Check out the Black Girl Nerds Article on The Experimental City.
Set around the life of an 8 year old African American girl in a distant future, the novel explores the greatest experiment of humanity – civilization. Powerful countries such as the United States and England have devolved into city-states; human beings can customize the racial attributes of their children through a risky in-vitro procedure; and cultural capital is more important than money. Within the city-state of the US, where Olivia is located, the city has been split into “New City” and “Old City” as a result of an unstable economic environment wherein those who control the concentrated wealth have created a technological utopia.
The actual story is divided into three Books. Currently I am creating character designs for “Book 1: This Life on Earth” which is an origin story of Olivia Bates. It explores the circumstances of Olivia’s birth and life’s purpose, introduces key characters such as a hacker who goes by the tag THEINVISIBLEMAN, and gives the reader a feel for the environment.
Eventually I would like to animate this project as well. I also take inspiration from some of my favorite anime shows such as Cowboy Bebop in which the title of each episode was a pop culture reference to a song or movie. In the same way I intend to create each title chapter as a reference to Afrofuturist works be it song, literature, or film.
When I designed the characters in the novel I drew inspiration from fiction and nonfiction stories that I encountered throughout my time within and without academia. In essence I want this graphic novel to be a huge tribute to all things Afrofuturism.
I like the idea of having Olivia have “siblings” those people who have enough of the HeLa DNA to make them connected to Olivia in some maternal way. Thinking of the dignitaries that modified their children, I am thinking of recreating Hitler, Queen Elizabeth, Queen Nefertiti, Lugard, Plato… (just go country by country and list the most famous historical characters and recreate them).
These HeLa siblings are the world’s leaders often time representing the ideologies of their name. This leaves an interesting opportunity to play around with the “what if” of if these leaders were alive today. The world is very different because of ecological disasters. Often Major cities represent entire countries because these are the last centers of humanity.
This is a time of space exploration and colonization. These world leaders are the ones who are orchestrating the process of space colonization in light of Earth’s ecological decline.
The Invisible Man inspired by Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man
The Mother inspired by Mama Wata
“I do not lie to children to preserve false perceptions in the name of childlike innocence. We live lives of many truths.” – Mother
The Mother was pregnant with Olivia before she went into a paralyzed state as a result of a car accident. Although paralyzed, she is not dead. Married to the scientist who owned a multi-million dollar company that invested in buying the patents of African American scientist and inventors of the previous century, she herself was a well-educated woman with Ph.D’s in Pan African Studies, Astrology, and World History. Upon becoming immobile, with her brain still very active, her husband invested in creating a facility for her care. While advertised as just a private hospice care facility, the facility was actually created to integrate the active mind of his wife with the computer systems; no one knew that his wife was pregnant. The facility is located underground the “Old City” and is fully operational with no outside human interference. The husband created the facility to respect his wife’s wish to be an active part of her child’s life. All A.I. functions are actually a result of the integration of Mother’s mind with the system of the facility.
Upon the flood that destroys the Old City, Mother becomes part of the Drexiya, also referred to as the Mamai Watta. It is a group of African mermaids. They were once slaves on European ships, but were thrown over board to their death. The women who were pregnant gave birth to a race of people who could survive under water. (Mama Watta, is a group of mermaid women related to African Americans because of this watery journey.) Because Mother’s brain was part of the A.I. systems for so long, her brain still surfs the waves of the internet and communication systems of the “New City”.
