SVCC Exclusive: Interview with Rise of Black Panther Author Evan Narcisse
Evan Narcisse cares deeply for the Black Panther mythos. Narcisse discusses the history, characterizations, and the parallels in our society with the type of intimacy and reverence one talks about a loved elder family member. At the same time, he imbues the type of grandeur befitting a reigning King. And a King T’Challa is. He reigns in comics and he reigns in not just comic films but has toppled many very popular films (including Titanic, read the article here).
In his panel with former Image Comics staff member and writer, David Brothers, Narcisse, goes deep into the history, the storytellers (Christopher Priest, Don McGregor, Billy Graham, Ta-Nehisi Coates, etc.), and cultural impact of Black Panther. He feels like the story he tells in Rise of Black Panther is a special story, one that speaks to Black Lives Matter, to his upbringing, intersections of tradition and modernity, and even his musical tastes. It is a living history that he is honored to help rewrite. It is a story that only he can tell.
As he said as well during the panel, Wakanda may not be a real place but it is the amalgamation of Black ingenuity. It is refreshing folks are reconnecting to that part of Blackness. I thought I’d pick his brain about his art and about how it important it is to him and to the larger audience.
Just three days after Marvel Comics Rise of Black Panther#4 hit shelves, Shoot the Breeze Comics Staff Writer Aaron Jones sat down with mini-series author Evan Narcisse during Silicon Valley Comic Con April 7, 2018 in San Jose, CA.
(The interview was lightly edited for clarity.)
Aaron of Shoot The Breeze Comics:
I just want to say that was a great panel that you did just now. And I appreciate you getting deep and showing us a little bit about yourself. But my first question is, how did you know, not just a comic book writer, but how did you know that you wanted to be a writer? When did you know?
Writing was one of the first things I got positive feedback on in school. I would write reports and whatnot and my teachers would be like, “Hey, you can write.” And I wanted to be a writer from a very young age. My mom was like, good immigrant mother that she was, she was like, “Nah, you’re going to be broke your entire life.” She wasn’t entirely wrong. But financial struggles aside, I’ve generally been always very happy being a writer compared to other career paths I could have chosen. But yeah.
Definitely, definitely. And also, you already kind of answered my question which would have been how did you get the job to write Rise of Black Panther.
But how long have you wanted to really jump into comics? Starting to do critic reviews, how long did you know that “Hey, at some point I want to get into actual comic book writing?”
I didn’t. I was never a critic who was a frustrated creator or had designs on using that as a stepping stone to another path. I view my criticism as my art and I still do. This was a chance of a lifetime I couldn’t pass up for a character that I felt like I could execute well on and loved my entire life. But I never thought, okay, now I’m going to get into comics. That was never my path. And you know, if it was, I probably wouldn’t be able to do the writing I’m doing at all. Because if I’d built it up to be this huge goal that I wanted to achieve in my life, then I probably would not have been able to do it once I got the opportunity. Because of the psychological weight attached to that. So I feel like for my mindset, it’s a lot healthier for me to have stumbled into it ass backwards.
And you talked a little bit in the panel about how the reception is driven by the fans. People that have been fans, like folks have said, like 20, 30, 40, 50 years.
Yeah, I feel like there’s a reservoir of energy that has enabled Wakanda to exist in a certain way in the fan’s heads that didn’t wind up on the screen. But go ahead, I cut you off.
But yeah, did you anticipate that the film was going to be this big because I just reported today that it literally passed Titanic. So it’s number three now in US box office. And it’s made $1.2, almost $1.3 billion. Did you anticipate that that was going to happen?
The level of success, no. But I knew that there was a huge, pent up yearning for this kind of a movie, for this kind of heroism, for something centered on the black diaspora, and questions of black identity, writ large in the metaphorical way that superhero stories do. I knew that there was a hunger for that. Because I felt that hunger. I wrote to that hunger. And I wrote about it in video games and comic books and other kinds of media that I’ve written about. Yeah, I knew it existed and I knew it would drive a certain amount of financial, commercial success. To this degree? Nah. I couldn’t have predicted that.
Definitely. And so it continues to grow in success. And this attention on Black Panther and on diverse characters, as it grows and grows and grows ,for you, are you going to maybe continue looking at opportunities to write comic books?
I definitely want to do more creative writing. And I have stuff that I’m trying to figure out that I can’t talk about.
I had a feeling you couldn’t talk about specifics but [laughs] …
Yeah, I mean. Before this started, I didn’t know if I could do it. Now I know I can do it, so I want to do more of it.
And for folks that are interested in doing what you do. Because I think that this excitement will also spurn new generations of fans and as well new generations of folks that want to do writing, and want to do film-making, and focus it on the stories that only they can tell. So what kind of advice or suggestion would you give to some of these future folks as they think about that as a potential job or career or life goal?
Detach yourself from the sentimentality of your relationship of the … that you have with the things you love. Be clinical. Take it apart. Dissect it. Figure out what the mechanisms are, how it works. Why it makes you feel a certain way. Learn how the parts fit together. And then, figure out how to build your own machine.
Awesome, awesome. And I guess, my last is more kind of a lighter question about as you’re getting more attention and more folks … and doing more panels. I saw the panel that you did with Mark Bernardin, doing stuff like that which was also really great.
Mark’s a friend of mine though so yeah.
He’s awesome. What’s your favorite part of doing some of that external just talking work?
I like knowing that people have read the story and have been engaged with it. I like knowing that people have read my work. Even criticism too, you know? The worst thing for a writer is to send their words out into the void and not get a ping back. Knowing that it finds fertile ground somewhere is in a central part of the feedback loop. When people tell me they want to see more of my writing, it makes me want to do more writing. It’s the thing that enables you to combat the impostor syndrome, the feelings of inadequacy or doubt or being stuck with writer’s block. Knowing that other people are receiving the work is a vital part of doing the work.
Absolutely. So again, thanks so much for spending the time.
You can check out Rise of the Black Panther #1-4 which are currently available, where ever you get your comics. You can check out the 5th installment of the six part mini-series on May 2. Narcisse also said the collection of all 6 issues in trade paperback will arrive on August 1.