“Get a job!”
Shawn Alleyne chuckles as he recollects that line which we are confident has come from the mouths of every parent of a child who expressed the desire to become a comic book artist. Shawn knew that culturally, anything around drawing or painting would not be considered a career but instead a hobby; especially by his traditional Barbadian parents, who imagined him a doctor or lawyer. However, Alleyne also knew he was destined to illustrate comics. His influences are some of the greatest names in the comic book industry like John Byrne, George Perez, and Walter Simonson (if you don’t know who these guys are, you lose a geek point). Their influences are evident in his work. He also mentions that his passion for art has its origins in watching his father dabble in drawing and sketching as well. Big shoes to fill indeed.
“It was tough at first; others convinced me that if I wanted to draw, then perhaps I should get into architecture. After all, you make great money, and it’s prestigious. I tried but, I just could not draw buildings every day for a living. It just wasn’t where my heart was. I credit my mom for always pushing me, but my father had to be convinced.”
Now residing in Philadelphia, which happens to be the home of the only comic book store in the country owned by a woman of color, Alleyne says that as far back as he can remember he has always loved stories first and art second. As a young lad, he would see images in his head, the residuals of Sci-fi movies and mythology stories and would be compelled to get them out and onto paper. As he developed his artistry, he began attending comic conventions and entering drawing contests to get his work and his name out there.
“Again, my mom must be credited for pushing me forward. She called me many years after I began living in the US and told me about a comic convention in Barbados. Barbados! A few phone calls later, and I am an invited guest of the show, a first for me. My father, whom I had not seen in many years, came to the convention, and it was when he saw me there in my element and saw my work, his pride and approval could not be contained. Not long after that, he was taken from us, and that moment we had still resonates with me to this day. Every book I create is dedicated to him”
A lot of the Afro-superheroes in comics are challenging. They seem to be either a bit too to the left where they are caricatures or so far to the right; they are underdeveloped.
American comics have an established mythos, and it is challenging to break into as an artist for those classic icons such as Superman and The Incredible Hulk, so introducing new characters of African descent can be immensely more challenging. Wayne had an epiphany of sorts as his exposure to modern myths showed some Black heroes, but they seemed to lack the depth of character (if you will) so, his mission is to establish a new universe of characters that look like the people he grew up around in Barbados.
“A lot of the Afro-superheroes in comics are challenging. They seem to be either a bit too to the left where they are caricatures or so far to the right; they are underdeveloped. The members of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention (ECBACC) played a huge role in my focusing my efforts in joining them and their ever expanding universe of fantastic Black superheroes. They openly challenged me to not only add more Afro-centric heroes to my work but ensure they are accurate representations of our beliefs and our people. They opened my mind.”
One of Shawn’s characters he’s been developing for some time is the Caribbean Superheroine Aizan. “Aizan is a female character of immense power. She is Barbadian. She is also an artist. She moves to the United States where I can incorporate a bit of hip-hop, urban culture and real life into the story and art. It also combines some of my upbringings from the Caribbean and religious perspective as well. With Aizan, I explore biblical themes such as angels but give them the alien race treatment rather than regarding them as heavenly beings. In essence, I am trying to imbue her with a solid history and backstory that is based on history and present culture. In comics, there are heritage characters, heroes that over time, pass on their mantle to the next generation or successor if you will. The concept of passing on power intrigues me, and I wanted to explore that in Aizan. So, her power is passed on from person to person. A heritage character allows me as the creator the ability to move into another storyline and history of another individual while keeping the core of the superhero elements the same. Essentially, Aizan is sci-fi but so are all other comics! Superman is an alien who came to earth on a rocket; what is more, sci-fi than that?”
The draw to illustrate mainstream characters must be high when an artist is as talented as Shawn, and it certainly must be a creative conflict to a degree. “People like my art and they like seeing me drawing characters that are ingrained in their head. These are characters that have been around for 50 or more years! So, it is hard for readers to take a chance on something new, but I am confident that my name and ability will drive them to want to see something different and new from me. Eventually, I will be in the position to drive my creator owned works, but this is a struggle for me. There is money to be made in the mainstream, and I love the established industry characters, but the drive to do my own thing is very strong.”