I first heard about Uraeus through Mshindo Kuumba who was working with him on a project called Indigo. From there, I found that everyone in indie black comics knows him and likes him. I didn’t get a chance to officially meet the mild-mannered Uraeus until the Black Heroes Matter Panel at NYCC this year. I’m glad I did. What I learned led to this interview. Uraeus tells u what he’s been working on, how he came up with Black Heroes Matter, and some crazy stuff that has happened to him since. Enjoy!
TBG – How long have you been in the comic book game?
U – I’m an artist at heart, and my passion has always been drawing, since I was old enough to hold a pencil, or a crayon. I drew incessantly as a kid, and had my work nationally exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery in DC when I was 16. My formal training is in illustration and design. I’ve been in the comic book game for 12 years, culminating in numerous awards, and a development deal with Skydance Productions (World War Z, Star Trek: Mission Impossible) to produce my spy-fi franchise Indigo(about the world’s top-rated assassin) as a live-action TV show.
TBG – We know you as Uraeus, but your twitter handle is Jaycen Wise? Who is that?
U –Jaycen Wiseis the name of my franchise character; star of the action/adventure comic series with the same name. He is an immortal warrior from the Golden Ages of antiquity, charged with the perseverance of knowledge, truth and light. The series chronicles his walk down through the ages, interfacing with different historical figures and experiencing significant events in world history first-hand. I bill him as the “Anti-Tomb Raider,”in that characters like Lara Croft, and Indiana Jones are forever traveling to distant lands to desecrate sacred spaces, and steal priceless objects from indigenous peoples. Jaycen, on the other hand works in the reverse; he infiltrates museums, private collections, etc.to liberate those very same objects, and return them to their homes, and rightful owners. He’s one part Bond one part Sherlock one part Indy and ten parts Black history and culture.
Jaycen cracked AllHipHop.com’s list of the 25 Most Momentous Black Comics Characters, and was acknowledged by Black Comix: African American Independent Comics and Cultureas “an icon of black comics.”
TBG – You helped start the Black Heroes Matter movement we saw started at SDCC as well as NYCC. Where did the idea come from? When did you and David Walker collaborate?
U – The idea was born in my Baltimore studio, less than a week before I was to fly out to San Diego for Comic Con 2016. I had been to SDCC the past three years, and folks would always comment on my shirts, and frequently got excited about whatever it was that I was promoting. So I knew firsthand the power that catchy t-shirts carry in a space where hundreds of thousands of geeks come to celebrate their passions.
This time around, with all of the madness gripping the nation, and in the light of the killings of so many innocent Black people in the streets, I felt the need to switch things up and promote a stronger, more personal message on the convention floor; one with more power and punch, which spoke directly to the sociopolitical climate.
A few days before the con, I came up with a simple slogan that I thought encapsulated everything that I stand for as a Black man, a father, and a creator; BLACK HEROES MATTER. I designed the logo and reached out to my brotha, master screen printer Donald Wooten of Hollagraphicsin Atlanta, Georgia and asked if there was any possible way that he could whip up a small batch of t-shirts and have them in my hands on the fly. When I told him what the idea was, he was in immediately and had the shirts printed and to me the day before my flight.
My intention was to wear a BHM shirt on the convention floor all four days, and to give them away to my friends and fellow creators in attendance, to make a powerful statement to the industry without saying a word; but from the moment I stepped foot on San Diego Convention Center ground, something wholly unexpected took place. I was stopped literally hundreds of times by folks of all hues and walks of life who wanted to know where they could get a shirt; express solidarity, or just share good vibes. It was completely overwhelming as I had no idea what kind of response I would get. I ended up giving away all the shirts in no time at all, and it subsequently went viral on social media.
Community. Visibility. This is us. #blmsdcc2016#blackheroesmatter pic.twitter.com/093jZZd6Lz
— David F Walker (@DavidWalker1201) July 24, 2016
While making the rounds I ran into illustrator, Ryan Benjamin (Suicide Squad; Batman; Spiderman; Star Wars) who saw the brand potential in the idea, and immediately advised me to copyright and trademark it; which I did on the spot on the convention floor. He offered his brand building, and business expertise, and we joined forces immediately. We have plans to launch a BHM themed comic in the upcoming months; which should be awesome.
Running parallel to all of this, David Walker, fellow creator and writer (Power Man & Iron Fist; Cyborg; Shaft), had organized a Black Lives Matter flash mob and photo opto be held during the convention, which gathered a potent group of like-minded creators, and supporters (including Sanford Greene, John Jennings, Damian Duffy, Brandon Easton, Damian Poitier, Jeremy Love, Keith Chow, Robert Roach, Hannibal Tabu, and myself.) This proved to be fertile ground for the Black Heroes Matter idea to blossom and grow. National media (The Daily Beast, and The Hollywood Reporter) covering the flash mob picked up on BHM, and it exploded like wildfire. Realizing the power of what we were experiencing at the convention, David and I put our heads together over an impromptu power lunch in the flash mob’s aftermath, and joined forces to push things forward. Following an uber-successful SDCC, David had the foresight to see an immediate opportunity for growth, and organized the hugely successful Black Heroes Matter panel at the 2016 New York Comic Con, which was a resounding success, and received coverage from HBO’s Vice News and BET. We’ve received support and interest from all around the nation, and from folks in solidarity from Brazil, Portugal, Germany and the UK.
The rest is unfolding as we speak. The movement is growing daily, with no end in sight.
TBG – Some say that BHM takes away from the Black Lives Matter movement. What are your feelings on that?
