Afrofuturism is having a moment. First posited by journalist Mark Dery in the early 1990s, Afrofuturism is now a full-blown social, cultural, psychological, technological, and aesthetic movement. And never has this movement, this moment, been more fully realized than in Tim Fielder’s magnum opus, Infinitum. To call it a graphic novel would be to undercut it’s value. It is an enterprise of speculative cultural cartography.
[A Note: Although Mark Dery offered up the idea, it is Dr. Alondra Nelson who is the godmother of Afrofuturism. If you aren’t citing her in your work on the subject, your work is fraudulent.]
Aja Oba is an ancient African warlord who is cursed with immortality by the powerful sorceress, Obinrin Aje. Immortal beings, as plot devices, usually fall between two poles: The sullen, romantic, immortal being, or the ever-young bacchanal. What Fielder expertly manages to do is to take an immortal Black man and use him as an orientation tool to map for us a history that surveys the Black past, while showing us a possible future.
And despite Aja Oba being the lens through which we see this history (and future) he never becomes a cypher. He never loses his interiority. He is always a protagonist, a fully realized character, never a caricature. Aja Oba’s journey spans millennia, a strategy that allows Infinitum to become a kind of meta-commentary on Blackness, speculative-Blackness; how Blackness interacts with the seemingly dominate culture, but also how cultural Blackness (and Black people) actually drive culture. It presents a powerful message that Black people have always had our own speculative expressions; our science fiction, fantasy, horror; that Black people have rich and complex folk and mythological traditions that are routinely left out the discourse.
At its worst, what some try to attribute as Afrofuturism is just blackwashed white SF/Spec-Fic stories — Star Wars in blackface. So much of what people are calling Afrofuturism is hesitant to tackle anything that isn’t more than Black pathology, Black detriment — Hey! But we have jetpacks! At its best, Afrofuturism gives us a view of Blackness unencumbered by the damage inflicted on us by whiteness. It is a dream technology that allows us to build fictional worlds and then do one of two impossible things: bring that fictional world into our reality, or insert our realness into that fictional world. Afrofuturist dream technology isn’t just about creating cool things that we can ooh and aah over. It’s about producing models of possibility that can be guides for how to live, learn, and love beyond the confines and constraints of our contemporary, white-cultural default moment. It is permission to ask difficult questions. Infinitum does this. Infinitum is more than a book. I’d argue that it is a harbinger of a more critical and considered take on Afrofuturism.
What Infinitum does is deliver on the promise of 2018’s Black Panther film, in terms of the questions it asks. Granted, Panther had the Marvel machine behind it so its reach and influence was always going to be undeniable. But this corporate behemoth still felt a little gun shy. It put more of an emphasis on Black family pathology and broken family systems than the absolute wonders of a Black nation free from colonialism. Infinitum, grittier and more violent than Panther, asks more complicated questions: Is the Black body only a tool? What is hubris when you’re oppressed? Does there have to be a trade-off between doing good things and only experiencing transient love? If you’re immortal, what does allegiance even mean when nations and cultures rise and fall before your eyes?
Infinitum is a wonder of a book. Written in a sparse, prose style, and drawn (painted, really) with an expert hand, this is a book that you will revisit time and again. If not for the art or story, then for the Afrofuturist/Black speculative fiction Easter eggs strategically placed throughout. This isn’t just a graphic novel. It is the future of Afrofuturism.
Infinitum can be found wherever you get your books.