Holding Out for a Diverse Hero: Jaylen Christie ’21MA Publishes the Comic Book We Need
By Camille Dolan ’98
When Jaylen Christie ’21MA was younger, he was interested in all things superhero related. His mom kept him in art supplies and paper, and his dad took him to the comic book store every weekend. He had more than a thousand action figures, and he also wrote and illustrated his own comics, because at the time, “There weren’t a lot of superheroes that looked like me.” (Early comic book, circa 2003, pictured.)
Christie says, “Yes, I know that the Power Rangers have diverse representation, and Superman is an alien from Krypton, but let’s be real: Superman is white.”
His mom even took him to the toy department at Wal-Mart, looking for superheroes of color.
So, Christie – who is Black – decided to create his own superheroes. His parents provided the paper, writing implements and encouragement, while Christie provided the talent. He basically grew up with the characters, but due to recent current events, decided to revisit them to finish the project.
With the publication of Christie’s “Stink Bomb Man and The Brain Kids,” a passion project that he began developing three decades ago when he was 6, Christie is not only fulfilling a long-held dream and vision, but is also helping to increase diversity, equity and inclusion for other comic book aficionados who may have wondered if there was a place for them in the world – imaginary or not.
For Christie though, it’s about the story.
Christie honed his writing skills at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Then, after wanting a change of scenery (he had spent elementary, middle school, high school and college in Tallahassee), he applied to UCF for a master’s degree in communication and a graduate certificate in corporate communication.
Christie was also recently accepted into UCF’s doctoral program in sociology.
Christie’s dream of bringing the McBrilliant family’s adventures to life took a (temporary) back seat to Christie’s own dreams. The charismatic Christie considered moving to California because he had acting ambitions.
“My major was in journalism, and my minor was in theater,” he says. “And I was trying to be like Tyler Perry, you know? I wanted to be multihyphenated, too!”
Christie discovered that he had an aptitude for public relations. He has had numerous articles explaining why inclusion in the arts – movies, television, literature – is a trend that needs to keep growing, and has won several accolades for his work.
Christie’s first tale begins with Brittany and Jesse McBrilliant, two Black superheroes, and their grandfather who band together to stop Nicodemus Graves, an evil tycoon in the fictional city of Princeton Bay, who may or may not have kidnapped Brittany and Jesse’s father, Jeffrey.
“It’s actually three stories in one volume,” Christie says. “As I was developing it, I knew the audience wouldn’t know these characters that I grew up with, so I wrote a ten-page story that can really let the audience know who these characters are, what their motivations are.”
In that first story, Christie tells more about Princeton Bay and its back story, as well as giving each character his/her/their own story origins. He also wanted to include members of the LGBTQ community and those in the disabled community.
“It’s very much diverse,” Christie says. “And it’s a celebration of all that.” Even the villain has the ability to transform into any person that he desires, or to transform all of the city’s residents into one single color.”
Christie knew that having another set of eyes on his project was critical to its reception, and so he asked Jennifer Sandoval, Ph.D., an associate professor and the assistant director of inclusive culture at the Nicholson School of Communication and Media for a review. She gave his project two thumbs up.
Christie had the storytelling down, but the things that make a comic book a comic book (coloring, professional lettering, the word bubbles) were talents that had mostly eluded him.
He simply called on Captain Internet, where he connected with a professional letterer and colorist, who were happy to make sure that his comic book followed conventional protocols.
He even found new art supplies at a local store that had a pad of paper already set up in a traditional comic book size.
“I’m old school,” Christie says. “I have a very good friend of mine who is an artist extraordinaire, and he was trying to get me to do everything digitally because that’s how you do things in 2023. You take your iPad and your Apple Pencil and you do your comic book that way, my friend says. I tried for an hour, and I was like, ‘This is not for me.’”
He happily delegated several of the tasks associated with publishing a comic book to other professionals whose sole job is lettering text or coloring.
Something that might take Christie all day to do, he explained, can take a professional mere minutes.
“Matias Zanetti, who lives in Argentina, saw my Tweets asking for #letterer and #colorist. He graciously reached out to me and said, ‘Well, I’m a professional letterer. Like, that’s all I do. I letter comic books.’”
When Christie sent him the files and the scripts, Zanetti had created proper word bubbles, along with the Pow! Zap! Kapow! that comic book aficionados are familiar with.
Young readers may not appreciate all the work that has gone into Christie’s project, but he hopes that there is a larger takeaway for them.
“I hope that the readers see themselves reflected in the pages,” Christie says. “When I was a kid, the vast majority of characters I’d see were white. And that’s not the real world, you know? And if I made every character in my book Black, that is also not the real world. There is an element of heightened reality, where the characters have superpowers and flying cars, but I wanted to include as many members from across the dimensions of diversity as possible.”
It’s about recognizing each other’s differences and still being able to celebrate them, Christie says.
“I hope my comic book inspires individuals to continue creating things or embracing diversity, or to continue making their passion projects become a reality. I hope it moves the needle in that direction.”
To order Stink Bomb Man and the Brain Kids, visit Jaylen’s website at https://jaylenchristie.com