Art & Entertainment, Culture, Feature Story

Bringing Therians The Awakening to Life (Part 2 Interview with B. Van Randall – “The Ghetto Nerd”)

By Jennifer Hamra

Today’s blog post is the second part to my interview with Detroit writer B. Van Randall.  


The Ghetto Nerd aka B. Van Randall– or as his family and friends call him, Van– is the creator and writer of the new graphic novel series Therians The Awakening. 

The Detroit writer decided to try something different with sharing his story with his readers. He transformed the first chapter of the first volume of the graphic novel into a motion comic film and he has plans to continue the comic film series for future chapters. 

The motion comic film has received many positive reviews so far. It has been screened at the First Annual BedStuy Film Festival in Brooklyn and also at The Maple Theater in Bloomfield, MI. Therians also has over 4,800 views on YouTube (as of November 29, 2018)!

Van has many plans to keep the momentum going for his graphic novel series and motion comic film. He plans on hosting more film screenings in locations such as Clevland and Memphis. 

“I tell everyone this is my Star Wars,” Van told me during our phone interview. “This is my Harry Potter series. I got a lot of writing to do, but the story is already written. It’s just a matter of me putting it on the pages.”

When I watched Therians The Awakening, one of the things I found fascinating about the film was seeing movement with the illustrations. The slight movement was a special effect to help make the characters come to life.

Yet, the slight movement made you feel as if the entire film was fully animated. It was such a cool experience! 

Talking with Van about his creative vision for Therians and his views on social injustice issues took me inside the mind of a creative who has so much to share with the world.

The other day I shared with you an introduction to who Van the writer is. In today’s article, Van shares with us his vision for his new graphic novel series Therians The Awakening and his thoughts on other insightful topics. Hope you enjoy reading today’s interview!

Jennifer Hamra (JH): Who was the illustrator for this project?

B. Van Randall (BVR): Jarel Threat out of L.A. (Jarel’s last name is pronounced like the word “treat”.)

JH: I’m also curious how the artist made the characters with the movement. I thought that was really interesting

BVR: Yeah! Yeah, so what we did was: everything was illustrated by Jarel, and once Jarel illustrated everything, everything was then separated and placed into layers. So he literally had to go in and separate all of his artwork into multiple layers, which was very time-consuming.

And once he separated everything, and the files were created, then that goes over to your animator who then has to place movement using different programs because things are so technological now. It’s just amazing using different programs to actually add movement to the characters.

JH: I thought that was really fascinating seeing that movement with the illustrations. (One of the special effects in the film was the illustrations make slight movement. It’s almost as if it’s a fully animated film. It’s very cool to experience!)

BVR: Thank you.

JH: Especially because, you know, when you read a book and you just kind of let your imagination go wild and you picture in your mind as if it’s a movie.

BVR: Yeah.

Van, pictured with his wife Dana, discussing his motion comic film Therians The Awakening at a private screening in Bloomfield, MI. 

JH: Seeing, you know, this graphic novel come to life, but even though there’s not a whole lot of movement– only slight movement– it was just really interesting how I could still see it. It was as if everything was still moving it was like live action.

BOTH: (Laughs)

B. Van Randall (BVR): Yeah, that was a strange phenomenon, and that’s something that we sort of stumbled into after having a couple of public viewings. Because as a writer, you can write a bunch of stuff out here to the world and you’re a little nervous about it. And so when the feedback started coming in, and and we did the Bedstuy Film festival in Brooklyn, New York and the screening in Maple (The Maple Theater) Bloomfield [Michigan].

People were so impressed. And that was the resounding theme– that there was slight movement, but you wouldn’t know it. What we started realizing was that the brain will fill in anything extra that was not actually animated.

And then another phenomenon we found: we think that the slight movement is what made it more appealing to people. So that if [the film] would have been fully animated, it may not have had the same impact, which is very, very interesting.

JH: The story is even powerful just by itself, too.

BVR: Thank you.

JH: So I wanted to know why did you choose this particular story?

BVR: When I first came up with the idea of Therians, it was because I do a lot of studying of history, especially ancient history– the time between Egypt and Greece. And I’m often very intrigued by the stories of Ancient Egypt. And I said to myself, one time looking at a statue of Anubis inside of the museum in Cleveland, Ohio, I said: What if we got it all wrong? What if everything we know about Egypt is completely wrong? And what if the civilization was just something super fantastical?

My brain started thinking of this origin story: like, okay, if these things were real and these things are being worshipped as gods, what were they and did they go anywhere or are they still amongst us just in secret?

Because of my love for history, I started adding real historical accounts of things that have happened over the course of history and sort of adding this fantastical value to it to say who are these therians? Where did they come from and where did they alternately end up?

