The billion-dollar comic book industry is right up there with Hollywood when it comes to inclusion and diversity. Although the major hitters, like DC Comics and Marvel, have made strides over the years, there’s still much more work to be done. Sure, there’s some diversity, but if you’re a fan of comics and a woman—especially if you’re a black woman and a fan of comics—you may not find most comics or graphic novels out there that are relatable. And that’s the void Jazmin Truesdale, creator of Aza Comics, hopes to fill.
Truesdale, a longtime fan of comics, didn’t boycott the industry. She went out and created what she calls a “novel comic” featuring a group of diverse women as the superheroes. In Aza Comics, you’ll find not one, not two, but six women who can probably rival any superhero out there right now. And in an interview with The Root, Truesdale explains the motivation behind her comic novel.
The Root: What inspired you to launch the comic novel?
Jazmin Truesdale: I grew up reading comics, but I was finding myself getting frustrated with the lackluster approach the industry was taking with its female superheroes, as well as the lack of diversity. I was creating a video game for my other company, Jazmin Fitness, and realized I was actually creating superheroes. That’s when I decided to develop Aza Entertainment. I also knew I wanted to do something different from the traditional superhero comic series.
People don’t read comics like they used to, and I wanted to take a different approach to the industry. So I did my research and saw that women were an untapped market. I asked 75 women why the didn’t read comics. Their answers ranged from the storylines were too short, didn’t give enough backstory, the characters weren’t three-dimensional, lack of diversity or sexist illustrations. I also discovered women prefer to read novels.
For this reason, I created the book specifically targeting women. Women like superheroes. They just can’t identify because superheroes (even female ones) are not marketed to them. Aza’s books are “novel comics.” They are novels with illustrated action scenes. I took the best of both literary worlds and merged them. Think of it like a literary cronut. I also could easily have made a black superhero universe, but I wanted one that more accurately depicted the global community. Everyone deserves to see themselves in their entertainment.
TR: How has the reception, feedback, been so far?
JT: The response has been amazing. Women definitely seem to be feeling what I’m doing, which is great because I did it for them. Men have also been responding well to the concept, too. There is no male-bashing in my books. I also don’t believe in stating the obvious. I’d rather show you that men and women are equal than tell you.
The response has also been very emotional. I incorporate real issues into my storylines [e.g., the Charleston, S.C., massacre], and people are really responding to that. People want to feel like their issues are being heard. My superheroes fight supervillains as well as invisible evils like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.
TR: How did you find an artist to work with?
JT: It was very difficult and took months of auditions. I was approached by big names in the comic book industry, and they would illustrate all the characters just fine but struggle with the black superheroine, Kala. They were essentially illustrating her like a “white” woman with dark skin. I discovered Remero Colston on Instagram when he did a Janet Jackson comic book illustration. Janet has very distinct features. I reached out to him and asked him to do Kala, and he nailed it in one sketch. I immediately signed him to my company. Fun Fact: Thema, the mother of our black superheroine, was inspired by Janet Jackson!
TR: What void are you trying to fill with the comic?
JT: I want to fill the void of inclusion. My company didn’t just make a book series. I created a new universe that will breed an entirely new generation of superheroes that reflect the global community. Already my company has created black, white, Asian, Middle Eastern, Southeast Asian and Native American female superheroes. I’ve also introduced an LGBT character who will eventually have her own book series. My company aims to demonstrate true diversity.
TR: Do you plan to expand to make it a cartoon series?
JT: Entertainment is a full production company. Our characters will be adapted for books, games, TV and film in all of its glory for all ages. We have really amazing and game-changing things coming for 2017.
TR: How do you think your comic can impact the comic industry?
JT: I think my books will bring more women and [people of color] into the superhero-science fiction genre. I think it will force the industry to be more inclusive. For example, after Shonda Rhimes did Scandal and it was successful, we started to see more TV shows with leading black characters.