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Jazmin Truesdale grew up reading Wonder Woman comic books and still talks excitedly about the time her father took her to the movies to see Batman starring Michael Keaton. But as time went on, Truesdale, now 29, began to lose interest in comics.

When you’re a kid you are not looking at color, but as I got older I could only name two Black superheroes off the top off my head. You start to notice those things and then you lose interest,” Truesdale, who lives in Durham, North Carolina, told NewsOne in an interview. “We have many powerful women superheroes but they are not empowered. It’s like an elephant tied to a chair.

She eventually regained an interest in reading comics, but the same problem persisted––a lack of diversity. It was the era before Luke Cage hit Netflix, prior to the Wonder Woman movie being slated for release, and The Black Panther had yet to become a major character in the Marvel universe.

So Truesdale did what any empowered woman would do: She created her own universe of diverse women superheroes by founding Aza Comics.

Don’t wait around for people to give you what you want, period. As much as I love DC and Marvel, they were taking a lackluster approach [to diversity]. They are doing better and making efforts and I’m glad, but a few years ago, I didn’t see anything at all,” Truesdale said. “If you want it, I can guarantee there are other people [looking for the same product].

Truesdale began researching and testing ideas before developing the concept for her comic universe. She found that women wanted a universe with limitless possibilities and characters who looked like them.

The Aza universe contains several different realms. After a war, all the people in the various realms migrated to the Milky Way Realm where Earth, the only inhabitable planet, is located. The people from the different realms explain the ethnic diversity on earth.The main heroine of the group is Kala who is from the oldest realm which is similar to the continent of Africa. Kala, who lives in the South Carolina Gullah Sea Islands, can fly by manipulating force and can control energy so that she shoots out energy beams. She is trained in combat and gifted in languages.

But there are other women representing varied diverse realms such as Adanna, a mechanic in Mumbai, India who can fix anything and has super strength and morphing powers. Ixchel was raised in Bogotá,Columbia, and has the power to manipulate electricity. A skilled hacker, she earned a Ph.D. in genetics and an M.D. by the age of 18.

A Black woman superhero with deadlocks 

Together, Kala, and all the other women, form The Keepers. With artist Remero Colston, whom Truesdale calls her “artistic twin,” the duo created a universe and a format that would attract women. But it wasn’t easy.

When she was looking for an artist, Truesdale says she kept getting drawings of women that, ahem, weren’t quite right.

I had top people in the industry sending me their stuff but they had no grasp of what Black women looked like. They were sending me White women who were colored brown,” Truesdale said. Other drawings bordered on the pornographic side, she said.

I had top people in the industry sending me their stuff but they had no grasp of what Black women looked like. They were sending me White women who were colored brown,” Truesdale said. Other drawings bordered on the pornographic side, she said.

When Truesdale at first shopped her idea to major comic book companies, they told her that Kala, with her dreadlocks, would never sell. Truesdale says executives wanted Fenna, the British super vixen with the power to manipulate emotions, as the lead. Now, Truesdale can’t keep Kala merchandise in stock.

People love Kala’s hair. They love that Adanna is an Indian, female mechanic living in Mumbai,” Truesdale said. “I try to put the characters in a position where they are outside the categorical boxes women are placed into. It’s one thing to tell a woman she can do whatever she wants, but it’s another thing to actually show it.”

Imagine a transgender superhero

Truesdale also reimagined the comic format to better fit women. The serial monthly comic style just didn’t fit women, Truesdale found through her research. Many found the story to be either too condensed in monthly style comics or spread out over too many months. Many women said they didn’t have the time to commit to getting a comic every month. So Truesdale created what she calls “novel comics,” where most of the book is the written story and the action scenes are illustrated.

People read the comics for the action scenes. I wanted to get heart and depth so you just don’t see them fighting but you get a sense of what they are about,” Truesdale said.

The Keepers is imagined as a six volume set with Origins as the first volume. Aza Comics also completed a children’s book in December that depicts the five Keepers as children. Due to popular demand, Truesdale is creating a print edition of her first novel while working on the others.

She’s also seeking to expand her work into the lucrative world of movies and video games. But trumpeting diversity in her work remains a priority. Truesdale, for example, is imagining a transgender superhero project written by a transgender person.

I want to show there is a universe where there is no limit to what a woman can be, especially women of color,” Truesdale said in closing.

Jeff Mays is a contributing writer for NewsOne, specializing in politics and news about missing persons in conjunction with the Black and Missing Foundation. Jeff is the former New York City politics reporter for DNAinfo New York and also a former reporter for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Root, and Wired magazine. Jeff is the recipient of reporting awards from the New York Press Club, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and the National Association of Black Journalists. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffCMays.


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