Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture by Ytasha L. Womack (Oct 2013) www.iafrofuturism.com
Kamau Mshale is the creator, illustrator and writer of the indie comic book series Captain Kacela Universal Ranger. Mshale is based in Philadelphia. He launched the comic in 2009. I met Kamau at the Wizard World Comic Con Chicago in August 2013.
Ytasha: When did you begin creating images and stories with black characters in the future?
Kamau: I’m a big sci-fi fan, so I’ve always drawn futuristic images of black people. But I really got into it with this book Kacela. The book is about brown people in space.
Ytasha: You used quite a bit of African imagery in the book
Kamau: Yes, I used a lot of African imagery. I gave Kacela these glowing bands after seeing some arm bands on people on Kenyan. I gave her a lot of symbolism from the Adinkra and the Akan people. I wanted to hint a bit at the Dogon people. It’s a space faring book and the Dogon are known for having made mention of stars and other systems. The question was always how they knew since they weren’t using telescopes.
Ytasha: Why did you choose to work with Adinkra and Adan symbols?
Kamau: Partly because they had some recognition in America. Also, there’s so much to it and it’s so deep and layered, It’s always nice to see ideas expressed in simple imagery, and the imagery in the Adinkra imagery is extremely simple. The symbols remind me of a quest or the types of things you would see on the side of a ship. It gives instant recognition. I wanted to bring that into a cultural idea that might have developed in Africa, came to North America and play into that futuristic idea.
Ytasha: Can you tell me about some of the symbols that you use?
Kamau: I used the five tufts of hair. It’s a symbol of greatness or being capable of things. The idea is that the priestess had her hair in a particular style, in five tufts of hair and that indicated that she was capable and adroit. The actual name of it is mpuannur. I also used these concentric circles, a series of circles going into one another, and that’s a symbol of greatness. The symbol is named adinrahene. Similar to the Target symbol.
Ytasha: Why did you use these symbols?
Kamau: The comic is an ode to black women and to female roles and females in comics. The idea is that the character is great and capable. Another symbol I use is the wawa seed. Coachella’s teacher wears it. It’s a symbol of strength and substance.
I love Adinkra symbols. There are many that people would gravitate towards. There’s a war horn, a symbol of justice. They cover all different things. I think the most popular one is the Gye Nyame. It’s used all the time. We see it on tattoos and sometimes in a futuristic context. An artist named Chuck Collins used it on his characters.
Ytasha: What is Captain Kacela about?
Kamau: On the surface it’s a story about a girl raised somewhere else and adopts another group’s culture and becomes really great at it. On another level, it’s about Africans in America. I also wanted to make a statement about the black female form. I drew her very hippy. Not all black women look that way but it’s a look that’s been ignored. It’s the natural state for a lot of women, black, white and Hispanic as well.
So Kacela is my ode to black women on that level, too. She’s not born in America or on Earth, but that’s where she’s from and she tries to adjust. There’s another character named Harriet, she’s your typical African American high school student, smart, she’s attractive, but doesn’t think she is, and she’s clever. She winds up being Kachela’s guide on earth. You have one staunchly African American female, and one would be African American female.
Ytasha: Where was Kacela born?
Kamau: She was born on Earth in America, and she gets taken to a planet in a distant star system as a child. She gets raised there, learns her powers there. After she gains her power, she becomes a ranger and has a mission: to adopt earth in the universal alliance. But she gets here and has to save the planet from arms dealers and deal with other issues in our solar system.
Ytasha: What do you think about Afrofuturism?
Kamau: I actually didn’t have the term in my vocabulary until recently. But it’s where I’ve been in my mind for a while. Having the classification of Afrofuturism is a good starting ground for what we’re already trying to show. It gives a reference point to find things. I think that’s a positive. I’m happy to have learned it.