I first stumbled on Darian Robbins' Black Panther magazine covers and other bits of worldbuilding on Twitter, where they had gone viral. I had assumed it was a publicity stunt on the part of Marvel, but when I found out they were fan art, I wanted to track down the man responsible.
This cover of Wired he created does more to build the world of Black Panther in one image than most trailers.
"I chose these covers because I was thinking about how to bridge the gap of fiction to reality to help world building and character introduction," Robbins told Polygon. "The idea came from the first Iron Man movie when they showed a montage sequence of Tony Stark on various magazine covers. Wired Magazine, for instance."
That sort of connection between the world of superheroes and our world allows us to connect to the characters.
"It helped establish his character for the audience and how he would be covered through media outlets that exist in reality," Robbins continued. "I felt that you would have to do the same with T'Challa as well. However with social media and other media outlets you don't have to wait for a movie to do it. In fact, Marvel shouldn't wait to do so. The audience is waiting and in want."
There is another aspect to these covers: T'Challa is many things at once, and he's very good at all of them. It can be easy to sell us on the idea of a lawyer who fights crime, but Black Panther is both a ruler and a scientist, a brilliant mind who is also sitting on a huge stockpile of one of the most powerful natural resources in the world: Vibranium.
"In the comic book universe T'Challa is equal to Stark in intelligence and heroism and surpasses him in others: technology, wealth, and leadership," Robbins said. "For the non-comic book readers it might be hard to understand the latter, so hopefully the mock covers and other media would help people get up to speed."Everyone would be talking about him, from technologists to politicians to the military. That's a bit harder to communicate to people who don't know the character.
Robbins is a mechanical engineer in the aerospace industry, with 15 years of experience working on satellites for NASA. His work as a multimedia artist is a bit of a hobby, and has been for over 20 years.
"I also have selfish reasons to do this project as well," Robbins said.
"I would love the opportunity to contribute to this movie. I know I am not in the movie industry or in a position to do so, but being a creative type I get ideas in my head of what I would want to experience in this movie and how I would want it marketed. Ideas so strong that it's hard for me to let go, so I have to create it in some format, release it to the world, get it out of my head, so I can move on."
His faux magazine covers have already netted him a good amount of attention online, and they've caused more than a few people I know to look up more information on the Black Panther comics before the movie is released.
"But hey, Marvel," Robbins continued. "I got a few more ideas ... if you want to hear them."