Black Fathers Are Superheros: Interview with “Mr. Powers” Author Stephen McGill
Stephen McGill II is a new children’s book author with a fantastic story to tell. He wrote a book called The Electrifying Adventures of Mr. Powers: Vol 1 that tells the tale of a single black father that moonlights as a superhero. Mr. Powers uses his powers to mangle monsters under the bed, capture creatures in the closet, and beat up bullies on the block. I spoke with McGill about how he created his story, how his family reacted, and the valuable lessons he hopes readers learn through the book:
Tatiana King Jones: Where do you live/Where are you from?
Stephen McGill: Baltimore, MD. Born and raised! I currently live in Baltimore as well.
TKJ: I saw in your about page you’re a fellow HBCU grad (myself and DJ Benhameen went to Howard). Can you talk, generally, about how your experience at Morgan influenced your life?
SM Aww, man! Funny thing is, I was supposed to go to Howard, but the way my financial aid was set up…LOL I LOVED Morgan though. I met some people who indirectly got me into writing at Morgan and had some good times in college. I made so many connections and learned just as much outside of the classroom as I did in class. I would definitely recommend an HBCU to anybody considering.
TKJ: I’m going to guess that you being a personal trainer was some part of the reasoning behind creating Mr. Powers. May you go more in depth about that and share how you came up with the character?
SM: Well, actually…The personal trainer thing is a such a small part of the story. Mr. Powers is loosely based on my real life, so the trainer part is sprinkled in there, but I was a single father for years. Every time I told people about my situation, they were amazed as if they had never heard of such a thing. It let me know that single fathers don’t really get the credit or attention they deserve. My love of superheroes made me tie everything together.
TKJ: Why was it important for you to create this character and ultimately write this book?
SM: It was very important to me! Reading books to my kids, I noticed there aren’t enough children’s books with POC represented in a way we can relate to. Also, I was tired of the negative stigma of Black fathers in general and wanted to show the opposite site of the coin. Hopefully Mr. Powers helps people to see Black fathers, especially single Black fathers in a new light. I also want people to get used to seeing POC as the main characters and heroes more often.
TKJ: Have you been a big writer throughout your life?
SM: Definitely! Throughout the years, if I ever had to write anything for a grade or evaluation, I did the Birdman Palm rub. LOL Its something about being able to express yourself through words that always fascinated me.
TKJ: How have your children and other families reacted to this story?
SM: My kids love it! My oldest son will be 12 and cant wait for me to “go platinum” so he can “live in a big house with a pool”. My daughter is almost 6, so she super excited to read a book by her dad, add it to her reading log, and tell all of her classmates about it. My youngest is only 8 months, so he doesn’t understand yet. He just smiles.
The reaction I’ve received from other children and families so far has been dope! I’ve had parents tell me their kids woke up the next morning talking about it and how they can’t wait for the next book. Kids in schools actually gave me suggestions on what the next story should be about and we arguing about who could stand next to me when we took a picture after reading the book. This is confirmation that I’m doing the right thing, so I have to continue to work hard to put out something they will all enjoy.
TKJ: What’s the one lesson you hope people take away from your book?
SM: There is actually a lesson being taught in each volume of “Mr. Powers” and at the end of each book there’s a section called the “Powers Point” that recaps the lesson. The idea is to put medicine in the candy. I want the kids to enjoy each story while they also pick up on a couple life lessons to help them deal with everyday situations they may encounter.
TKJ: Who did the art for the book?
SM: Ronald Campbell did the artwork. We went to high school together and have the same circle of friends so it was dope to connect on this project. You can peep more of his work at goodsbyrawn.com
TKJ: Was this book done completely independently? Did you work with a team?
SM: I had friends to help me with the proofreading/edits and the marketing plan, but besides that, most of it was done by Ron and myself. Ron does the website, the artwork, and even the Mr. Powers T-shirts and stickers with the help of his partner Noah at Virt Ink. I did most of the paperwork as well as marketing and promotion. Me and Ron are the team basically and we have a few friends to help when needed.
TKJ: Can you share the process to make this book? From the drafts, to editing, to publishing, etc.
SM: The first thing I did when I decided I was finally going to start writing “Mr. Powers” was find some writing exercises. Once I started the writing exercises, I got into a little bit of a groove, so I had to find music to match. I like to write to music, but it has to be instrumentals because hearing words and writing words throws me off. I actually wrote this book to beats by two of my favorites, DJ Premier and 9th Wonder. Once I finished writing, I had a couple of my friends with writing backgrounds proofread it for me. From there, I passed it to Ron and let him do his thing with the illustrations. Once the pictures and words were put together, the most difficult part was the publishing. Self publishing is pretty much like being an independent artist, so everything from getting a copyright for the book, to promotion, to finding a print vendor was pretty much done in house. It’s a tough process, but I’m learning a lot as a I go along. Hopefully it will get easier with time and experience.
TKJ: Do you want to expand Mr. Powers into more books/larger projects?
SM: As of right now, I have the ideas/themes for the next seven volumes of Mr. Powers lined up. I actually started writing Vol. 2 months before Vol. 1 was even released. My plans are to make Mr. Powers a household name as a brand and eventually turn it into a cartoon.
TKJ: What are your feelings about the state of the superhero genre and how people of color are represented?
SM: I’ve been a superhero fan since I was a little kid. My kids and I even have superhero nicknames. Crazy thing is, none of them are black, so there is definitely room for improvement in that department. I will say I was super excited to see Luke Cage and Black Panther, neither of whom I read much of as a kid, on TV and in movies. Playing an ODB song in the trailer of a superhero show?!? Come on, that’s dope! We need more of that! Marvel seems to get it slightly. DC gotta step their game up!
TKJ: Who are your favorite superheros?
SM: Batman was always my favorite superhero. If you take away his privilege of being a billionaire playboy (which is difficult to do), he was usually considered the underdog of super heroes because he has no actual powers, but he gets the job done. That’s kind of how I view myself. I may not have super powers, but put the impossible in front of me and watch me get it done! More recently, Black Panther is one of my favorites. Everything about his background, Wakanda, and just what he represents makes me check for anything Black Panther related now.
TKJ: I’m a techie so I quickly noticed you work in IT. How has that experience been as a POC in the industry?
SM: Work to me is like the Matrix. I come, dodge bullets, do a couple flips, but deep down inside I know its not my reality. We have a little more POC where I work, But honestly, at work I’m so tuned out most times, I don’t even pay attention to the culture there. My mind is on getting out of the Matrix by creating something the world will appreciate.
TKJ: I got a Geekquently Asked Question for you–If you could have any one superpower, what would it be?
SM: Hmmmm…Lets see. I would love to have the power to clone myself. I would be able to be several different places at once because I could have remote access to see what my clones are doing at all times. This would help me get way more done in 24 hours, be places and do things I would like to do but can’t, and avoid situations I don’t really want to be a part of.
TKJ: For other people that want to become authors, what advice would you give?
SM: Find your “why”. If you have something you’re really passionate about, that’s a start. If not, you’re probably wasting time. Once you have your “why”, you have to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go to get your work out to the world. As I’m learning, a lot of long days and sleepless nights come with being an independent author, but it will pay off in the long run. You have to be ready for it when the time comes.
You can find The Electrifying Adventures of Mr. Powers on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia and more. If you want to learn more about Stephen McGill and the story of Mr. Powers and his children, head over to teampwrs.com! Be sure to also read Stephen’s piece on Huffington Post, “Black Fathers Are Our Superheros“. You can also find him on Twitter: @BmoreSlick.