Something clicked in young Tarikh Brown’s brain when he opened his first “Luke Cage” comic book, a gift from his aunt.
Cage’s initial appearance in 1972’s “Hero for Hire” marked the first black superhero to feature as the protagonist and title character of a comic book. When Brown opened that comic more than a decade later, it was the first time he’d seen a character who looked like him feature prominently in the art he loved.
“I still remember those,” Brown said, “so obviously that did something.”
Now 34, Brown is intentional about including people of color in his own art, which he’s sharing with the community as the Pikes Peak Library District’s maker in residence for winter 2019. He is teaching courses on comics and sequential art on select dates at various library branches through Dec. 7, as well as working with PPLD to publish a comic book, “After Duty,” which he describes as a “Terminator knock-off” that sees dead soldiers return to the battlefield.
“It’s just been a lifelong dream,” Brown said. “… I’ve had stuff printed plenty of times, but to have something with the library, it’s kind of exciting for me. It’s given me a new energy.”
An Oakland native, Brown moved to Colorado Springs in 2013 by way of the Army, ultimately deciding to move to Fountain with wife Chloe and their three children after his time at Fort Carson came to an end.
Brown has a degree in studio art and graphic design from Humboldt State University in northern California, and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in computer science with a focus on digital media technology at UCCS. This week he talked with the Business Journal about the importance of representation in visual media and what sequential art can teach people.
Has art always been part of your life?
It’s pretty much the only thing I’ve done since I was a kid. It’s always been something I wanted to do but you know, life happened — I kind of fell off on art a little bit, but it’s always been that thing I never gave up on. Being in the military, I kind of messed my hand up — I have a rod through [my right hand] — so it’s not the same, but I still have that passion and love.
… When I was younger, I used to always go to Comic-Con, from the one in Los Angeles. That just spurred me and I started going to the ones in San Diego before it got so crazy. … My parents were creators, and I would watch them make stuff. They used to have these T-shirt designs they would go out to sell. I remember they were always entrepreneurial, so I kind of learned that from them… . After college, I worked in video games and I thought that was going to be my thing. It was cool for the time, I met a lot of good people… but it wasn’t cool for [raising kids].
… The goal for me as an artist is just to get back on it. … That’s the main thing, being able to create and make a living and take care of my family. That’s very important … I mostly work in pen and ink but I also work digitally. I do a lot of stuff with painting too, from spray cans to traditional.
What challenges have you had to face as an artist?
Now it’s a little bit different but when you’re growing up, especially for me being in the inner city, it’s like, ‘You’re going to go get this degree, you’ll never make money,’ so there’s a lot of stigma — like, ‘You’ll never make it’ type of energy — but I’m the type of person who never gave up. I always had big dreams.
… [As an art major], I was literally probably the only person of color — maybe one other person — at my school. … By year 2, I was like, ‘This might have been a mistake,’ but I still was able to go to a [historically black college]. I went on exchange to Jackson State in Mississippi for a year, so I got to experience that. … I was like, ‘I cannot go to college and not experience a school where I’m not the only person of color, where we’re talking about race topics and they look at you all the time.’
Talk about your Maker Camp.
We do a little bit of talking about what sequential art is, from telling the story with pictures … and then also introduce people to how big a comic book page is actually. For professionals who work at Marvel and DC, they usually draw on this 11-by-17 page. It’s kind of intimidating, especially when you’ve never done it before. I noticed in my first class, no one wanted to draw on it, but I let them know, ‘Don’t feel intimidated… If it takes a year, do the whole page.’
Why is it important to teach sequential art?
I feel like comic books right now [are] at a weird place because everything has been done and most of the comics have been turned into movies, so now it’s like the movies are influencing comics instead of the comics influencing the movie. It’s a slippery slope right now. And then I feel like because people don’t buy comics like they did in the ’90s or early 2000s, it’s kind of a principle or a job that could die away, and it’s something that I’ve always been passionate about, so I just try to encourage it.
Another one of my passions is hardware drum machines. … They just had a Mini Maker Faire [at 21c] and we brought out drum machines and watched kids just touch on them.
… The tactile feeling is something I feel like, as people, we’re losing. That’s another thing with the book I’m doing — I’m talking about… the slippery slope we have with technology. It’s happening right in front of our eyes. I was in Walmart and I saw a robot going through the aisles. I guess it’s a stocking robot, so it goes through and sees what’s in there so we can reorder stuff. … I thought it was creepy. I was like, ‘This is Skynet.’
Did you draw on your own military experience for “After Duty”?
This one is very science fiction, so not really, but it’s just that feeling of… ‘Damn, these people are out there, should I be doing more? I’m not doing enough.’ … I was about to [deploy to Qatar] and I couldn’t. … I had been complaining about my hand for a long time. … Right before [deployment], they were like, ‘Oh, you’re still crying about your hand. Let’s go do an MRI.’ Then, ‘Oh, we found torn ligaments in your hand. You’re not going anywhere now.’ They made me non-deployable with my stuff already sent over there. I ended up staying here and got surgery at the Air Force Academy.
… I was super depressed, I’m not going to lie, because it’s like you build up so much training and then it’s like, ‘No, you’re not going and now you’re broken.’ … With art, one thing I want to start doing is maybe using comic books as art therapy. You can tell a story and get that out [because] a lot of times it’s hard to speak to people, even to a therapist. For me, I literally recently started understanding mental health after being a veteran.
What are your future plans?
My 2020 goal is making a museum dedicated to hip-hop production equipment. … It’s going to be interactive where you can come mess with it and touch it. My main goal is just to bring that culture of production [and] understanding of analog gear. I remember going as a kid, went to the [Museum of Jurassic Technology] in Culver City and seeing all the old machines [and] the old typewriters. … I want that type of energy for out here.