There’s a war going on in South Central Los Angeles – the cops versus the gangs. But in the comic series Genius, one side has an ace up its sleeve.
First seen in 2008’s Pilot Season competition from Top Cow, Genius tells the tale of a young African-American military genius born and bred in the inner-city streets of South Central. It’s a modern look at the landscape depicted in the film Boyz n the Hood, but with a strategic bent straight out of the movie Patton
Although two Pilot Season titles have set off before, this first issue of Genius marks the first time the full original creative team made it to the full series. And for the writers and artist, the time away has only made it better. Freeman and Bernardin have done work all over comics, and artist Afua Richardson has honed her art considerably since Pilot Season: Genius which was, unbelievably, her first full issue ever. While the Genius series doesn't properly debut on its own until early 2011, the debut in Top Cow's First Look TPB gives readers more than a taste – but a first course – and Newsarama is here to find out more.
Newsarama: A tactical genius being born in the streets of South Central, plying her skills not for a government but for her hometown – against the LAPD. How did this idea come about for you two?
Marc Bernardin: For my part, it came from a decent amount of late-night History Channel viewing. Watching documentaries about Alexander the Great or Ghengis Khan or Sun Tzu, men for whom combat and military strategy came as second nature. And then watching documentaries about American militias and listening them taking about arming themselves for the impending race war...what if the person they were most afraid of was a little girl?
Adam Freeman: We combined that with my fascination with child prodigies. We have seen pre-schoolers with unexplainable gifts whether it is mathematics or the violin. How do we know there is not an undiscovered phenom out there with prodigious tactical and strategic ability?
Nrama: How would you describe your genius, Destiny Ajaye?
Bernardin: She is a proper villain. Because, and let’s be clear about this, she’s doing some very bad things.
Freeman: And someone smarter than us once said, “Every villain is the hero of their own story.”
Bernardin: To her, declaring war against the powers that be is a reasonable response to the harshness of the life she’s led. While the book examines both sides of this conflict, she is our “hero,” and we’re trying to tell this story from her perspective and giving her “our” sympathies.
Afua Richardson: Destiny is predator. A general in a war. She has an agenda, fueled by anger and an understanding of the consequences of color and lack of social economic positioning. She'll play her characters: The dime piece to get in the right place at the right time unnoticed to Just one of the fellas; not too vernacular heavy, so as not to draw any attention to herself in public. Then she's concerned activist to rally the masses on the streets of Los Angeles. She'll say and do the right things to position herself. Understand the probability of what you MIGHT do. Then she takes your rook. In the Akhan there is a symbol called NkyimKyim - it translates into "the twisting". Whatever the situation that comes, she deals with it -- and maneuvers her way around like a snake with feet. I wanna be that cool...She almost has no breaks in her determination, and almost everyone is expendable. Her emotional wall is so dense she's bulletproof (figuratively) I have to remember that when i draw her. She's almost never warm. Never weak. Her guard never down. Ab-so-effin-lutly fearless. So much so that drawing the character has made me tactfully & strategically more aggressive. Not sure that's a good thing...
Nrama: Destiny’s skills – is it just skills, or is it some form of superpower?
Freeman: No mutant genes at work here. She is just like you and me but operating on an entirely different level.
Bernardin: She’s human in the same way that Sherlock Holmes is typical, if definitely not normal. She’s a supremely gifted tactical and strategic analyst, combined with the steel will of someone raised, almost from birth, on the battlefield. If she were a man, and born in Cimmeria, she’d be Conan the Barbarian’s smarter brother.
Nrama: And what about the other people in her world – who are they?
Richardson: There's her Lieutenant, Chavonne. When Marc and Adam gave me her description I think they wanted more of a hardcore kinda “this is the muscle and Des is the brain" but i thought it would be fun if the muscle were a babe. Like girly shoes and make up flip hair style, blonde, tight video girl jeans and the loudest colors in the known universe. A bad@$$ babe that will blow you away with a sawed off shotgun. She's loyal-- i think she'd take a bullet for her Destiny if she had to. Destiny has certainly shelled out a few on her behalf.Then the Tech guy, Gtron. She's known him since grade school. So she can't get use to calling him anything other than Gerald (which he hates.) Again i wanted to play on the stereotypes. Nerds: you think of guys crammed in their mom's basement with acne and chick & game posters. Well - maybe he's that but nerds are cool. And they're getting cooler. So i gave him a kind of hipster- indy-pop get-up. Thick, square glasses. Faux hawk and graphic t-shirt that changes with my mood. He and Chavonne are the only ones (thus far) that she ever warms up to. They are her right and left arms.
