Interview: From Nigeria to Buckhead, WA...The Sci-Fi Thrills of Shobo!
Feb 15, 2022
Interview by Troy-Jeffrey Allen
What strange secrets lie in the mysterious town of Buckhead, USA? Shobo has the answer...
In the BOOM! Studios mini-series Buckhead, writer Shobo takes the inner turmoil of an outsider and creates an open-world thriller! PREVIEWSworld hung out with the Nigerian-born scribe to find out more about Buckhead, his personal relationship with comics, the perils of outsider syndrome, and more!
How did you get into comics as a fan?
I grew up in Nigeria in the 80s, and comics were not easy to get a hold of. Still, my dad was a big fan of John Buscema, and so every now and then, a Conan comic would show up in the house. I'd pore over every page, marveling at his massive muscles and the incredible vistas on show.
Marvel and DC superhero books were even more challenging to find. The ones we did get were black and white reprints on ultra-cheap newsprint. They were so rare that every single one felt like a treasure. You pretty much never got a complete arc, so you had to piece together stories from the pieces that you had.
I'd say the core of my experience with comics came from reading Franco-Belgian comics like Asterix & Obelix and Tintin. I'm not sure how or why, but my parents managed to put together a pretty nice collection of Asterix comics before I was born. I'd trace over the pictures and then make up my own little adventures with the characters. I'd redesign Asterix's indomitable Gaulish village and the cozy-looking huts because I wanted to live there. I did the same thing with Tintin comics. At school, we'd trade them back and forth like currency. I'd draw and redraw Marlinspike Hall because I didn't just want to read about those worlds; I wanted to live in them.
I guess I became a fan of comics because I wanted those fantastic worlds to be real so damn bad.
Let's get into Buckhead first since that's a few issues in. Catch us up to speed. What is the story about?
The main character in the story, Toba, has moved to the quiet town of Buckhead, Washington, a place with more than its fair share of startling secrets.
On the first day of school, Toba and his friends discover a strange videogame in the basement of the computer lab that appears to be a virtual recreation of an ancient Nigerian city. Soon after, he notices shadowy figures in black trenchcoats popping up all over Buckhead, and the townsfolk are acting weird. Later that night, Toba's mom is abducted by the black trenchcoat-wearing goons he saw earlier. So there's a mystery brewing in Buckhead, and it's up to Toba and his friends to solve it, find his mom, and save the town.
What can you tell us about Toba? Why do we follow him through this story?
When a kid moves 3,000 miles across the planet, leaving family, friends, and everything they've ever known to start a new life, it's an adventure in the truest sense of the word.
We meet Toba while he's still mourning the loss of his dad. Toba's vulnerable; he's hoping to make new friends, and he's lost, angry and excited all at the same time. We follow him through his story as he tries to build a support structure for himself in a new world with perils at every corner.
Being an immigrant kid can be incredibly lonely and isolating. You have to draw strength from something constant, something maybe you've never given much thought to; culture and tradition. But, of course, these are also the things that identify you as different. So you draw courage from the people in this new place who decide they want to be your friend. They're the people who want to help, to listen, to learn, and who cherish your individuality. I felt it was essential to tell that story.
How did Buckhead come about as a project?
A few years ago, I watched a documentary about people who LIDAR scan places of historical importance to preserve them. The idea stuck in my head, and I imagined a pair of modern Indiana Jones-esque adventurers doing just that across Africa. Those characters became Toba's mom and dad, but then I thought, what does their kid get up to?
Buckhead began to come together when I decided to take elements of Alex Proyas's Dark City and Joel Schumacher's Lost Boys, add a twist of Persona 4, a healthy dose of Assassin's Creed, sprinkle in a little of me, and toss everything in a blender.
This was still just a loose collection of ideas, of course. Things didn't really get moving until I pitched the concept to Dafna Pleban at Boom! She saw something in the pitch she liked, and pretty soon, I was working with Shannon Watters and Kenzie Rzonca. They helped see Buckhead through a difficult year for the industry in 2020. I was sure Buckhead would get canceled because who takes a chance on untested talent in that climate? It didn't.
We made it out the other side, and from then, it was full-steam ahead. George Kambadais came on board and just started churning out the most stunning concept sketches. Soon after, colored pages began to come in like clockwork from George, and those pages were lettered by the incredible Jim Campbell. When Shannon left Boom! late last year, Sophie Philips-Roberts swooped in like an absolute badass and guided the SS Buckhead to port. Cover artists were lined up, edits were made, and design was designed. Finally, that collection of loose ideas began pulling itself into the beautiful little book you're hopefully all enjoying.
Buckhead's the first book I've done with a publisher, so it's been humbling to see how many folks actually leave their fingerprints on the thing you end up buying at the comic shop.
What made you want to set this in the Pacific Northwest?
I moved to the Pacific Northwest right around the time I started writing Buckhead at the beginning of 2020. I was trapped in a 500 square foot studio apartment for months on end. I'd leave the apartment only to go on lonely walks, skipping hurriedly past other faceless folks equally petrified by my presence. The Pacific Northwest just seemed like the place to set my horror story. There's something about this part of the country that's wonderfully eerie, and I think I've fallen in love with it.
BOOM! Box is BOOM! Studios' younger readers imprint yet this is a horror story of sorts. How do you walk that line between scary enough and too scary for young readers?
When you're a kid, tense experiences are just waiting around every corner to challenge you. You have to introduce yourself to class at a new school when you have a "funny" name, meet new friends, get a zit on the first day of school, etc. It's just new things and tense situations being thrown at you all the time. Once you've established that baseline level of discomfort, you can start to layer on the supernatural.
