STEAMFUNK ENCHANTERS: Black Magicians, Conjurers and Soothsayers in the Age of Steam!
We return to our League of Extraordinary Black People series with a look at the great men and women whose lives were bolstered, or broken, by the arts of legerdemain, divination and prestidigitation. These virtuosos of voodoo, stage magic, fortune-telling and mesmerism all came to fame through the workings of the arcane.
Previously, we explored Dandies, Adventurers, Activists, Tinkerers and the Black Dispatches. Join us now, as we examine the lives and amazing abilities of more extraordinary Black people from the Age of Steam(funk)!
Richard Potter (1783 – 1835)
Potter was born in New Hampshire, the son of an English baronet and an African servant woman. He was educated in Europe before beginning his 25-year career as a performer in post-Revolutionary America. He lived with his father in Hopkinton, NH, until he married his wife, Sally, and had three children.
Potter is also credited as America’s first successful hypnotist and ventriloquist. One of the earliest records of his stage shows is November 2, 1811, in Boston at the Columbian Museum. The performance featured ventriloquism and magic. Potter is believed to be the first to use a ventriloquist’s dummy and could skillfully throw his voice, using human speech and sounds that perfectly imitated the chirping, cooing and caws of birds.
Potter performed in Boston, throughout New England, and Canada. Witnesses of Potter’s shows say he was able to walk through a log. The crowd that watched him do this assumed the log was hollow. But when they checked out the log for themselves they discovered it was completely solid! Another of Potter’s amazing tricks was his ability to take a ball of yarn and toss it high into the air, where it would slowly unravel. Potter would then climb up the yarn and vanish into the clouds to vanish before hundreds of spectators.
His shows also regularly included prestidigitation with eggs, money, and cards; throwing knives at assistants; touching a hot iron to his tongue; walking on flames; and dancing on eggs without breaking them.
Potter was very successful and it is said that he made $4800 for 20-day engagements in the early 1800s, allowing him to buy a 175-acre farm in Andover, New Hampshire, in the village now known as Potter’s Place. His story intrigued Harry Houdini, who became a huge fan.
JK Rowling, author of the mega-successful Harry Potter series of novels, explains the supposed origin of Harry Potter’s name: “Harry’ has always been my favourite boy’s name, so if my daughter had been a son, he would have been Harry Rowling. Then I would have had to choose a different name for “Harry” in the books, because it would have been too cruel to name him after my own son. “Potter” was the surname of a family who used to live near me when I was seven years old and I always liked the name, so I borrowed it.” However, sources close to Rowling say that she named the popular teen magician after famed stage magician Harry Houdini and his idol – the first known stage magician in America – Richard Potter.
Potter died on September 20, 1835. Sometime after his death and the death of his wife, Sally, the couple was buried in the front yard of their estate. A few years afterward, however, the house burned down. Potter and his wife’s graves were moved to their present site in 1849. All that remains to this day is a small plot with the gravestones behind the railroad station at Potter’s Place.
Marie Laveau (1794 – 1881)
Marie Catherine Laveau was born in New Orleans on September 10, 1794, the daughter of two free Blacks – Marguerite Darcantel, a former Haitian slave and Charles Laveau, a wealthy, Black plantation owner of mixed race.
Raised by her mother and grandmother, both Voodoo priestesses, Marie Laveau spent most of her adult life in a world where Voodoo was neither alien nor uncommon. She was a very spiritual person who blended, in the Creole way, Voodoo with Catholicism, especially the saints. For Laveau, Voodoo was an extension of Catholic practices and Catholicism, a focus toward the same Bon Dieu (God), natural and familiar, to Voodoo.
Laveau married a Jacques Paris in 1819 and went to live in New Orleans’ French Quarter. For whatever reason, Charles Paris was soon died, however, and she was left with two children to care for.
After Jacques’ passing, the “Widow Paris” worked as a hairdresser and as a nurse, even performing minor surgery when necessary. Her nursing duties included ministering to prisoners on death row as well as taking in the sick to be nursed in her home. During the worst breakouts of Yellow Fever and Cholera, Laveau was a saint who saved many, and helped make the transition to death a comfortable one. She was there, in the worst hospital wards, using her knowledge of herbal medicines and Voodoo prayers to save the dying. This was frowned on by the local church, but nobody could stop her.
