African Futurist Nnedi Okorafor Tells an Immigrant Story in LaGuardia

Political reality inserted itself into the blissfully insulated of . The Trump baby balloon bounced across the street from the convention center in San Diegos Gaslamp district. The Magicians actor Jade Tailor wore a Close the Camps shirt during her season 5 panel. Sen. cruised through and AOC comics were for sale.

Yet, searching the sprawling convention floor, youd be hard-pressed to find imagery more politically relevantor subversivethan the nine-foot-high poster for LaGuardia, a new graphic novel from African futurism writer Nnedi Okorafor. A pregnant -American woman in a bright blue , fist raised and flowing like a banner, leads a bridge-closing shoulder-to-tentacle with extraterrestrial beings. Their picket signs demand for , both and of off-world origin.

After a single-issue run, Dark Horse released the final, collected volume during last weeks San Diego Comic-Con. LaGuardia depicts an alternative present, where contact with aliens is made in in 2010. The protagonist Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka is modeled both in appearance and biography after the herself. After living for several years in , Future returns to the to illegally a plant-based escaping civil through Yorks LaGuardia airport. Once in the , she reconnects with her grandmother, an for of planetary origins. Before too , the announces a .

have a world where aliens have come, and theyre not trying to kill us and eat us and take our resources. Theyve become Earthlings, Okarofor says. Some human beings react wonderfully to it, or some human beings just are cool with it, and then others cant deal with it. And then we have the United States becoming more because of it.

Its not unusual for to anticipate reality, but its remarkable how every page of LaGuardia seems only 30 seconds ahead of the horrors playing out in the headlines, from testing and vetting at the nations entry points to the chant of send her back at the presidents recent rally. LaGuardia explores the concept of human-only at hospitals; meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates discussed for in their first televised .

Its disturbing, but at the same , it feels , because I feel like Ive tapped into the pulse of something, Okorafor says.

Yet this is a that she has been working on for years.

Issues of immigration, issues of , all these , theyre not new, and theyve been for a long time, she says.

Okorafor talks and writes from experience. The graphic novel introduces Future through an extended scene at LaGuardia, where she queues up for along with aliens of all shapes and sizes, as well as a little white who yanks on her locks. At the checkpoint, she is pulled aside for a second by a who asks invasive questions about whether the in her belly is human. The confrontation is ripped straight from an incident in 2009, when a TSA at LaGuardia took Okorafor to a private room to squeeze each of her four-and-a-half-foot locks for hidden contraband. Preoccupied with her , the officer missed the bottle of pepper spray that Okorafor had forgotten to remove from her bag. In LaGuardia, that misdirection allows the character to carry the alien through, undetected.

As an author, Okorafor travels a lot, and its become clear to her that airport and border crossings are more about control than .

Its the between, a place of contention, a place of displacement, a place of fear, a place of identity, she says. Its where you become very aware of all the things that you are and what they mean, in the context of where you are. And depending on who you are, that place can feel very hot or it can feel very chill.

San Diego Comic-Con can also be such a space, where creators contemplate who they are and where they are in their careers. In chapters of her , Okorafor was a semi-pro and later earned a PhD from the University of , , before becoming an award-collecting . Okorafor has been attending Comic-Con on-and-off since 2010, wheb she was a on The Panel, a forum for raising the profile of . This year was her first returning as a comic-book author.

In addition to writing LaGuardia for Dark Horses imprint Berger , Okorafor was tapped by to write Black Panther: Long Live the King and a spin-off about the Wakandan princess Shuri. In coming Comic-Cons, she be back with even more prominent projects: shes adapting Octavia Butlers Seed for and is developing her novel Who Fears , with author as a .

in chaos, organized chaos, wonderful, glorious, organized chaos, Okorafor says.

One could draw a straight line from Okorafor and LaGuardia to comics pioneer Eisner (after whom Comic-Cons are named) and his 1978 medium-defining graphic novel, A Contract with . Okorafor pulled the book off a university library shelf at random, without knowing it was a graphic novel, and was immediately transfixed by the blending of prose and images.

But also it was telling this immigrant story, especially about Jews, Okorafor says of A Contract with God, and coming from a family of immigrants, my parents being immigrants, I could relate so well to that. And so this was a book that I read over and over and over again for years.

Thats how Karen Berger, the editor who oversees Dark Horses Berger Book imprint, remembers Okorafor pitching the project: A Contract with God, but with aliens in an African American community. In Bergers mind, Eisner raised the bar by writing stories for adults based on his own experiences as the child of immigrants.

The best works are when people have a personal connection, and theres something about a writers past, or the writers personality, the writers passions in the character they write about, Berger says. As a piece of immigrant fiction, LaGuardia really fills that space.

LaGuardia is also about resistance, in all its forms, whether it be protesting, legal work, or holding the line within the system.

There are many ways of fighting the battle and battles happen on multiple fronts, all at the same time, Okorafor says. This year, San Diego Comic-Con became one of them.

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