Deals with difficulties of being Afrocentric in a Eurocentric world
For February's feature, we set up a creative date between our Bad Girl Confidence Cover Girl and talented musician, Talia Taylor and Juliana "Jewels" Smith, an educator slash writer slash cultural worker slash many more. (H)afrocentric is the brainchild of Jewels with the help of illustrator Ronald Nelson and Colorist, Mike Hampton. (H)afrocentric "stars a posse of disgruntled undergrads of color as they navigate their way through Ronald Reagan University." Jewels gives us an insight into this up-and-coming comic book.
What inspired you to create (H)afrocentric and for those who are not familiar with your adaptation of language, why the (H) in parenthesis?
The inspiration behind (H)afrocentric comes from my experience teaching at Laney College in Oakland. While I was at Laney College, and to a lesser degree Grossmont College and City College of San Francisco, I was experimenting with comic books as a way to introduce really complicated concepts like the prison industrial complex to my students. I gave my students the Real Costs of Prisons Comix and they really enjoyed it. And when a student came into my office hours and said she had given the comic book to her grandmother to read, I was floored. That a larger community would be engaging the information within and outside the classroom was the reason I wanted to work in “community” colleges in the first place. I thought to myself, comics are a really powerful medium that I should explore. I was also a huge fan of the Boondocks and using that in class.
Later, I started writing (H)afrocentric in response to my work life, being an educator in College, my family life; musing on the relationship between my brother and I, my hometown, and my current life in Oakland.
The parenthesis in (H)afrocentric comes from me being in grad school for too damn long. We would read a lot of texts that made use of parenthesis and back slashes in weird ways like latino/a or (S)he, as ways to give multiple meanings to seemingly one word. Really, I had been in grad school too long and it seeped into virtually everything I was doing. I also wanted an easy way to say (H)afrocentric and I thought an L in the spelling of (H)afrocentric would be too much.
How do you navigate the space between your creative life and professional working life if they have yet to be one and the same?
I am still working on that! It’s a battle. What I appreciate now is that (H)afrocentric takes up so much of my head space that I have to be dedicated to it even when I’m working on different things. At this point, my attitude is that (H)afrocentric can’t fail. There is no option for failure. When the other hustles that I have only bring me a certain amount of income, I have to really think about pushing (H)afrocentric as hard as I can and be relentless when it comes to literally telling everyone I know that this is the best comic they have never heard of.
What is your daily schedule like? We want to know how creatives such as yourself manage their time.
I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask. I probably work too much on (H)afrocentric in my daily life when it comes to a return on investment. I think the smart and logical thing to do would be to work your 9 to 5, then work on your creative projects. But there’s nothing really logical about what I’ve been doing, so I’m going to go with the fact that I’m so passionate about (H)afrocentric, I work on it whenever I have time. Or at least I make time to work on it in some fashion at every waking moment.
What are your hopes and aspirations for (H)afrocentric within the next three-five years?
(H)afrocentric will be a cartoon. That is the goal. A moving and living animated cartoon filled with voiceovers from funny ass Black women and men that get the humor and can rep the characters well. I also want the comic and cartoon to be translated in multiple languages.
What type of impact do you envision your comic having upon the general public?
I want people to see (H)afrocentric as a cultural phenomenon. I want young folks to identify with some elements of each character. I want girls and women in particular to be unafraid to be outspoken because of the characters in the comic. I want to inspire creators to be unafraid of taking on political topics using a sense of humor. I want to encourage my fellow organizers and activists to use elements of their life that they love, whether it’s dancing, running, biking, freestylin’, hacky sacking, or writing a comic book, and make it relevant for movement and community building. Be in the business of nuancing blackness and experiences in general.
What avenues can we go through to stay informed about your work?
I am out there on the interwebs. In all spheres. Catch me in space somewhere. There's no excuses now. You can see what I had for breakfast or the last time I took a sh*t.