Being a free woman of color meant that “Mam’zelle Laveau” was free to own slaves. She took advantage of this…not to make life easier on herself, but to put herself in a position to free her enslaved people.
She entered into a common-law marriage with Christophe Glapion, a member of a prominent local family, and they had five children together – only two of whom survived to adulthood. Although Marie never abandoned her Catholic roots, she became increasingly interested in her traditional African beliefs and quickly developed a reputation as New Orleans’ leading voodoo queen.
While voodoo was commonly practiced in New Orleans, it had a fearsome reputation and a history of fueling revolution and slave revolts and was actually banned at different times in Louisiana history. Marie Laveau’s marriage of voodoo beliefs to Catholic traditions helped make voodoo and more acceptable to upper-class New Orleans society. She regularly presided over public voodoo ceremonies in Congo Square – one of the few locations in rigidly segregated New Orleans where people of different races could mix freely – and made a good income selling charms, curses, and blessings to people of all social classes. The fact that many of her clients were servants in upper-class homes also gave her a spy network which helped reinforce her supernatural reputation to the wealthy patrons who asked for her services.
The dark consultation of Marie Laveau was sought by the many great men and women of New Orleans. They would visit with Laveau at her St. Ann cottage, sit with her and discuss business matters and affairs of the heart. After fully understanding the situation, Marie would give them advice on how to proceed and insight into their past, present and future…and she was always right.
Marie disappeared for a time. It is said that she went off to train with a famous Voodoo priest named Doctor John, who was believed to be a free Black man with so much experience in dark magic, that he has never been discovered because of this power.
In 1830, several years after her disappearance, Marie returned as Voodoo Queen, now armed with the most potent rituals, a pet snake named Li Grande Zombi, and, it seemed, eternal youth.
Marie Laveau had an extremely complex reputation in later life, both feared for her power as a voodoo queen – with numerous stories about the things that “happened” to anyone who offended her – and admired as a living saint due to her humanitarian work.
At the time of her death in 1881, eminent writer Lafcadio Hearn referred to her as “one of the kindest women who ever lived”. Her fame also guaranteed prominent obituaries in the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the New York Times.
After the announcement of her death, however, many witnessed Marie Laveau walking the streets of the French Quarter as she always did and to this very day people claim to see Marie Laveau walking about on her beloved St. Ann Street.
Mary Ellen Pleasant (1814 – 1904)
Called “the Mother of Civil Rights in California” from work she initiated in the 1860s, Mary Ellen Pleasant’s achievements in the struggle for the rights of Black people and women went unsurpassed until the 1960s.
Pleasant was once the most talked-about woman in San Francisco. When other African Americans were rarely mentioned, she claimed full-page articles in the press. She helped shape early San Francisco, and covertly amassed a joint fortune once assessed at $30,000,000.
Pleasant was born a slave near Augusta, Georgia in 1814, the daughter of Virginia governor John H. Pleasants’ son, John H. Pleasants, Jr. and an enslaved Haitian Vodoun priestess.
After witnessing the death of her mother at the cruel hands of a plantation overseer, Mary Pleasant had to make her way through life largely on her own.
Pleasant dropped the ‘s’ in her last name, changing it to ‘Pleasant’ and fled to New Orleans, where she found employment as a linen worker at the Ursaline Convent. A short time later, she went to work as a free servant for a Louis Alexander Williams, a merchant in Cincinnati. Williams promised that, after Mary served the Williams family for some time without pay, she would be freed legally. However, Williams, in debt and ultimately jealous of his wife Ellen’s affection for young Mary Pleasant, eventually placed her into nine years of indentured servitude with an aging Quaker merchant known only as Grandma Hussey. Indentured servants could be of any race, and Pleasant, a child of mixed parentage, who in her earlier years was of a very light complexion, was told not to reveal her race – a heavy burden for a girl of about eleven.
Pleasant adopted Ellen Williams’ name, becoming “Mary Ellen Williams” and she learned business as a clerk in Grandma Hussey’s general store. Although she could not read or write then, she said in her final memoir, “I could recall the accounts of a whole day, and she [Grandma Hussey] would set them down and they would be right as I remembered ‘em.”
