There are many fascinating characters that reside in the world Asunda, created by Sebastian A. Jones. One of those characters is Niobe Ayutami, a half Wild Elf, half Elf teenager who we're first introduced to in The Untamed: A Sinner's Prayer from Stranger Comics. In a gritty, brutal fantasy world, Niobe is challenged to discover who she really is and where she belongs amongst all the sinners of the world. The idea of diversity in a fantasy comic isn't one that readers see often, but is the subject of an upcoming prose book based on a teenage Niobe's journeys written by Jones and actress Amandla Stenberg. Niobe is set to debut this spring, and Jones and Stenberg were kind enough to take some time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions via email.
Cameron Hatheway: Amandla, how did you first meet Sebastian? What were your first impressions of The Untamed and the world of Asunda?
Amandla Stenberg: I met Sebastian at the Mixed-Remixed Festival where he was reading his children's book I Am Mixed that focuses on multi-culture. I was really intrigued by what he was doing—representation in books and media is so important for kids! Being mixed myself, it was really refreshing and exciting to see. We began talking, and he told me about the world of Asunda. I've always loved fantasy, and I was immediately drawn to the way The Untamed captures magic and realism and grit simultaneously. And of course, Sebastian is the coolest person ever and I couldn't wait to work with him and exchange ideas and stories.
CH: Sebastian, what was it about Amandla that made you decide that you had to work with her on a prose project featuring Niobe?
Sebastian A. Jones: Well, like half of the world's population I saw the first Hunger Games at the movies, and fell in love with Amandla's character. She played Rue with such courage and conviction. But what was most dynamic, she was almost exactly how I had pictured the character of Niobe at that age, only with dreadlocks, and in a fantasy setting. A few years later, as she said, I had the pleasure of meeting Amandla and her mother at the Mixed-Remixed event while promoting our I Am book series. I had met with a number of younger folk over the years to help me write Niobe's journey, but no one had the empathy, wisdom, and ability to bring the vision to life the way we needed. I want folks to fall in love with Niobe. After a couple of sit-down meetings I knew she was more than I could have hoped for. Amandla is a renaissance lady, and the perfect partner to share Niobe's extraordinary tale. I am deeply honored.
AS: I can see parallels, as well as attributes that I continually strive to bring forth in myself. I think Niobe is a wonderful, nuanced role model. I strive to stay grounded in my roots and spirituality like her, as well as defy gender roles and assert my own power and independence.
CH: Sebastian, are these stories going to be collected separately from The Untamed, or will they be featured in the back of future issues?
SJ: They will be collected separately and stand on their own. You might read some extra bonus goodies in the upcoming Erathune comic book series, where we will see Niobe older and with some new pals. That series is being illustrated by Sheldon Mitchell (The Darkness, Artifacts) with layouts by Darrell May (The Untamed, Dusu).
CH: Amandla, what was the collaboration process with Sebastian like? How much of Niobe's story was already established, and what elements did you bring to the mix?
AS: What was already established was the entire world of Asunda–the setting of the story. Additionally, we knew Niobe's story in relation to The Stranger in The Untamed tale, and the hardships she had endured. What I brought was Niobe's own personal perspective and experience growing up and becoming stronger and more independent. I outlined how Niobe comes to be that incredibly powerful heroine and warrior.
CH: At what point of Niobe's life will these stories be taking place in?
SJ: This is after The Untamed, A Sinner's Prayer graphic novel, and after the sequels where we will witness Niobe Ayutami's entire journey with The Stranger. At this point in the life of the teenage half Wild Elf, she has seen some terrible things, and committed deadly sins herself. She is on the verge of losing her faith. This story is about how to find your faith, and listen to your own inner voice. For the first time in Niobe's journey, we will really get to know her as she develops into a young woman—on her own.
SJ: Niobe is a special star in the Asunda universe. She is our "Luke Skywalker." I must also add the prose tales will be complimented by stunning sketch paintings from our cover artist Hyoung Taek Nam. We are very lucky to have him. To answer your question, there are plenty of other multi-faceted characters we will be developing in prose. The beautifully savage tale of Waso, in his tale, Will to Power, is brilliantly written by Hannibal Tabu (Artifacts, CBR). The first few chapters have been released, and the rest is coming very soon actually. Waso is the Wild Elven War Chief of the Ugoma Jungle, and we follow his story on the heels of the comic series, Dusu: Path of the Ancient. You will travel the paths with Niobe and Waso and find their roads may lead to a joint destination. Another prose story in the works is Essessa, the beautiful Vorkas Vampire in her book, Blue Veins, scribed by Stranger's own EIC Joshua Cozine. Essessa will be Niobe's nemesis.
CH: Amandla, you're a youth ambassador for No Kid Hungry. What do you think of the tragic situation involving the kids of the town of Oasis?
AS: I think the situation involving the kids of the town of Oasis is a wonderful example of how the world of Asunda very much applies to our own. The parallels are intentional and teach us lessons. Many would be surprised to know that more than 16 million kids in the U.S. struggle with hunger. Hunger is not an issue we can distance ourselves from—it doesn't just exist in 3rd world countries. It's right here in our neighborhoods. I think The Untamed brings issues like these to the forefront of our minds and inspires empathy. I'd highly recommend anyone to check out nokidhungry.org and find out how you can help kids in need!
CH: Sebastian, is this your only collaboration with Amandla, or will we be seeing more of her in future Stranger Comics/Stranger Kids projects?
SJ: Goodness, I hope this is the start of a great working friendship with Amandla. She is super talented on so many levels. A kid's project is a great idea… But my next ask of her is to help compose the Niobe theme music!
Special thanks to Sebastian and Amandla for taking some time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions. The Kickstarter for The Untamed graphic novel hardcover has only a few days left, and you can currently buy the digital copy of the graphic novel at the Stranger Comics online store.