In the world of superheroes, Black men are underrepresented, and women, even less so. Former Pixar animator Everett Downing wants to change that.
In The Book of Mojo, Downing’s new project, the leading character, Lucretia “Lucy” Jenkins, is a 13-year-old Black girl learning about her magical powers. With the help of her spirit guide, Lucy finds a way to take control of urban streets. Downing aims to transform this self-published comic book into an animated series. He spoke with ESSENCE about The Book of Mojo, and how the birth of his daughter inspired the Lucy character.
What’s the inspiration behind this story?
The idea came to be because I’m usually into urban fantasy and I like the idea of magic in modern day. I was really inspired because one of my favorites, The Wire. To me, The Book of Mojo is Harry Potter meets The Wire. I’m also a big fan of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Avatar: The Last Airbender. Let’s say there is magic; how would it be interpreted in poor neighborhoods?
Why focus on magic?
The idea of magic is really interesting to me, and all different cultures have their take on it. Magic is just another force of power. That’s what I use it for in the book—you can switch out magic for money or whatever.
How does this differ from other animations focused on magic or fables, like Big Hero 6?
A lot of it is perspective. The kids [in Book of Mojo] are a little bit more on their own. Also, we’re coming from the point of views of an African-American girl and one of her best friends, who is Indian.
Why did you choose to make the main character a Black girl?
In the beginning, she was a little Polish girl. But then I remember at the time, I was like, ‘Man, I don’t see our faces, like I don’t see African-American faces in comics.’ Then I was like, ‘What am I talking about? If I want to see it, I have to do it.’ At the time when I was developing it, my daughter was not born yet and my wife had just found out she was pregnant.
I was like, ‘You know what? I need to start putting this imagery out here.’
Her name Lucretia Jenkins.
I wanted something that when you hear the name then you know she’s definitely African-American. Familiarity is important for me. That’s what I grew up with. All my family is from Louisiana, and that’s Lucy’s background. Whenever I make a decision, it’s like, ‘Does this feel true?’
How does The Book of Mojo relate to what you’ve endured?
I think just being an African-American is not exactly easy. My mom taught me if you run into adversity, just push through it, just persevere, just think about the goal and don’t get caught up basically.