Please believe it, the comic industry is still strong and kicking, and the African-American presence is strongly represented by the brilliant mind of writer Robert Jeffrey. Robert, a Georgia State graduate who became a revered freelance writer, decided to direct his talents to something he has had a lifelong fondness for—comic books. Now, powered by Terminus Media—an Atlanta-based publishing company and animation studio—he continues to thrive creating the lives of heroes, villains, and superhumans one page at a time. In an in-depth interview, Robert shares his experience as one of the nation’s premier scribes of fantasy and then some.
Urban Lux Magazine: Where are you from and when did you start writing?
Robert Jeffery: I’m originally from Chicago, but Atlanta’s been my home for, wow, at least eighteen years. I started writing way back when I was in maybe 3rd or 4th grade, doing short stories, school writing assignments that I went hella overboard with, and even sci-fi novels.
So how did you get started in the journalism scene?
After graduating from Georgia State University, I jumped right into freelancing with publications and websites like The Atlanta Voice Newspaper, UVC Magazine, J’Adore Magazine, Black Sci-Fi.com, and other publications. I was building a portfolio which would show that I was published and had some experience writing professionally, which I think is essential for a writer.
Yep! Once I built up my portfolio, I approached a local comic book publisher and animation studio called Terminus Media, and asked for their help with learning how to write comics. I read comics for as long as I could remember, and wanted to start crafting stories within this arena. Through the direction of a few awesome folks at Terminus, I got my big break with my first comic book story, Daddy’s Little Girl.
What is the process of writing a comic from beginning to end, including coordinating it with artwork?
In terms of basic steps—for me at least—it starts with developing an idea for a story, then brainstorming and outlining. You then put together your pitch, and then write your script. The script is then edited—which happens with all steps of making comics—then it’s sent over to the penciller. From your pencils, your inker jumps on board, and then the colorist. After colors, the letterer applies the lettering for dialogue, narration, and sound effects. The book is then laid out for printing, and finally it is sent to be printed.
How do you get your ideas for writing stories, decide what the super powers are?
My ideas tend to come from a lot of places. I can hear a news story, and get inspired. I could be on a huge sci-fi or superhero kick and decide to write a story which allows me to play around in this realm. Wherever the inspiration comes from, I want to ultimately enjoy creating the story, and at the end of it I want folks to hopefully take something of worth from it. So it’s kind of a hodgepodge of different things.
Now with the super powers, I wanted to have Sean—the protagonist for Route 3—wow our audience to a certain degree. This kid is caught up in larger than life circumstances, so I wanted his powers to reflect just that. His abilities are a form of telekinesis which physically manifests itself in a sort of protective aura, so he can use it for flight, fighting, or for his own defense.
We notice and appreciate one of your characters is a son having a good father who is black. Discuss your feelings on that.
As far as featuring a black father being there for his son, I can only speak from experience. Not only including my father, but I’ve been surrounded by no shortage of black males who were always there for their kids, and doing right. It’s what I know, but unfortunately that’s not always the case when it comes to pop culture. I just wanted my story to reflect that there are fathers out there doing an awesome job.
That is very honorable and necessary. We see there are not many comic books that have African Americans featured. Why is that?
As far as mainstream comics go, representation of folks on a diverse front has gotten better, but is nowhere on the same level of what independent publishers and creators are doing in terms of reflecting the world in which we live. That goes for both on the printed page and behind the scenes.
With Route 3, I wanted to see a kid who looked like me being able to save the day. I wanted a cast of fleshed out characters—good or bad—who reflected the world in which in I lived. Black, white, Hispanic, male, female, whatever. There are too many examples of characters of color, of the opposite sex, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc., being shunted to the side when it comes to sci-fi, fantasy, or superhero tales.
After seeing The Matrix and reading anything offered by comic book publisher Milestone Media, it kind of further solidified for me that it could and should be done.
Talk about Terminus Media and your role.
Terminus Media is an Atlanta-based comic book publisher and animation studio. We work with creators to bring their awesome ideas to life in the hopes that we can get these quality stories out to the public. We offer a wide variety of comic books ranging from critically acclaimed steampunk adventures like The Gilded Age, to award-nominated urban war dramas such as Radio Free Amerika.
