Jiba took a different approach than most heads to break into the comic. Once simply networking and sending out his portfolio wasn’t working out he decided to take his master’s thesis and put it in comic book form. That thesis birthed the mythological superhero team the Horsemen and helped launch His Horsemen epic is about the gods of ancient Africa who have returned to Earth and possessed seven people to save humanity from itself. It gets deeper than that as elements of Voodoo, African mythology, music, and Jiba’s own thoughts are all intertwined to make one unique storyline. Outside of the comic world Jiba is a college professor with a taste for various blends of house, hiphop and jazz.
Website: Griot Enterprises
So what’s going on music wise out there in the windy city?
Chicago is like the home of house music and that’s the scene I’m into. I know a lot of djs in Chicago and Detroit. Even though I live in Chicago, I’m still a Detroiter. Its not so much for me which club to go to, its really like which DJ is gonna really bring it or which shows are gonna pop off.
Who’s your favorite house artist?
I don’t deal with one favorite because there are a lot of cats that I dig. A number of cats that I dig are like Osun Lande, Viktor Duplaix, this cat Iro coming out of Detroit, Carl Craig, CL Parish, New Sector Movements, really all over the place.
So do you use that music to influence your artwork?
I use a lot of different music. I’ll listen to hiphop, I’ll listen to acid jazz, soul music, whatever gets me into the mood.
You mentioned hiphop. Are you deep into it or do you just listen to it every now and again?
In college I used to be a DJ and I started off spinning hiphop, so when I think of hiphop I’m listening to stuff from what I like to call the glory years, 1988-93 or 94. So cats that I listen to now are like Common, Slum Village, Talib Kweli, Mos Def, The Roots, people who are saying something or just breaking it down to dope beats and dope lyrics. I’m not a gangsta but I like the old NWA and old Ice-T.
I understand between Detroit and Chicago pimping is big time.
Oh pimpin’ is crazy
Do you actually see these guys in crazy looking suits out there with the Bentleys?
I have not seen them out with the Bentleys. I’ve been doing some stuff outside of Griot like getting into the movie scene and I went to one rap party for a film about pimps and I go into that party and in the set there are pimps, hoes, dancers, and then there are movie people. I’m standing there and I’m like you know what I’m in this situation and ya’ll just peeped me to the whole game. From the street level to the Hollywood level, it’s all a game and the matter is do you want to be a pimp or do you want to be a hoe. Me personally I want to be a pimp and the thing that I’m hoeing is my talent.
What is it like living in the city where pimps is doing it like that?
You know what was ill I remember a couple years ago I was walking downtown and I saw Mr. White Folk (Pimps Up, Hoes Down) standing out on in front of Marshall Field. I walked down the street and I was like that dude looks like Mr. White Folk’¦.Oh my god that is him!
So buying pimp documentaries and mix CDs is the thing up in Chicago?
Not really. The whole pimping game is really in certain spots, Southside and Westside. It’s not like I’m gonna walk out my door like hey what’s up Smokey. It ain’t like Bishop Magic Don Juan is speaking at schools. It’s there. It’s that shadow world, but the thing about it is if you really ain’t looking for you it you’re not going to see it.
How did you go about starting up Griot Enterprises?
I wanted to do comic books since I was 10, but in high school cats were like comic books are kid stuff you should be thinking about ‘œreal art’ so I was going into college as a graphic design major. I started doing graphic design and I thought to myself I’m not really doing any drawing, I’m more manipulating images and text. I drifted into photography and I really dug that. The summer before my sophomore year I took an illustration class and it was like man this is what I’ve been missing. [Then] it was like what do I illustrate? Around that time it was like ’92 and in the comic book world big things were happening. You had the start of Image [where] you had these cats coming out making millions doing comic books. Then on the flipside at the same time you had the birth of Milestone, a multicultural line coming out from DC comics. Those two things showed me that I can do what I love and get paid and furthermore I can do characters that looked like me and that’s when I decided to get into the game. I tried up until ’95 when I got my first gig which fortunately will never be published. That work was absolutely terrible. At a certain point I felt my skills were up to par to try and get jobs. That’s when I realized the second part that’s it’s not what you know its who you know to an extent. The comic book game is like any other entertainment [field], it’s a combination of right place right time and some talent. Around ’97 I realized I’m as good as a lot of these other cats out here but I don’t know anybody. So instead of waiting for someone to discover me I’ll discover myself. That’s how Griot Enterprises really started. It’s like the ultimate self promotion tool.
