Interview: Balogun Ojetade of Ki-Khanga: The Sword & Soul RPG~
There are a myriad of voices in the steampunk community, and while Sepiachord focuses on music and Victorian Adventure Enthusiast focuses on role-playing games, we are always interested in getting to know more bright lights in the scene at large. Today we are honored to present our interview with author and blogger Balogun Ojetade.
Victorian Adventure Enthusiast: When did you start “The Chronicles of Harriet”? Why did you pick the name?
Balogun Ojetade: I started the blog The Chronicles of Harriet in January of 2012. I picked the name because it is the name of my first Steamfunk work, Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman and because I seek to bring the same spirit of freedom, justice, equality, ingenuity and boldness – fueled by a love for Steampunk and Heroic Fantasy – synonymous with Harriet Tubman, to every article I write.
VAE: What led you to create the blog? Why a blog over other creative outlets?
BO: The blog was born after a group of Black authors of speculative fiction decided to get together for a blog tour to bring awareness to the wealth of great horror, fantasy and science fiction out there that is written by Black people and featuring Black main characters.
I had a blog I created to share my writings on martial arts and an occasional work of short fiction. I rarely used it. I decided to revise it; to polish it and to deal more with fiction – particularly Steampunk.
During the tour, which included six or seven posts, I found that I loved blogging, so I decided to continue doing it. I purchased the domain name and voila! Here we are.
The Chronicles of Harriet is not my only creative outlet, as I am a novelist, author of non-fiction short story writer and filmmaker.
VAE: The definition of steampunk is one that lots of folks wrestle with, how do you define it?
BO: I define Steampunk as a literary genre – a marriage of science fiction and fantasy – that features the technological and social aspects of an Age of Steam. It is also a visual aesthetic and a philosophy that embraces a fantastical past while incorporating a spirit of progress, exploration and do-it-yourself ingenuity.
VAE: You go beyond the historical lens of steampunk into the realm of “steamfunk”, what is steamfunk?
BO: Steamfunk is how I express Steampunk. I call myself – and others who express Steampunk through Steamfunk – a Steamfunkateer.
Steamfunk is a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or Steampunk fiction. In the world of Steamfunk, steam is the “nuclear power” of an industrial era – whether that era takes place during the Victorian Period of the 1800s, in ancient Egypt, or in a future in which steam takes the place of fusion power.
VAE: A good journalist, a good blogger, should have a unique perspective on the world and the subjects they address. How do you see the world when you blog? How is your perspective on steampunk different than other blogs?
BO: I see the world as one that is both beautiful and brutal. It is just as dark, cold, aloof and cruel as it is brilliant, warm, loving and overflowing with opportunity. I see all aspects of the world worthy of expression and that artists should render the world as they see it, regardless to whom or what. That is my perspective. Other bloggers may have that same perspective. However, I differ from most Steampunk bloggers in that I do not express Steampunk through a Eurocentric pen. There are several Steampunk People of Color who are doing some amazing things – Diana Pho / Ay-Leen, the Peacemaker; Jaymee Goh; Tenisha “Nivi” Hicks; Savan Gupta / A Count Named Slick Brass; Pablo Miguel Alberto Vazquez / Mr. Saturday. They have all been inspirations for me and when I began writing blogs, I took that inspiration to educate the world on Steampunk as done / seen / experienced through the eyes, minds, styles and actions of people of African descent.
VAE: How did you discover steampunk?
BO: I grew up, sitting at the feet of my mother, watching The Wild, Wild West – one of her favorite television shows. I knew that one day, I would write stories with amazing retrofuturistic technology and awesome fight scenes, just like I saw every week.
When I wrote Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, I wanted Harriet to be my version of Jim West and the super-genius, Baas Bello to be my version of Artemus Gordon. Of course, Harriet Tubman was really one of the Black Dispatches – the Black espionage agents who helped the Union win the war, so she was already a kind of “James Bond on horseback”, as The Wild, Wild West’s creator, Michael Garrison, envisioned James T. West.
When I submitted the novel to my publisher, she wrote me, praising the book as “a great Steampunk novel”. I thanked her…and then googled “steampunk”. After a bit of research, I came to a clear understanding of what Steampunk is. I turned to my wife and said: “I finally have a name for what I have been into all my life!”
VAE: What do you love about steampunk?
BO: I love the do-it-yourself philosophy and the ingenuity that philosophy demands when putting it into practice. I enjoy the freedom of expression and the willingness of other Steampunks to accept that expression, as long as it makes some modicum of sense, at least. When I first began to present the concept of Steamfunk, I was challenged – What is it? Is there a need for it? Isn’t it just Black Steampunk? – which I was grateful for. People could have just disregarded me and my ideas, but they didn’t. Once people understood what I – and other Steamfunk authors – was doing, they became supportive and the support has grown tremendously.
VAE: What do see as the biggest challenge to steampunk as a scene/community/movement?
