Tuskegee Heirs: A Legacy Of Greatness Inspires New Heroes

Lydia Roberts L. K. Roberts
February 3rd, 2016

I am a proud Blerd who lives in the Pacific Northwest home. My dad had an interest in comic books and instilled a passion for them in me. After decades of being a Marvel Fanatic, I got sucked into the DC whirlpool that was The New 52 launch. Currently, I am moving more into various independent and non-mainstream titles. I am a proud supporter of local artists, comic book creators, and comic book businesses. My two goals as a writer for ComiConverse are 1) to highlight new, little-known, and/or diverse titles, artists and writers, and work that is coming out of the smaller publication houses and 2) to address issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation in comics and the industry.

The Tuskeegee Airmen are one of the most important and discussed stories to emerge from America's Wars. Here, during Black History Month, our Lydia Roberts interviews the creators behind an impressive new project, designed around memory of those famous pilots.

After years of resisting, I began to use Twitter six months ago.

I had avoided it because I figured it would simply be another social media time-sucker. However, when I started writing for ComiConverse, I knew that using Twitter would be useful in promoting the site. While I admit that a half-hour can often go by, before I step away, the fun I’ve had exchanging with other geeks, teachers, movie fanatics and Shakespeare enthusiasts makes up for it. Even more valuable is the community I have found through Black Twitter. I have been bolstered by the incredible amount of creativity that is being inspired by the drive to bring us together and to draw attention to the power and positivity of our people.

One such instance is Tuskegee Heirs, an upcoming sci-fi graphic novel focusing on a group of young aviators in the future, while at the same time reflecting on the renowned accomplishments of America’s first Black military squadron, The Tuskegee Airmen.

Five young pilots ban together to save the world!

Five young pilots ban together to save the world!

Illustrator Marcus Williams (Hero Cats, Super Natural, and D.M.C) and author Greg Burnham (Broken Glass and Grandpa’s Shoes), the masterminds behind Tuskegee Heirs, took some time to chat with me about their fresh take on a team-based comic.

Tuskegee Heirs takes place 80 years in the future. How has the world changed?  Specifically, can you speak to the status of race relations?

Greg: The socio-politics of the world structure is quite different than it is today. There’s some racism, but classism is just as prevalent, if not more. (I’m trying not to give anything away!)

Can you give us some explanation of the subtitle: Flames of Destiny?

Marcus: The world as these characters know it will be tested by the flames of war. Through these flames, a crew of heroes will be created. It is their destiny to go through these trials, to one day become what they were made to be.

tuskegee ayanna

The story is described as a “futuristic, sci-fi adventure.” Will this team of young heroes exhibit any extraordinary traits in terms of superpowers at all?

Greg: They are amazing pilots, and super skilled in weaponry and hand to hand combat, but they don’t, technically, have any super powers.

tuskegee omar

Field Mechanic and Tech Specialist, Omar

The five young pilots (Able, Ayanna, Omar, Genesis, Slip) are ages 14-19. As a mom, I cannot help but wonder, where are their parents?

Greg: Without spoiling anything, I will say that currently, the kids are under supervision of Col. Mars. There is a team there to support the kids.

Genesis, the "brains" of the team

Genesis, the "brains" of the team

Who is your intended audience and why should people support the Tuskegee Heirs Kickstarter campaign?

Marcus: Ages 7+. If they are interested in history, sci-fi, action and adventure, we’ll have it all in one place.

Greg: Honestly, we view it as an all ages affair.

Part of me says you should back us because we’re trying to change the narrative, show representation, and inject some of ourselves into the comic world, but then the other part says back us if you want to see this awesome story we have in store.

Marcus, in the Kickstarter video, you mention your hope that “parents (will) be highly super-charged to put kids in front of it.” You also mentioned that you “wanted to make something as exciting for this young generation now as Voltron was for” you when you were younger.

Tuskegee Heirs Mech Concept

Tuskegee Heirs Mech Concept

What are some elements that made Voltron so appealing, and how are you going to translate that into something that is equally fresh and exciting for youth who are exposed (and at times over-exposed) to all kinds of technology bells and whistles?

Marcus: Large robots, martial arts action weapons will never go out of style. High-energy action and youthful characters will allow young viewers to see themselves in Tuskegee Heirs.

How did the partnership come together? Have you worked together before?

Greg: The funny thing is that comics is how we met. It was nearly 16 years ago; I was telling an associate that I had this great idea for a comic. We came across a few illustrators, but I wasn’t really feeling them. Then one day he brought Marcus to my house, and the rest was history.