Pleasant grew smart and witty, and adopted abolitionist beliefs and the principles of equality that those beliefs taught her.
Later in the 1840′s, when her indentured service had ended, the Husseys helped the brilliant and talented twenty-something, young woman, become a tailor’s assistant in Boston. She also became a paid church soloist there.
Mary Ellen Williams soon met and married James W. Smith, a wealthy free Black who passed for white, so as to serve as a Southern contributor to William Lloyd Garrison’s abolitionist paper and a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Soon both Smiths served on that Railroad, helping slaves escape to freedom in Canada, Nova Scotia, and Mexico.
James Smith owned a plantation near Harper’s Ferry, left to him by his white father. Smith staffed it with freed slaves, whose freedom he helped secure. Smith died suddenly in 1844, leaving Mary Ellen a wealthy woman. She eventually remarried, but she continued her work as a conductor on the Underground Railroad between New Bedford, MA, and Ohio out of her own inner calling. She soon became a much-hunted slave rescuer.
Finally, in 1851, with slavers hot on her trail, she fled West.
According to ships records and confirming testimony, she arrived in San Francisco in April, 1852 to escape persecution under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, for helping hundreds of slaves escape.
Before her arrival in what would become her permanent home, however, Mary Ellen stayed a year in New Orleans, continuing her studies of Vodoun she originally began with her mother with the Voodoo Queen, Mam’zelle Marie Laveau. From Mam’zelle Laveau Mary not only learned the herbal remedies and rituals of Vodoun, but also how to mentor her people and to manipulate the secrets of the rich to gain aid for the poor – a ‘model’ that would serve her well in San Francisco. After her intensive training was complete, Mary Ellen fled to San Francisco, assisted by Marie Laveau.
San Francisco was a rough and tumble, fast-paced place, inhabited by 40,000 people, and home to 700 drinking and gambling establishments, and 5 murders every 6 days.
In addition to those staggering statistics for that time, there were six men to every woman. San Francisco was not a safe place, but Mary Ellen Pleasant was up to the challenge. She was forced to use two identities to thwart capture under California’s Fugitive Slave Act. Under this law anyone without freedom papers could be captured and sent into slavery. Pleasant had no papers, So she lived as both “Mrs. Ellen Smith”, a white boardinghouse steward / cook and as “Mrs. Pleasants”, an abolitionist / entrepreneur). As Mrs. Smith, she served the wealthiest and most influential men in San Francisco and using their regard for her as well as the “Laveau model” of leveraging their secrets for favors, she was able to get jobs and privileges for “colored” people in San Francisco. It is this work that earned her the nickname “The Black City Hall”.
In the “colored” community, in her true identity as Mrs. Pleasants, she used her money to help ex-slaves fight unfair laws and to get lawyers or businesses in California. She became an expert capitalist, owning every kind of business imaginable, and she prospered. However, her people suffered as European immigrations took the menial jobs once held for them and as anti-black sentiment and national depression mounted. So, in 1858 Mary decided to return East – not to live, but – as she once said in a letter – to help her former brother in law gain release from slavery and to help abolitionist John Brown end slavery forever.
In Canada, she bought land on Campbell Street, near Harper’s Ferry, Virginia to help John Brown house the slaves that he planned to free. John Brown’s plan was to capture the Federal arsenal there with only 21 men. He would set up a maroon-like militia, made up of runaway slaves throughout the Virginia Mountains, as the Haitians had done. Then, he would shuttle some slaves from there to Canada. Mary gave Brown money for arms and came back the following fall to ride – in disguise as a jockey – in advance of Brown to alert slaves near Harper’s Ferry of his coming. It was a good, but risky, plan, but, unlike some other Black leaders, Pleasant, believing that slavery had to be ended by force, was willing to help. “I’d rather be a corpse than a coward,” was always her motto.
Of course, Brown acted too soon and was hanged, and Pleasant narrowly escaped with her life. On her return to California, however, she continued to fight, and after the Emancipation Proclamation and the California Right-of-Testimony of 1863 law, she declared her race openly.
She orchestrated court battles to test the right of testimony, and in 1868 her battle for the right of Blacks to ride the San Francisco trolleys without fear of discrimination set precedent in the California Supreme Court.