As you can see, at the end of that first segment, [the story] fast forward [to] 415 years later. You know, where are they in the 21st century. That is yet to be seen. (Van is referring to his motion comic film Therians.)

Just sort of loving history and just sort of loving when people add that historical fiction to history. Like, one of my favorite films of all time is Forrest Gump. I just thought that was so cool how they mixed fantasy and fiction and with real accounts of history.

Tom Hanks and Lyndon Johnson in Forrest Gump (The 1994 film interweaved historical footage with the Forrest Gump storyline.)
Tom Hanks and John Lennon in Forrest Gump. (1994)

JH: That’s my dad’s favorite movie (laughs) He loves that movie.

BVR:  It was just so well done! And then surprisingly I liked Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer. I thought I was going to hate that movie, but then I watched it. You know, it wasn’t that bad. It was actually entertaining.

You know, when you think about it, Abraham Lincoln in the 1800s slaying vampires– there’s something about adding these sort of monsters that we’ve come to love and know. Werewolves, shapeshifters, vampires– and then adding that old element to it.

Like when we watch Bram Stokers Dracula, you know and they’re back in the “olden days”. Something just about the sudden creepiness about that. So I think that’s sort of what inspired me to do this was to get that historical context but add that fantasy to it.

Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox 

JH: This (Referring to Van’s Therians The Awakening) reminds me of a book I”m reading. Have you heard of the novel Homegoing?

BVR: Homegoing? Yes, I have heard of the novel Homegoing.

JH: I don’t know how to pronounce the writer’s name (The writer’s name of Homegoing is Yaa Gyasi), but I believe she’s from Ghana and [Therians] reminds me… I’m actually almost finished reading that novel… and your story reminds me a little bit of her work because she begins her novel with the origins of slavery and how even within the African tribes there were slaves. And then each chapter is kind of like a short story, but she still has them connect to all of the characters. In one chapter, there’s like a fantasy type story so your story reminds me of her novel.

BVR: Yeah, I will definitely have to read that. I’ll get my hands on it. We have always been into what people feel is fantasy and folklore. The so-called black people have not always been these Christians who are so fearful of fantasy and folklore, you know. Our origins were deeply rooted in a lot of things that we’re so afraid of today.

I think it’s very fun. (B. is referring to it’s fun learning about the ancestral stories.) I find it exciting to dive into and try to figure out what were some of those stories our ancestors were talking about.

Photo credit: Yaa Gyasi/Barnes and Noble

JH: And in her novel Homegoing, she depicts that too of how Christianity was kind of pushed onto certain African tribes and just everything you just said so that’s just really interesting how that connects with something I was already reading.

BVR: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. You can’t go back beyond the 1600s and anywhere in Africa, or the world for that matter not just Africa, and start finding a very scarce group of people who are practicing this thing called Christianity. It was just not something that was practiced globally. These are things that history tells us were forced on people.

And it wasn’t just forced on so-called black people or so-called African Americans. It was forced on what we call white people today, as well. There were rules, and certain people that were in power understood the need to get people to believe have a certain thought process And so they pushed certain ideas onto people and a lot of times against their will for a particular purpose.

I’m not saying anything negative about people who believe in Christianity. I mean, people are allowed to believe whatever they want to believe. I’m just saying that these are things history… you cannot deny what happened and you have to look at history and know this is how you got what we have. Now if you’re okay with how you got it, then that’s fine. But just know this is how it came about. It was not all peaches.

It was not all hunky-dory. Not everybody held hands and sung. No. It was deemed illegal if you did not participate in Christianity, and in many cases, it could even lead to death if you did not participate.

And that’s happening, I’m talking right here in this good ol’ U. S. of A. You know, so you have to know these things and even after knowing these things if you make a conscious decision to continue in your ideology, that’s perfectly fine. People have a life and you have to live it how you want.

B. Van Randall — creator and writer of Therians The Awakening

JH: Why did you choose to work with the West African actors? Because, you know, there are a lot of voice over actors who can do different accents.

BVR: There are a couple of reasons one there are a lot of voice-over actors. I heard a lot of them. I heard a lot of West African accents, and they were lacking authenticity to me. I did cast calls and my inbox was bombarded with a lot of West African accents, but none of them did it for me. None of them gave me that feeling, you know, like this sounds authentic. So I started looking elsewhere and stumbled across these gentlemen. And then when I heard them, I thought: Wow! They sounded professional they sounded very experienced.

And then I started thinking this would be really great for the project, and these brothers are in Nigeria, you know, and let’s bridge that gap. You know, it would be cool to work with guys that are actually in an African country, you know, and sort of bring that brotherhood to it– that connection.

And searching for voice actors, I ended up bonding with these guys and sort of forging a digital friendship that I hope to one day turn into a real face-to-face meeting because they were just so awesome. We worked through Skype. We seen each other. We worked through video chat, but we’ve never seen each other in the flesh I just wanted to close that gap because the countries of Africa get this sort of bad rap.


