Calling All #Blerds! Get To Know The Gibbs Sisters And 'The Invention of E.J. Whitaker'
Photo Credit: blerdsonline.com
“All that she touched, she changed.”- Octavia Butler
Calling All #Blerds! Get To Know The Gibbs Sisters And 'The Invention of E.J. Whitaker'. I had the privilege of communicating with the talented writers and sisters Shawnee and Shawnelle Gibbs. The Gibbs Sisters, television producers by day and comic books writers by night, are innovating the world of comics. They are re-imagining American history, and increasing the representation with their project, The Invention of E.J. Whitaker.
“At the turn of the century, in America’s great Industrial Age, Ada Turner is a brilliant and charming inventor with dozens of patents to prove it but she’s got one big strike against her: She’s a woman…and...well...she’s got more than a few strikes going on. So in an effort to have her work taken seriously, she comes up with her best invention yet: the pseudonym of "E.J. Whitaker"…”
Photo Credit: afropunk.com
When "E.J.'s" patent for a wondrous flying machine begins garnering national attention, Ada finds herself relentlessly pursued by William, a mysterious young businessman and his colleague, Samuel. Ada must keep her identity and popular invention under wraps but can she, as more and more powerful people set sights on E.J. Whitaker...? People with intentions to use the inventions for their own financial gain and cut Ada out of the picture.”
Photo Credit: todaysdocument.tumblr.com
Backing this project is a means of expanding the way we read American history, comic books, and science fiction. The Gibbs Sisters are working to include all of us in their re-imagining of each of those categories. And I for one, want to facilitate them on their journey and enjoy the finished project.
They answered some questions for us here at Black Girl Fly about diverse representation, Ada Turner, and cultural impact. Check them out below:
- How has your experience working with major networks helped to prepare you for creating this project?
SHAWNEE: Both Shawnelle and I have experience producing non-fiction shows for television. I think that has definitely helped prepare us for comic projects because television is very deadline driven. You have to work with a team of people—as you do in comics—to deliver a product that is entertaining, visual and finished but has to be completed in a set amount of time parameters. For television, the run-time of a show may have to be delivered in forty-four minutes. For comics, we’re working with twenty-four pages. So telling a story in a strict time period makes you find creative ways to squeeze the best stuff in a limited amount of time which is a fun challenge. They are definitely totally different beasts but I think working in one definitely helps the other.
- You both are very aware of the need for diverse representation of both Black girls and boys. When did you each come to the realization that this representation was lacking?
SHAWNEE: Growing up as kids in the 80s and 90s—where representation was extremely slim— we noticed that black children, girls and boys, were missing from particular stories with themes of adventure, magic, or science fiction. So growing up, we always sort of had to imagine ourselves being a part of those stories. It was like experiencing a story by watching it from the back seat. Whether it was Back To the Future or E.T., you just sort of watched these films understanding that you weren’t a part of them but knowing somewhere deep inside that you could be. I think that’s really what motivated us to tell stories that we could feel included.
- Where did your inspiration for Ada’s characterization come from?
SHAWNELLE: A few years ago, we were working on a turn-of-the-century story about an African American Circus performer who lived during the time and came across many notable folks from that time. One who really caught our hearts and minds was Ada Overton Walker.
SHAWNEE: Ada Overton Walker was a famous dancer and performer of the time period. She broke down lots of barriers for black women on the stage as Broadway was just being born. She was was a very vocal advocate for the equal treatment of women of the era, so she was a big inspiration.
SHAWNELLE: The spirit of women like inventor Annie Malone and aviators Bessie Coleman (who actually shares a name with one of our relatives), and Willa Brown (a legendary pilot who trained many, including Tuskegee Airmen) all fused into Ada during our development of her character.
- What kind of cultural impact would you like to see your project have?
SHAWNELLE: One thing that drove the creation of E.J. Whitaker, is that we don't get to see the historical retelling of African American life in this country outside of Civil Rights and Slavery. So we're hopeful that projects like this one can continue and encourage storytelling outside of these traditional historical boundaries. However, at the heart of it, we hope it continues dialogue about the lack of opportunity and support for women in STEM, which was the order of the day during Ada's time, but shockingly persists today. If people walk away thinking, this was a great story that would be fantastic! But, we'd love for them to have a few takeaways as well.
SHAWNEE: We also hope that black women who read—young and old—start to envision themselves as not just the princess waiting to be rescued but as women who can be brilliant, inventive and powerful in their own right. We also want people from all walks of life to be exposed to a Steampunk story (which is a sub-genre of science fiction) where people of color are protagonists. This is because it does so much good for society when the mythological possibilities are endless for everybody—not just a small group. It doesn’t seem like much on the surface, but we believe those kinds of perspective switches could really change the world.
Here’s how you can help: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/754556488/the-invention-of-ej-whitaker
Photo Credit: ejwhitaker.com
Ashely Tisdale is a recent graduate of Florida A&M University. She earned my Bachelor’s degree in English, and is currently in the process of pursuing a PhD. She is a big sister, dreamer, prayer, girlfriend, and underemployed window shopping enthusiast. She thinks "Black Girls Are Fly because history has simultaneously deemed us un-credited trendsetters and undesirable. Despite these consistent inconsistencies, we celebrate ourselves." Find her: Boldbuxombeautiful.com| StoriesofSisterhood.com