U -Quite the opposite, actually. BLACK LIVES MATTER identifies a very specific problem in this country, and to a greater extent the world, whereas Black lives are viewed as less than; expendable; disposable; deviant; sub-human even. It speaks specifically to the epidemic of violence perpetrated against us by law enforcement and also to the violence perpetrated against us by folks who look like us. Our lives aren’t seen as valuable, so our deaths aren’t seen as important.
This line of thinking plays itself out in pop culture in a continuous loop, for the world to consume and regurgitate. We see it all the time in media. We’re the pimp; the ho; the gangsta; the streetwise sidekick; the comic relief; the loud neighbor; the diva athlete/entertainer; etc. We’re pigeon-holed in boxes of negativity and are rarely allowed to break free of the stereotypes and tropes that have defined us in pop culture since we arrived here in these United States. And though things are slowly improving, relatively speaking; they aren’t improving fast enough to compensate for the damage that’s already been done.
We’re killed in the streets with impunity; hashtag, after hashtag, after hashtag, and no one seems to care, but us; because to the world at large, we’re exactly what we’re portrayed to be in the media; pimps; hoes; gangstas; criminals; jokers; divas. We’re not seen as human beings, with dreams, aspirations, families, careers, talents, and great genius.
BLACK HEROES MATTER, on the other hand, identifies a very specific solution to the problem that BLACK LIVES MATTERS highlights, in urging Black content creators to develop a new narrative; construct new heroes; design new universes; and to give a holistic and balanced representation of Black people and Black culture for the world to consume. Not some skewed second-hand version of who we are based on stereotypes and racist tropes designed to destroy our self-image and self-esteem.
BLACK HEROES MATTER is a label for a movement that’s been taking place in Independent Black Comics for decades in some shape, form or fashion. It’s a declaration that’s become absolutely necessary in light of the sociopolitical atmosphere that exists in the United States. It’s simply Black content creators, be they in comics, animation, literature, TV, or movies, responding to the racial issues the plague the nation. It represents a paradigm shift; a change in the prevailing philosophy that governs pop culture.
TBG – What do you think about the current mainstream interest in characters of color in comics?
U -Mixed emotions. It seems like too little too late. It’s nice that the mainstream has finally taken notice of what we’ve been doing in independent comic circles for decades, in giving Black folks free reign to be the central stars and heroes of their own franchises; but it often comes off as pandering more than a true interest in representation and inclusion (take the Marvel Hip-Hop variants for example.) They want in on the billions of dollars that Black America spends each and every year like clockwork. Don’t get me wrong, I love David Walker and Sanford Greene’s Power Man and Iron Fist, and Cheo Hodari Coker’s Luke Cage as much as anyone, and I am super-stoked to see how Ryan Coogler flips Black Panther, on top of the stellar work done by Ta-Nahesi Coates and Brian Stelfreeze on the Black Panther comic, but I see these brothas’ work as exceptions to the rule. The rule being, we play the sidekick, while others save the day. I guess you could say I’m kinda jaded in that respect.
TBG – Who were some of your favorite heroes growing up?
U – My parents; James Bond, Indiana Jones; The Punisher; The X-Men; Jonny Quest
TBG – Do people react to you differently when you wear your BHM shirt? What’s the craziest thing that has happened so far?
The feedback has been 99% positive, with only a few sideways looks, and a couple “All Heroes Matter” conversations, which I love to take on. People have been incredibly supportive, which warms the heart, and lets me know that we have much more support in this than I had ever dreamed or imagined. The media paints us as so divided, but there’s more common ground between us than uncommon.
There have undoubtedly been some crazy moments wearing the shirt (people approaching in tears; a guy trying to buy it off my back; deep conversations with strangers about race relations in the US, etc.) but the wildest thing happened as I was walking up to the Jacob Javitz Center for New York Comic Con 2016 a few weeks ago. As I was strolling down the street in front of the convention center with my brotha, and co-conspirator, Mshindo Kuumba.
a car stops in the middle of midday traffic and honks to get my attention. A tinted window rolls down, and a Middle Eastern man grins and calls out, “Great shirt!” Cars are steadily honking at him because he’s stopped in the middle of the street, and because it’s New York. He yells, “Where did you get it?” But he can’t hear my response over the cars honking behind him. So he throws his car in park, in the middle of traffic, jumps out, and runs over to me, weaving between passing vehicles to find out where he can get one for his son. Mind you, his car is still running, door wide open in the middle of the street; horns blaring, and pissed off drivers yelling furiously; but all he’s worried about is where he can get a BHM t-shirt. Completely surreal. Blew my mind.
I encourage everyone who purchases a t-shirt (www.blackheroesmatter.biz) to share their experiences, both positive and negative while wearing it. It’s an adventure. That’s what makes this project so unique; the social experiment aspect. There’s a moment when people first read the message on the shirt that you can see what their true feelings are; it’s written all over their face before they can hide it. It’s uncanny. You have to experience it to understand fully.
TBG – Please name 5 other artists that you feel are underrated right now.
U – Sure. Thanks.
- Mshindo Kuumba – mshindo9.deviantart.com
- Keithan Jones – keithanknows.deviantart.com
- Grey Williamson – carbon-fibre.me
- Charlie “Fab” Goubile – charlie-fab.deviantart.com
- Sean Hill – nazirstudios.deviantart.com
Uraeus can be found on Twitter as @JaycenWise and on Instagram as Black HeroesMatter
Uraeus’s original comics Can be purchased below:
You can buy a Black Heros Matter Tshirt for yourself at the link below.