Like anyone in the entertainment press, I somehow seem to get on all sorts of promotional lists. Press releases, event hype, stuff like that. Most of it's junk and gets filed appropriately, but every so often something shows up in my inbox that really makes me sit up straight and say, "Whoa." This is one of those things.
Regular readers will know that I have really strong feelings about school bullying, as documented here and here. So when I got a notice about a small-press outfit trying to get a superhero comic going that addressed that very subject, I was extremely interested.... especially since the premise sounded viable for a long-term series and not just a "Very Special Episode of Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends" or something like that.
The project is called M.O.B. (Mind Over Bullies) and it's from Damon Smith at Khamicom Entertainment.
I was interested enough to get hold of Damon and ask him a few things about the project, and after reading what he had to say I thought it was worth using this space to boost the signal on the project. So here's the interview.
Tell us about the comic. What sets it apart from your typical teen-hero book?
You know, the thing that we are trying to do with this series is make it clear that the characters are just like every other teen in the world. They go to school, they try to fit in, they have weaknesses, vulnerabilities, personality flaws, etc.
We wanted everything to seem real-world, including the setting and the characters. We wanted to steer clear of anything remotely sci-fi.
So the group's lead character, Margo, finds herself the target of bullying by three girls that used to be her close friends and it gets so bad that it drives her to try to take her own life.
She survives the suicide attempt and upon re-inserting herself into the school environment she stumbles upon a major find. She inadvertently witnesses one of her attackers experiencing what it feels like to be picked on....which gets Margo's mind racing!
Studies have shown that most people (children, teens and adults) bully others in an attempt to hide their own flaws or make themselves appear more powerful. Margo’s discovery inspires her to take on bullies by showing them how it feels, and also show bullying victims that they are not the ones with the problem. Of course she can’t do it alone, so that's when she sets out to put together a team...as studies also show that having a support system greatly increase the chances of successfully handling instances of bullying.
That’s why the group calls themselves the MOB. Because they are a group of smart kids that use their minds to overcome bullying --Mind Over Bullies-- and because they recognize that as a group they have a greater chance of taking on the school, the neighborhood and the world....lol!
The hope is that readers will be able to identify with the characters so we wanted to make them be normal kids, because it is normal everyday kids that are dealing with bullying issues not kids with super powers.
Two things we wanted to push in the makeup of the characters was first, having a female lead for the comic – we want to promote a strong female image and encourage young women to be confident in themselves. In talking to many female comic book enthusiasts we were made aware of negative feelings surrounding female comic book characters being objectified and sexualized in appearance. We wanted to take Margo in a different direction and show a beautiful young woman that wasn't a sex object and that was smart and strong....Margo is a bit sarcastic at times, but she’s no pushover.
And second, we wanted to show a multi-racial cast of characters, just because bullying happens to people of all races.
How did you come to create this project? Was there a particular impetus or is it something you've been building to for a while?
One day I woke up, and as most of the world does, I checked my Facebook feed. I came upon the story of 15-year-old Felicia Garcia, a high school student from New York. I was horrified to read that she took her own life by jumping in front of a subway train.
As I read more about her story, I saw that apparently her suicide was to escape an onslaught of harassment from fellow students over alleged sexual encounters. As I began to research the topic more, I began to see that this was not an isolated thing. Children from different areas of the country and the world were actually taking their own lives to escape from being bullied and needless to say, my heart was broken. I see it as a crime. I couldn’t believe that the whole dynamic had essentially become an epidemic. to the point where the phrase “bullycide” was coined. Bullying-induced suicide. I was floored.
Here’s where it hit home for me. Two years ago I started to receive the blessing of nieces and nephews. It started out as one niece, then a nephew and another niece, then another niece and then one last nephew....so that’s three nieces and two nephews in about a two-year span.
I have to tell you that I am terrified for my nieces and nephews to go to school one day, because they ARE going to have to deal with issues like bullying.
I am especially concerned for the girls, which is why I chose a female lead for this comic. Young ladies and women have it rough and in fact, some studies show that females make up the larger number of bullying victims.
