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Talking Stronghold With Greg Anderson Elysee & Jason Reeves

About two and a half years ago writer Greg Anderson Elysee was working on a supernatural mystery horror comic titled The Gentleman. Embarrassingly, it was the first time I’d heard of the writer and when I read a preview of that first of two issues I was in awe of his writing that was brought to vivid four color life by Elysee Massimiliano and Veltri Marco Pagnotta.

Elysee is back working with new partners on a project titled Stronghold that excited me and I think will excite you too! He and editor/ creator/ publisher Jason Reeves were kind to take some time to talk about Stronghold with me.

GL: Greg, it’s been a couple years since we talked about one of your projects, a story titled The Gentleman featuring a bisexual private investigator with a supernatural secret. You’re working on a crowdfunder for a superhero/ action oriented project titled Stronghold. What excited you about the character, the series’ premise, and how did you come to be involved with the project?

Greg: When I was initially approached to write this book, Is’nana the Were-Spider, my main series, was still the only thing I was working on. In that series, I haven’t tackled the subject of sexuality yet, but if you know me and follow me on my Facebook, you know I can be pretty outspoken when it comes to representation of Blackness and sexualities. I believe from there, Jason was interested in seeing me tackle Stronghold, who was to be the gay character of Reeves’ superhero team at the time. We had some discussions about the character, where he wanted to take it, and I felt there were a lot of nuances I could add and explore with this character. I very much enjoyed the challenge of adding my stamp to someone else’s character and being able to have fun with it. It’s definitely different from my other works and that definitely excites me. Especially exploring a character who deals with discrimination in various forms, from his skin to his sexuality and religion and finding ways to come to term and accept every aspect of it. 

GL: Jason, you’re Stronghold’s creator and editor of the book. Where did your inspiration for Stronghold, other characters, and other parts of this world come from?

Jason: I am inspired to do all things through the Matrix Trilogy, that gives me strength [laughs]. Real talk though, OneNation (the main comic title Stronghold derives from) comes from a desire to have superheroes that look like me, share my values, and cultural nuances. I’m a Black person in America, there are several fears and hardships that come with that. My refuge has always been comics and movies about heroes. But I never felt fully represented. I desperately wanted to see Black supers that rescued Black people from those same hardships and fears. So when I started to take being an indie creator seriously, I created them.

GL: What was the collaborative process between you both while making this comic?

Greg: Well, Jason came up with the character, as mentioned previously. He already had a general idea of Stronghold and his backstory. I was given a bit of free reign to expand and flesh out that backstory. I was given his cast of family members, who they were, and was also given his connection to the other characters of the OneNation universe. This was where things would be a bit challenging because there were some developments that were to happen in other books and I had to find ways to incorporate some of that, so I had A LOT of research to do from all of the notes Jason and crew created as well as scripts published and unpublished, [laughs]. 

Jason: Yeah, I have years worth of stories outlined for Paragon, Sundiata, and the Tenth in general [laughs]. But for Stronghold it was mostly uncharted. I knew he was from a dysfunctional home in the South, but beyond that we had to figure his back story out as a team. I figured that between Greg, Ant, and I, we’d get it done. 

Greg:  For sure. It definitely got done. One thing with me is that I write a LOT of drafts. So there were many things and ideas that got changed and updated over the years of producing the story. For example: originally Damian was white. As we developed, his race changed and we shot ideas back and forth on ways to incorporate that and how it’d actually change the dynamic with other characters. Jason and I actually worked pretty well together and our back and forths, if we did have them, actually helped in the long run. Of course I drove him crazy with the amount of revisions I did. Ha!

Jason: Y’know how you see messages in your DMs but you only read the first sentence or so, because you don’t want the other person to know you saw it? There was a lot of that…for mental health reasons 🙂

Greg: This muhfucker [laughs].

GL: Greg, you have a commitment to work in some element of African culture, folklore, or myth. Of course that’s speaking really broadly because Africa isn’t a single group of people. At first I didn’t know if that happened this time around and then I googled the word “mansa” and found some possibly relevant information that “mansa” is a Mandinka word for kings who ruled a thriving empire in western Africa. Is there a connection between the real world concept and the floating city state in your comic?  Whose idea was it to base this Afro futurist nation on the Malian empire?