Mary Pleasant went on to become celebrated as a philanthropist and business woman and to amass a $30,000,000 fortune with her secret partner, Scotsman, Thomas Bell and today, the Voodoo Queen of California’s legacy of love and courage lives on.
Gbêhanzin (Béhanzin) Hossu Bowelle (1844 – 1906)
Gbêhanzin Hossu Bowelle or the ‘King Shark‘ was one the most powerful kings in West Africa at the turn of the 19th Century. He was the eleventh king of Dahomey, and the last independent ruler of Abomey before French colonization.
Gbehanzin was also reputed to be a fierce and powerful Vodou Priest, famously noted for hanging a witch or sorcerer alive from a pole as a warning to all who would dare to cross spiritual forces with him. He was never found without his trademark pipe and according to legend emerged from the womb smoking. Gbehanzin controlled a private army of female soldiers, the Dahomey Amazons, who were said to have fought more fiercely than men, sharpening their teeth into points to tear at their opponents’ carotid arteries.
In 1882, France declared a protectorate over Porto Novo, a vassal state of Abomey, without consulting with the indigenous people. By 1885, the French occupied the entire coastal strip West of Porto Novo. In 1889, King Glèlè and his son Gbehanzin, who considered these coastal areas to be part of the kingdom of Dahomey, declared that the Fon people could no longer tolerate France’s actions.
In February 1890, the French occupied Cotonou. Gbehanzin, now king after Glele’s sudden death, prepared for war. Gbehanzin’s forces attacked the French simultaneously on two fronts – militarily at Cotonou and economically by destroying the palm plantations at Porto Novo. The latter precipitated an early end to the hostilities. A treaty was signed, with the French continuing to occupy Cotonou, for which Gbehanzin exacted an annuity; he made France pay for the use of Cotonou port. The peace lasted for two years. However, France was determined to annex Dahomey before the British or Germans did. Gbehanzin, knowing that he would have to defend his sovereignty, continued upgrading his army in preparation for renewed war.
He declared a treaty made with France by his father, Glèlè, in1868 null and void. From this act, war began.
Gbehanzin led the final struggle against French colonial forces, but would ultimately succumb to Colonel Alfred-Amédée Dodds, a Senegalese warrior, who was sent to fight against Gbehanzin with powerful French armed forces under his command. Colonel Dodds’ division defeated Gbehanzin not by the French directly besting Dahomey in combat, but because part of Dodd’s campaign was the deforestation of sacred trees, areas of arbors believed to house the spirits of ancestors and to give strength to the Dahomey people (now you know where they got that scene in Avatar from). It was only after a significant number of the trees were cut that the French were able to break through the Dahomey forces and drive Gbehanzin into exile.
Gbehanzin died in 1906 in Algeria. In 1928, his son, Ouanilo (who was also France’s first African attorney in 1920) had his body moved to Dahomey.
Benjamin “Black Herman” Rucker (1892 – 1934)
Rucker came of age under the tutelage of an itinerant African-American showman and street peddler by the name of Alonzo Moore, who went by the name ‘Prince Herman’. Moore took in Rucker as an apprentice at the age of sixteen. By the time of Prince Herman’s death a few years later, Rucker had fine-tuned his own skills at reading cards, divining fortunes, and cooking up healing elixirs, so much that he was able to make his own way around the circuit of traveling faith healers who hustled material goods and spiritual assurances from town to town in Black Belt communities.
Eventually, poverty and racial discrimination pushed Rucker out of the South and toward Chicago, where in the late 1910s he launched an independent career. Assuming a new name borrowed from his old friend and mentor, Prince Herman, Rucker became known as ‘Black Herman’.
Black Herman was a master of conventional magic techniques and legerdemain, successfully crossing the boundaries between theater, folk religion, the black vernacular traditions and entrepreneurship and mixing them all up into a powerful and entertaining gumbo. Echoes of a mysterious, powerful constellation of folk supernaturalism, occult arts, and ancestral religiosity are what defined Black Herman’s performance style. This appropriation of worlds both distinctly African and African-American was as resonant with audiences as it was profitable for him.
Black Herman found his place as the self-proclaimed “world’s greatest magician” in Harlem, the African American Mecca during the Jazz Age.
It was in Harlem that Herman mass-marketed the act for which he became best known – a combination of stage craft, comedy, vaudeville theater, religious oratory, and mind-reading tricks.