We also do client work, for a host of corporate, government, and private entities. Examples for this include doing animated motion comics for the Centers for Disease Control, and custom comics for Japanese tire manufacturer Nitto Tires.
Nice! What else are you doing with Terminus since there is so much work under the company umbrella?
In addition to being the creator of Route 3 and Daddy’s Little Girl, I work as a co-writer on other books like Radio Free Amerika, and write stories featuring other Terminus Media characters including Terminus Team Up #1. I am also writing on a freelance basis with the company, working on client projects such as the one’s listed above. So if anyone’s looking for an experienced freelance writer, hit me up!
Right on! What is the current climate for black writers in the industry?
It’s awesome on the independent front, but sucks on the mainstream front. It’s a very disheartening trend with mainstream comics that doesn’t show any signs of changing. The thing is, there are a crap ton of talented black writers who have found success writing for other independent comic publishers, within Hollywood, or within the pages of novels who I know would kick butt at the big two. But the way I see it, it’s Marvel and DC’s loss, and indie publishers’ gain.
At the end of the day, it comes down to whether you can craft a well-written story that’ll keep folks coming back for more. There’s no way in hell that you can argue there aren’t any black writers capable of doing just that. There’s just not.
What is the future of comic books? Are they all going to go digital or are folks still buying them in physical form?
I think that comics will keep on chugging along in some form or fashion. What I’d like to see happen though is that creators continue to craft stories that don’t necessarily only appeal to just ‘traditional’ comic fans. There are a large number of folks out there who don’t necessarily do the superhero thing, but might be interested in reading other stories which can use the comics’ medium to tell such stories. Sci-fi, fantasy, horror, slice of life stories, biographies, historical narratives, etc. We have such books out there, but I just want them to reach more folks.
Also, I want the medium to continue to grow outside of the standard tales of superheroics. You can only keep telling so many variations of the same Batman or Spiderman story.
People are still buying physical copies of books, but I do see a stronger and more successful push to get books on a digital front. Terminus Media is moving along this route, as we have a selection of books available digitally and also physical copies.
What is the next move for you?
To continue writing as much as possible. We’re still chugging along with Route 3, which I’m really proud of. I’m co-writing Radio Free Amerika with the book’s creator, B. Robert Bell. I’ve got two other creator-owned sci-fi projects which I’m co-writing with Terminus Media writer John McGuire, which are turning out to be really, really fun. I am thinking about getting back into prose fiction also. Just gotta find the right idea.
Outside of that, still freelancing with Terminus Media, Black Sci-Fi.com, and wherever else I find the work. I am also looking at helping to teach a comics writing workshop locally, and doing more conventions. More info is on the way hopefully soon.
Talk about your creative team for Route 3.
Sean Hill is a beast on the pencils, and this guy needs to be contacted for whatever artistic needs you need handled. I’m extremely grateful to him for all of the work he’s done on the series. Blk Ant is also a hella talented artist who has done the covers on both of my books, and I’m also blessed to have had him work with us. Ann Siri and Omi Remalante are both supremely talented colorists, and Khari Sampson did a really, really good job with handling the lettering and copy editing on both books.
I also wanted to say thanks to John McGuire for being the best editor a writer could ask for. He’s really helped me grow on the writing front.
Where can folks buy your work, or find more information about you and Terminus Media?
First, head over to terminusmedia.com and BUY OUR BOOKS [Laughing]! They’re available through the Comics Plus app through Apple’s App Store and Google Play, on the I-Phone, I-Pad, and Android. You can also buy them for Amazon’s Kindle reader by searching for ‘Terminus Media Comics’ on amazon.com.
We need the support so we can continue to write these awesome stories. Route 3, The Gilded Age, Radio Free Amerika, the upcoming Terminus Team-Up. We’ve got it all. Also ‘Like’ us on Facebook [facebook.com/terminusmedia], follow us on Twitter [@terminusmedia], and check out our You Tube channel for behind the scenes material and creator interviews.
I blog at robertspageofwriting.com, so definitely check me out there, and you can find me on FB [facebook.com/robertk.jeffrey] and Twitter [@SYNCHRJ]. Stop on by radiofreeamerika.com also for more information on B. Robert Bell’s Glyph Award-nominated series.
Photography: Tony Cade