The comics industry is a white man’s industry, at least until recently. But minority characters still have a way to go before they could be called representative of the population. Comic creator Dwayne McDuffie says, “[When minorities are seen in comics] They represent that race or that sex, and they can’t be interesting because everything they do has to represent an entire block of people.”
Paul Louise-Julie is fighting for his right to be interesting.
“Minority characters are seen as tokens or stereotypes. [McDuffie] felt that it wasn’t enough to just to make non-white characters,” Louise-Julie says. “Characters should be characters who just happen to be a specific race, gender, etc.”
Louise-Julie’s newest project is inspired by Star Wars and African legends, and even with a fraction the current hype, it promises to be the most fire space opera of 2017.
Yohancé follows a rising change in comics. Ms. Marvel of Marvel just received the McDuffie award, along with a Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story in 2015. The publisher’s revitalization of Black Panther has been successful enough that a movie is in the works for 2018. Image Comics also has a history of broadening the horizons of heroes and their skin color, most notably with Bitch Planet and Saga.
“The key to creating a shared universe and have characters crossover in a way that doesn’t seem forced is to establish a strong world underneath them.”
Yohancé is a story told in three parts. Revolving around a thief who becomes involved with the bigger problems of the universe, it’s the newest project from the creator-owned company of Midas Monkee — which is Louise-Julie himself. Yohancé will take one year for release because all drafting, formatting, writing and drawing is done by one man working day-in and day-out on this and several other projects.
But it’s a burden of love.
For Louise-Julie, Midas Monkee is the natural evolution of a born storyteller who knew the impossibilities of his end-goals. After graduating from college with a degree in graphic design, it became abundantly clear to Louise-Julie that becoming a film director wouldn’t be a feasible option — in part because of the color of his skin, and in part because the kinds of films he wanted to make would mean huge risks to production companies. After an art showing with a Belgian gallery fell through, Louise-Julie returned to his hotel room and started drafting. What came out of the hotel room, the fantasy-inspired comic series The Pack, was the first installation from Midas Monkee in an entire universe made out of African myth and aesthetic.
“On paper, I can tell the stories, make the movies, that I want to make,” he says.
And the first story he wanted to tell was about werewolves in Africa. Louise-Julie created The Pack, which combined years of research and a nerdy obsession with Werewolves of London (of course, his own wolves are very different). From there, more ideas came.
“The key to creating a shared universe and have characters crossover in a way that doesn’t seem forced is to establish a strong world underneath them,” Louise-Julie says. “So, that was very important. Understanding why things work or why people are the way that they are. ‘Well, this person acts this way because of his people’. Well, who are his people? That story needs to be told.”
Included in this world is Queen Candace, a Nubian princess raised by her mother in the halls of dwarves.
“Creating Candace, I wanted a character who could only be Candace, to make her 3D and unique,” Louise-Julie said.
Candace is the story of a monarch in training, a mix of Dune and prodigal son (or daughter, in this case), “she actually has to fight for her throne, and she does so without having to ‘act’ like a man. She does so by being herself,” Louise-Julie said.
The storyline of Queen Candace will be lacking in a staple that’s come to be common in most rising-female-monarch stories. The throne beside her will be noticeably empty.
“The series goes on with her coming to terms with that and starting the arduous task of becoming the leader her people need and want to rally behind,” Louise-Julie said. “As you can see there’s no prince charming or sweeping love interest to be found. Women existed long before socio-sexual tropes were forced upon them.”
Queen Candace appears in the Nubian Saga of The Pack and will join the canon along with Yohancé in what Louise-Julie calls ‘Phase Two’ of his Midas Monkee release schedule in 2017.
Diversity in the industry is being put under scrutiny by fans and accountants alike. Even as Marvel is being patted on the back for its efforts for color and women on-screen, it still tends to cast blonde cis men named Chris as leads. The diversification of lead roles will at least in part depend on the success of upcoming releases such as Black Panther, Suicide Squad and Aquaman. Producers will need a profit-return-guarantee sticker before putting up millions for the sake of equality. Much of the same logic can applied to comics. Will this fight for equality between panels be seen as something bigger than a trend by editors? Louise-Julie takes a pragmatic approach.
“Apart from [Yohancé] being a breath of fresh air in terms of ethnic and cultural diversity, I feel that Yohancé will bring a completely new aesthetic to the genre,” he says.
His inspiration? In part, his heritage. In another, his wife. But most of all, Louise-Julie is grateful to a higher Power.
“You have to believe in something greater than yourself to unlock your full potential.”
Paul Louise-Julie has a degree in graphic design. This was misstated in an earlier version of this post. Also, Louise-Julie’s art showing was to be with a Belgian gallery. An earlier version said that the showing was to take place at a Danish gallery.