Jazmin Truesdale’s graphic novel series Aza Universe looks like America; ethnically diverse, contradictory, a hodgepodge of injustice and triumphs which attest to the power of the human spirit and our propensity to repeat the same mistakes. Her work has gained the young writer considerable buzz, scoring stories in Vogue, Time, USA Today, and other publications. We sat down with the outspoken Truesdale to discuss her latest work, The Keepers: Origins, and why she felt compelled to develop female-focused series that reflected America’s changing population.
Tell us about your characters and how they were born. The characters are representative of the major ethnic groups of the world essentially working together to protect the entire universe. In the mythology of Aza, the position of Askari (The Keepers) has always been held by men. This is the first time in the history of Aza that women will be protecting the universe. Each girl has unique powers that compliment the others and a personality to match. They also have different professions to hopefully broaden the scope of career choices for women. It’s one thing to tell a girl she can be anything, but it’s another to actually show her what that looks like.
I could have easily made an all-black female superhero universe but I wanted my friends and people closest to me to have inspiration as well. My circle is incredibly diverse and has always been that way since I was a child. I grew up exposed to different cultures and languages and I wanted to showcase the diversity of the world in which we live.
Why have there been so few comic book characters of color, despite the fact that minorities represent more than 35% of the US population?
When you look at who is creating these characters they are typically not people of color otherwise we would have seen more heroes of color a long time ago. One thing that I’ve learned is that ‘white’ is the default in which creators operate in this industry. People of color are hardly on their radar. Not because they’re hateful but simply because they have no reason to take others into consideration. When the creators are white and the industry celebrates whiteness, why should you have to think outside of your box?
Nowadays anyone can make entertainment so consumers have options and they are going to pay for what they want to see. We know this by the kinds of movies that are bombing at the box office vs the ones that are thriving (i.e. Wonder Woman, Girls Trip) When an Indian YouTuber has more subscribers than a cable network that says to the industry that you need to change or you will fail.
One thing that I’ve learned is that ‘white’ is the default in which creators operate in this industry. People of color are hardly on their radar. Not because they’re hateful but simply because they have no reason to take others into consideration.
Has digital media opened doors for you as a writer or made it harder to get noticed amidst the noise?
Both. It’s harder to get noticed by large publications because of the noise. But smaller blogs/vloggers show their support and that’s actually where much of the attention from Aza Comics comes from. A lot of people tell me they hear about Aza through word of mouth from a small blog or vlogger or some friend sharing something about Aza.
How do you see the industry evolving in the next few years, is it becoming more inclusive? Is it possible that, for example, by 2020, when the majority of the nation’s children will identify as “one or more races” (according to NPR), kids will still be surprised to see superheroes who look like them?
Absolutely! The industry is going to have to change or else it will fail. At the end of the day, the industry is a business and the only thing that makes a business change is competition. Before there was no competition but when people stop paying to see movies and would rather watch a diverse cast on Netflix or watch a low-budget high-quality movie with a diversified cast on YouTube, the industry is going to have to change. There is no way around that. The ‘white savior’ complex is something people just aren’t buying into anymore.
Let’s talk platforms. What’s in development in video, mobile, etc?
Right now I am developing the next three books for Aza. (The Keepers, Aza Mini’s, and Genie & Jase) and video game and expanding the product line. I’ve been getting a ton of requests from fans and I’m going to try to make things happen for them.
As a startup founder, if this was “Shark Tank” or a similar show, what would your company need to reach your goals.
If anything I would use someone from Shark Tank for their connections not necessarily for their money. I learned very early that money doesn’t always equal a successful business. Connections are the best currency. I worked really hard to develop my network of people that I can almost do whatever I want with Aza and I would use an investor from Shark Tank to expand my network.
Learn more about Jazmin Truesdale and Aza Comics here.