Nrama: What is Destiny up against? I saw in the PS she took out the LAPD.
Freeman: She was up against a posse of police officers who had no idea what they were truly up against.
Bernardin: Over the course of the next five issues, the threat escalates dramatically.
Nrama: Once you got the greenlight for a Genius miniseries back in 2008, how did you break down your ideas into the proper shape for a series?
Richardson: After the hangover from the champagne parties and base jumping off my art desk ended (kidding) no but seriously after we won - it took a few months for the script to come in then i had to end my obligations with acting in an Off-Broadway show with Melvin Van Peebles and music duo sorted out. I only have but so many arms and they didn't invent hour injections yet. So I'll say, Cow magic and Warren Ellis making non-idle threats.
Nrama: How did you start to whip it into shape, guys?
Bernardin: We always knew its shape. We never go into a story without knowing how it’ll end. Things always shift a little in the writing, but we knew how it would break down -- just as we know how the story of Destiny Ajaye would continue beyond this mini.
Freeman: Yeah, it was right there in the pitch. There is a big difference between someone who can pitch and someone who can execute. A lot of people can write a killer logline. But where do you go? We always come to the table with all the questions answered so all the parties involved know what they are in for.
Nrama: I know scheduling everyone to come back from the Pilot Season for the full miniseries is tough – but for Genius Top Cow has the original team back together. How important is that, and have you had conversations outside of the script with Afua about what are your plans for the series?
Richardson: Well - we're all so separated, so we've kept in touch via interwebs the entire time to make sure we're all into it still and on the level. I love where the series is going though. The latest script I really, really enjoyed getting into. I feel like I've taken a sneak peek on the set of a film and I can't wait to press the play button. These guys are brilliant. The guys at Top Cow are awesome too; editors Filip Sablik and Phil Smith are great and have been playing liaison for me as gathering edits and ideas from 4 different people can be rather overwhelming. But they're on it and they have a great vision as well. It's just been a pleasure to work with them. And I'm really happy to have the opportunity to do so.
Bernardin: A big part of what made Genius pop was Afua’s artwork. Not only does it stun with a sort of Kyle Baker-meets-anime vibrancy, but it also gives us a sort of legitimacy. I always get a sense of jazzy-hip-hoppy studied improvisation when I look at Afua’s work. Without her, it just wouldn’t have felt the same.
Freeman: I see her as a modern day Ernie Barnes. It’s clearly street, sometimes bordering on cartoony (not in a bad way) but always has a depth and intensity that gives her stylized look realism.
Nrama: I agree. Flipping through the Pilot Season issue, and I love the artwork here. Afua, how was it that you came up with this style, and what did you do to tailor it to the story Marc & Adam gave to you in the script?
Richardson: Thanks Chris! This was actually my 1st full length comic. So I'll admit I wasn't exactly proud of all the work but I was happy to have finished it. I feel like I'm growing and learning with this style and still figuring out where I'm going with it. I'm a lot happier with the work in the following issues than the Pilot. Just on a matter of consistency. I had a few pages in there I was proud of. But like I said I'm getting better (I hope). All I can ask for.
I'm a big fan of anime and slick graphic design - not to mention muted euro colors and composition. And comic wise - I'm a hopeless Bachalo, Hughes, Ramos, Stelfreeze and Frazetta fan, so you may see the work lean in that general direction ( if I'm lucky) combined with all the other elements I previously mentioned. They wanted something a little more realistic than what I normally do, so I spent a lot of time sketching guns, soldiers, and swat teams to get more of a accurate feel for the war Adam & Marc are orchestrating.
Nrama: When do you expect the Genius series to debut proper?
Freeman: I wish we could say. Hopefully, early 2011. Top Cow has made a big commitment to the fans to deliver books on time and uninterrupted. To that point, they want it all in their hands to make good on their promise to the readers of a monthly book.
Bernardin: Understandably and nobly, Top Cow wants a big chunk of the book in house before they kick it out. But Afua’s kicking lots of ass, and we’re bringing the story to a close. For now.