Independent Jones: For The Brothers Coker, Outcasts of Jupiter a Family Affair

Outcasts of Jupiter Written by Shobo Coker Art by Shof Coker
Outcasts of Jupiter
Written by Shobo Coker
Art by Shof Coker

Our latest installment of Independent Jones centers on a Kickstarter project with just 17 days left by two brothers from Lagos, Nigeria. Shofela and Shobowela Coker, more commonly known as Shof and Shobo, are seeking to crowd-fund their upcoming comic book Outcasts of Jupiter. While from the same family, they are now in two very different places. Shof resides in sunny California while Shobo resides in the equally sunny, yet significantly farther away locale of The Philippines. With their sister Funlola they are teaming together to tell a futuristic action-adventure story that also offers some very nifty incentives for donors. From digital wallpaper to more unique rewards like one-of-a-kind sketch books, hand-crafted mini-figures, and 7-inch sculptures, this sibling creative team has plenty to offer the public.

I was fortunate enough to join brothers Shof and Shobo last night for an interview about their lives growing up in Nigeria, their creative backgrounds, the Kickstarter project, and their love of Tintin.

Q: What is Outcasts of Jupiter?

Shofela Coker: Shobo is the writer so I’ll let him pitch it.

Shobowale Coker: Sure, if you’d asked me a week ago, I might have had some difficulty boiling it down, but I think we’ve gotten pretty good at it!
Outcasts is the A-Team in space with a dash of Conan, a little bit of Asterix and Obelix, a dose of Tintin, and healthy heaping of Coker CoOp originality, stuff we’re taking from our upbringing in Nigeria and African influence.‏
That’s the elevator pitch. The sappy pitch is that it’s a project Shof and I have been dreaming of working on for years. Since we were kids. Life has always gotten in the way, but now we’re at a place where we have the ability and time to work on it. We’re hoping it’ll tell a unique, entertaining story, give readers a new insight on African creators, and inspire African kids. If that sounds vain… it really isn’t meant to!
Q: What is The Coker CoOp?
Shof: It’s an informal group of us three siblings, my brother, sister and myself, working on projects that we’ve been trying to create since we were young. We all have day jobs that involve the use of our various skills. Shobo works in marketing, I work in video games and animation, my sister works as a sculptor. We decided a year ago that we wanted to try and create a small and manageable project that we could share with the world and Outcasts of Jupiter is that first foray.‏
Shobo: Yup, that’s about right, I’ll add that right now Coker CoOp isn’t a company of any kind. Like Shof said, it’s just an informal group, a name we came up with to identify collaborative projects that Shof, myself and our sister, Funlola work on together.

Q: What has your experience been like creating this comic book together as siblings?

Shof: We’ve actually collaborated on projects in the past so Outcasts had no learning curve. Shobo usually creates the initial spark in writing and we both work together to develop the world and universe for the comic.‏

Shobo: We’ve collaborated before, as Shof said, but Outcasts feels like the most in-sync we’ve been on a project. As a writer, it’s really neat because we grew up together and have many of the same core influences, so I can make references, use shorthand, and Shof understands that.

Q: What is it like creating this comic book together, even though you’re Worlds away from one another? What is that process like?

Shof: I should mention that one of the reasons we decided to work on Outcasts was because we live so far apart. Being so far apart allows us to be more measured with each other and respect the time that we devote to the project.

Shobo: We decided to work on Outcasts specifically because we live so far apart now. Our initial idea was to create a trade paperback sized book, but that proved difficult because of the sheer volume of work required. We figured a smaller project, something episodic was the answer.

The process itself is pretty simple. I write a draft, show it to Shof and he gives feedback. I wish I could say they were raised voices and yelling about decisions, but there really isn’t. If Shof’s unhappy with the story, he’ll tell me about it, and explain why, and I agree, it gets changed. It works the same way with the art.

Q: Can you talk a little about what your upbringing was like?

Shof: Growing up in Nigeria was great. We are a pretty close-knit family so we did a lot together. Now Nigeria in the 90’s had economic and political issues that of course influenced my childhood; but it was mostly just us playing soccer in the garden, creating monster Lego ramps because we were so bored during power outages. School was also very important and my parents made sure we focused quite hard in school. Growing up in Nigeria, you come to appreciate the power of improvising things creatively to fit your objectives and that’s a skill I cherish today. For instance, turning a toothpaste carton into a truck with bottle caps nailed to the sides.