George helped settle the look of our antagonists; the eerie Black Suit Goons and the Ajogun, the menacing otherworldly creatures from African mythology that haunt Toba and Buckhead. Kids need monsters, and it's okay to be scared by them because those monsters can be defeated, and that fear can be conquered.
And then, in February, your series New Masters is arriving in comic shops. What can you tell us about that without spoiling it?
I can say that New Masters draws from a lot of the experiences I talked about when I was telling you how I became a fan of comics. There's some Tintin in there, some Conan, even a little Asterix if you look hard enough. There's also a bunch of stuff in there that I was exposed to when I moved to the US in 2000. There's some Firefly, some Farscape, some Lord of the Rings, and a bit of Cowboy Bebop as well.
In terms of the story, I can tell you that it takes place on Earth thousands of years from now, and we follow a family of outcasts trying to make ends meet in a system run by aliens. But, all around them, there are governments and corporations and the specter of colonialism that just keeps throwing dirt in their faces. One of the things that I believe makes New Masters unique is that it's built on the bones of African mythology. As a result, it presents a universe with depth and texture that I think people will enjoy diving deep into.
And what about the creative duo that is Shobo and Shof? For the uninitiated, who are they?
Hopefully, you've got a pretty good idea who Shobo is by now! Shof, my lovely brother, is a phenomenally talented artist, a hard worker, and a trusted collaborator.
We shared a fantastic childhood, so we've got a lot of cultural influences and references in common, and there's a creative shorthand that we enjoy. We experienced the beauty and the beast that is Lagos, laughed at the place, loved the place, cried for the place, and hoped for the place.
At our core, we share the same desire to explore and present the culture we grew up in, to share some of the spice that makes Nigeria such a special place.
What made you want to collaborate with your brother on New Masters?
I've always wanted to work with Shof. From a young age, we understood we had a responsibility to tell African stories. It wasn't just about the art or the love of the craft for us; it was a responsibility. I know Shof feels that weight, and I trust him to carry it.
Also, he's a passable artist.
Tell us about this motley crew of "outcasts" that are at the center of New Masters. Who are they?
They're four business partners who take on unglamorous jobs to put food on the table and buy enough fuel to keep the lights on. Sulesh, a Jovian pilot and the group's leader, there's Stein, a con-man who's second in command, Perso, a polymath and Sulesh's husband, and a Denarii, the muscle.
We meet the outcasts when they take on what they think is a simple job that'll pay handsomely. But they very quickly discover that what they've stolen puts them in the crosshairs of people with more wealth and power than they can imagine.
Is this overtly sci-fi or are you bringing in a bunch of different genre elements?
It's very sci-fi, but there's a lot of other stuff layered in there. There's adventure, a little pulp, action, family dynamics, and social commentary. The special sauce is the layer of Afrofuturism that underpins all of this, though.
As I mentioned before, New Masters is built on the bones of African mythology, and we use that to inform what our future looks like. What values are essential to the people in the story? What does the architecture look like? How do people name things? How is technology treated? There's been a ton of thought that's gone into building this world from the ground up, and I hope readers enjoy it.
Looking forward, what can readers expect from New Masters?
Expect the stakes in New Masters to keep getting raised. Expect to go to new places and meet new people. Expect to pore over panels, and notice little background details on subsequent read-throughs. Expect fun and adventure. Expect to fall in love with a world.
In terms of audience, who would you say your comics are for?
Who would I say my comics are for? I know what I should say, but the truth is, they're for me. I need to get that weight off my shoulders. I need to build and live in the worlds I wanted to make real so badly when I was a kid. But hey, I'm not selfish; come live in these worlds with me.
Buckhead and New Masters are available now at comic shops. Reserve your copy today using PREVIEWSworld Pullbox!
Toba and his mother, a renowned scientist, have just immigrated to the US. But instead of living in the Big City like Toba always dreamed, they've moved to a sleepy little town in the Pacific Northwest called BUCKHEAD.
In the middle of the picturesque and pedestrian town, Toba discovers that things aren't as perfect as they seem...
Toba and his newfound friends find a strange video game, a perfect replica of the town and its people. Soon Toba is on the run from men in black, with his friends brainwashed by microchips.
An astonishing new series from Shobo Coker (Outcasts of Jupiter) and George Kambadais (The Black Ghost) perfect for fans of Eve and Home Sick Pilots!
* Toba is no match for the goons and the intelligence, Ewon. But maybe with the mysterious girl he's been seeing around town, he might stand a chance...
Together they start piecing together what's really going on in Buckhead and how it's all connected to an ancient being of chaos!
But to free everyone's parents, they must enter the Elseverse using a device made by Toba's mom, as long as they can get past the men in black first...
* With security at the school tighter than expected, the friends must split up: plunging Toba into the Elseverse, while the rest race to disable the transmitter controlling the town.
* Even if Toba finds his father, as well as the means to potentially save the town, the battle for Buckhead has only begun...
But that's not all they'll have to contend with... as an ancient power once thought defeated is freed from the Elseverse, spelling almost certain doom for them all!
Experience the epic conclusion to this incredible adventure as the mystery of the Eben sword is finally revealed.
Troy-Jeffrey Allen is the producer and co-host of PREVIEWSworld Weekly. His comics work includes MF DOOM: All Caps, Public Enemy's Apocalpyse '91, Fight of the Century, the Harvey Award-nominated District Comics, and the Ringo Awards-nominated Magic Bullet.