At KC, he creates ‘Black Spartans’ manga for racial inclusion
Brandon Calloway grew up loving Japanese anime: haunting art styles, vibrant music, and masterful storytelling.
But some characters in these cartoons made him uncomfortable, sometimes downright embarrassed.
âI remember watching ‘Dragon Ball Z’ and seeing Mr. Popo,â the Kansas City native said. “I remember thinking it was meant to be me!” “
This character, like Jinx in the Pokemon anime, had large red lips, black skin, and questionable manners – both stereotypical and offensive characteristics. (Pokemon has since changed Jinx to purple, but the other features remain.)
“Kids from other communities look at him and see themselves as Vegeta and Goku (both muscular warriors with dark hair and light skin), but am I supposed to be Mr. Popo?”
Still, Calloway found more positives than negatives in anime and manga (the genre in comic book form). He and other young black fans could relate to stories about an underdog with a fighting spirit.
âThe feeling of being an outcast and not belonging is what resonated with us,â he says.
Now, seeing the growing number of black fans like him looking for a story that speaks to them with characters they relate to, he decided to create his own.
This fall, 31-year-old Calloway released âBlack Spartans,â a manga set in feudal land where his titular black heroes hunt demons.
He has already published two chapters in his story (on darkmooncomics.com) and plans to publish 200 of them in a 12-volume series.
Over the past year or so, Calloway has already made a name for himself in the urban core of Kansas City through his nonprofit, GIFT, which stands for Generate Income For Tomorrow, created to provide grants to black entrepreneurs.
While helping make the dreams of black startups east of Troost Avenue come true, Calloway ultimately decided to pursue his own dream.
Hidden anime passion
Calloway, like many others in the black community, grew up hiding his love for anime and manga.
Anime was not a recipe for acceptance into an already difficult teenage life.
“I went to the ‘Yu Gi-Oh’ card tournaments every Saturday, but it was something we never talked about during the week in school,” says Calloway, a graduate of the Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing. Arts.
âYoung black men are taught to be tough, so the idea of ââanime was seen as childish and contrary to that idea of ââmanhood. People won’t just laugh at you because you like anime, it was like a challenge to your blackness.
In the early 2000s, Cartoon Network began airing its Saturday night âToonami,â a late-night programming block that would become staples of American anime consciousness, such as âDragon Ball Z,â âGundam Wing. “and” Cowboy Bebop. “
A few black figures were not overtly offensive.
Japanese designer ShinichirÅ Watanabe imbued “Cowboy Bebop” and “Samurai Champloo” with elements of jazz and hip-hop, which heightened its already stylized appeal. But they were still somewhat stereotypical. (This month, Netflix kicked off a live reboot of âCowboy Bebop.â)
Then, in 2016, American artists Arthell and Darnell Isom, along with animator Henry Thurlow, moved to Japan and founded D’Art Shtajio, the world’s first black-owned animation studio. They have found great success working on massive anime projects, such as “One Piece”, “Attack on Titan” and “Tokyo Ghoul”, as well as creating the anime-inspired visuals for the clip ” Snowchild âfrom singer The Weeknd.
âYou are now seeing more black designers because more black people are finally open about their interest,â says Calloway. âNow we have to take ownership of our image and control our representation if we don’t like the way we are shown. “
He wanted to create his own story with black characters while staying true to genre and style.
Start a business
Calloway began the process of learning the trade – exactly what goes into creating a manga and how to get it started with little to no local anime or manga production in the city. Fortunately, the Internet University of YouTube has given it a foundation to build on.
Then he started to contact black creatives. He had planned to write the story, but he needed an illustrator.
âI started imagining everything in the midst of COVID and knew I wouldn’t be able to promote in the comics or meet people in the field,â he says. âThen I found my artist and my editor online and saw how big the black fan community online was and said I could do it just that way. “
Over a year ago on social media, he saw Florida-based black art collective Macchiato Studios and teamed up with its founders, Hotep Anthony and Roland Broussard.
âHe was looking for people to help him bring his vision to life,â says Anthony. “I think he liked the way our work captured the more oriental dynamic, the vibrancy of our colors, the feel of anime.”
The one-year-old studio, which produces manga and western comic styles, has already assembled a team of 10 artists from around the world.
Anthony also says he was once a closet anime fan, much like Calloway.
âIt’s gotten cool in recent years. It wasn’t until much later in life, like after college, that talking about anime in my life became normal, âsays Anthony. âUntil very recently, he was considered out of date. It was not cool.
The 29-year-old and his partner saw that with more black fans there was an untapped market for stories like âBlack Spartansâ.
âA lot of people don’t really know that Japanese culture has been really into rap and hip-hop. You see that like with âDevilman Crybabyâ (an anime show) which came out a few years ago. They take a large part of our culture and make it their own, âexplains Anthony. âI like to see us do the same thing, where we start having our own anime. Something respectful of Japanese culture but basically black creations.
Calloway prides himself on being a black creator, but doesn’t want his material to get bogged down in the superficial drama that can accompany minority inclusion.
âThere are additional expectations of black designers all around,â says Calloway. âBecause it’s black, he’s marked as awake. Here are those SJWs (Social Justice Warriors) trying to promote diversity for the sake of diversity, and that’s not it. Hope people can look beyond that.
âIndy’s white designers can create something because they love it. I have to explain each creative choice to everyone. My experience as a black man is different from that of another black man, but I have to be the representative of all black culture.
Calloway notes that, unsurprisingly, much of the review comes from his own community, literally judging a book by its social media coverage.
âPeople tell me you need to have more messages,â Calloway said. âI had someone who looked at it and immediately rated it zero stars. I didn’t read it, I just commented that the “Spartans” weren’t black and didn’t know my story of who the Spartans were. There is additional pressure from people for what you should be doing as a black designer.
For Calloway, the main purpose of his work is to bring people together through a shared love of the foreign animation style, regardless of the context. Many members of various communities are also barely finding the courage to participate openly in the fandom.
He saw the unifying power of two fans having a moment to discuss a character or logo on an item of clothing.
âI have this ‘Naruto’ hoodie,â he said, referring to the popular manga series, âand I got pulled over by random white guys who just want to say they like it, and we always end up having a conversation I saw someone with a T-shirt or a hat and I stopped him.
“I wouldn’t have said anything before, but now I want people to see that it’s okay, and more importantly, it’s cool.”