*When I was voracious comic-consuming kid, we pined for African American heroes who could stand toe-to-toe with Superman and Batman. Trouble was, they were few and far between. Power-Man was about as strong as the Man Of Steel, but that strength was his only power. No flight, no heat vision, no nothing. Cool afro, though.
Black Panther was a proud African prince, but he was basically Daredevil without the radar sense. And in a world where most white heroes seemed almost godlike in their power, Falcon‘s sole ability, since he could only fly with his suit, was talking to a bird.
That’s right. Falcon had a single bird buddy that he could chat with, any ol’ time he wanted.
So when Storm was introduced as a member of the X-Men, I and every black comic reader I knew rejoiced. Marvel Comics had created one of the most powerful heroes — of any gender — in their history, and they’d made her an African woman. We KNEW it was the long-overdue start of ethnic integration of the Marvel and DC universes.
All of these long decades later, Storm is still pretty lonely in the comic hood. While there’s been some progress, the two dominant comic universes are still pretty white. Even when there’s an effort to update things, like this summer’s Johnny Storm being African American in Hollywood’s Fantastic Four reboot, it’s met with derision.
Jasmine Truesdale has set out to change that. The 27-year-old entrepreneur is launching the multi ethnic Aza Comics, and she clearly intends to shake things up in the superhero world by giving today’s black kids some heroes who look like they do.
“I was thinking of doing a game for my fitness company,” the Durham native and first-time author remembered, “and I realized that the characters I was creating for the game looked like heroes. I grew up reading comics and watching action movies and all of that, and I decided to create some superheroes. My mom says I don’t know how to think small! I started talking to some really amazing people in the industry, and they gave me a lot of advice, as my background was in business and NOT the comic industry.”
From there, Truesdale developed the first phase of her rollout, a digital novel called “The Keepers: Origin” that will be released in a couple of weeks. Soon thereafter, we’ll see a children’s book that features her new characters and before the holidays, the second of her novels will be released. Her books will be released on iBooks, Kindle, Google Play and all major digital platforms.
“It’s a really excited time,” Truesdale enthuses. “When I launched the project, I literally just had a website and a trailer and an idea. Wizard World sent me an email and asked me to host a panel at Comic Con in my hometown. I had a room full of people, mostly girls but there were men in there and I was very shocked by that. A lot of them had daughters or they were there with their girlfriends who were interested, or they were just interested themselves. I’m still getting emails from all over the world, from girls asking me about my characters or telling me what they’d like to see in my characters.
In describing her motivation for creating an entire multi ethnic superhero universe, Truesdale’s passion and commitment comes shining through. She also communicates an almost tangible connection to her new characters, calling them her “girls”.
“A lot of times, even though mainstream doesn’t want to admit it and they’d prefer to be colorblind, the truth is as a person of color you’re not allowed the luxury of being colorblind. I like to say I’m colorful! I am a black women, and I like to see someone who looks like me doing something great!”
I had to ask Truesdale whether she was deterred at all when an established publisher told her she was on the wrong track and that her dream wouldn’t fly in the marketplace. Her immediate answer was an unqualified, unequivocal “no”!
“For one thing, they had never tried it,” the mogul explained, “and two, they’re not my target demographic so their opinion was completely irrelevant to me. Hearing that made me put that much more effort and work into my characters. I don’t consider myself a writer at all — I just felt like I had something to say. All of my characters have different personalities. Women often get depicted like an anecdotal answer to the entire female species. The truth is we are varied and different, and we move in groups, so my girls are like a family, they’re close and they understand each others’ problems.”
“One of the things I was taught growing up was the history of our people,” Truesdale continued. “Black history didn’t begin with slavery: slavery interrupted black history. There were a lot of things that happened before slavery that people don’t want to talk about. Through Kala, my main character, I want to instill that in kids and give them a sense of self and a sense of purpose, and reintroduce that sense of history that was taken from us. I based Kala almost entirely on the female warriors of African who fought during pre-colonialism, colonialism, and post-colonialism! There are statues [in Africa] dedicated to those women which I guarantee you most people know nothing about.
Whatever you do, don’t ask Truesdale whether any of her character was based on comic’s first female superhero, Wonder Woman, as one of my colleagues did recently.
“I based my characters on women warriors who lived long before the character “Wonder Woman” was even a thought it anybody’s mind,” she declared. “She’s a princess and has lived a life of privilege, but she’s a social activist who understands the struggle and does everything she can to uplift her people. I want to teach that in the black community, because we’re constantly being pitted against each other. And my universe is brown because the world we live in is brown. I did that on purpose.”
THIS lifelong comic reader can’t WAIT to see Truesdale’s universe emerge. It’s been a very long time coming.
See the exciting Superhero Extended Trailer, Aza: The Keepers, directly below.
This article was written by freelancer Michael P Coleman, who tweets from @ColemanMichaelP. He’s a reporter for several great metropolitan news sites and has a closet full of Superman t-shirts in his office…just in case he’s needed somewhere.