The title of Marshall’s upcoming retrospective, which begins at MCA Chicago before traveling to the Met Breuer and MOCA L.A., “Mastry," is also a reference to Marshall’s magnum opus: the comic series “Rythm Mastr” (1999-present), where black superheroes have powers derived from the seven gods in the Yoruba pantheon, and characters debate intellectual history, philosophy, and politics in black vernacular English. The series is set in “Black Metropolis,” the nickname for Bronzeville during the Great Migration, when its African-American population boomed. It’s a name that faded when a plethora of large-scale, problematic housing projects went up there in the ’50s and ’60s.
“Rythm Mastr” has morphed from an installation of drawn comics to video, light boxes, and—the artist hopes—a feature-length animated film. Within its alternative reality, the world of “Rythm Mastr” needs to be believable, so Marshall constructs scenes using aerial photographs of his neighborhood supplied by the Chicago city planning office. “It creates a connection to a real place,” he says. “That’s a big part of the idea: that in this place, fantastic things can happen. Nobody imagines spectacular things like that going on in these neighborhoods, so somebody’s got to establish that possibility. You have to show that from this particular place, there’s no place you can’t get to.”