In conversation: John Jennings

September 26, 2018
By Lilian Tran, CHASS Student Worker, Marketing & Communications


John Jennings professor of Media and Cultural Studies / Photo Courtesy of UCR Today

John Jennings is an illustrator and professor in UCR’s Media and Cultural Studies department. Jennings won an Eisner Award for best medium adaptation for another medium for Octavia E. Butler’s classic "Kindred" at the San Diego Comic-con in collaboration with Damian Duffy. The Eisner Award is considered the equivalent of an Academy Award for comics.

Jennings is currently working on artistic sketches for the adaptation of Octavia E. Butler's “Parable of the Sower” with Damian Duffy, and will be co-curating a show at the Auburn Research Library in Atlanta with artist Kevin Sipp. UCR Arts will also be showcasing Jennings' project, “UNCAGED: HERO FOR HIGHER, The Luke Cage Illustrated Syllabus.”  on Nov. 17.

We recently had the opportunity to interview John Jennings via email.

How was your experience at Comic-Con and what was it like to host various panels?

Comic-Con is always hectic. It’s an honor to be at the event but, since I have become more of a professional producer and editor of comics, the Con has become a lot more business oriented for me. So, this year I helped to arrange a panel, put together an off-site event, and participate on five panels. It’s very different when you move from being there for the fandom aspect and move into the professional arena. I was only on the convention floor on Sunday as a “fan.”

How did you feel when you were announced the winner for the Eisner Award?

I spent most of the summer trying not to be obsessed with the nomination. I wasn’t really ready for the amount of energy and will it takes to not think about something! The Eisner Award is as big as an Oscar in the medium of comics, and we were up against some amazingly well-done books. Our award was announced third from the last of the evening, and so Damian and myself had to wait for almost the entire ceremony to hear the results. Mind you, the event was running about 90 minutes over time so we were in the space from 7pm until about 11:30pm. My stomach was in knots. The crowd cheered for us in the moments before the announcement when the nominees were called. The crowd erupted in joy when we won. It was a great feeling. It means very much to us that we can help people understand how special Octavia E. Butler’s work is and how much of an honor it is to be a part of helping to protect and push her legacy forward. It’s something we take very seriously, and we will continue to try and do her honor as long as we are connected to adapting her works into comics.

Kindred graphic photo
Kindred graphic photo courtesy of UCR Today

What was the most difficult process while creating your adaptation of Octavia Butler’s novel, "Kindred"?  

For me, the pure physical and emotional aspect was the hardest thing. It’s a massive undertaking, and the effect of dealing with slavery was something that I really hadn’t prepared for.

What was the most rewarding thing that came out of writing your adaptation?

When her estate agent and good friend Merrilee emailed us that we had debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Sellers list, that was worth all the pain and trouble of adapting this momentous book.

You assisted in organizing the post-Comic Con offsite event, Afrofuturism Lounge. What is the Afroguturisim Lounge and what was it like to plan the event?

The Afrofuturism Lounge was an offsite event that was put together by Qamar Allen Bradford, LaWanna Richmond, Keithan Jones and myself. It was a space where Black speculative independent artists and publishers could gather together and sell their work, discuss issues around representation in comics, and fellowship outside of the hectic energy of San Diego Comic Con. It was a lot of fun, although I really couldn’t even attend my own event due to the amount of other professional events I had going on.

What are some new projects you are currently working on?

Currently, I am working on sketches for the adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s "Parable of the Sower" for ABRAMS ComicArts with Damian Duffy. I am also finishing up edits and colors on my horror series, “Box of Bones,” with collaborator Ayize Jama Everett. I am also co-curating a show at the Auburn Research Library in Atlanta, with artist Kevin Sipp. Another project that I have underway is called "UNCAGED: HERO FOR HIGHER, The Luke Cage Illustrated Syllabus." It’s a project that is opening at UCR Arts on November 17. It will look at the character Luke Cage and how he has become a signifier for Black masculinity in the Marvel Comics publishing universe.

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