Marcus: Yes from there, we created a comic called Starving Artist. It was pretty good, we were selling locally in Atlanta, but after a while we realized that we didn’t have the know how to sustain it, so we moved on to other projects.

Were there other ideas that the two of you considered before focusing on using the backstory of the Tuskegee Airmen?

Greg: Oh yes. We were actually set to begin production on another comic project called Dwayne Kelly.

It’s a superhero parody/comedy. It’s gonna be awesome. We put them both out to the masses, and the response we received for the Tuskegee Heirs project forced us to change our strategy.

Overall, I’d say we have 4-5 different franchises ready to begin production.

Marcus: Everything from animation, to children’s books, live action shows/movies and video games has been planned over the last decade.

We’ll get back to the plans you have beyond graphic novels for Tuskegee Heirs in a few moments. What resonates with you about these legendary war heroes?

Marcus: I’ve been a huge fan of flying ever since I was a child. Being a fan of movies like Star Wars and Top Gun, watching dogfights, makes Tuskegee Heirs too good to pass up. The adversity The Tuskegee Airmen faced along with the death defying odds will forever hold my respect.

Greg: When you think about the fact that, for centuries, it was said that we (Black Americans) were inferior, that we lacked the intellect and wherewithal to do the simplest of things, and the Tuskegee Airmen came in and crushed those myths, it just puts a smile on my face. Most importantly, it exposed the propaganda and showed our people that we can do anything. Now, on a way smaller scale, we’re trying to do something similar in the comics industry.

You mentioned animated series down the line and had pictures with storyboards by Powerhouse Animation Studios. What is needed to make that a reality? Have you done animation before or will you have a partnership with Powerhouse?

Marcus: Animation is EXPENSIVE! Powerhouse is working on a little something for us, but we haven’t secured them to be the fulltime animator on this project. We have a stretch goal of $75k that will help us get an animated short completed.

We intend to pitch the short and to try to get a full season.

At Powerhouse Animation

At Powerhouse Animation

Your Kickstarter campaign has gone extremely well and still has a couple of weeks to go. I’d say that is a sign that there is a need for something like Tuskegee Heirs. Did you expect that? What do you think are some of the factors contributing to its success?

Greg: Honestly, we were pretty confident we’d meet our initial goal. (Side note: They did!)

However we never dreamed that we’d hit that goal of $10,000 in just 8 hours! Or the first stretch goal of $15,000 in less than 24 hours!

Now we are feeling like we might have the chance to get to the $75,000 goal, which would get the animated pilot done. I think there are so many people that are ready to see something like this.

Marcus: We spent a lot of time connecting with the right audience, the people who are truly interested, leading up to the campaign. We’ve also been doing blogs and podcasts, for about a month now.

In addition to those promotions, what Cons or shows are you planning to attend?

Marcus: Heroes Con, Dragon Con, Momocon, Mecca Con, Anime Weekend Atlanta (hopefully). We’re still open for suggestions if anyone has them!

What advice do you have for others who are hoping to create their own comic or graphic novel?

Marcus: Take considerable time researching how to become successful comic artist well before putting your plan into action.

Greg: Create, create, create. You never know who you will run into; it always helps to show proof of your work!

I know I am looking forward to seeing Tuskegee Heirs come to fruition.

Having raised more than $40,000, digital and print versions of several volumes of the graphic novel will certainly be made, as will a line of t-shirts. If they make it to the $45,000 mark, you can expect a family board game and mobile app.

Their Kickstarter campaign ends on February 14th, so you still have time to contribute and help the animated pilot get made!

UPDATE:  The creators of Tuskegee Heirs are offering fans the opportunity to get involved!  The graphic novels will both feature a section of fan art.  Fans may submit a single entry into a fan art contest that will run from today through February 14th (the end of the Kickstarter campaign).

Submission details (which were posted on the Tuskegee Heirs Facebook page) are as follows:

"Draw one or more of the Tuskegee Heirs crew..., like the Tuskegee Heirs Facebook Page, and shoot us your submission via direct message (including Title, Your name, etc.), and tag Tuskegee Heirs in your post should you post it on your timeline. Of course, we ask that all entries stay on the clean PG side of things (nothing vulgar or offensive in nature etc.), and pass on the word to fellow artist that you know will dig participating.   For reference, visit the webpage: www.tuskegeeheirs.com and post on any social network you feel most comfortable with. Peace Ya'll."

L. K. Roberts is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow her on Twitter: @Lyderary

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