David Ferguson chatted to Bijhan Agha, creator of the new science-fiction comic Time Wars: the Adventures of Kobra Olympus, which centres around a young gay, trans and Muslim character. He found out more about Agha’s influences, the comic’s story and the Kickstarter campaign to fund the project.
As this is a comic book project, what comics did you like growing up?
You know, I didn’t have a lot of money growing up, and by the ’90s, the cost of comics was quite high relative to the page count. So I didn’t get to read a lot of the comics which were being printed at the time.
But we had a local library, the White Center branch of the King County Library System, where they would have these thick comic book reprints using just the black line artwork on cheap yellow paper. These things had to have at least a hundred issues in each volume.
This is where I experienced the classics. Spider-Man from the 1960s. Justice League from the 1970s. Ninja Turtles and X-Men from the 1980s. But the one that influenced me the most, as a young queer person, was the Wonder Woman comic compendium from the 1940s.
What influenced you about these comics, in a good or possibly bad way?
In all comics, I loved the sense of wonder and imagination. There was no attempt to anchor the storytelling in our own world, allowing for a sophisticated and unpredictable mythology. Yet at the same time, the emotional reality of the characters was crystal clear, allowing you to perfectly understand what they were going through.
In Wonder Woman, in particular, I found a celebration of femininity and a clear thesis on what feminine leadership looks like compared to masculine leadership. This message was planted in me like a seed that wouldn’t sprout until I was much older.
One thing I love in particular about the medium of comics – which I feel has become lost in modern comics – is the thought bubble.
In literature, we can read the character’s thoughts and words but not see their face. In cinema, we can see their faces and hear their words but can’t access their thoughts. Comic books allow us to do all three at once if we use the thought bubble.
I think it’s very unfortunate that modern comics now seem to despise thought bubbles, in particular, as a way to make their comics more “cinematic”.
— Jamsheed studios (@JamsheedStudios) November 24, 2022
For the benefit of those unfamiliar with your comic Time Wars: the Adventures of Kobra Olympus, what would be your ‘elevator pitch’ to readers?
Time Wars is a universe in which time travellers from the 161st century are coming back in time to help us in the past wage a covert war against the Vampires who are manipulating history to create inequality and strife. Kobra Olympus is a young gay trans and Muslim woman who has been recruited by a time-travelling agent to use technology from the future to fight literal monsters who live in the shadows of society.
Can you tell us why you chose the genre of science fiction?
There were several major influences on my decision to make a time travel series. The first was the Days of Future Past storyline from X-Men. Another major one was the use of time travel in Star Trek, the original series. Finally, I was a big fan of Russel T. Davies’s first run on Doctor Who and was really intrigued by the concept of a ‘Time War’.
I decided to take it one step further, however, and rather than just make it a vague point of background detail, I wanted to make it the focal piece of my fiction.
Were there any specific science-fiction influences on your work?
I think the majority of the influence I channelled into this comic came from the giants of mid-century comic book literature, like Stan Lee, Dr William Marston, and Bill Everett. They were truly visionary pioneers of how the medium could be used to tell important stories about the Human condition.
I was also deeply influenced by Star Trek and Star Wars. I was not able to consume them in their primary form until I was older. My family did not own VHSs of either until I was in adolescence. So my primary exposure to these was through novels from the library.
I would read the monthly pulp novels, which were, in a way, printed and marketed much like comics: continuing titles with monthly instalments and crossover events.
I adore cinema and television, and I would love to write for them in the future. But my experience with comic book adaptations and the “cinemafication” of comics leads me to believe that the story being told must fit the medium.
The medium, as they say, often is the message. For that reason, I tried to abstain from channelling the language of cinema into the comic, and focused on literary and comic inspiration.
— Jamsheed studios (@JamsheedStudios) November 6, 2022
The personal part of Time Wars was really engaging – it felt genuinely character driven. Did you feel any pressure to represent your Muslim culture as well as the trans community?
I hope we someday reach a time when a trans and/or Muslim artist can create artwork which is sincere and true to themselves without feeling like they’re somehow representing others as well.
When a white American man makes an action movie, he doesn’t think about how it will reflect on white people, Americans, or men; he just makes what he likes. But that’s not an option for people who are marginalized by society. When we make art, politics depersonalizes it and makes it either an achievement or a failure of the label we share with others.
When I wanted to make a comic, I decided to emulate the greats. I had two main inspirations for what I wanted to do. On the one hand, outright activism like Dr Marston and Wonder Woman. When he wrote that comic, he did so with the explicit goal of educating young boys on how to accept feminine leadership and treat women with respect.
Then, on the other hand, you have pure self-expression, like Stan Lee and Spider-Man. Peter Parker’s daily misadventures paralleled Stan Lee’s own troubles with women, cars, rent, and more.
Therefore I wanted to tell an exciting and relatable adventure as Stan Lee would, but with the explicit political goal of fostering goodwill for trans and Muslim people in the nerd community, like Dr Marston would. So, my intention was, first and foremost, to make something fun and entertaining but to inject it with my real lived experiences to show how easy it is for everyone to relate to us when given a chance.
Is there any of you in Kobra Olympus?
Kobra Olympus is less like who I actually am and more like who I wish I were. She’s a little sweeter, a little smarter, and much more athletic. But I do give her a lot of my anxieties, insecurities, and foibles.
One thing you’ll be able to see in the finished comic is a scene at the end where you get to see Kobra’s room. It shows her hobbies and interests, all of which are actually mine. I had a clear vision of what kind of posters she’d have and even what stuffed animals would live on her bed!
Bijhan Agha will be starting a Kickstarter campaign in June to fund the printing of a collector’s first edition of Time Wars: The Adventures of Kobra Olympus. To find out more go to the campaign page here.
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