“So I kind of wanted to help to dispel that. The more I worked with these guys, the more that they were teaching me about their culture. We need to interact more with countries and people from these countries on the continent of Africa. We need to like sort of break down our brainwashed perception of what this continent is about and really realize that these are really, very distinctly different countries with different things to offer.”

B. Van Randall

One of things I hate about America: America says “Africa” as if Africa is one place. We talk about it as if it is a country, and I’m like, no that’s like calling Mexico the United States or calling Canada the United States. We’re all on the continent of America, but we’re all very distinctly different countries.

So I kind of wanted to help to dispel that. The more I worked with these guys, the more that they were teaching me about their culture. We need to interact more with countries and people from these countries on the continent of Africa. We need to like sort of break down our brainwashed perception of what this continent is about and really realize that these are really, very distinctly different countries with different things to offer.

No different than we don’t look at Italy as the same as Spain, or Germany as the same as, I don’t know, Russia. So we have to stop this sort of homogenizing of these African countries and really realize that these are very distinctly different and rich countries.

And we need to know what they are really known for and learn about these places. Learn about the languages to learn about what they have to offer. And visit and go and stop making it about Africa this overall cast of an ominous dark word.

We’re just missing out on so much by doing that, you know. I think that bringing them (the West African actors) was very informative to me, and I was hoping that by working with them it would actually help open up the door to other Americans going over (to Africa) and trying to make those connections with [people] and some of those African countries.

It’s funny to me how in this world, white supremacy has shrunk that continent. Not only has it shrunk it– literally on the map because maps lie to us every day– and show Africa totally not to scale, but it shrunk it in the mentality of it all.

Map Of Us Actual Size By Area True Size India Best Map Africa Countries 2015 Reference Real Size Africa (Photo credit: mymplace.com)

BVR: (continued) Europe is a very small continent, but we think of Europe with all of this rich culture, right? We have Americans that can’t wait to go to France. We have Americans that can’t wait to go to Spain, can’t wait to go to Germany or Italy. And we think of all these places– all of these different, unique things. So we take a continent that is so small, and actually, in our minds, it’s huge because we think it is so rich with culture.

Italian food, Spanish food, French food, German food. Africa has the same thing! What they eat in Ghana is not going to be the same thing that they eat in Nigeria. The cuisine, the dress, the attire, even the language that they speak is going to be different.

When you do that, and you just lumped them all into just some group– some homogeneous group that is African– you shrink the value. You shrink the culture. You shrink a continent. And so, I just think it’s time that we unshrink it. We really need to recognize the continent [of Africa] and the vastness that it is. And recognize the multicultural countries that are there, and what do the unique countries have to offer. Expand or thoughts about that. 

B. Van Randall with his wife Dana at the private screening of Therians The Awakening in Bloomfield, MI.


JH: Is also the reason why you chose the story of the slaves.. is that.. how do I say this is? Well, because in the comic book world and in graphic novels the dominant culture, of course, is white culture. Is that to bring more stories for [the] African American culture?

BVR: The thing about Therians– and yeah, I agree that it seems that the genre is predominantly led by white culture– but fantasy is something that has been a part of the so-called black culture for a long time.

When you look at our authors like Octavia Butler. We’ve always loved fantasy. We just have never had, I guess, anyone take it to the mainstream. That’s why everyone was so excited when Jordan Peele’s film Get Out did what it did.

The only reason why the whole institution of human trafficking is in my book is because I’m telling a particular story. And what I tell everyone is: Be careful with perceptions of Therians, and the only reason why I say that is because there is a lot more to the story. When people think that I’m telling a story about the Trans-Atlantic human trafficking industry of the 1600s.

Jordan Peele | Octavia Butler | Movie poster for Jordan Peele’s Get Out 
(Photo credit: IMDB.com)

I just say: Before you make any assumptions wait until you read volume 2. Wait until you start reading the future books because I may not be telling the story that people think that I’m telling.

And it’s because what I tell people– and I was telling another person that I was having an interview with– is that my studying of history… and when I talk about history, I talk about true history. Things that have been true. Not what we have been taught in schools. Not what we have been taught through television and propaganda and Hollywood. But real true history.

What I found is that true history itself seems to be fantastic because we’ve been misled so gravely. So that’s why I say: Just wait. I’ve got a lot more to come with a story.

 


Special thanks to B. Van Randall for taking the time to interview for Good Life Detroit. You can learn more about Van’s new graphic novel series Therians The Awakening by following his Instagram account @theghettonerd. Also, watch, like, and subscribe to Therians on YouTube!

Photographs of Therians The Awakening and B. Van Randall are credit to B. Van Randall and used with his permission. 

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