Herman’s crowning achievement was a headlining show at Marcus Garvey’s four-thousand-seat Liberty Hall in 1923. Hugely appealing to an emerging urban audience – a highly mixed demographic that included Blacks, whites, members of high society and other elites, and men and women of the working classes – Herman sold out at Liberty Hall for a month and continued to sell out every time he performed.
Equally at home as a merchant of conjuring implements and as a storefront impresario, Herman set up shop as an authorized seller of mail order courses, lucky numbers, and health tonics until he was arrested in 1925 and sent to Sing-Sing on a charge of fraud.
Prison did not dissuade him from his true calling, however, and by the end of the decade Herman had returned to the stage and his extraordinarily lucrative career.
Black Herman’s public career came to an abrupt end when he collapsed onstage after a show at the Palace Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1934. Members of the audience could not determine whether Herman’s departure was part of the act or not. After all, one of his most famous tricks involved the staging of his own burial and resurrection. When Black Herman’s body was ultimately laid to rest at New York’s Woodlawn cemetery, newspapers reported that scores of visitors gathered in anticipation of his rising from the grave.
The author Arthur C. Clarke said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Then Steamfunk and Steampunk can be said to be magical. How does magic affect or influence you, Steampunks and Steamfunkateers? What has been magical about your life?
IT’S STILL DARK AT TWILIGHT: Scrubbing off the Whitewash of Urban Fantasy!
Whitewashing is the practice in which an author, filmmaker, artist or fan takes a character who is originally of color in literature and / or film and replaces them with a white character, actor, or model, or a person who looks “more white”, in order to appeal to the white masses.
Whitewashing is also used to describe the entertainment industry’s erasure of People of Color from history and / or specific locales.
This practice is extremely prevalent in Urban Fantasy.
Fans of Urban Fantasy often give the excuse that because most Urban Fantasy is set in a rural town, the percentage of People of Color who populate those towns is so insignificant that inclusion of them is pointless and even unrealistic.
This would almost make sense if the problematic subgenre was Rural Fantasy. The issue at hand, however, is Urban Fantasy.
Human settlements are classified as rural or urban depending on the density of human-created structures and resident people in a particular area. Urban areas can include towns and cities while rural areas include villages and hamlets.
Rural areas are settled places outside towns and cities, that often develop randomly on the basis of natural vegetation and fauna available in a region. They can have an agricultural feel to them – think the village in Children of the Corn, or Mayberry, with Andy, Otis, Opie, Barney and Gomer Pyle all gathered at Floyd Lawson’s Barbershop enjoying Aunt Bee’s apple pie.
Unlike rural areas, urban settlements are defined by their advanced civic amenities, opportunities for education, facilities for transport, business and social interaction and overall better standard of living. Socio-cultural statistics are usually based on an urban population – think Chicago, Atlanta and New York City.
So, why in the hell would Urban Fantasy be chiefly set in a Mayberry, when it clearly should be set in Chi-Town? We should change the subgenre of these stories to Rural Fantasy. Believe me; the complaints of whitewashing would end then; especially from me, because I would never bother to pick one of those books up.
Now before one of you fanboys rants about Jim Butcher setting his Harry Dresden books in Chicago, let’s explore this fact a bit deeper.
Yes, both Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden Series and Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires, are set in “Chicago”. This is obviously a very different Windy City from where I grew up and spent most of my life, however, because my Chicago is only 40% white. Yet Butcher’s and Neill’s Chicago’s are about 99% white. It’s like they took big bottles of White-Out and went berserk. Their works are, most certainly, about as fantastical as writing can get, perhaps even farcical. But Urban? Nah.
“About a year ago, Jim Butcher’s Twitter feed erupted into a bit of a kerfuffle about the whitewashing of urban fantasy. Apparently folks were bent out of shape by his depiction of Chicago, essentially whitewashing it as his Chicago comes up a bit short on the amount of black folks (or other people of color) living there. Frankly, I wasn’t too bent out of shape over this as somehow every week people used to tune into Friends who lived in a New York remarkably bereft of black folks. It’s to the point where I go into an urban fantasy expecting not to encounter minority characters other than in a ‘magical Negro’-type capacity.”
