Shawn Alleyne is a Barbadian writer, artist and inker. A certified art instructor, he is also the owner of Pyroglyphics Studios (an art studio which specialises in comic book illustration, but covers the fields of storyboarding, logo design, graphic design, fashion and more) and one of the four members of the art studio Street Team. He formed the comic book networking group Xion and the art group Artmada. He is the facilitator of Project D.R.E.A.M, a comic book and literacy arts program, and is co-publisher of the upcoming anthology The Scribes of Nyota.
In celebration of Black History Month this year, he has undertaken a special art project in which he draws his own versions of Barbadian created comic characters.
How did you come up with the project and what is it about?
As anyone that is Barbadian can tell you, Barbados just celebrated 50 years of Independence on Nov 30th, something I feel a great deal of pride for as a native Barbadian. As the day was approaching I felt compelled to do something artistically to commentate [sic] the moment. A friend by the name of Safiya Kinshasa suggested I create and draw some Bajan inspired superheroes. However, knowing the wealth of Barbadian comic characters that already existed, (created by Barbadian artists no less) I had the idea to draw my rendition of these characters that already existed. The premise was the same, to drop a character once a day for the whole month of November. But as the month approached I knew I wasn’t going to be finished in time. Another friend by the name of Julian Mosley had another idea to do something in Black History Month and I felt that would be perfect for this project. #BlackHistoryMonth. #BajanCharacters. So for the entire month of February I will draw a piece depicting a comic book character of Barbadian origin or ancestry created by Barbadians
Something I wanted to touch on was WHY I’m doing this. And the answer is: The comic book community and talent in Bim (i.e Barbados) is extensive, rich and incredible. Indy artists are pulling on their own culture, their own experiences to tell new stories and create new characters that look like who they see in the mirror. Growing up, all I drew was white and Asian people. Cause [sic] that’s all I saw. No one that I knew was drawing characters that looked like me, much less that were from Barbados. But times are different now. I think people are tired of the lack of diversity in the comic book world. It’s amazing to me how many CREATORS are Nubian. In this time of a hyper-connected digital world we can reach anyone across the planet. We need to show the world that someone from the Caribbean is just as good as anyone anywhere else. We’re only as small as we allow ourselves to think we are.
So you think that representation is important; not just in terms of seeing people the same colour as you but who share your cultural background.
Yes, I think it’s important to show representation in all it’s varied glory. It’s a necessity for me in this day and age to show that Nubian (i.e black) people, and Caribbean people specifically, aren’t just a single hive-minded [sic] of one note. We are a smorgasbord of layered distinct vibrant flavours. And culture plays a large role in who you are. This industry has been dominated for years by a single white American and European perspective. And in more [recent] years by an Asian influence. We need to highlight the stories and culture of the Caribbean. Thereby opening a door for the rest of the world.
Can you explain your use of the term “Nubian?”
I live in America but I don’t identify as “African-American.” And the more I think about history I fail to see how a people as vast and significant as we are can be boiled down to just a color. People of African origin have a powerful history that starts before the slave trade. Contrary to what they portray in the history books and Hollywood. So I made the personal decision to refer to myself as Nubian to represent that rich heritage.
Who are some of the creatives whose characters you are drawing and how did you go about choosing them?
A few of the characters so far: Dwayne Straughn, created by Alan Lynch, Strict created by Jeremy, Julian Moseley and Clarence Cumberbatch, Stok created by Seth Dolcy,Creed created by Omar Kennedy (co-founder of AnimeKon), Heart Man and Bolo created by Matthew Clarke, Jackal Black created by Rivenis, Powerstar created by Jerry and Roger Reese, Shakti created by Shanni, Tau by Tre Worrell (an American with Barbadian heritage) and my personal character Aizan.
More characters and creators are coming for a total of 28 characters once finished.
I chose these people for many reasons.
1) [T]hey have a product that’s out.
2) [T]hey are producing comics and books on a standard just as high as anything that’s on the stands and they deserve the recognition.
3) [E]ven the creators who’s [sic] characters don’t have books out have great ideas that I want to see published and I’m hoping [that] seeing their characters come to life gives them that extra push.
4) [A]nd they’re my friends. As Bajans we have to lift each other up.
You said there’s a wealth of Barbadian comic characters. I imagine it wasn’t hard finding any then?
Yes and no. There are a bunch of Bajan creators on the island creating a lot of varied titles. But I don’t think there are enough. And as a whole, I’m assuming there are tons of Barbadians around the planet, but yet I couldn’t find a lot of bajan characters outside of the island.
Was that disappointing?
What more do you think can be done to encourage more of this kind of creativity and expression in Barbados and to get the works of Barbadian creatives out there more?
This is a multilayered answer. I think it starts with the creators first. We have to represent OUR heritage, and put the product out there to the people. They can’t consume what isn’t there. I think creators should also support each other more. Talk about each others’ properties. Get together. Share resources. I run a comic book networking group called Xion and I’m looking to branch out to Barbados. [And hold] [m]onthly meetings for artists to do all the things I just mentioned.
Next, its [sic] on the public to support the creators. If they can’t afford the product, share a link. Do a review. Spread the word. The same for creators as well. We now live in a hyper-connected world…there’s no excuse anymore for not getting eyes on your work. Not with the way social media is.
Are all of the characters from comics or are some of them from different mediums?
Most are from comics that are already published or that are in production. Creed is from a novel called The Soltreian Chronicles.
Last question: What do you hope to achieve with this project?
I hope to showcase the talent coming out of Barbados. I hope that this highlights the diverse tapestry of “black” that makes up Black History Month. I hope this brings the Barbadian comic community closer and inspires others, Bajan or otherwise, to create more and integrate their own culture into their creations. If all goes well I will get the characters colored and re-release them in the future.
Follow Shawn on Instagram at @Pyroglyphics1 and like his Facebook page!