Shobo: It was extremely happy. I think we were incredibly fortunate, because our parents (who are both artists) supported our creative endeavors from a young age. Lagos can be a tough place to grow up, there’s often no power, running water can be spotty, life can be difficult, but our parents always made sure we never wanted for anything. We entertained ourselves and we always made each other laugh.

Q: What were some of your childhood inspirations, growing up?

Shof: My brother is five years older than me so whatever he liked or thought was cool, I did too. Although when his friend told him that he could buy Mutagen that would transform them into Turtles, I didn’t believe it. Shobo did. I really loved the books we had when we were kids. A lot of them were Enid Blyton books, but the most interesting ones were the Tintin and Asterix and Obelix books. My dad was a university professor too, so it was always great seeing his students work when we visited him at the office.

Shobo:  I always wanted to be able to draw as well as my dad, he is remarkably good at capturing light and shade and volume, and I think he taught us both some core artistic principles that have served us well beyond the medium. Things like line weight, volume, perspective and composition, we learned all those things at a really young age. Other kids in school and art class had little understanding of those concepts. It felt like having x-ray vision, or some sort of super power. That ability to look at images analytically and aesthetically really helps you see everything differently, not just art, but literature too.

Q: Did you have access to popular culture or comic books?

Shof: We did! And it was like gold because it was hard to get, especially early in my life. We had Marvel and DC books. I was really into Spider-Man then and still have a soft spot for him today. My grandfather would take us to the local store and get some comics for us back then. Unfortunately there weren’t very many local Nigerian comics on the shelves, but I didn’t care back then! We played a lot of Nintendo and Playstation of course. Games were scarce, but there was always an uncle or cousin returning from America or England that could bring something back.

Shobo: We absolutely did! It was often a few years out of date, but we watched Sesame Street, Ninja Turtles, had He-Man toys, the works. We were and still are voracious consumers of popular culture. It was impossible to “collect” comic books, but I had a healthy stack of Superman, Spider-Man, Tintin, Asterix and Conan books!

Q: What where some of your major influences?

Shof: Like I said I read a lot of Spiderman. Romita Jr’s Spider-Man in particular. Asterix and Oblelix, Tintin, and we had a few Aurthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac fairytale books that I still love till this day.

Shobo: Major influences are hard to pinpoint. It may sound silly, but I’d say Superman because he’s just… good, and that’s it, there’s little complication to the character despite the fact so many writers try to paint him as tortured. I don’t tend to read many Superman comics these days, but I love what the character stands for. TV is a major influence for me, I adore the way stories are told in that medium, and I don’t mean just well written stuff like Breaking Bad or Battlestar Galactica, I love the schlock, I’ll sit down and watch Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda all day because I love that sense of no-consequences adventure and bizarre, off the wall creativity. Oh, and Star Trek is a huge influence for me too!

Culturally, I think I’ve been influenced hugely by growing up an African in the modern era, there’s so much flavor, so many stories and experiences… it’s impossible not to be influenced by them, and they’re too numerous to mention here, I’m hoping we can bring some of that to the books (yup plural!) and other media we create.

Shof: Andromeda *shudder*

Shobo: Which I will defend until my dying breath!

Q: What inspired the creation Outcasts of Jupiter?

Shof: Outcasts of Jupiter is a story born of an earlier one Shobo and I tried to create. Shobo developed a character called Jupiter Jonah some time ago, a space faring, time mislpaced Nigerian that roams the galaxy on a many quests and adventures, all the while trying to return home. It was too large in scope (200 page book) and it ended up very difficult to produce in our off hours. Years down the road (last year to be precise) we decided to use the same universe in order to tell a prequel story of Jupiter Jonah and Outcasts was born. Outcasts was developed to be episodic and smaller in scope so publishing it would be much more manageable task. The world of Outcasts stems from our shared love of pulp adventure and science fiction. Books like Tintin, John Carter of Mars, Conan and shows like Firelfy, helped to influence the tone and art. We both also have a deep appreciation and knowledge of Yoruba and some African mythology that we intend to weave into Outcasts’ story‏.

