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Mason Parker Drops ‘Paperback Hero Saga’ with Album, But He’s Not Done

Multi-hyphenate highlights Afrofuturism in hip-hop album, short film and comic book

A photo of Mason Parker, a comic-book writer in Charlotte, NC.
Mason Parker (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)

Mason Parker was in Scotland for a 2013 performance of Miles & Coltrane: Blue (.), a production from Charlotte-based OnQ Productions that was making its second run at the Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival, when his castmate Carlos Robson told him something that would shape his work for a decade to come.

Parker had at that point begun to form some ideas around a comic book called The Paperback Hero Saga that he wanted to write … or was it an album … or a movie?

The rapper, actor and spoken-word poet had a flurry of ideas blowing around in his brain, and though Robson’s advice didn’t help to narrow them down, it did eventually point his spacecraft in a direction where he could eventually land it.

“He said, ‘Yo, whatever you do, you need to create the “You just gotta see this.” When people talk about your project, it has to elicit that reaction,’” Parker recalled when we met at The People’s Market in Elizabeth on a November evening.

When we had last spoke on the record in summer 2020, Parker had just come off the release of his debut album, Quantum Leap, and was looking to finalize some things about The Paperback Hero Saga. Three years after that interview, in June 2023, Parker finally dropped the project that has been more than 10 years in the making.

The Paperback Hero Saga is a trifecta of Afrofuturism: a hip-hop album, a short film and a comic book that will eventually turn into a graphic novel. While I’ll do my best to describe how all those parts come together to form a whole, in the end, you just gotta see this.

Now that Issue 1 of the Paperback Hero Saga is out, Parker is far from looking to land the spacecraft. In the end, he plans to release 21 books, with the first volume consisting of seven issues, each of which based on a song from the 11-track album he dropped alongside Issue 1 of the comic.

Oh, and while working on all that, he also plans to launch his new lifestyle brand — Sound, Sneakers & Superheroes — through which he hopes to mentor and lead community youth in pursuing their own projects and dreams in a realistic way.

The holy trifecta

The Paperback Hero Saga Book One: The Bookkeeper, tells the story of Mason Myers, a bookkeeper whose life takes an unexpected turn after his father’s demise, launching him into a multiverse of realms and time travel that he never knew existed.

The book is based on “Petey Pablo,” the first track off the Paperback Hero Saga album, which is also accompanied by a music video in which Parker acts out portions of Myers’ story.

While each of the pieces stand alone, this multi-hyphenated allowed Parker to sprinkle aspects of the story throughout mediums, giving readers no shortage of rabbit holes to dive through.

Cover art for The Paperback Hero Saga Book One. (Artwork by Wolly McNair)

Parker explained that he wrote the music before the comic books, then chose which songs he could use to spur along the story of his lead character. While the project gave Parker an outlet to use all of his modes of expression — writing, acting, rapping and poetry — he’s also spent a lot of time thinking about how the mediums play into the marketing picture.

“It’s specifically designed to draw out the shelf life of the music so that you constantly are going back to the soundtrack because it pushes the story forward,” he explained. “There’s stuff in the soundtrack that fills in the gaps between the books. The stuff in the comic book pushes the story forward in a way that you won’t catch if you don’t have all the pieces.

“So you can enjoy the soundtrack for what it is, you can enjoy the comic book for what it is, you can enjoy the short film for what it is, but if you have everything together, then it’s telling you a story in a way that you wouldn’t be able to get if you just [did one of those things],” he continued. “I wanted to give people something to really sink their teeth into.”

 

Of course, this is all a bit too involved for some folks who just want to listen to a hip-hop album and not feel like they’re in a college course or reading club. That’s OK, too.

“If you want to study it, you can study it if you wanted to. And if you don’t want to get that deep, I’ve had some people like, ‘What is all this futuristic stuff at the beginning?’ They’re not into that, but they were like, ‘Yo, the music is dope,’” Parker said. “So that’s what I was trying to go for. Like, if you just love hip-hop, then I think you’ll still appreciate it.”

From Star Wars to Yoruba culture

Mason Parker’s fascination with the fantastical started at an early age. His mother was a fan of Star Trek and Star Wars, but also a devout Christian, which led to her teaching her son about allegories at an early age.

“She used sci-fi to illustrate the character of God,” he explained. “She likened The Force to the Holy Spirit.”

His mom compared Star Wars to The Pilgrim’s Progress, the 1678 Christian allegory written by John Bunyan that’s regarded as one of the most significant works of theological fiction in English literature and a progenitor of the narrative aspect of Christian media.

“My mom was a smart woman. So when she introduced me to Star Wars, she said, ‘Star Wars is an allegory.’ Then she pointed to Pilgrim’s Progress as the OG allegory that influenced Star Wars. My mom never showed me anything current without showing me the OG thing that inspired that thing.”