That’s a big step to start your own thing instead of just trying to make contacts.
The thing that was really the impetus for me to start my own was that my younger brother, who’s an artist as well, started a web design firm while I was in grad school and it was doing really really well. He had one of the first web design firms in the city of Detroit. It got bought out twice and at 27 he got super paid and now he has his own underground record label. He was really visionary. Looking at that I was like he’s doing his thing and he hasn’t finished his degree yet. I was like fuck this corny shit let me do my thing. I got my Masters degree but I didn’t break out on my own right away. I had a day job (still do), but I started educating myself on business. I spent a whole year looking at business plans really getting deep into the industry side of it. I worked in a comic book store when I was in college so I came up from being a fan to working in a comic book store really peeping the psychology of not only the retailer but also the customer. After I got out I just started studying business like reading business magazines trying to get my head into it and not just looking at it as an artistic exercise. A lot of artists don’t want to be businessmen but in order to control your destiny you gotta know the game.
What were some of the problems you faced trying to establish your own business?
We got some investing but the toughest thing to keep going right now is money. It’s raising more and more money and in terms of production we’re at a little bit of a halt because we’re concentrating on the business and are in discussions with people that will give us more funding. So I’m still out here pimping this company because not only is it a comic book company it’s also a design and illustration studio. I freelance as a graphic designer and illustrator as well to keep the whole vibe out there. Now my new day gig allows me to do that stuff too because I went back to teaching. I’m a college professor. It’s a commitment because running your own business is not easy there are a lot of things you have to do. If you own the company you become the bad guy because you’re trying to be righteous, but you also have to be ruthless because people will try and take advantage of you. Throughout this thing I lost friends who when we got into this business thing some stuff came to the surface. It hurt, but at the same time it was one of those necessary last lessons I needed to learn if I was going to succeed in this thing.
What are the positive things that come along with publishing your own comics besides the obvious?
I think the most positive thing is control and being the master of your own destiny. The book has been what I call a critical success. I really haven’t made any money off of it but the access to other media possibilities has been amazing. I never thought I’d be in the position that I’m in right and that’s just a position of potential. Now doors are open to me that have never been open before. The company was mentioned in an article in the New York Times written by the infamous Jason Blair. Funny thing is the day after that article came out I got a call from the William Morris Agency. They’re my agent now and I’m working on some stuff because of that. I’m in talks now to sell the movie rights for my book and I’m in the position to write an academic book on the history of the African American experience in comics. On top of that I’m doing some work for Top Cow [Productions] right now, writing and drawing a story based on one of their properties. They gave me kinda free reign as to the story and I’m honestly surprised they bought the thing because what I’m doing for the story is a straight up blaxploitation. I would say it’s one of the few in terms of the blaxploitation vibe that’s actually written by an African American. More opportunities are coming everyday and it’s beautiful. I’m about to redesign the Horsemen portion of the website and put up a sales part so that people can buy some of the back stock online and keep it going. Other than that people can contact Griot Enterprises and request the miniseries and the poster. We’re finding new fans everyday and what surprised me is that people really responded very positively to a book that featured seven African American superheroes. Some people are scared about it and quick to write it off as ‘œracist’ because all the heroes are black and the villains are white but that’s not true the villains are multicultural. And it goes beyond that because the heroes and the villains are gods. Using my culture and my experiences I’m going for a universal kind of book by being so individual and its tapped into this sort of commonality. In some comic books stores in the burbs it was selling out in numbers Superman usually sells out. It also generated a lot of female fans which is important to me and important to the industry.
