By: Tatiana G. King
Merge inspirations from Avatar the Last Airbender, the fictional African nation of Wakanda, Nigerian folktales, and a generous dose of fantasy elements, and you’ll get the promising hope of the project, Spider Stories. Spider Stories is a Kickstarter based project by the brothers John and Charles Agbaje at Central City Tower Comics & Art Studio. The Agbaje brothers have recently launched the Kickstarter campaign in order to help fund a team of professional animators to help expand the story to an 11-minute animated pilot. The ultimate goal is to use the short film in a pitch to a prospective production houses and secure a deal to turn Spider Stories in to a full fledged animated series.
Spider is bursting with enough creative content that it can be readily embraced by an audience interested in animation and the sci-fi/fantasy genre in general, as well as fit within the the trend of superhero/legend stories that are popular in TV and film today. From a personal standpoint, the creation of an African American lead makes the story that much more unique. For a group that is often underrepresented in comics, the premise can be extremely impactful for the Black community at large. In addition, the detailing of the characters along with the integration of a properly developed storyline can give the project an incredible amount of potential of becoming a popular and successful show.
On the Kickstarter page, Charles and John observe that Africans are largely absent from this genre and from mainstream media as a whole. With the inclusion of Spider Stories they hope to effect change and be a part of a “worldwide shift in media made possible by communities and collaboration both in person and online”.
Zahara Line Test 1
The Agbaje brothers are no strangers to the world of comics and sci-fi, having penned the three-part, online graphic novel, Project Zero, a sci-fi adventure involving war and orphans with reality-distortion powers (you can put the children of Steve Jobs jokes away…). The brothers work under their independent start-up, Central City Tower (CCT) and collaborate to achieve robust novels; with Charles typically writing the original stories and John interpreting the words and dialogue into artistic illustrations.
LoveAt1stByte reached out to Charles and John Agbaje to discuss further on the Spider Stories project, their inspirations, and their hope for the future of the series:
LAFB: What made you choose a female main character?
Charles: “In it’s earliest conception the Drummer was initially the main character. But we later rethought him to be a sidekick to Princess Zahara. The choice to have a female lead is in some ways a ‘why not’ kind of answer. If you look at West African history there are several dynasties of Queens who were as capable of rulers as their male counterparts, both as politicians and warriors. Not to mention the stories our mother would tell us of great female rulers. Having a woman in a leadership role was seen as normal not revolutionary. We thought it would be great to represent the royal family of this series as a Princess and a Queen and reflect that part of the past.”
LAFB: How long has Spider Stories been in development?
Charles: “Spider Stories has been in development since 2010. It started as a class project when I was still an undergrad at Northwestern University. For an assignment I created a ten minute motion comic-esque animated short about how the first Drummer got his Drum. It was also a loose adaptation of an existing folktale. The concept has since evolved a lot since then, but in our heads it’s still kind of an origin story for the relationship between the Spider Spirit and the Drummer through the royal family. We may revisit it again and revamp it to match with the current style and new mythology.”
LAFB: What would you consider your artistic style? I see there is much emphasis on deep lines and angles
John: “I’d describe my style as more graphical than naturalistic. I believe that strong line quality really helps to make an image pop off the page and can add a lot of character to each figure or scene. I like exploring the inherent geometry in natural shapes and tend to highlight that in my figures. It gives the image that graphic quality that is clean and easy for viewers.”
LAFB: Who or What are your style influencers?
John: “While the Avatar influence is clear, the art style is really a hybrid of traditional America and Japanese animation styles. With Spider Stories especially there is a bit more of Nok/West African sculpture sensibilities thrown in as well. As a self taught artist most of what I know comes from works I read growing up.The angular style comes from Bruce Timm’s DC Animated Universe, and the thick lines from Akira Toriyama’s DragonBall series. Take for example David Mazzucchelli’s work on Batman: Year One. Its one of my favorite examples of comic book artwork with a really unique line. Yoshiyuki Sadamoto’s art in the Evangelion manga was immensely important for my sensibilities around character and design.”
LAFB: What are your favorite comics and movies? Did any of them give you inspiration to write Spider Stories?
John: “Hands down my favorite movie is the Lion King. While yes there were singing animals, it was one of the first films I saw deal with deep themes of responsibility, guilt, and wasn’t afraid to go dark with a powerful message. Beyond that the artwork was beautiful. Fast forward to the time of films like the Lord of the Rings adaptation or gorgeous Avatar: The Last Airbender animated series and combine that our recognition of the lack of representation of Africans as people in the media and you begin to see how the concept for Spider Stories began to take shape. There is such a wealth of stories from the African continent that the rest of the world could really be fascinated by. Spider Stories is just the tip of the iceberg.”
LAFB: What are your thoughts on African American and African representation in the world of games, comics, or any other related areas of entertainment?
Charles: “I think it’s getting better. For a long time black characters and other ethnic minorities were relegated to side characters and stereotypes and you still see a lot of that today. But looking around there are more and more stories that have black leads. Everything from Aqualad Kaldur’ahm in Young Justice, to the controversial Django Unchained, and Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. This is a moment where perceptions are changing and audiences are becoming more accepting. We want to add to this discussion and be a part of that shift. It’s as important to have diverse characters on screen as it is to have the voices of diverse producers behind the scenes. We see ourselves as leading the charge in the fantasy genre – creating a world that is based in African aesthetics and culture but with characters who are defined by their struggles and personalities, not their race. Keeping it authentic, yet accessible to non-black and non-Africans.”
LAFB: Anything you wish to share with people curious about the Kickstarter project?
Charles & John: “Everyone should know that we really appreciate every bit of support that has been shown throughout this entire process. Our hearts are filled and our minds have been blown every day of this campaign with every pledge and spontaneous sharing. It means a lot for an idea that otherwise would have been confined to notepads and sketchbooks to resonate with and mean something people. A lot of you have put your faith in us and we’re excited to bring the series to life and make good on it!”
As of the time of this writing, Spider Stories has $15,203 of the $25,000 goal with 12 days left for funding. Check out the Agbaje’s Kickstarter intro video outlining the project below:
UPDATE: As of March 26, with 5 days left in the campaign, the Spider Stories project has met and exceeded it’s $25,000 fundraising goal. The Agbaje Brothers have updated the Kickstarter page with new “Stretch Goals”.
Disclosure: Tatiana King became a backer of this project through Kickstarter on March 18.