Aspiring comic book creators have challenges on their journey toward making that first graphic novel. Perhaps none so tough as Kwame Teague, who is currently serving multiple life sentences behind bars in North Carolina for two counts of murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery.
While fighting to prove his innocence of these crimes, Teague started a writing career. He has penned novels that have become the gold standard for the urban fiction genre. Now the author has undertaken the new challenge of adapting his gritty storytelling style to the comic book medium with Verdict.
“Being incarcerated is probably the defining challenge externally,” explains Teague. The logistics of making a comic book behind bars is difficult. Scripts have to be handwritten on legal pads to be prepared by an outside editor. Artwork is censored so that it doesn’t run afoul of the prison mail rules. But like all writers he shares the common drive of polishing his craft to perfection. “Internally, its challenging to continue to push the envelope and tell better and better stories,” he says.
With his work-in-progress graphic novel Verdict, Teague digs into the life of a ruthless gangster named Dutch. “I wanted to tell the story of what I consider the embodiment of the one question that defines gangster ambition: how do you want it?”
Verdict opens on a modern day “trial of the century” where infamous gangster Dutch is fighting for his life. Through the testimony of friends and foes alike, the story flashes back to the Jersey streets that made the man. In doing so, Teague draws from his own experiences growing up in “Brick City”.
“It’s basically a combination of situations I knew about, situations I’ve been in, and situations I created fictionally. I didn’t make nearly as much from streets, but the ruthlessness and strategic thinking that made Dutch who he is, is a part of who I am. But growing up in Newark in the 80’s, there were definitely guys like Dutch,” he explains.
Verdict storms into the world of comics with guns blazing, offering the action and excitement that has made street literature bestsellers. “Just like with hip-hop, urban fiction appeals because its our voice, our story, our reality. We can relate to the nuances. Those outside the inner city relate vicariously. Voyeurism is America’s favorite past time and Verdict brings readers straight fire.”
The blazing hot story is brought to life through the artwork of Michael Lee Harris, creator of the unique comedy series Black Hitler. The visual nature of comics comes naturally to Teague, who first learned how to write screenplays when he was twelve. “Throughout my teen years, I would start different film projects, but I never finished one. Back then there weren’t any readily available outlets for inner city kids who wanted to write movies in the 80’s so I didn’t pursue it.”
While working on books and graphic novels, Teague continues his quest for his personal freedom. “I need all the help I can get. If anyone is interested in knowing more please write me,” he encourages.
Kwame Teague can be reached by mail at:
KWAME TEAGUE 0401897
PO BOX 600
Nashville NC 27856