Tim Fielder is a NYC based graphic novelist, concept designer, and animator. He is known for his award winning graphic novel Matty's Rocket and TEDx Talk on the subject of Afrofuturism. As a life-long afrofuturist, he has aspired to create works that explore the dramatic narratives generated in the intersections of race and technology. To produce these visual narratives, Fielder founded Dieselfunk Studios, a multimedia company that specializes in narrative stories told in sequential, app, and virtual formats for the traditional and emerging markets.
GREG ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Tim! It's good to see you back. After your award-winning Matty's Rocket, it seemed as if you pulled a disappearing act. What's been going on?
TIM FIELDER: HA! Yes, to most folks I sort of disappeared, which as you know is generally not my way. Particularly as colleagues would sort of have questions about why I "Quit; didn't have a table; dropped off." I get it. I considered myself a mainstay in the Black indie comic space and was comfortable with it. But, I was literally sworn to secrecy and couldn't say anything about what I was doing. I can reveal now that I've gone through a massive life change by signing a book deal with HarperCollins/Amistad. I've worked on my book, INFINITUM, full time since summer of 2018. But now, I'm BACK!
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: You signed with HarperCollins/Amistad?! How did that come about?
FIELDER: Black Panther and Get Out were successful is the short answer. The longer answer: we exist in a space where the public demands an unending stream of content. This applies for film, publishing, gaming, and so on. The way we create that content and the way we consume content is forever changed and will never go back. As a result, media companies are forced to produce more content than ever simply as a point of survival. This means that the standard narrative tropes are not enough. So voices that have not been allowed outlet have value that directly affects the bottom line. For the artist of color this means one's ambition can become unlocked if efforts are made to connect with the large multinational corporations or really digging into building an indie. In my case, we talked to several publishing companies… large and small. Amistad, the imprint of HarperCollins, was on the lookout for innovative work that would allow them to operate within the publishing/graphic novel space. I fit the bill. I am eternally grateful for Senior Editor Tracy Sherrod taking a chance on my Afrofuturist epic.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Tell me about INFINITUM. What's that about?
FIELDER: INFINITUM is a story I came up with decades ago about an African warlord who is cursed with the "gift" of immortality. But on a formal level, the story is the act of engaging more formally all of the different aspects of Afrofuturism that I have been enamored with over the course of my life. Truly a labor of love.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Who exactly is this warlord and in what ways does he spend his existence of immortality?
FIELDER: Well I can't reveal too much as I don't want to spoil it. That said, if you get the idea of a Black man who lives multiple lives through the distant past, contemporary times, near future, on to the far future, then you've got INFINITUM. Further, I wanted to address the morbidly high mortality rates of Black characters in science fiction. [Laughs]
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: C'mon, brother, you gotta tell me SOMETHING about him!
FIELDER: HA! Sigh, So be it. The main character's name is AJA ỌBA. He's an ancient warrior who pays homage to the male heroes/anti-heroes in pulp, historical adventure, and sci-fi culture. I'm a huge fan of the Lorq Vonray, Gully Foyle, Aubry Knight, Lando Calrissian, Aron Day, Conan, and Shaft archetypes. The objective is to play a bit in that sandbox where one can both love, hate, sympathize, and be strangely attracted to a character.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: Just how long were you working on this series? And is it a series or one complete story?
FIELDER: INFINITUM in its present form started up as a proposal for an aborted New York Times story on Afrofuturism back in 2016. That article came and went but INFINITUM never left my drawing board (Wacom tablet). I continued working on it to where it's now a 270+ fully rendered story that pays homage visually to the painted Franco-Belgian bande dessinee books. My life was transformed by the works of Moebius, Bilal, and Giménez. Also I love the work of the concept designers such as McQuarrie, Cobb, and Mead. Narratively, I wanted to pay homage to the sci-fi masters such as Bester, Heinlein, and Clarke. Of course, the Afrofuturist Gods of Butler and Delany are central to my worldview, that is especially visual and narrative. I have always wanted to depict people of color within those fully painted spaces. We deserve that.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: What challenges did you come upon while working on this and how did you overcome it?
FIELDER: Very good question. I suppose I could have just banged out the story quickly and called it a day. But I had already established a level of quality with Matty's Rocket that forbade that I would pull my punches with the art. The community deserves to see themselves in fully rendered works on the level as those in Metal Hurlant. As a result, no expense and effort was spared to have the best equipment and most advanced art making techniques. On top of this, the writing and editing process has been grueling, yet satisfying. I wanted to produce the most complex visual narrative possible, while still paying credit to those sequential artists that came before me. For months and months it was literally 12-18 hour days to get the book where it needed to be. The physical toll to produce the work was high and I want folks to know I gave it 1000 percent. I stand by the work. The irony of this experience is that I come from a family of filmmakers. So relatively early in the production process we were already underway with moving INFINITUM into the streaming/film space. Wouldn't you know, just as we were about to take a deep dive into those areas, this publication opportunity suddenly arose. Throughout the last 18 months of creating the graphic novel we've been having conversations with potential production partners. I've got a strong hunch that Matty's Rocket has the same fate ahead.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: So you described the series as engaging different aspects of Afrofuturism. Can you elaborate a bit more? In what ways does it reflect the genre and also does its own thing?
FIELDER: Well, for better or worse, I have always tried to innovate the form of comics whenever I've been involved. In the case of Matty's Rocket, I wanted to produce a tale that had direct micro applications for my family (I was born and raised in Mississippi). My parents, both African-Americans born in the 1930s, never saw themselves within speculative entertainment as young people. Matty was designed to engage that. INFINITUM, in comparison, is a Meta story. It's for Us, the Continent AND Diaspora. The scale was designed to be BIG. Why can't we have the thousand Benin warriors fully armored with muskets running over the hill in battle like Kurosawa? Why can't the brother survive the zombie apocalypse without dying just as the end credits start? Can black women have agency or even exist in speculative fiction? That's what my work attempts to address.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: What sources of Black culture and history HAVE you used for reference and inspiration?
FIELDER: My goodness. The list goes on and on. I was constantly having to reference historical texts, science papers, and visual references to get… or at least appear to get the timelines and physics right. I've spent countless hours pouring over visual references ranging from ancient African military armor in illustration and photographic form. But even that isn't perfect. The objective is to also provide a level of entertainment so I found myself having to split the difference. Also accessing more contemporary history media such as "Eyes On the Prize" was highly useful. Heck, even engaging my parents and their history during the Civil Rights Movement was important. Since the mid 1990s, my mother has been compiling genealogy books for our family. Some elements of photos from those books even made it into INFINITUM. I've utilized every resource I could. It's gone deeper than I could have possibly imagined.
ANDERSON ELYSÉE: When can we expect to see INFINITUM?
FIELDER: INFINITUM is due for release by end of summer 2020 but we're ramping up promotions now. Very excited. So I expect to be in San Diego Comic Con, Book Expo, New York Comic Con, and other events in advance. The book is already available for Pre-Sale at https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062964083/infinitum/, Amazon.com, and other booksellers.
You can find more of his work on his website www.dieselfunk.com