It seems like every day there’s a new announcement that a mainstream superhero has entered the live action or scene. Whether on television, film, video games, the mediums are endless and we’re met with an onslaught of DC or Marvel characters that have had exceptionally long histories. However, I’ve always held a tinge of disappointment and often feel like opportunities are missed when efforts aren’t being made by the large publishing houses to create and build new characters in addition to throwing money at their most well known names.
That’s when independent publishers and creators step in. Not only do they bring a breath of fresh air to the often stifling scene, they infuse significant cultural lore, style, and love. Samuel Stevquoah is one of these creators, and I spoke with him on his creation of Aundre Weah in Mill City’s Finest, “an action adventure animated web-series following the life of a first generation African American teen and his friends coming together to stop a threat in their hometown”.
Tatiana King Jones: Can you let the FanBros know more about your background and how you got started with producing Mill City’s Finest?
Samuel Stevquoah: I was born in Lowell, Massachusetts from Liberian, West African immigrant parents. Being second to last in a family of 7 siblings I had an immense passion for animation and storytelling. This passion led me to pursue a career in animation and graduate with my Bachelors of Science in Computer Animation. After being unsuccessful in finding work within the animation industry I decided to form my own production studio and develop Mill City’s Finest (MCF); a story that I’ve been building since my teenage years. This journey is nothing short of a childhood dream.
SS: There are so many different animated works I appreciate it and I’m a fan of. Static Shock being one of them. One of my favorite genres in animation is the super hero genre and drama. With MCF I wanted to give a different take on super hero stories by putting an African family lifestyle spin on it derived straight from my personal experiences within an African family. In addition to that I wanted to explore a coming of age story by delving into personal growth themes such as accepting change and embracing potential. What I find so interesting about how the super hero genre is moving today is some of the films coming out are political thrillers with super hero undertones, or drama films with super hero undertones. I feel MCF will be the same. It’s more than just a super hero story.
TKJ: Please explain the core story of MCF and if it’s meant to entertain or be a teaching vehicle (or both)?
SS: MCF is an action drama animated web-series that follows the life of Aundre Weah and his friends as they come together to stop a threat in their hometown. They quickly find out that their other personal desires are more a threat to their alliance than anything they hope to overcome together. It’s a series meant to entertain first and foremost. But my hope is that during the thrill of the series audiences will be able to relate to some of the conflicts our characters go through and can appreciate some of the cultural elements along the way.
TJK: How much work went into the creation of MCF (from inception to finalization of the animation, music, etc.). Who is part of the overall team that brought it to life?
SS: Before I formed my team, I illustrated all the drawings and wrote treatments for the story that I used to pitch to smaller production studios across the country to greenlight the project. Everyone passed on the idea. In 2014, I decided to get help and create a formal animation pitch bible. During the production of that I began visiting animation conventions, reading and researching, speaking with mentors who’ve had success in the industry. I eventually thought it was best to produce it independently and build a strong fan base and following in the process. Then at that point I can show that many people want to see Mill City’s Finest happen. While developing the bible, we switched gears to making a teaser trailer and debuted with over 150,000 views in less than a month! I couldn’t be more happy and proud.
TJK: I watched the clip a few times–so is this character actually you, or a piece of you?
SS: I put a lot of myself and personal experiences into this story. I would say every character is a reflection of myself or people I’m close to.
TJK: Are there any other family members (besides Mom :)) incorporated into the short?
SS: No. There were actually a lot of characters I wanted to incorporate into this short, but I was worried that it could be overcrowded. Aundre does have more family members, and they have appeared in a few of our promotional artworks. For this short, I wanted to have the core characters introduced first.
TJK: What was the thought process behind the design of Aundre’s costume and powers? May you also further clarify what his powers are? I saw a lot of force field/kinetic energy action, a la Sue Storm)
SS: Aundre’s alter ego name is Momolu. His design process was the most exciting for me. Aundre’s personality and who he is as a character is an African with western influence. It was very important that was reflected in his outfit. As Momolu, he wears a modern African tunic, sneakers, and precision gloves. He’s a parkour enthusiast so having loose fitting clothes was equally important. His mask was a challenging part because after doing research on a lot of different African masks none of them fit what I was trying to do with Aundre. So I decided to borrow from a few different masks and create my own. Aundre can create auras which are tied to mysticism. There a few things he can do with them such as create shields and his signature mask.
TJK: I am very intrigued (and happy!) that you decided to involve African fantasy into an African American story–what are your thoughts on how African American culture has shaped itself over the years?
SS: Personally, I’m so proud. I listen to more Afro-Beats (African music) now more than anything! I walk down the street and see people of different nationalities wearing dashikis. I’m thrilled! I’m so proud that the world is embracing the African culture. I can’t wait to see where it goes.
TKJ: What are your thoughts regarding the current state of people of color (POC) chars in animation/comics? What about Black people being represented in these mediums?
SS: I think people of color represented in animation is inspirational. I want to see it continue. I felt it was important to me that Aundre remain the main protagonist of the show. I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day where I wondered why everyone that views Mill City’s Finest immediately thinks of Static Shock. Does MCF have elements of Static Shock? Or is it because they’re aren’t many African American leads in animation so seeing Aundre in MCF just reminds them of Static Shock? Mill City’s Finest is not a series aimed only for people of color. It’s a series aimed for people. It just so happens that in order to stay true to the story’s original idea Aundre is the centered character. I hope that MCF can inspire creators of all ethnicities to not be afraid of their character’s race. We need to stay true to our ideas.
TJK: How do you feel when the race or gender of mainstream characters are changed to incorporate new stories? (ie Miles Morales as Spiderman, the female Thor, etc.)
SS: I actually have this conversation with my friends all the time. I personally love the incorporation of more diversity and don’t get so upset as others tend to. I like when the mantle of a hero is passed to another character. One of my favorite mainstream character change is Ri Ri Williams as Iron Heart. ABSOLUTELY. LOVE. IT. She’s also from MIT too (gotta rep Massachusetts ;-)).
TJK: Is MCF strictly animation or is there an accompanying graphic novel?
SS: At the moment we are focusing on the animation medium.
TJK: For those that are interested in creating their own animation, what advice would you give them to get started?
SS: I would tell them to trust their idea and take a leap of faith. It’s so easy to get comfortable and not make that jump. There was a time during the production of the trailer and bible where I didn’t want to release anything. I wanted to keep developing and not release anything until it was “ready.” After meeting with James Lopez the Creator of the animated work, “Hullabaloo” during my visit to CTN 2016 in Los Angeles, I learned that I needed to stop waiting for the right time, and just start. I realized that I was so afraid what others would say or think, and afraid that my idea could be rubbish. That same day I launched all the social network pages, released some concept art and was shocked by the amount of positive reception. We are truly are worst critics haha.
TJK: How do we get to see what happens next–does Aundre make it past his foes?
SS: We have so many surprises and more content coming up. I ask that everyone stay patient and keep following us on our social networks. We release content every day. You can find Mill City’s Finest on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @Mcfseries.