BLACK HISTORY MONTH SPOTLIGHT INTERVIEW – SUMIKO SAULSON

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer and what does it mean to you to be a black writer in this society?

When I was five years old, my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, an artist, a writer or a veterinarian. My dad explained how long it would take to become a veterinarian and how much time was involved with sick animals. I ended up giving that dream and going into technology, like my father. So I became a computer repair technician, an author and an artist. Two out of three ain’t bad, though.

Being a Black writer means you are faced with choices on an almost daily basis as to whether you are going to market yourself to mainstream or Black audiences. And mainstream authors like Stephen King will criticize people for making race more important than mainstream notions of talent. But mainstream notions of talent are geared towards people like Stephen King as a genre trope. Toni Morrison refused to write for white audiences, and I don’t think Stephen King is nearly as talented.

Yet, he’s won a dozen Stoker Awards while Toni Morrison was never recognized in the genre for works like Beloved and Sula. Octavia Butler had to win posthumously, with the Kindred graphic novel. Blind submission calls in the horror genre reward people for sounding as much as possible like Stephen King. They aren’t really blind, because people are going to favor those who sound like whoever they read. If they never read Octavia Butler and other Black authors, and their favorites are all white men they will be subconsciously biased towards white male voices.

What genre(s) do you write in, is there a favorite and which do you feel have had the most important impact on the black community? Traditionally, in mainstream media, blacks have been vastly marginalized in Speculative Fiction and fic, tion in general, how do you see that changing and what impact will your work have on making those changes?

I write Horror, Sci-Fi, Erotica/Paranormal and Afrosurrealism. Afrosurrealism has a profound impact on the Black community because it is the dark fantasy analogous Afrocentric genre and Toni Morrison is the most famous author associated with it. However, I think my horror essays and non-fiction horror works like 60 Black Women in Horror, 100+ Black Women in Horror, and Black Celebration have a more profound impact on the Black Community. I also write a column called Writing While Black about the challenges I have faced on the convention circuit as a black author.

I think the essays, in particular, contribute, as they have challenged the mainstream culture. I am not the only author demanding an answer to the question, “Why would Candyman be considered horror and Beloved not?” but I am one of the voices that is forcing the question in the genre of horror. And there are changes. The idea that Octavia Bulter is valid as a horror author is a change.

How long does it usually take you to complete work on a book?

Three to five months to write a novel, and another three to five months in editing.

As a black author, do you feel a personal responsibility to the black community to create content which not only entertains, but also uplifts and educates?

To some extent, I do. I write a lot of political and psychological horror, like Jordan Peele does with Get Out and Us. But I also write sheer trash urban fiction soap operas. I mean, The Moon Cried Blood, my young adult urban fantasy, is like LA Bank’s The Vampire Huntress Legend Series meets Steven King’s The Firestarter. It’s all about this precocious thirteen year African and Mexican America old witch in 1976. There are many educational things in the book but most of it is action, gore, and visceral horror. And there are a lot of urban genre tropes about drug addiction, orphans, foster care, and all that which aren’t exactly uplifting. Urban fiction is pretty much all about the Jerry Springer show tropes that set it in the gritty city.

How can you educate and enlighten while including all of that? Well, honestly, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker did it. Domestic violence, child abuse, incest, and all of that showed up in their novels. In that light, I suppose that The Moon Cried Blood is potentially uplifting.

How long have you been producing artwork professionally?

I have been a professional commercial graphic artist and designer since I was 19, and I have been getting paid for artwork since I was 15, so some 30 to 35 years now.

What medium(s) do you create with and is there a favorite?

I am a cartoonist who uses pencils, inks, and computer graphic programs such as Photoshop, and Gimp. I am also a painter, and I prefer acrylics on wood, canvas or paper. I do SecondLife digital photography which is post-processed in Photoshop and Gimp.

At what point in your life did you discover that you were destined to be a comic book artist?

I always wanted to be, but I didn’t have the patience to finish enough cels for a comic book until 2012, when I started to illustrate Agrippa. It is a short story about a dystopic 1984 style future where student loans can lead to debtor’s prison. In Trump’s America it seems strangely prophetic. My father was dying in 2012 and I got writer’s block. Unable to write, I drew.

I have since illustrated my mother’s tragic mulatto/reversal of fortunes tale “Living A Lie,” and have put out some additional titles of my own. Dreamworlds is a dark fantasy about my mental health struggles and how my characters slip in and out of reality during a nervous breakdown. Mauskaveli is a kinky comic with anthromorphic, polyamorous, multiethnic queer mice in it.

How many pieces have you created and how long does it usually take you to complete work on a piece/project?

I can’t count how many paintings I have done, but approximately 100. I have done more commissioned illustratrions than I can count. It takes me about four hours to complete a panel for a comic strip or a painting for sale. Obviously, it takes a lot longer to do a comic given that a single cel takes two to four hours. I charge a hundred dollars for an illustration for a book or album cover or a flyer, so it comes out to around $25 an hour. I do a lot less work than I did when I was in my 20s and 30s and did graphic design as a full time occupation.

How can the readers learn more about your work and follow your career?

https://sumikosaulson.com/
https://sfbayview.com/
https://mauskaveli.com/
https://dookyzines.com/
https://www.deviantart.com/sumikoska

Collection –  Black Celebration: Amazing Articles on African American Horror
https://www.amazon.com/Black-Celebration-Amazing-Articles-American-ebook/dp/B07XXH9WQY
Performance  – with my band Stagefright. February 8, 2020
https://www.reverbnation.com/stagefrightsfhttps://www.facebook.com/events/1222743191266917/
African American Multimedia Conference
https://aammc.org/

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