this out for a while.)
M: Wolverine, the video game version of Cyclops, Storm, Spectrum, and Superman.
G: Magneto, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Batman, and Wolverine.
Daps and pounds go around, once again, and we part ways. Then, Dash and I wander around the mall for a bit recounting our time with the guys. Talking to Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham was an amazing experience. It was a blerd-fest of epic proportions. Tuskegee Heirs is Room for Improvement era Drake/2014 Soundcloud Bryson Tiller. Seats on this ride are filling up fast. If you want to support this project, go on over to the Kickstarter and show some love. This is a series that I personally believe will be around for a long time across many mediums, and that should be celebrated.
Thanks for reading Strictly 4 My Blerds.
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