Q: You all are offering some very unique incentives to the donors for this project. How much time actually goes into the creation of the rewards? Can you talk about what that is like, making sure your donors receive their books and donation incentives in a timely manner? This is a problem that is fairly common in this kind of venue.

Shobo: Creating and planning the rewards took a lot of early planning. We’ve been working on the Kickstarter for about half a year now. It takes a LOT of time to do it right. For example, if you’re making T-shirts, you need to learn everything about them. Read reviews on the different manufacturers and decide on the basic shirt. How much does it cost, does the material feel good? What’s the weight like. Then do research on the printers, figure out who does the best work, what colors they print, what printing process they use.

Once you’ve got that information, you need to start contacting them and trying to get the best quality at the best price. It was sort of eye-opening, because we had to do that for everything that’s being produced by third parties. The posters, postcards, shirts, even the figures. Making sure that donors receive books in a timely manner took just as much time and effort. We did a lot of research into previous Kickstarters, to find out what problems folks ran into and what caused them. We eventually decided to go with third party fulfillment, because they’re built for that, and we aren’t. They can do it much better than we can, and faster too.

One thing we keep asking ourselves every step of the way is, “would we wear that? Would we put that up on our shelves”? We’re both snobs when it comes to the stuff we buy (I think most geeks are) and have very high standards. If we’re going to make something, we want it to look and feel great, and we want people who donate to feel that they’ve got stuff that’s worth more than they expected.

Q: What are your thoughts on the use of crowd-funding? You’re implementing it here and it is very popular among creative people. What do you see as the positives and negatives of this venue?

Shof: Well we’ve both tried to produce creative work using more traditional methods… pitches and publisher, with varying degrees of success. Kickstarter allows us to do something very personal without much influence a third party. It affords us the kind of control we desire with a project like this. The only negative I can foresee is the amount of time and effort spent if the project is unsuccessful and I’m not trying to entertain that idea.

Shobo: I think that what crowd-funding has contributed in the relatively short period it’s been popular validates it. We’ve had incredible comics, movies, art installations, radio plays and video games that would otherwise never have seen the light of day produced. It gives the people who back it an outlet and a voice, they’re able to say, “you know what, I LIKE the idea of a comic book about the ghost of a boy haunting a cab driver”. It gives readers a voice I think. They get to vote on what they want with their dollars, and not just because the big publishers think they’ll like a book.

On the negative side, it also opens them up to disappointment when projects they back fall through. Kickstarter is powered by creative people, and sometimes they aren’t the best business people. They don’t manage the money, or their timelines or you know, life happens and a project falls through. Every time that happens, it damages the ecosystem.

Q: Have you sought out any publishers to carry your title or will this project remain totally within your authority? Would you take a publisher’s financial aide or is this going to remain a Coker CoOp project if successful?

Shof: We did not actively seek a publisher for Outcasts of Jupiter, no. All the commitments we’ve agreed to on the Kickstarter are exclusive to it. We’d of course like the project to grow after the campaign and we’d be willing to entertain the idea of a publisher if we can maintain a fair amount of control.

Q: With the re-birth / renaissance of Image Comics, the new emphasis on Creator Owned content outside of the Big Two comic book publishing houses, and all of these new crowd-sourcing platforms available to people, how do you feel about state of this industry? As artists, do you feel these factors have made it easier or more difficult to have your work discovered?

Shobo: We think the future for comics really promising. Creator owned content isn’t a fad, it’ll stay for as long as people support it, and people support it because they’re getting unique voices, not a publisher voice. The Big Two are still the Big Two, but they’re spreading their reach beyond comics, and I think that their increasing ubiquity will drive readers to seek out… stuff that’s different. Crowd Funding, and creator owned houses like Image find a niche there. You don’t have to be a huge multi-million dollar publisher to get your books sold these days, Outcasts is proof of that. I think that creators need support from the local comic book stores though. It’s tough for them because creator owned books tend to be a little pricier than those made by big publishers, and shelf space is valuable, so if you’re not guaranteed a sale, it can be hard to take the risk‏.

If you are interested in supporting this project the link to the Kickstarter can be found HERE

Mike Sains

Mike Sains is a Writer, Interviewer, and the Editor of the Reviews Department for Capeless Crusader as well as other outlets online. He is also a podcaster and an avid collector of vinyl records and collectibles.

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