Issue number 2 of Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham’s Tuskegee Heirs was delivered to their printers this week.
The Tuskegee Heirs, which pays homage to the famous Tuskegee Airmen, is a six issue comic book that tells the story of five young Black pilots training in secret to master giant jets that transform into robots.
The ‘Tuskegee Heir’ is a comic book loosely based on the heroic exploits of the famed Tuskegee Airmen. (Courtesy photo)
Self-published, the Kickstarter-funded comic’s goal was to raise $10,000 when it launched in Jan. 2016. Ultimately they widely exceeded their expectations and raised $74,000.
The AFRO interviewed Marcus Williams, co-creator and illustrator, after his visit to Baltimore Comic-Con on Sept. 23 about what brought him and co-creator Greg Burnham here, and what’s happening next.
With other all-Black U.S. units to choose from such as the Harlem Hellfighters, and the Black Panthers, Williams was asked about what resonated with him about the Tuskegee Airmen.
“I wanted to highlight the fact that not only were they already being oppressed in a country that they were signed up for the military, they wanted to actually fight for their country,” Williams said. “These pilots, themselves, they were being turned away from their country. When they actually did get legislation pushed through, the United States basically deemed it an experiment, they actually had no expectations for these great pilots to actually succeed.”
In the late 21st century world that Tuskegee Heirs takes place in, after a series of technological advances, human-piloted flying is declared illegal. While peace prevails now, a unified global government has been installed after a series of conflicts across the globe.
While awe and reverence are in almost every mention of the airmen by Williams, he also emphasizes the work’s respect.
“We wanted to respect the families, we wanted to respect the pilots themselves and not use their likenesses, we didn’t want to use anything like that without permission,” Williams said. “So, how can we do that, while still respecting the history? We just pushed it into the future. So that way it’s a new generation.”
The pilots are mentored by a fictional descendant, Colonel Mars, a retired pilot. His direct line to the original Airmen is “shrouded,” said Williams. For the heirs, this is a matter of legacy and knowledge, as opposed to blood.
Giant robots, the far future, world governments and young kids in combat bring to mind any number of properties from the 80s and 90s.
“It’s very much “Gundam” and “Robotech.” I loved, loved, loved all of those series,” Williams said. “Transformers,” “Voltron” I’m a child of the 80s. There were tons and tons of cartoons that I watched coming up, especially once the internet became available. I was able to watch a lot more that didn’t make it here to America. I definitely was influenced by those shows, and when people say ‘oh, this is kinda like a Black version of ‘Macross,’ I’m saying definitely influenced.”
But unlike many of those others, Tuskegee Heirs features strong female characters.
Both Burnham and Williams have sons and daughters, Williams explained. Including multiple young women’s perspectives was reflexive with no debate.
“It was very, very natural to say Ayanna’s gonna be a leader,” Williams said referring to one of the characters in the comic book. “Genesis is going to be in charge of mission briefings, maps, topographical information, she’s in charge of that. Jena, she’s the mechanic. None of that stuff is more than a second thought. As soon as we said it was like ‘yep, perfect. Let’s do that.’ The implication of saying ‘is it geared towards girls?’ It’s absolutely on purpose. It’s meant to empower young girls.”
Looking ahead, Williams and Burnham’s immediate plan is to complete the next four issues and release two trade paperbacks of three issues each. After letting that resonate with the readership, the creators will adjust to what fans like and dislike, Williams said.
The funds raised allow the project to meet another of its stretch goals and shift mediums.
“The cartoon though, is the actual goal, the main milestone of where we’re trying to go with this concept,” Williams said. “Animation for me, as a child, these were some of the most iconic properties that came out.”
“If there’s pitchforks and torches and people say “we want more now,” we’re going to realistically look at doing an ongoing series,” said Williams.