Before we get too deep into it give us and our readers a nice overview of what the Horsemen series is all about.
The gods of ancient Africa have returned to Earth and have possessed seven people to save humanity from itself. That’s’ the story in a nutshell.
How did you come up with that idea, do you remember what you were doing when it hit you?
As a kid I was always interested in mythology. I’d been interested in Greek, Roman, Norse, and Egyptian mythology. When I became a teenager, I got interested in African mythology. My mother is from West Africa and I was like I know we have our own mythology so I started studying that and I always wanted to do a series of illustrations on the gods of Europa culture. When I was in grad school I had to do my thesis and it was on the Africa American superhero in comic book mythology and the name of the book was the New Mythology. Each chapter was going to be titled after a different god from Europa culture and I was like this is my chance to do that series of illustrations I wanted to do. I also thought about depicting them in more of a classic African dress then I was like this book is about superheroes so why don’t I do superhero versions of these characters. When I started thinking about it, I was like this idea is too dope to just be a one time thing for a project I need to make it a superhero team. I was taking a class on Afro Caribbean Art and Ritual and one of the books we had to read was a book called, ‘œThe Divine Horsemen’ by Maya Deren, which was all about voodoo. I looked at the title, chopped off the Divine, and kept the Horsemen and that was fresh. In voodoo, the whole idea is that when the devotees are being possessed by the Loa they say they are being ridden like a horse. A lot of people think it’s about the Apocalypse but if you read the bible there are only four Horsemen of the Apocalypse I have seven characters. [Then I had to develop the story and] around that time DJ Krush’s album, ‘œMeiso’ came out and the track Meiso where Black thought is rapping and he said ‘œwho controls the eight immortals but the number seven in this continual maze.’ And that’s the whole crux of the story who controls the eight immortals but the number seven. That’s where the whole concept came about. The Horsemen is really my manifesto on how I look at life in terms of politics, spirituality, and racial identity its kinda my statement of who I am. Even the logo is behind the Horsemen [has a deeper meaning]. It’s an Adinkra symbol (Gye Nyame) meaning ‘œbut for the grace of god.’ I’m doing a holy book in some ways.
I learned about mythology as a child and when I came across your book what really stood out was that you were using African Gods. I thought I knew a little something, but I didn’t know anything about African mythology. Can you break down who are the African Gods being represented in the Horsemen?
I’m using who I see as the seven major gods in African Mythology. The first one is Obatala. He was known as the creator of mankind and the thing about Obatala is that he’s androgynous (can be male or female) although traditionally he’s depicted as male. If I’m using a creator character why not make her female. In my book, Obatala is kinda like my Wonder Woman character. She’s an idealized version of the type of woman I go for. Someone very beautiful inside and out, that’s smart, sexy, and strong who can kick ass and look good doing it. Yemaja a water goddess, but even deeper she is a protector of women during childbirth. She’s also known as the mother of secrets. You have Oshun who’s actually a goddess of sexuality, but in African mythology she was also the one that took the fire from the sun and brought it down to mankind. My Oshun is composed of pure light. Then there’s Oya who was known as the goddess of change or the goddess of the wind. She and Shango, the brother with the electricity, in African mythology were married and it said they always fight together. Shango is the god of lightning and he is known as mankind’s hero. Sometimes he can be extremely cruel, but he is extremely passionate. He’s also kind of like the mack in the whole Europa pantheon. Then you have Ogun, the big dude, the god of Iron. He’s also the patron god of thinking men [like] blacksmiths, engineers and architects. So, my Ogun is also the smartest cat on the team. Finally, we have Eshu, the brother with the dreads, which most cats when they first see the character they are all about him because they think he is the Wolverine type but he’s not. In African mythology, Eshu was the trickster and sometimes what the trickster does is use duplicity and befuddlement to bring out the truth. So my Eshu in the book is kind of the scary character but in all honesty he keeps the team together and calls people out when they need to be called out. If anyone needs to worry about one person on the team, it’s Shango because he will flip out sometimes. In issue two, I had him blow up Nigeria because of a dictator. They thought the guy they put in power was going to make things better and he wound up being another dictator. So Shango went back to Nigeria for the sole purposes of killing this dude and the rest of the Horsemen stopped him. He got mad and said all right you have fifteen minutes to clear the place out and he proceeds to blow up Nigeria and leaves the guy in there like this is your country to rule now and it’s a big smoking crater.