The Father inspired by Samuel Schulyer
The father is a private investor who’s major success stems from his investments in preserving and improving upon inventions of the previous millennium. Extremely successful at the beginning of the New Millennium, his business begins to fade as a result of bad business investments. These bad business investments include the underground facility that houses his wife and child. This facility took a lion’s share of his wealth to create and fund. He is willing to allow his empire to fade into obscurity because of the importance the survival of his child is to him. His child, hardly a fetus when her mother went into a vegetative state was given the DNA of a third person, Henrietta Laks. The HeLa DNA is the bases of human life during his time. Many people alter themselves often times cloning aspects of others they wish to see in themselves. With his wealth and fortune in jeopardy as a result of dispute with the board members of his company, he took his most valuable possession and infused his daughter with it in the early stages of her development. As a result his daughter’s genes are extremely adaptable and able to configure themselves in anyway. This is unique because DNA manipulation is only possible for most during fetal stages. Once humans are born DNA manipulation is fatal. Many governments have manipulated the children of dignitaries and world leaders with their country’s DNA treasures, often times infusing high born children with HeLa DNA clones of famous historical leaders. These children often times grow with the behavioral characteristics, mental capabilities, and physical attributes of the third DNA hosts. Those with DNA from famous and influential historical leaders have claim to leadership positions, wealth, and power in the “New Cities” of the world.
Queen E inspired by Queen Elizabeth Elizabeth I of England
“The world was built on progress…those unable to evolve with the times are not worth saving.” – Queen E
The Daughter :Olivia inspired by Henrietta Lacks
” I have dreams of death, but they are always happy. I die and I can see that I am surround by those who love me. In my dreams I can hear their voices and laughter, and in my waking hours I see their pain – which is present in my day; the same pain that, like a tear snagged on a nail, has become a ripped gash in the continuity of time.” – Olivia
Held underground in the “Old City” for most of her childhood, Olivia Bates is trained extensively by the A.I. system of the underground facility she lives in. She is trained in preparation of a prophecy that coincides with her conception and birth. The prophecy came to her mother the night she was conceived, however it was originally produced during the last dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Living in a time when the technologies of race are at their highest success, but in unexpected ways because of the HeLa DNA, Olivia is tasked with being an agent of change. Because the “Old City” is flooded with acidic water, her training ends at the age of 12 when the facility is flooded. Saved by the combined efforts of the Drexiya mermaids and the A.I. system of her mother, Olivia is smuggled into the “New City” that lays above the foundations of the “Old City”. Though Olivia’s mother’s body is drowned by the acidic water that floods the facility, her mother’s brain acts as a “shadow in the machine” of the internet communications of the “New City”. Via her mother, Olivia is introduced to a hacker called the “Invisible Man”. It is with this hacker Olivia first encounters the “New City”. Olivia is the “last” African American of sorts. Many dark skinned people are no longer darker as a result of the option of appearance. Olivia is dark skinned, mixed race.
Goddess inspired by Donyale Luna
The Queens Assistant
A member of GeoTech’s inaugural class of prosthetic implant recipients, the Queen’s Assistant is loyal to the government of New City. Despite being from Old City, the Queen’s assistant is loyal to a fault. While he is extremely, abnormally, strong,he is very affectionate towards the queen, oftentimes his protective nature borders on emotions of love and affection she shows towards him.
The Concept of The Experimental City
Mankind’s greatest experiment is civilization. The A.I. system goes through and shows the rise and fall of all of mankind’s greatest civilizations starting from the first human civilization – Egypt. Using a variety of sources like The World and Africa by W.E.B. Du Bois and Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa this is meant to allow a fair, and true thought about the reality of civilization and empire. Similarly, the “New City” is another Experimental City.
Old City is the crumbling remains of a previous era of affluence. It has been stripped of any monuments of human cultural achievement. It now acts the home for those who were unable to afford to live in the New City. The Old City is slowly flooding with acidic water. Why acidic water? Because through humanity’s avarice and waste the ocean has slowly become acidic.
The New City is the center of the country’s cultural, political, and economic life. The new City is really a temporary city meant to last only for a few centuries. With Earth becoming inhospitable, the New Cities of the world are city-states organized to allow those world leaders, dignitaries and billionaire families to colonize space. The New Cities have free internet and communications. Those who control the communications can also control the gravity and weather conditions inside the city.