Coates and Stelfreeze Bring Revolution To Wakanda In ‘Black Panther’ #1
Celebrated journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ upcoming comics debut, alongside legenadary artist Brian Stelfreeze, has already made Marvel’s upcoming Black Panther series one of the most hotly anticipated comics of the year. Coates is known for his grounded and insightful takes on contemporary social issues, and how they affect the lives of black communities in America and beyond.
Today, Coates has published an essay at The Atlantic about his transition from journalism to comics, and how his creative process has grown and adapted to a visual medium. The Atlantic has also provided a preview of several fully-lettered pages from Black Panther #1, with gorgeous art from Stelfreeze displaying T’Challa (and his new costume) in action.
In his essay, Coates talks about how comics not only provided an escape as a child, but how the short, terse sentences of comics dialogue influences his own writing as an adult. He picks apart his own understanding of how to construct the same scene for prose and for comics in what is both an insightful look into his creative process for comics readers, and an introduction to the basics of comics craft for people that may be more familiar with him from his prose.
Unlike in prose or even poetry, the writer has to constantly think visually. Exposition and backstory exist, but the exigencies of comic-book storytelling demand that they be folded into the action.
His understanding of T’Challa and Wakanda provides an interesting look into where the book is going. Coates says the core question with Black Panther is, “Can a good man be a king, and would an advanced society tolerate a monarch?”, which is an astute observation. Most stories about Wakandan politics usually center around challengers to the throne, and never to think to ask why the most advanced society doesn't seem to have any elected officials.
Coates is superlatively complimentary about Stelfreeze’s art, revelling in the collaboration process between writer and artist, and his notes on some of the concept art (which you can see at The Atlantic) point out that Stelfreeze’s designs influenced Coates’ plot.
I was lucky in that I was paired with a wonderful and experienced artist, Brian Stelfreeze. Storytelling in a comic book is a partnership between the writer and the artist, as surely as a film is a partnership between the screenwriter and the director.
As for the pages and Stelfreeze’s new design, T’Challa seems to be donning a new tech-based suit that he can summon at will, not too dissimilar from Iron Man’s “Bleeding Edge” or “Superior” armors. This makes a change from his most recent costume, which was more mystical in nature due to his role as Wakanda's King of The Dead, and is most likely intentional to reflect Wakanda’s role at the worldwide forefront of modern science (and perhaps the character's screen debut in the upcoming movie Captain America: Civil War).
Coates’ full essay at The Atlantic is well worth reading for its insights into Coates’ and Stelfreeze’s process, and you can check out the preview pages below.