Durham News: Opinion

Marc Lee: Real-life wonder woman

I grew up watching the Jetsons, Flintstones, Looney Tunes and Fat Albert ... and as a adult, I have definitely enjoyed checking out cartoon characters at the movies and on television. I have even on occasion popped into one of our local Comi-Cons.

But, as the child of folks involved in the civil rights movement, I did not watch these shows with a blind eye. I remember as a young adult picking up a book of my Dad’s that talked about the racism, sexism and pro-imperialism of early cartoons called “How To Read Donald Duck,” written by Ariel Dorfman who calls Durham home and his co-author, Armand Mattelart.

Like much of pop culture, we don’t control enough of our own images. And, when we do get our foot in the door of the entertainment industry, we sometimes play right into the stereotypes instead of trying to address them.

Well, a young woman from Durham plans to change that. She is using modern technology to create a media empire based on cartoon characters that reflect the larger community.

I met Jazmin Truesdale, 27, at Beyu Cafe.

Comic books don’t enjoy the market share they used to, she told me, and the major players, Marvel and DC, make up more than 60 percent of the market. She thinks many would-be comic book readers today are gamers instead.

Still, among the characters she personally likes are Wonder Woman, The Power Rangers, and Captain Planet. “Among the Power rangers my personal favorite is Pink Ranger because I like her gymnastic abilities. And with Captain Planet, I like the message, that was a cartoon that said something.”

Truesdale also loves TV’s black and white era and shows from the ’60s and ’70s.

“One of the shows I have been watching lately is ‘Hart to Hart,’ the detective show, from the ’80s,” she says. “I am fascinated by the history of American cinema and what makes a quality TV show or cinematic film. The quality of cinema has changed; it’s not as good as it could be, but I see a shift for the better. I want my productions to start a trend of better character development for women. We’re more than just pretty faces for the camera.”

Her initial launch of characters next year will feature a league of five female superheroes who represent the major ethnic groups of the world. She later plans to introduce male heroes as well as LGBT characters.

She pulls no punches in her critique of current women characters.

“She-Hulk, what’s that?! There is this tendency to create female versions of popular male characters, like Superman/Supergirl, or make her a love interest to give her relevance,” Truesdale says. “It’s not like Robin who became Nightwing and now has his own separate identity from Batman.”

She also talks about some character traits have changed over time and even some of the couples have changed. She talks about how Wonder Woman’s lasso originally got people to do whatever she wanted and now it only commands people to tell the truth, and how Superman is now paired with Wonder Women and the storyline of Superman dating Lois Lane has been totally changed. Of her own company, she is also hoping to have merchandise ranging from clothes and lunchboxes to help promote her product.

One of Truesdale’s other careers is being a risk management expert.

Already, she has hooked up with Triangle Sparkplug Games out of Cary for game development and Imaginovation out of Raleigh for the interactive media aspect. She also has enlisted global illustrators which she met through the website Deviantart

She also plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign very soon, with the possibility for contributors to have a character fashioned after themselves. And Truesdale envisions a children’s adaptation of her products as well as a young adult and teen series. The children’s series will have less fighting and will help children learn about science and math, as well as help with their reading skills.

And, while some heavy hitters, including John Royal, have shown interest, she has made it very clear that this is her vision and she intends to control it. “There have been some celebrities that have shown interest, but they have to understand my vision. The people and companies that I partner with have to believe in maintaining the integrity of this project.”

Truesdale believes her female characters will succeed because they are being developed by a woman for women. “More and more women are getting into comics and gaming, but both industries primarily market to men,” she says. “I’m hoping to change that.”

But, she also wants her characters to have mass appeal. Like TV’s “Scandal,” which has “good quality writing, is not stereotyping, and characters (that) are three-dimensional.”

Already she is envisioning her franchise to be as big as the Hunger Games, and something that is supported by both her parents and that she can leave for her sister and other relatives and her own kids if she ever has any.

You can reach Marc Lee at bluesradio@gmail.com