Every artist’s dream AND nightmare is when inspiration strikes and everything in development and all the plates that are spinning and all the commitments on the table just drop while the artist goes to work anew before inspiration leaves. Inspiration is the artist’s drug of choice.
“”There’s just one thing I would change, if I could,” said Leslie. “Instead of John Carter being an ex-Confederate soldier, what if he was Black? A former slave, a veteran of the Civil War . . .” It was a single, seemingly simple, change — but it completely redefined the story. It was no longer just the story of a man seeking adventure — it immediately became the story of a man without a place to call his own, a man in search of a home and discovering a world where what he was told he was fighting for is actually possible.”-Scott Fogg
Every Christmas I’m reminded that re-imagining A Christmas Carol is a drug for TV writers just as growing up in the theater taught me that re-imagining Shakespeare in modern times is a drug for high school theater teachers. I soured on the hype of the re-imagining description years ago, however, as I’ve been raising kids in Hollywood, I have turned once again to the re-imagining. I’m actively looking for better representation of our colorful world and wish to expose my children to classics all while not denying them access to a variety of leading character types and, for goodness sakes, the inner life of traditionally exploited peoples all while hitting some basic stories that rounds out their knowledge of pop culture.
I stumbled across the most thoughtful explanation behind the reasoning for an adaptation. The history behind Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “A Princess of Mars” was beyond my scope, but I felt like I was in an art-in-culture class and couldn’t stop reading about this graphic novel re-imagining that blew my mind.
“Prince of the Silent Planet is the epic tale of John Carter, a Black civil war veteran who’s spent his life fighting for a better world, without a whole lot of luck, until he stumbles into a cave and is mysteriously transported to Mars, where he meets strange beings and has incredible adventures and fights for the planet’s future!
You’ve heard the story before. The one about a stranger from another planet, who’s faster and stronger than any living human, who can leap great distances in a single bound. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars not only introduced us to John Carter, Dejah Thoris, and the inhabitants of Barsoom, but it has inspired generations of sci-fi and comic book creators from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to George Lucas. It’s a good story, one worth re-telling. We’re not the only ones who think so. The adventures of John Carter have been told and retold over and over again since that first book’s publication in 1912. And each re-telling has brought out something new, something to make the story current and relevant to the time it’s being told in. Our telling is no different — but also very different.
The original, turn-of-the-century novel is a fascinating and, at times, unfortunate look into Western culture at the time as well as Burroughs’ own worldview. The characters are misogynistic. The narrative is imperialist. Alien races are built off and inspired by racist tropes. And most egregious of all is the presentation of John as a Confederate soldier. We’re told he’s a good man, a kind man, but also that he fought for slavery. The noble Confederate is one of the most damaging archetypes to appear in American literature and entertainment and it has played no small part in cementing White Supremacy in our culture.
As much as we love these characters, this world, and this story, it’s something that has always bothered us.
It started, as stories do, with a question: What if John Carter wasn’t an ex-Confederate soldier? What if he was, instead, a Black veteran of the war? It ignited our imaginations and we had a story we could not ignore. We had a story we had to tell. We had made only one change and everything else in the book suddenly changed in some pretty surprising and beautiful ways. It suddenly reflected our present, instead of our past.”– Scott Fogg & Leslie Foster’s crowdfunding description
I reached out to talk with the team behind the 104-page, full color, graphic novel adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars. Struck the work of artist Kelsi Jo Silva while scrolling the concept pages, I knew I needed to learn more. and I COULD! This project is co-written by Leslie Foster and Scott Fogg and letters by Full Court Press, but it’s not done yet, they are doing a full print through their fundraising campaign, which has become a norm in the graphic novel and comic world. Getting onto a project in this early stage gives me great joy. Since I am not fingering through new releases in my local comic book shop, I get to read about upcoming works and connect directly with the artists that it links out to. Just clicking through, I can connect directly to the creators!
“Looking at the way Burroughs wrote, I think he would have been a comic book writer if he were alive today.”-Scott Fogg
Books, graphic novels, and comics take us on amazing adventures, but they are also dusty low-tech, no plug needed, reliable companions for the long haul in life. There is something unique about the format of this style of storytelling.
