Art

Paul Louise-Julie’s Space Opera ‘Yohancé’ Claims the Future for Africa

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The opening scene of “The Ekangeni Crystal” doubles as the comic’s thesis statement: A black man wakes with the knowledge of a coming struggle — one that he must win. He and his anthropomorphic chimpanzee pilot, Nyabi, have arrived at a mining installation on a gas giant in the Oroa system, where he plans to steal a jewel containing a map to the Lost City of the Ekangeni, hoping that the score will turn his life around. He succeeds, cutting down a column of armed sentries to retrieve the crystal, only to nearly lose it to a duplicitous lover. The man then embarks on a journey leading him to the Lost City, not yet aware of the role he will play in remaking his universe.

The man is Yohancé, the title character of Paul Louise-Julie’s new Afrofuturist space opera. Yohancé’s present is unlike ours in many obvious ways: He lives in a galaxy-spanning society, a great wheel of glittering cities floating in planetary atmospheres or stretching toward the sky from the ocean floor. In this world, every face is a black face; every monumental feat of engineering, the work of black hands. Though “The Ekangeni Crystal” is the first and so far only issue, it makes clear that Yohancé is venturing into something grand: a future patterned by West African mythology, where black people have mastered destiny.

So this is clearly another world. But Yohancé is very much about the now. “Race-bending”is happening all around us these days: The black Hermione Granger in a stage production of Harry Potter ; the Idris Elba-as-James Bond wishful thinking. The term suggests triviality, and indeed, Yohancé sometimes falls into this trap — the butt of the hero’s retractable spear is a dead ringer for Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. Though representation is not enough, even in a world for black people, by black people — where there is no need to counteract racist violence — it is a start. On the first page inside the cover, Louise-Julie includes a list of our dead: Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner. Just above it reads, “OUR LIVES DO MATTER.” It is a eulogy, and, like all eulogies, a prologue — a benediction for a world that is yet to come.

Yohancé: ‘The Ekangeni Crystal’

By Paul Louise-Julie

36 pp., $6.99

Midas Monkee