He goes on to say:
“There are more stories to tell in urban fiction than Boyz N the Hood or Menace II Society or baby mama dramas. Just as there are more characters to write about in urban fantasy whose stories aren’t as often told or voices always expressed. With the legends of the Green Knight, Red Knight, and Black Knight (in each of the books, respectively), Tristan and Isolde, trolls, zombies, a dragon, elven assassins, Red Caps, griffins, gangstas, and thug life tossed in, I guess I’m putting the “urban” in urban fantasy. This isn’t your father’s King Arthur tale, but it is mine.”
No Rural Fantasy with Maurice Broaddus’ Knights of Breton Court series. This magnificent series is pure Urban Fantasy at its very best.
Come on, y’all…if you write a story and set it in a place like Broaddus’ Indianapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, London, or Las Vegas, basic demographic research will indicate the presence of People of Color. To read and enjoy Urban Fantasy, I am expected to just accept that Black people don’t exist? You get the side-eye for that one.
Whether or not you like Urban Fantasy, the fact of the matter is that this subgenre of Fantasy has had an immense and global impact on people through literature, television and film.
It is because of this impact that we cannot ignore the messages that Urban Fantasy brings. Each time an author of this subgenre decides to tell a story, instead of working so hard to erase People of Color out of existence, they should work just as hard to erase the problems that plague our society. And fanboys…do not say that writers should not have to be political; that they should be free to write merely to entertain. Every statement we make is political. Every sentence we write is potentially life-changing for someone. Such is the power of the word.
You cannot truly change culture without literature. We can pass a thousand laws saying that racism and sexism are wrong. We can make a thousand impassioned speeches to rouse the marginalized masses; but if everyone returns home after those speeches and sits down to read the latest installment of Twilight, or watch the next episode of The Vampire Diaries and their fictional worlds in which those same marginalized masses barely even exist – then how much change can truly be affected?
It is within the pages of books and under the light of the TV screen where we will reach people and change the world for the better…or worse.
Over and over again, we are told that our stories aren’t worth being told. We do not get to be the heroes. We are never “the one destined to come since man was young upon the earth”. If we are lucky, we get to be the “magical negro”; the “noble savage”; the sidekick; the Black person who doesn’t die in the first ten minutes of the film.
This is damaging to the psyches of People of Color. And a devastating blow to the self-esteem of our babies.
So, don’t tell me writers just write to merely entertain, when entertainment has such a powerful, deep and lasting impression on the minds of us all.
This is why Black speculative fiction is so important. In my own work of Urban Fantasy, Redeemer, the hero, Ezekiel Cross, is a Black man from an Atlanta of the future who is used in an experiment that transports him to an Atlanta of the past – our present. This Atlanta is a gritty, real Atlanta in which intelligent and powerful Black people – both good and bad – exist.
Redeemer is witty, thrilling and, sometimes, frightening Urban Fantasy that I have always wanted to read; with heroes I have always wanted to see.
Will it change the world? Maybe…give it a read and let me know.
PUTTING THE “FUNK” IN STEAMFUNK: Standingo and Shane transport us to funky new worlds through their canvases
PUTTING THE “FUNK” IN STEAMFUNK
Standingo and Shane transport us to funky new worlds through their canvases
In this installment, we feature two Blacknificent artists who have made invaluable contributions to Steamfunk and Fantasy through their masterful use of pencil, pen and brush.
Let’s get to know these artists – Stanley Weaver and Marcellus Jackson – and their amazing work a bit better.
STANLEY “Standingo” WEAVER
First up is the incomparable Stanley J. Weaver, Jr., who had his first encounter with comic book heroes at the age of five, when his parents bought him his very first action figure – the Incredible Hulk. That toy awakened the artist in young Standingo and he immediately started drawing…on his parents’ wall.
After awakening from the knockout blow delivered by his mom, Stan staggered to school, where he discovered an armless Spiderman action figure in the trash can. He retrieved Spidey from the detritus and took him home so he could draw him as well.
At ten years of age, Stan acquired his first comic book, when he saw an Incredible Hulk comic book at the local candy store and begged his father to buy it for him. It was then that Stan concluded that he wanted to draw comic books.
After unsuccessfully pursuing a career with Marvel, DC and Milestone comics – who told him he had tons of talent, but still was not good enough for them (fools!) – the disheartened Stan did not pick up a pencil to draw for the next five years.
