Make room, Naruto. Black manga creator Blake Showers diversifies the genre

Prior to Blake Showers, 28, illustrated for a global publication, he was a kid from Birmingham, Alabama, who found solace and safety in Japanese comics.

He got his first glimpse of the genre, popularly known as manga, in a freshman while recovering from nasal surgery.

“My mom brought me a bunch of manga books to read,” Showers said. “It really helped me forget about the pain. Being in the hospital also made me restless. So during this time, I used my energy to daydream and enjoy the manga.

Today, Showers is sketching out his own manga series. Edited and co-written by fellow Birminghamian, Daniel Williams, “4strikes” is published through Saturday AM, the world’s most diverse manga anthology. The series features a black and male demon slayer protagonist. But his creation is part of Showers’ heroic story arc: a black man wanting to increase black representation in the manga industry, while erasing the black monoliths that exist in the genre. Showers said kids can tell when people who look like them are missing from the story.

“I don’t want a kid to feel like I did,” Showers said. “If they don’t see themselves in anything or see a black main character that they can relate to, they may think, ‘I just shouldn’t be reading this stuff. “This is kind of the reason why I do a lot of black representations in my work.

Showers debuted in 2018 as an illustrator for Saturday AM, which features kid-friendly manga released every two weeks. Meanwhile, Saturday PM is being described as the “Adult Swim” version of the company and is released every three months. Both are available through the Saturday AM app.

Due to its gory imagery and adult language, “4strikes” is released on the brand’s Saturday PM side. But Showers kept kids in mind when they created a Power Ranger-style comic called “Tortuga Force Five.”

While Showers moved to Philadelphia to be closer to his girlfriend and school, his work remains rooted in the South. The adventures of Tortuga Force Five take place in Georgia. “4strikes” takes place in Vulcan City, which is based on the Birmingham Vulcan statue. The largest cast iron statue in the world looms over Birmingham as a tribute to the city’s heritage in the steel industry. Showers said he wanted to honor a region that is often poorly characterized.

“People say, ‘Oh, everybody in the South is stupid, this, that and the other,” Showers said. “But there is a very rich culture in the South, and I don’t see a lot of stories that show that, so I’m going to try to create characters that I know because there is so much that you can talk about like there are so many dialects.

“Well, I’m not white”

Panel of “4strikes”, a manga series created by Blake Showers. (Courtesy of Blake Showers)

While Showers also loved Western cartoons and American comics while growing up in Birmingham, manga and anime added to the playground of his imagination throughout his life. With little money and no internet at home, his local library in east Birmingham satisfied his manga craving. The stacks of manga books he consulted told slightly different stories than the American comics. Instead of life-saving adult superheroes, Showers manga comics have chosen younger-centric protagonists. He loved Goku defeating monsters and demons in “Dragon Ball” and Luffy’s pirate adventures in “One Piece”.

But while these characters were around Showers’ age, they didn’t look like him. He noticed a lack of black main characters in American and Japanese comics and cartoons. Even at a young age, Showers felt the consequences of the erasure weighing on his self-esteem. When he wanted to be Wolverine for Halloween, the only costumes he could find featured white muscles.

“I felt weird wearing it. I was like, ‘Well, I’m not white. So I guess I’m not supposed to be Wolverine, ”Showers said. “It was one of those times when you don’t see yourself and you’re like, ‘Oh, you’re not supposed to like this’ or ‘You’re not meant to be included in this.'”

Even when he saw a black hero on screen, like “Blade,” he still felt out of touch with the character’s personality.

“They’ve always been like the buff, cool guy and they kind of followed a certain stereotype,” Showers said. “And I was like, ‘Well, I’m not buff and I’m not really cool.’ So that always makes you think, “Hey, you’re either cool and buff or you’re not one of them at all.”

Showers found their solution thanks to the drawing. Looking back, Showers realizes that his art style was influenced by the different ways he found joy as a child. Whether it was at her grandmother’s house or going shopping, Showers and her father found an excuse to leave the house. His father’s black Cadillac vibrated in town as they listened to Southern rappers like Memphis’s Three 6 Mafia and New Orleans legend Master P. That special father-son time gave him room to unwind. and appreciate the mastery of manga and hip hop music. .

“I think hip hop is a really good art form because it started out by taking nothing and making something out of it through sampling, DJing and making beats,” Showers said. “It’s like (visual) art, you have to sit down, practice it. You need to sit down and think about how you want your business to stand out from other people.

The full spectrum of darkness

Panel of “4strikes”, a manga series created by Blake Showers. (Courtesy of Blake Showers)

For Showers, this practice began by redrawing panels from his favorite manga. The stories have remained the same, but he added his own twist with a drawing style that mixes his childish imagination with the art of graffiti. He enrolled in a high school animation class where he had been in the spotlight as a student who really knew he could draw. After high school he enrolled in Lawson State University to learn more about animation and worked alongside teaching kids art at a local art gallery and producing commissioned works of art.

The premise of “4strikes” came to him one night after getting off the bus. As he walked home in the dark, he imagined what his life would be like if he also fought monsters like the heroes of his favorite anime. The first “4strikes” sketches premiered in 2016. Showers asked his friend and manga-lover colleague Williams to help him edit and co-write the story of Meleak Williams, a shy, shy teenager who is adventure out of his comfort zone after becoming a bat-wielding demon hunter. When it comes to cartoons and cartoons, Showers said writers and illustrators need to recognize the full spectrum of darkness.

“Not all black people will be tough guys. Not all black people will be angry, ”Showers said. “There should be a whole range of different personalities so that you can fully understand that black people are just people too. You don’t have to group us in the same boxes.

Showers and Williams first tested the popularity of their idea on Webtoon, a sort of database for digital comics. Their work quickly caught the attention of Frederick Jones, founder of Saturday AM and writer of “Clock Striker,” the first shonen manga to feature a black girl as the main protagonist. Showers said it was fascinating networking with another black man who also knows the ins and outs of the manga and pop culture industry.

Saturday AM and PM currently only exist in digital form. But Showers said the anthology is set to be printed and sold in bookstores like other manga series. Hopefully by June 2022, comic book lovers of all colors and ethnicities can get hold of a manga anthology full of characters who look like them.

Showers said he was proud to be a part of this team.

“It’s really crazy to see this unfold because they’ve been working for so long,” he said. “I’ve only been there four years, but just seeing our hard work on the shelves with ‘One Piece’ and ‘Naruto’ is very nice.”

About Dawn Valle

Dawn Valle

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