The fight for equality in mainstream media is constant. We've made progress, but things are changing slowly with the sands of time. Turn on your TV, open a magazine, put on your favorite Netflix show. Have we achieved diversity yet? Maybe- or maybe in a pseudo, superficial way that convinces the majority that we've put in the work, but how does it look from someone else's perspective. Someone who grew up without a slew of role models to choose from. That's the case for most women, but even more for women of color. This becomes intensified if we're looking into the niche of say superheroes.
As a child, I adored the Disney Princesses. I envied the ease of Aurora's love life and Cinderella gorgeous gown. It was all I knew. As young girls we are taught to adore the dresses and diamond rings. We are told that if we work hard at our appearance and politeness, we will be rewarded with a handsome prince. Don't get me wrong, I love diamonds and dresses just as much as the next person, but what is the damage when we are taught to measure our value only in how attractive the opposite sex thinks we are. Things changed in my adolescence. I went to see an animated Batman film in the theaters with my boyfriend at the time and my perspective quickly molded. Batgirl was sexy, smart, kind, and tough. While my boyfriend at his friends may have seen the film as just a quintessential Batman comic, to me it was satire. Batgirl seemed to address the issues of sexism in the superhero world head on, even if no one else was listening. Bearing that in mind, I sought after other comics like Batman that focused on female protagonists. Of course, I landed on Wonder Woman and just as quickly as my search started, it stopped because there just wasn't much out there. Then, I stumbled upon Aza Comics.
Aza Comics is a superhero universe made up of diverse female superheroes. The mastermind behind it all is Jazmin Truesdale who experienced similar frustrations with the limiting representation of women in the world of comic books, she grew up reading."My dad and I bonded over superheroes and sci-fi growing up. One of my earliest memories is of my dad and I watching Michael Keaton in Batman together. I would say that I was a teenager when I started to distance myself from comics. While there were female superheroes very few if any were of color and I lost interest. I still kept up with wonder woman but that was pretty much it," she recalls.
Jazmin revisited the comic world as she embarked on her professional career. "I was designing a game for one of my other companies and I realized that I was created female superheroes," she says. With a background in business strategy, Jazmin conducted research on the market and realized that the industry hadn't changed since she grew frustrated with it as a teen. "Growing up my friends had always been incredibly diverse," she adds. "I knew that if I wanted to see black female superheroes they I'm sure my latina and south asian girlfriends would want to see themselves reflected as well… and The Keepers were born."
Jazmin built The Keepers Universe and Aza Comics for women. A lot of research went into the company before launching. She polled women about their interest in comic books and in turn found out that women like the stories and superhero culture but preferred to read novels to comic books. Jazmin tailored her books to this preference intertwining classic comic book style illustrations in full novels. She adds that "female superheroes have traditionally been created for male consumption," Aza is created for women by women.
Starting your own business is no easy feat and especially when you are also the creative force of the endeavor. Jazmin told me that the most challenging part of launching Aza was finding an illustrator who could properly illustrate her diverse characters. "I had top people in the industry sending me their work but they always fell short when it came down to illustrating Kaia, my leading black superheroine. They were either illustrating her with eurocentric features or exaggerating her feature so that she looked like a caricature." Finally, Truesdale found Remero Colston and is extremely grateful for that. Jazmin says another challenge was getting people to take a risk on a female-centric comic company. She commonly heard, "This is the most amazing thing I've ever seen but we don't know what to do with this so we'll pass." Even so, Jazmin persisted. She said, "but then I would go present my characters at a comic con or a school and the response would be so positive and so strong that I knew the only way to make Aza work was to do it myself." She then set forth to spearhead all aspects of the company from creatives to marketing to PR to even creating her own supply chain.
Kala Aza Comics
Something very special about the Aza Universe is that the comics are inspired by real women. Jazmin, grew up loving global entertainment and has collected female role models over the years. These strong, diverse women were the foundation of the characters in the Aza Universe. Jazmin explains, "I was listening to a lot of Lil Kim when I was creating Genie Dos Santos so she has a little bit of Kim's hardcore attitude but the character didn't seem complete. One day, I was listening to Nicki Minaj and something she said had me laughing so hard that I knew Nicki's cheeky humor was the finishing touch that the character needed."
Jazmin Truesedale with a Girl Scout Troop talking female entrepreneurship.
Recently, Aza has released their first installment of The Keepers. The novel focuses on how the Keepers got to Earth and who they are. In the past, one man was chosen to protect the universe, but now the new "chosen ones" are all women. Talk about the future being female. The second installment will follow shortly after and Truesdale announced that they'll be releasing a second kids book along with a new series called Genie & Jase for Aza's LGBTQ+ fans. Aza is also launching a career program called Dare to Be Legendary raising awareness of entrepreneurship, the arts, and STEM careers in schools and youth organizations.
Watch the trailer here.