In 2005, at the age of 32, Stan’s passion to draw was reignited, but this time, Stan was determined to remain independent and to create works on his terms. And boy, are we happy he made that decision! Stan is one of the most prolific artists in the business and is one of the premier artists in indie comics and genre fiction. Stan has done the covers for several popular graphic novels and novels, including the Steamfunk series, The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and the in-press series, Rite of Passage.
MARCELLUS SHANE JACKSON
Marcellus is highly sought after for his skills and has been commissioned by the NBA and the High Museum of Art. His work can be seen on the covers of numerous magazines and books and in animation and designs for top apparel companies.
Marcellus is committed to developing the next generation of artists by sharing his experience and expertise as a judge for art competitions and as a panelist at conventions and festivals.
We were fortunate to commission Marcellus for the cover of the Steamfunk anthology and look forward to working with him on many more Steamfunk projects in the near future!
The coming launch of the Steamfunk! anthology in February is causing quite a stir worldwide. With over 100,000 words of Steamy goodness, this anthology is sure to live up to – and exceed – everyone’s expectations.
We were fortunate enough to sit down with one of the contributing authors and one of the Co-Editors of the Steamfunk! anthology recently and discuss the state of the book, other exciting upcoming Steamfunk projects, Steamfunk’s relationship to – and differences from – Steampunk and much more.
So, grab a cup of chai, a shot of absinthe, or a .40 ounce of “Olde E.” and then sit back, relax and enjoy as we discuss…
The State of Steamfunk!
AUTHOR VALJEANNE JEFFERS DISCUSSES THE STATE OF STEAMFUNK!
Valjeanne Jeffers, author of the erotic horror series, Immortal and the Steamfunk novel, The Switch II: Clockwork, sat down with us and gave us her thoughts on the present state of Steampunk and Steamfunk and where she sees the Steamfunk movement headed.
Valjeanne’s fiction has appeared in Genesis: An Anthology of Black Science Fiction, Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology, LuneWing, PurpleMag, Genesis Science Fiction Magazine, Pembroke Magazine, Possibilties, 31 Days of Steamy Mocha, Griots II: Sisters of the Spear (in press), and Steamfunk! (releases February, 2013). She works as an editor for Mocha Memoirs Press and is also co-owner of Q and V Affordable editing.
She blogs regularly at: http://valjeanne.wordpress.com.
Let’s get right to it, Sister Valjeanne. What is Steampunk? What is Steamfunk? Do they differ in any way other than Steamfunk having Black heroes?
Steampunk is a SF sub-genre that usually features steam-powered machinery and is often set in the 19th century, such as the British Victorian era, American Wild West, or post-apocalyptic future worlds. Think Jules Vern and H.G. Wells, and the flicks Time After Time and Sherlock Holmes. Steamfunk features many of these same settings but it comes out of the Black experience. This may seem like a small divergence, but it entails a great deal more than simply sticking People of Color between the pages. It is Earth shaking… or perhaps I should say Earth building.
Is there a need for a subgenre separate from Steampunk?
Most definitely! Within this new genre we are witnessing the birth of worlds in which Black folks and that which moves us reign supreme. In short, Steamfunk is just as different from Steampunk as Black Science Fiction is from White science fiction. Imagine a Steamfunk hood, an antebellum South in which abolitionists fly airships. Or, as in my novel, Immortal IV: Collision of Worlds, folks living in a post-apocalyptic, steam-world with meta-humans…policed by androids. Now imagine each of these worlds predominated by folks of color: worlds in which Black, Native American, Latino, and Asian folks are not sidekicks but heroines, heroes and villains. That’s what Steamfunk is.
Well said! So, tell us a bit about the Steamfunk anthology. What is it? What was your involvement in it? And when and where can we get it?
The Steamfunk! Anthology is an exciting collection of stories written by authors with a Black and/or POC cultural worldview. My short story, The Switch (which is actually included in The Switch II: Clockwork) has been published in Steamfunk!. The Switch is an erotic, futuristic thriller set in “Tyrol,” a world divided into two realms: an ultra-modern, wealthy upper-city and an oppressed steam-powered underground.