BO: I think the biggest challenge to Steampunk is the mainstreaming of it. Mainstreaming usually equates to loss of control. This can only happen, however, if we allow it. We can take advantage of the mainstream to gain a wider audience for what we do as Steampunks; to attract more good people. If we unify, continue to produce our brilliant writings, music, fashion, films and crafts and support each other’s work, we can maintain creative control of this community / movement.
VAE: As an author you have a short story in the Steamfunk anthology. How did that project come together?
BO: The Steamfunk anthology came about from a conversation that I and several authors had online about the lack of Steampunk stories told from a Black / African perspective. We all agreed we would create an anthology in which we would tell such stories. Author Maurice Broaddus suggested we call it Steamfunk and author / publisher Milton Davis agreed to publish it.
Shortly thereafter, I went to Milton and offered my knowledge and experience as a Steampunk and Steamfunk author to the project and became the anthology’s co-editor. We put out the call for submissions and received amazing stories from a diverse group of writers from several countries. We picked the fourteen best stories and beautiful artwork by illustrator Marcellus Shane Jackson for our cover and put together a brilliant work that we and the contributing authors are quite proud of and that readers love.
VAE: What other writing projects do you have under your belt?
BO: I am author of Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman, the aforementioned Steamfunk novel, as well as the Sword and Soul novel, Once Upon A Time in Afrika, the Urban Fantasy novel, Redeemer and Ki-Khanga: A Sword and Soul Anthology. I am also the author of several short stories which are available on my website. Finally, I am the author of a non-fiction book, Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within.
VAE: I’m really into role-playing games. Would you tell me more about Ki-Khanga™: The Sword & Soul RPG? How does it differ from “traditional” RPGs?
BO: I have been a player and Gamemaster of pen-and-paper role-playing games for over thirty years, starting with Dungeons & Dragons.
DnD was very Eurocentric, however and I was always asked by my friends to create scenarios set in Africa. In 1987, issue # 122 of Dragon Magazine featured an article by the founder of Sword and Soul – and author of the Imaro series of novels – Charles Saunders entitled “Out of Africa”. The article was about the deadly and mysterious creatures of Africa. This article planted the seed in my head to create a role-playing game set in Africa. Not a supplement set in Africa, but a stand-alone role-playing game – something very different from the games that were already on the market.
Chasing women, partying and (occasionally) school led to me abandoning the project for several years. By the time I decided to return to the development of the game, I found myself married and raising a family. In 2006, the idea for the game would not leave me and I began its development. In 2011, I told author and publisher Milton Davis about the game and he asked me to send him the system I created. He –and his son Brandon, an experienced gamer, liked my concept but felt the system, which had no random generator, needed one. Not wanting to use dice, like most other games, I decided to use playing cards as the random generator. I revamped the system, which Milton liked and we began building the world of Ki-Khanga and writing stories to familiarize people with that world. The system is fully developed and is in the play-testing phase now. After several play-tests, which have gone well, we are now working with illustrators to create visual representations of the nations, people, creatures and technology of Ki-Khanga and anticipate an early 2014 release.
Cover of Imaro 1981 Daw Books
VAE: What steampunk writers and creators inspire you?
BO: I am most inspired by the authors Cherie Priest and Margaret Killjoy. Priest, because she is the first to write a brilliant series that is a uniquely American expression of Steampunk. Killjoy because he has an ingeniously entertaining way of expressing his anarchist philosophy through his writings.
As far as bloggers, I am most inspired by Jaymee Goh. In fact, it is Jaymee who inspired me to take the direction I went with my blog and who introduced me to the extraordinary Black people who preceded me as Steampunks. While many might disagree with Jaymee’s approach, her genius, genuineness and fearlessness is undeniable.
As far as makers, I am most inspired by Tony Hicks of Tinplate Studios and Thomas Willeford of Brute Force Studios.
Finally, I am most inspired by the performance artists Diana Pho / Ay-Leen, the Peacemaker and Pablo Miguel Alberto Vasquez / Mr. Saturday. They are both brilliant and creative performance artists who are also proud people of color. They are also two of the most dynamic and intelligent panelists I have ever had the pleasure of being in the presence of.
VAE: How long have you been involved in martial arts?
BO: I have been training in indigenous African martial arts for over forty years. It is a lifelong endeavor and my first love.
VAE: What’s more important: what you wear or the attitude with which you wear it?
BO: They are one and the same.
What you wear speaks to your attitude. If I wear flip flops, board shorts and a tank top to a wedding, I am making a bold statement that reveals what I think of the couple and their union.
When I dress as my Steamfunk persona, Ogunlana, in traditional African warrior dress and the trappings of a European airship captain, I am telling you a story whether I am in character as the fierce and somewhat pompous Ogunlana, or I am laughing my head off as I watch my children engage in a tea duel.
VAE: Any final thoughts?
BO: I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts. Sepiachord is a magnificent website and I am honored to be here!
Check out the Chronicles of Harriet blog here: