Brian Stelfreeze has worked in the comic book industry for over 25 years, but even he'll admit he's never done a book like Black Panther. Last month, Marvel announced that he and mainstream journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates are working on a 12-part series for the Wakandan king timed to coincide with the character's entry into Marvel movies beginning with May's Captain America: Civil War.
Stelfreeze and Coates have set out to "redefine" T'Challa as a monarch and a superhero in this new series, and Newsarama spoke extensively with the artist during his recent appearance at Baltimore Comic-Con.
Newsarama: So, Brian, it was recently announced you’ll be the artist for the new Black Panther series for Marvel. This is your first work at Marvel in a long time, as well. I have to ask, how quickly did you say yes to this assignment?
Brian Stelfreeze: [Laughs] It was pretty quick. You know, the cool thing is I’m working with Wil Moss, he’s the editor that I worked with on Jonah Hex, so we have a great relationship going back when he was working at DC. Because Wil kinda came to me and I trust Wil. Will is a really good guy and I know he would bring me something really cool. When he told me it was going to be Black Panther, that kinda blew me away.
Nrama: This is the first time in a long time that both artist and writer have been persons of color on such a high profile character. I mean, you had Christopher Priest and Mark Texeira on Black Panther in the 90’s, and of course Reginald Hudlin’s run as well. How important is it for you to be working on a title like Black Panther?
Stelfreeze: I think to a certain extent it’s massively important and to another extent, it’s not important at all. I kind of jump back and forth on that. The nice thing about it is that because of who I am and how I grew up and everything, I think that’s going to give me information on the character that’s going to make me able to approach the character in a different way. At the same time, as a creator, I try my best to be invisible.
Nrama: Now, you actually brought both covers to the first issue here at the con. When designing a cover like this, what’s the biggest thing you want to convey?
Stelfreeze: The cool thing is, it’s cover number one. I’ve done a few covers in my career.
Nrama: [Laughs] Oh, have you?
Stelfreeze: [Laughs] Yeah, a little. So it’s kind of a situation where I know that I’m doing a cover to number one so I wanted it to be something spectacular and that captures the character. I sent them in three designs with different looks of the character. One with him being very sort of aggressive, another one where he was a little bit more submissive and it was more about the people of Wakanda. Then there was one where he was the secret protector of Wakanda, and they went with that one, which I think is a great choice for cover number one.
Nrama: Yeah, it almost looks like a propaganda piece with the Wakandan flags burning. It’s interesting you featured the city of Wakanda in the background, because it’s a city of technology and doesn’t get a lot of attention usually on cover designs. Are you designing Wakanda as this city of the future?
Stelfreeze: Actually, no! I’m designing Wakanda with a different eye towards technology. I’m thinking of technology in a different way. I don’t want Wakanda to be Silicon Valley or Dubai, or anything like that. What I want to do is show Wakanda as having technology that was created in a completely different way than technology that we know.
Nrama: So you’ve read the first script written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a New York Times Best-Seller, no less.
Stelfreeze: Oh, a phenomenal guy!
Nrama: Without giving too much away, what was it about the first issue that made you excited to be on board?
Stelfreeze: The thing that got me really excited about it was when I read it, it wasn’t a superhero script. It wasn’t a bang zoom some guys are robbing a bank and Black Panther is going to jump in and stop them kinda story. I think with superheroes, they all need a specific voice and the Black Panther, I don’t think we’ve really pursued what the Black Panther is all about. Ta-Nehisi’s script goes in a different direction and really explores what is this guy about. What would Wakanda be like if it was a real thing.
Nrama: T’Challa is a legacy character of his own. It’s not a code name, it’s something that’s very important in Wakandan folklore. Will that be played in this new series as well?
Stelfreeze: More than you’d believe.
Nrama: Is there anything new you’re trying to approach that hasn’t been done before with that his decades-old character?
Stelfreeze: Well, the cool thing is that Ta-Nehisi and I, we’re kinda approaching everything very respectfully. We want to make things very believable and want this to be a book that someone who has never read Black Panther before can pick up and really enjoy this. At the same time, we’re both fans so we’re doing something that if you’re a Black Panther fan, you’ll get a nice bit of Easter eggs for you, but this is still something different. I personally think that the Black Panther is a character that is really underdeveloped, so we’re sort of taking the opportunity that Marvel is giving us to do something with him.
Nrama: Is there anything else you’d like to mention about the new Black Panther series?
Stelfreeze: It’s going to be ridiculously cool. That’s pretty much all I can say right now, but we’re always hanging out, so we’ll talk about it a bit later on next year.