“When I was growing up, my dad was in the military and we moved every 2-3 years. Every 2-3 years, a brand new state, a brand new country, a brand new school and a brand new set of friends. To give myself some stability, I made friends with people who could never leave me. They lived in books and films and comic books.”– Scott Fogg
There are plenty of drawbacks to a mostly virtual existence for the last few months, especially heading into Winter where isolation may become overwhelming. But I prefer to focus on the benefits of which we often stop ourselves from enjoying, I’m finding that people are actually responding when we connect to them online. Scott and Leslie and Kelsi are creators that exist with real dreams and thoughts and ideas AND they are collaborating RIGHT NOW while living in separate states. Reach out, to them or someone else today. Collaborating from afar is how this project came to be in the first place and collaborating online has HUGE benefits.
“At its heart, this is a tribute to the sci-fi we both grew up reading and loving and in a lot of ways gave us an amazing excuse to spend more time with the characters we’d fallen in love with. John Carter’s story is one that I think resonates with so many people: he longs for a better world and for a reason to hope again and gets all of that and more! I think it’s especially poignant because our John lives through the promise of Reconstruction and then watches as it falls apart before he stumbles into this new world. Acknowledging that heartbreak and explore what comes after it is so important. Placing the Black experience at the center of this story has been a wonderful way to rediscover the characters and worlds Edgar Rice Burroughs first brought to life.”-Leslie Foster
2020 has gripped the world and artists have been pouring art all over the place. The change of pace and routine has either been a burden catapulting artists into deeper work or the fresh exposure to seeing what we already experience with new glasses.
“I’ve started grad school at UCLA, studying in the Design|Media Arts program and that’s been an amazing way to push my art practice and challenge myself. Stepping outside of my comfort zone to work on this graphic novel has been an incredible opportunity. It’s introduced me to a whole new world of storytelling and I can’t wait to take what I’ve learned and see what kind of pretty chaos I can create with it back in my artwork.”-Leslie Foster
“I love history — especially American history. But there are things they don’t teach you in school. And there are subjects that, if you don’t know to ask about them, you will never discover. They haven’t been part of our celebrated national history and identity, so it gets lost. We assume — largely because we’re told — that everyone has the same opportunities and the same experiences. I think 2020 was a big wake up call for a lot of people. I know it was for me. I’ve always thought of myself as being empathetic, but not knowing because I’m not listening made me ignorant. Ignorant empathy is completely toothless; educated empathy, however, can spark something with bite.”-Scott Fogg
Learn more about the artists and their works below and contribute to Prince Of the Silent Planet Kickstarter HERE
Leslie Foster (he/him) is a Los Angeles-based artist who usually finds his happy place using experimental film and installation to create fleeting pocket universes and contemplative ecologies that explore Black and queer futurity through the lens of dream logic. Co-writing Prince of the Silent Planet has been an exciting (and slightly nerve-wracking) chance to explore storytelling in a whole new way. However, no matter the medium, Leslie, whose work has been exhibited internationally and includes two solo shows, is always looking for ways to quietly subvert existing power dynamics while inviting viewers into challenging dialogs through the beautifully strange. Stay connected: Instagram at @leslie_muse and see Foster’s art at www.lesliefoster.art
Scott Fogg (he/him) is a lifelong nomadic daydreamer. He grew up in Metropolis, before moving to Sherwood Forest and then Narnia, Hill Valley, Tatooine, Helium, and Gallifrey. He’s a storyteller. Before co-writing Prince of the Silent Planet. He wrote the graphic novel Phileas Reid Knows We’re Not Alone and co-wrote Action Lab: Dog of Wonder — as well as a collection of award-winning short films and and the feature film Secret of the Cave. He currently resides in Chattanooga, Tennessee with his wife, Kelly, their daughter, Amelia, their two dogs, one cat, and one rascally rabbit. Stay connected: Twitter at @ScottishFogg
Kelsi Jo Silva (she/her) is an artist and illustrator based out of Denver, Co. She has been muddling her way through the process of getting a creative career off the ground since graduating from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design in 2014. Kelsi has worked on a number of odd projects and jobs but is most notably the illustrator for the Ela Catseries of children’s book published by Good Luck Black Cat Books—the first of which won both a MoonBeam award and a CIPPA EVVY award for illustration. In the last three years, Kelsi has shifted her focus from Children’s book to comics, which are her true passion. She’s self-published a few short stories and had the opportunity to pitch a multitude of projects with an array of talented writers. Kelsi revels in the fact that she gets to spend her days drawing and her evenings re-watching Star Trek. It’s truly a dream. Stay connected: Instagram at @kelsijosilva