The Switch has been very well-received. It just got an outstanding review in The Spelman Messenger, Fall 2012 Issue. I’m thrilled to also be a part in this dynamite anthology! Steamfunk! hasn’t hit the shelves yet, but it will be released [during AnachroCon on February 22, 2013 and] at The Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party on February 23, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. Readers can pick up the first copies of Steamfunk! at this release party.
These are very exciting times for Steamfunk! Have there been any Steamfunk events you have participated in, or that you can tell us about? Are any events coming soon?
As of yet, I haven’t attended any Steamfunk events. But I do plan to attend the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party in full-steam attire! I’m also one of the contributing authors of the Alabama Phoenix Festival, a celebration of SF art, films, comics and novels. This event is scheduled for May 2013.
After the highly anticipated release of the Steamfunk anthology, where do you see Steamfunk going in 2013? What other Steamfunk projects do you have in the works?
This is a fresh new genre, and there’s so much speculative ground that can be tapped into! I envision many more SF offerings emerging from this groovy space. I have another novel in the works, Mona Livelong, set in an alternate 1970s steam-world. I plan to drop Mona Livelong later this year, but I’ll be posting sneak peeks right up until its release. In closing, I’d like to thank the extraordinary author Balogun Ojetade for interviewing me. Long live Steamfunk!
Thank you, Valjeanne Jeffers, for a Blacktastic interview! Long live Steamfunk, indeed!
DISCUSSING THE STATE OF STEAMFUNK WITH AUTHOR MILTON J. DAVIS!
A regular contributor to Chronicles of Harriet, author Milton J. Davis sat down with us once again and gave us his insight on the present state of Steampunk and Steamfunk and the future of both magnificent movements.
Milton is CEO of MVmedia, producer of the Steamfunk film, Rite of Passage: Initiation and author / publisher of six books of Black Speculative Fiction.
Milton is a chemist by day and a writer / publisher by night and on the weekends. All of his works are self-published through his company, MVmedia, LLC.
Let’s get right into this informative and engaging interview with Milton J. Davis, author, publisher, scientist, historian and educator.
Inquiring minds want to know, Milton…what is Steampunk and just what is Steamfunk? Do they differ in any way other than Steamfunk having Black heroes?
I’m still trying to answer the first question. I look at steampunk from a technical and historical aspect. Technically it’s imaging a past and a future where the major technology is steam based. From a historical standpoint its culture, morals and customs are based on Victorian sensibilities. Steamfunk is dealing with the same era and technology in terms of the experiences of people of color, mainly African and those of the African Diaspora. The way it differs from just having black heroes is that a steamfunk story centers on the experiences of our ancestors who lived during the Victorian Age.
Is there a need for a subgenre separate from Steampunk?
I think so. I believe in order to give free expression to our viewpoint you need a genre that allows it. Knowing who your audience is frees you to tell stories that may not be accepted by others in the broader genre.
Tell us a bit about the Steamfunk anthology. What is it? What was your involvement in it? And when and where can we get it?
The idea for the Steamfunk! anthology sprang from a conversation I was involved in with a number of other writers. We were discussing steampunk and how people of African descent were under-represented. Many of the writers were interested in doing steampunk stories based on our culture and traditions so I said, let’s do an anthology. Balogun Ojetade agreed to join me as co-editor so here we are. Steamfunk! will make its debut February 22, 2013 at AnachroCon. It will be available afterwards on my website, as well as on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online book sources.
Have there been any Steamfunk events you have participated in, or that you can tell us about? Are any events coming soon?
I participated in the Mahogany Masquerade Film Festival and panel discussion during Alien Encounters, which was a well-received event. As mentioned earlier, I’ll be participating at AnachroCon in February as well. In addition to AnachroCon I’ll also be participating at the Steamfunk Mystery Dinner Party on February 23rd.
After the highly anticipated release of the Steamfunk anthology, where do you see Steamfunk going in 2013? What other Steamfunk projects do you have in the works?
I hope to see it expand. Hopefully other writers and readers will see the possibilities and share their own interpretations. As for me, I have a couple of novel projects planned that are set in my alternate history steampunk country of Freedonia: From Here to Timbuktu, an action adventure novel and Unrequited, an action romance series. After that, who knows?
We thank you, Milton Davis, for another great interview and we look forward to all of those great works of Steamfunk on the horizon!