We wanted to show a strong female teen image to sort of portray the idea that a girl can be strong, use her brains... and though emotions can run high (as they do for Margo which is why she tried to take her own life) she can be a leader and take control of a bullying situation.
I don’t have kids of my own, but my nieces and nephews are like my kids.....so I want them to have confidence and be smart. The stories that I write and projects that I work on all stem from an effort to create tools that will make those five kids smart, confident and ready to adapt to life.
So we enlisted different writers for the MOB comic series and are currently looking for more female writers to help us re-do Margo more from the female point of view.
I know comic books and story books are not the end solution, but it’s a start and my hope is that children, teens and adults will benefit from every project that I work on.
Do you have plans to get this into schools? Have you reached out to educational associations or other possible partner organizations?
You know, I haven’t reached out to the schools yet, we are hoping to get a feel from the public first and I think the success of the Kickstarter project will be somewhat of an indicator.
We are trying to reach out to The Cartoon Network to possibly carry the animated series, if we are successful with our funding and are able to create the pilot episode. We are always open to ideas about promoting the comic and possibly the animated cartoon.
For now our short term goal is to get the comic created....get the animation created...and make available for free through the web and through app stores.
You say your hope is to show alternative responses to bullying other than self-destruction, or violence. Can you elaborate on this a little for our readers? Say a kid's getting bullied and he or she doesn't have the MOB in their corner-- what are some options for the real world?
A few things we hope to present through the comic:
1) Suicide is not an option – we want to stress that first.2) Don’t try to handle the problem alone.....get support, from friends at school, teachers, or parents.3) Use the people around you to come up with well thought out solutions.
Each situation is going to be different and we’re no experts but standing up to the bully (with support) is the first line of defense...be confident in speaking up and telling the bully that their actions are not cool. The MOB has as their tactic the goal of showing bullies that the bully’s own flaws are the reason why the bully is bullying other people. The MOB’s hope is to humble the bully and possibly evoke some empathy.
Each child, teen or adult will have to decide what is the best well-thought-out solution for them (and we in no way are presenting this comic as a manual to dealing with bullies) but the core belief is 1) Suicide is not an option 2) Get Support 3) Use that support system to come up with a solution.
Tell us about the animated cartoon. Is that planned to be running simultaneously with the comic? Same story or different stories?
The stories will definitely be different from the comic. We have engaged several screen writers that are eager to write some scripts for the series.
I don’t know how many out there are familiar with the A-Team and Scooby Doo....but our thought is that the animated version will be a cross between the two shows.
The A-Team stood up for the oppressed and used a tactical, methodical, skilled plan and the kids from Scooby Doo put their heads together to go after criminals...sometimes they enlisted the help of Law Enforcement or other entities more powerful than themselves.....and they were SMART.....and their smarts often solved a lot of the crimes......so that is the direction we are thinking of going.
Once we get the comic book going...our hope is to immediately begin producing the cartoon should we reach our stretch goals through our Kickstarter campaign. Do you see this as a limited series or an ongoing effort?
Honestly, I always think big. I see this as an ongoing thing for sure. We hope to have the comic and the animation translated into 8 to 10 languages so that the comic and the animation can be enjoyed worldwide.
I see a lot of potential in the project if we can get it going strong. I am always the optimist....enthusiast and workhorse when it comes to any project I work on.
Anything else you want to mention about this project, or perhaps others you've got going?We have been approached by artists that want to revamp the artwork and make it more DC / Marvel like, and we will probably do that for the comic book.
Once this project is completed we are already working on a campaign to create an animated web series for another popular venture of our “Sock 'n' Boots.” My nieces and nephews inspired that project as well.
The Sock 'n' Boots ipad/ipod/android apps have been downloaded thousands of times all around the world. Here is a 2D we did some time back. And here is the online flip book. There's more at www.socknboots.com.
So there you have it. Thanks to Damon for his time, as well as the art he provided to go with this column. The Kickstarter is here, with a video trailer and lots more art and information about the series. We're in for a few bucks and I'd urge you to consider it as well.
See you next week.