One of my favorite genres is space opera. What is that you may ask? Contrary to popular belief this is not space opera.
A definition is space opera is a subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often melodramatic adventure, set mainly or entirely in space, generally involving conflict between opponents possessing powerful (and sometimes quite fanciful) technologies and abilities. Perhaps the most significant trait of space opera is that settings, characters, battles, powers, and themes tend to be very large-scale. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and they have continued to be produced in literature, film, comics and video games.
There have been a number of notable space opera books such as the Foundationseries by Isaac Asimov, the Ender’s Game series by Orson Scott Card or the popularHonor Harrington series by David Weber. And of course many of us grew up watching the famous animated television series Star Blazers, which for some was their first introduction to space opera. Yes, I admit it. I will sometimes sing the opening song out loud just because. And I submit that only diehard fans of the show have the 3rd series The Bolar Wars (yes I have it).
One of the more famous televised space operas is the critically acclaimed re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica by Ronald D. Moore. Arguably the most well-known space opera is the Star Wars franchise by George Lucas. Much has been made of the prominence of Black characters in the much anticipated Star Wars: The Force Awakens with the co-starring role of John Boyega as Finn.
Of course Black people have always had a presence in the Star Wars franchise. Don’t forget that Billy Dee Williams was Lando Calrissian.
Or that Samuel L. Jackson was Mace Windu.
Or that James Earl Jones’ voice gave to life to one of the most iconic villains in movie history Darth Vader.
So the recent uproar over the appearance of John Boyega is a bit puzzling. But my thoughts about space opera gave me pause to check out where we are in terms of staking our claim in the genre. We have imaginations. We can dream. It’s nice to know that my search was rewarded.
Paul Louise-Julie, Star Wars fan, and a New Jersey-based, genre busting French-Carribean artist is currently working an his own space opera that is inspired by and aesthetically derived from African cultures. He has already used this concept to great success with his graphic novel series The Pack which follows a pack of Egyptian werewolves (Gerard Butler need not apply). The mini-series will tell the story of an interstellar thief known as Yohance – aka “The Monkey”.
The idea of using African culture as the project’s underlying design makes this even more intriguing. This will definitely add a new perspective to the genre. He is hoping to have the project out in 2016. The project has a Facebook page where you can find updates. This is certainly a project that bears watching and hopefully receives support. His first graphic novel The Pack is currently available on Amazon where it has received a number of positive reviews.
Another project to be on the lookout for is Tuskegee Heirs: Flames of Destiny by the creative team of Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham. The project is described on their Facebook project page as “A futuristic sci-fi adventure that follows a young group of gifted aviators who are forced to become Earth’s last line of defense.”
Currently the project is being put together as a book series with a forthcoming Kickstarter.
The initial designs are outstanding and look to be inspired by the mecha of Japanese anime. It reminds me of one of my favorite TV series Robotech which was most certainly a space opera. I can already picture this as an animated series and will be sure to support the Kickstarter for the book as soon as the campaign begins. As an aside do yourself a favor and check out Marcus Williams wonderful Young Heroes series. You will be glad you did. Our young people need to see more heroes that look like them.
Another entry into the field is Black Sun Comics. In their mission statement they rightfully note that “People of Afrikan descent (black folks) have been either marginalized or flat out ignored in mainstream science fiction and fantasy. That means the whole world is missing out on great stories told from a unique perspective. We do our part to fill that void.”
Their initial comic Black Sun: The Longest Night (written and Illustrated by Kelvin Gumbs) is described as what would happen if Game of Thrones met Star Wars, Mad Max and Interstellar. That is a heck of an elevator pitch and I don’t know why this isn’t already in the works as bid budget film.
The story deals with Yero, the newest member the Askari, an elite group of warriors sworn to protect the Sama Empire. He is highly-skilled with an attitude bordering on arrogance. Yero struggles to accept the mundane tasks that have been assigned to him as a new initiate. Instead he longs for the thrill of battle and the glory that he thinks comes along with it. Ironically his wishes seem to come true when the Sama Empire is attacked by a blood-thirsty horde of unknown origin.
I have read the preview issue and it is beautifully illustrated and written. The choice of black-and-white gives it a surreal feel and matches the darker theme. You don’t get the idea this is going to be a kid’s book. I am really looking forward to the first issue in February 2016. This the kind of “Empire” I can get behind.
I am very glad to see that there are others creating their own version of space opera and proving that we can do more than create comedies and family dramas. This is not to denigrate others that do, but to call attention to the fact that we can do so much more. Love to hear some of your comments out there and let me know what other project you have heard about. If we want to see more Black people featured in projects like space opera we have to show those that are doing it support. Prove that there is a Black audience for such things. We have every bit as much imagination as George Lucas or James Cameron and our stories are every bit as worthy of being told.