It was this thirst for knowledge and love for sci-fi that eventually got Mason Parker into Afrofuturism, an aesthetic that expresses notions of Black identity, agency and freedom through art, creative works and activism envisioning liberated futures for Black life, as described by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture.

The character’s names, lingo and other aspects of The Paperback Hero Saga are inspired by and sometimes taken directly from Yoruba culture. It’s Parker’s hope that the stories will inspire the reader (or listener) to venture further into the study of Afrofuturism, Yoruba culture and the African diaspora, similar to how his mother once used pop culture to teach him about theology and history.

“They’re going to get a little bit of medicine with that sugar, and that’s what the beauty of comic books is, you know what I mean? So I look forward to indoctrinating people on the low with all this positivity,” he said, laughing. “And they’re not even going to realize it because they’re just going to think it’s a dope story.”

A photo of Mason Parker smiling with a blue-walled background in Charlotte, NC.
Mason Parker (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)

Now 38, Parker grew up inspired by three brands that are part of what’s been referred to as the Hasbro Universe: G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. While those all played big roles in his childhood, perhaps no fictional character has meant more to him than Batman — the Caped Crusader, a superhero without superpowers.

Batman: The Animated Series ran from 1992-’95, formative years for Parker.

“I related to him in a lot of different ways, and that spirit of excellence, you know, wanting to be everything for everybody and be great at it all and constantly failing but trying to get back, all that is Batman, right?” he said. “And all of that is the journey that you see me on for the last 10 years. You’re seeing me fall over and over and over again and keep going and try different things and figure it out and study my opponent and study my audience and just evolve. The parallels between the fantasy and the real are just crazy. It’s like a guide for life.” 

Future plans

As a performer, Parker says he is now entering “collab mode,” in which he’ll be reaching out to the friends he’s made but never worked with over his many years in the Charlotte hip-hop scene.

The idea was formed by the loss of his close friend and former roommate Ian Thornton, a producer with whom Parker had been working on a project when he passed away unexpectedly.

“I had written to some of his music and everything, but we never got around to having, like, an official thing. And that was my boy, you know what I mean?” Parker said, the regret emanating in his eyes.

“At that point, it became clear that once I got Paperback Hero Saga out, I wanted to focus on just doing art for the sake of art … I just want to connect with really dope people and not let too much time go by before we actually collab on our art and do something fly and put it together,” he said.

“So if I’ve already known you, then I’m trying to make it a point to get in the studio and make something actually happen. I know so many dope emcees I just don’t have any music with and I want to fix that before it’s too late.”

The weekend we met up, Parker was scheduled to film a TV show with fellow Charlotte artist Jason Jet, founder of Grindhaus Studios, then attend his first convention as a vendor with his own table setup at Charlotte Comicon in Concord.

With his continued work on the Paperback Hero Saga, one might say Parker has a full plate. Yet he is also laser-focused on the launch of Sound, Sneakers & Superheroes, an effort to spread the knowledge he has attained in more than 15 years as a Charlotte creative.

“We’re considered a black hole market for a reason,” he said of the Charlotte scene. “We’re not centered around entertainment — they purposely try to box some of that shit out when it comes to the arts and entertainment and us having a thriving culture here — so to be able to make a living off of this shit?

“I’m almost 40 and I’ve been getting calls and checks and paid and all that stuff in every capacity, and everything that I do I make money off of it. To be able to say that in a city like Charlotte absolutely is not common at all,” he continued. “And I realized that that is a real blessing, and that part is what makes me different.”

A photo of Mason Parker smiling with his hands in his pockets as he's posing in front of colorful artwork in the background.
Mason Parker (Photo by Alvin C. Jacobs Jr.)

Through Sound, Sneakers & Superheroes, Parker aims to hold workshops and community events that serve as teaching moments and mentorship opportunities for at-risk youth, specifically Black boys and young men aged 7 to 19.

He recalled how his generation was always taught that the one route to take involved graduating high school and going to college and finding a career, a path that he followed until he realized that it wasn’t realistic for him.

The balance comes in embracing the reality of any path you take — not simply dropping out of school to pursue a creative career but learning how to put together a framework in which one can work in the creative industry while making a living for themselves.

Parker quotes one of his grandmother’s sayings in explaining the wrap-around services he wants to offer through Sound, Sneakers & Superheroes: “from the rooter to the tooter.” This means not only teaching the technical aspects of recording music or creating a comic book but educating on the importance of budgeting, paperwork, marketing and other business aspects.

His goal is to host the first Sound, Sneakers & Superheroes Con, which he describes as a sneaker con, music fest and comic con rolled into one, sometime in 2026. All to the benefit of local youth.

“I’m gonna teach people how to do exactly what I did,” Parker said. “I’m not keeping it to myself; I want everybody to have this superpower.”

A project fit for Bruce Wayne, and a local superhero leading the way.


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