What would you say the Horsemen offers that your traditional comic does not?
I think it offers real relationships outside of the costume. I also think it offers another way superhero comics can be done. Some people will compare my book to ‘œThe Authority’ or something like that but I’m really doing something different. All I’m doing is extrapolating shit that’s going on right now in the world. You gotta understand I came up with the idea of this in 1999 and the way I look at the Horsemen after 911 and after the war broke out I was how the American Government was gonna put the spin on the Horsemen that they are global terrorists. Then I was like they are already considered global terrorists I’m just ahead of the game and I just want to keep it going like that [being] political in that nature.
When it comes to creating the Horsemen, which is more difficult the storyline based on the things we were talking about thus far or the artwork to show the emotions and situations to push forth the idea you’re talking about?
For me writing is the quicker process. I’m not saying it’s easy because finding the right word for what you’re trying to do is always tough. The whole process of drawing just takes more time than writing but I wouldn’t say one is easier than the other.
For people looking forward to the next mini series where are you looking to take the story?
Ultimately, I look at it as being a finite story. The whole concept really spans three different titles but they are all continuing the same story and hopefully if we get the money people will see that. What we’re gonna see is the Horsemen entering the world stage, the political landscape of the world change, the second apocalypse and the world that comes after that.
What is the word on making the series into an animated film?
All I can tell you is the whole Hollywood game is a big game of hurry up and wait. Other than that as soon as the initial dollars get worked out then I can start talking about it.
What are some of the difficulties you think black artists face in the comic book industry?
The whole nature of being taken seriously because you are of a different color. That’s what it boils down too. Honestly, in the comic book game I have more education than 90% of those cats out there. I have a bachelors and a masters degree. I teach the stuff I can speak about the art of comics better than most people in the industry. It’s still 2003 and white America is extremely threatened by intelligent black America that isn’t trying to emulate them.
I saw on your website that you’re getting into the business of doing music videos.
Yea, its one of my other clients that I’m dealing with who actually wants to purchase the company and make it a division of their company. We’re talking about some music video direction and at the very least some concepts and storyboarding. In terms of being visual and directing, I have no problem with that.
What is a general concept that you might do that would be different from the norm?
When people talk about concept videos, their concept is pretty wack. I’m all about creating stories on the song. If I listen to the song I visual the scenario in which it plays out and it doesn’t involve women in thongs or rolling around in a rented Bentley. I look at videos as a way to make mini movies and that’s the way I would approach it. It would only work with a real hiphop artist but a long time ago I had an idea of doing a hiphop video based on the movie Highlander. Instead of pulling out swords, they’re pulling out mics from their coat. It would have worked seven years ago but the cats on the radio right now aren’t fresh enough to deal with that concept.
What’s your feel on the hiphop scene right now?
It’s hurting man. Hiphop used to be so fresh and so live. What the fuck happened? What happened to when every single you heard you wanted to call it a classic. Back in the day in order to get put on you had to be different. A lot of the cats now getting in the rap game don’t [even] know how to write. They don’t have command of the English language.
Say you had a choice to make a super hero either out of Oprah or R. Kelly. Who would you choose and what powers would you give them?
Oprah, [but] Oprah wouldn’t have any powers though she would be the top of a super secret organization. She would be like Q of the James Bond movies.