Jason: It’s cool you caught that. It’s definitely a callback. I think of our Afrofuturist nation as King of Nations, it floats above the world as a safe haven to the marginalized, under superhuman protection. Mansa is a concept I’ve been holding back in the main story (it is the “OneNation” the title is referring to). And I was going to wait to reveal the idea organically there. But then it dawned on me that these ancillary origin tales, or side quests, gives us the freedom to explore the full scope of OneNation when or wherever that takes us.

Greg: I did want to mess around with some West African/Vodou spirituality given that a lot of Damian’s backstory takes place in New Orleans. Randal, who ends up becoming one of Damian’s best friends, was going to be revealed to be a follower of Vodou along with his family, and it would have gone onto his acceptance of his sexuality as the tradition welcomes LGBTQ people. But there’s only so much room I had so that idea was cut out during my writing stages. But there are some moments pertaining to Black culture throughout the series, some of them subtle, some through dialogue, practices, and so on. So you’ll definitely be seeing aspects of it sprinkled about. I mean, we wrote a Second Line with Stronghold getting down and showing some footwork! So we definitely have some Blackness up in there. And of course, Christianity is pretty important for a lot of Black people, so there’s a bit of that as well.

GL: The first time I read the issue was early morning before coffee. Even without a caffeinated brain the story really grabbed my attention! There’s action, world building, establishing a backstory for Damian (Stronghold), character development, racism, homophobia, and a mystery as to what happened to America. The way everything unfolded wasn’t confusing at all for me and made me want to know more. Congrats on that! Is this the first time Stronghold and the other heroes and villains have been seen?

Jason:  Yeah. Damien has been only hinted at on the cover to OneNation #3 (still in production). And in creating his origin, we crafted his own part of the OneNation universe around him. Paragon, the leader of Mansa, is the focal character in the main series. 

GL: Having a queer male lead like Stronghold is exciting. A figure from his past and another in his present makes for three. Am I possibly picking up a reference to a trans character in Natura?

Jason: You have the eagle eyes [laughs]! Natura hasn’t shown up physically yet but they are indeed trans.

Greg: I recommend getting a trans writer for Natura!

Jason: I feel another Onenation sidequest coming on…!

GL: Writing is one part of comics storytelling with art being the other big part. How did line artist Antonello Consentino, color artist Carlos Lopez, and letterer Loris Ravina become involved and what’s the most gratifying qualities they bring to the project?

Jason: Greg and Antonello worked together on a comic called Marassa (one of my fave comics btw), so when we were looking for an artist, Greg suggested that Ant might be free, I pounced. I’m so in awe of his line work. It’s so clean, but meticulous. The way he captures a moment, just conveying the emotional range in a given scene is second to none. Carlos and I spoke online, I saw his stellar color work in a post a friend had reposted on FB. He’s worked for the big guys, Marvel, etc. And he’s one of the fastest and most professional dudes I’ve worked with. We were lucky to have him. Loris works on all recent 133art comics and hopefully will for years to come. He’s a jack of all trades, color art, letters, line art, logo design, you name it. Loris is amazing and I want him to get all the jobs.

Greg: Yeah, I am in love with the creative team. Jason did a wonderful job picking everyone and he’s also one of the most professional people I’ve worked with. He knows how to manage and take care of his team. 

GL: Can you give a clue what the future holds in store for Stronghold and how soon can we see it?

Jason: Issue #2 line work is in progress as we speak. We’d love to be able to do another Kickstarter pre-order campaign spring 2021 tentatively. Damien will also show up in OneNation #3 between now and then also. 

Greg: As for the actual mini-series, you’ll be getting a lot more backstory and his development, from being a self hated closet case to freely accepting of himself; from aspects of ways he denied his Black side to ways of accepting that as well. More characters, including meeting his family members, which is going to be intense. And more Bayou Badassery!

GL: Thanks, Greg and Jason! The Stronghold Kickstarter has 13 days before closing! Check out the video below and click over to see more interior art! And visit Reeves’ company 133Art too!

October 28, 2020
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