Out of Africa: Jiba Molei Anderson’s Superhero Comics Sprang From Yoruba Mythology

Ed M. Koziarski, Chicago Reader, July 9, 2009

In 1999, when Jiba Molei Anderson set out to self-publish his Afrocentric superhero comic The Horsemen, he knew the strikes against him. “I’m a black-owned, independent company doing a comic book about seven African and African-American characters,” he says. “I should have failed.”

But he didn’t. At 36, Anderson’s had ten years of modest success as a self-publisher, and in February his three-part collection The Horsemen: Divine Intervention will be released nationwide by Arcana Comics as a trade paperback. Anderson is publishing another comic, The Horsemen: The Book of Olorun, through his own Griot Enterprises this month. And the Silver Room opens a solo exhibition of his work on Friday.

The Horsemen series follows a band of seven orishas–manifestations of the Yoruba god Olodumare–who possess a group of young, black, professional Detroiters to save humanity from the Deitis, a multicultural pantheon of corrupt orishas with a vested interest in getting us to worship “politics, commerce, technology, war, sex, life, death, and organized religion.”

“My goal,” Anderson notes, “was to say, ‘Yeah, they’re black–get over it. I’m about to write some shit up in here, and I’m about to liberally reference African and African-American culture, but I’m also about to liberally reference world culture.’ The Horsemen are not fighting drug dealers. They’re not battling homelessness or inner-city crime or any of the typical tropes that you assign to black superheroes.”

The comic book industry hasn’t been kind to African-American characters and creators, stereotyping the former and marginalizing the latter. There’s been intermittent progress since the 1990s, with the success of black heroes like Spawn and Blade and the founding of the Milestone imprint (which DC Comics recently revived) by a group of black artists. But black character/creator combinations remain rare in an industry that, despite the growing diversity of its audience, still pitches much of its content to white, middle-class teenage boys.

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Anderson got his first shot at it in 1995, when he was hired by Chicago writer La Morris Richmond to ink Jigaboo Devil, a comic about a black revolutionary leader who sports a Sambo mask and wields a machete.

After graduating that same year, Anderson came to Chicago to study visual communication at the School of the Art Institute. The Horsemen began as part of his MFA thesis: an illustrated history of African-American superheroes and their connection to African mythology. “I was studying the religion of the Yoruba and how it survived the slave trade in Cuba and Haiti, with Santeria and so forth,” he says. He named each chapter for a Yoruba god and depicted the gods as superheroes. “I was like, ‘These concepts are too cool to throw away.'”

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The week the first Spider-Man movie was released, in May 2002, not-yet-disgraced New York Times reporter Jayson Blair wrote about Griot, using material apparently cribbed from a story that had already appeared in Detroit’s Metro Times. After that the partners started getting calls from Hollywood. Anderson soon split with Larson and Marshall, pursuing his own mainstream aspirations. He kept the company, but each artist retained the rights to his creations.

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Divine Intervention was originally scheduled to come out this month, but has been pushed back till February. Meanwhile, Anderson’s selling The Book of Olorun himself, online and through local retailers G-Mart Comics, Challengers Comics + Conversation, and Graham Crackers Comics. “Why wait?” he says. “I control the property. I’ve done it myself before. I can do it myself again.”

[Editor’s Note: The Horsemen comics and graphic novels are available for purchase or downloading here.]

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