Close to a decade ago, I met a Blaxican artist at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in Oakland, CA. We had mutual geek interests, as well as an undying love and connection to hip-hop culture — the vibe was pure fiyah. He was already a parent, and I was about to be one. We became friends. He’s a visual artist, toy maker, animator, and filmmaker. I’m a writer, marketing guy, pop culture scholar, and performer. Match made in geek heaven. We bandied about ideas on how best we could work together, but nothing really panned out. Then, something happened. I don’t know what his catalyzing agent was, but mine was WonderCon.
As I wandered around the last WonderCon in San Francisco, I was impressed with how many people of color were in attendance. I’d been going to WonderCon for a while and that weekend, by far, was the most POC that I’d ever seen — and the most children. Little POC children dressed as Spider-Man, Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, and anime/manga characters. Ahhhhh, I thought. The little ones are learning the geek ways. After about thirty minutes, I had to amend: Ahhhhh. The little ones are expressing their geek urges through a white lens.
So few of the children (or the teens and adults) cosplayed as POC. There was the random Star Trek uniform — anyone could be a Federation officer, a few Storms, a couple of Black Panthers, but that was it. It wasn’t just the cosplay. The books, toys, posters, and movies people bought were devoid of POC. Soured my whole experience, especially since I was at the con with my two-year-old daughter. I didn’t want her to think that she couldn’t participate in geekdom without having to erase or cover her ethnic and cultural identities.
Two years later Roy Miles Jr. aka “The Ghetto Geppetto” and I are lamenting the lack of POC geekness for our daughters to enjoy. I shared with him an idea that I had been working on for a series of books for early readers. The more we talked, the more the idea manifested in a visual form. MaeJay and the Mech was born.
Named after Dr. Mae Jemison, MaeJay is a little black girl who adores space science, who finds a giant autonomous mech in her backyard. They become friends and have adventures on earth, in the oceans, outer space, and on other planets. We were so juiced about the idea. I went about plotting the first story in picture book form, while Roy made with the pen and Wacom. But life happened, and we both had to put it on hold.
About a year ago, I got the urge to revisit the property again. I was very confident that MaeJay and the Mech could be popular and beloved, and I spent time and money spreading the word to publishers. I was successful in getting meetings with two major publishers of children’s media. I was so sure that I was going to be able to secure a deal for Roy and me. At the minimum, a one book deal. Here is how my heart was broken, lit on fire, and its ashes pissed on in a three week span:
Representative of publishing company number one:
“Wow. This is astonishing. This is just what the market needs. If we could launch this by Christmas time…just a few notes of feedback. Do you think we could turn her into a him? You could get more of that action feel if MaeJay were a boy. You could still keep them name. MaeJay could be Mark Jason. First and last name combined.”
So that didn’t work.
Representative of publishing company number two:
“I think I heard something about this. This is such a great concept. Look, I don’t want to offend you, but hear me out. Have you thought about, maybe, making her, like, a redhead, or something? Still exotic. Or maybe make her a little more ethnically ambiguous? Like one of those kids in a Gap or Benetton ad?”
I lightweight lost it.
Me: “Black girls can’t rock with giant robots?” GTFOH.
In both instances, I left some money on the table. But I walked with my dignity and soul intact. But it gave me fire to respond to the disappointments. But I was stuck on how to use my newly stoked creative energy.
A couple of weeks ago, Roy was fired up about MaeJay and began posting pics. We talked and came to the conclusion that the MaeJayverse was too important to let languish in the creative pits of our minds. It deserved more than to be tucked away as half finished ideas on our respective hard drives.
Roy and I will make sure that MaeJay reaches the public, in one form or another, as we are committed to producing products for MaeJay and the Mech and for the entire MaeJayverse line. Yeah, there is a whole universe.
As we both have day jobs and families, it will be hard and slow going. We both believe in creating properties that reflect the people who enjoy and support them. We may be asking for your support in the form of some kind of fundraising campaign, so that we can deliver the best representation of MaeJay.
Children of color should have absolutely zero barriers to participating in the fantastic.
Little Girls of Color Can Rock With Giant Robots. And Roy and I will see to it.
Our children deserve it.