In our continuing goal of highlighting creators who are doing big things on all parts of the creative spectrum, check out BlackSci-Fi.com correspondent Dennis Upkin’s recent interview with Damion Gonzales, creator of the animated world of T.A.S.K!
Dennis Upkins: Damion, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to do this interview. For everyone joining us at home, why don’t you introduce yourself.
Damion Gonzales: Thanks Denny, and thanks to (Black Sci-Fi.Com Editor-In-Chief) Robert Jeffrey for inviting me. Hi there BlackSci-Fi.com world. Well, I’m Damion Gonzales, creator of T.A.S.K (Tactical Allied Superhuman Kommand). I’m a native of Trinidad & Tobago and I’ve been an actor, director (theater) for most of my adult life. These days I work in the legal field and I’ve become an animated series/comic property creator. Funny how that works out huh?
Upkins: Is animation a field, you’ve always intended on entering?
DG: I’ve always been interested in storytelling and I come from a very rich oral history tradition so that’s always been a part of my genetic makeup as an artist. I also came up during the Golden Era of comics and the glory of cartoons in the 80’s, so we’re looking at what many consider the high point of storytelling in geekdom. When T.A.S.K. was created I think my business partner, Conliffe Matthew and I initially toyed with the idea of just a comic series.
I believe a Sunday marathon of Justice League Unlimited changed our minds. We just thought “Why not?” Of course we had no idea what we were in for. We did a lot of homework and research after that and realized exactly “Why not.” Of course by that time we were dead set on making it a reality. So although animation wasn’t the original plan it soon became the primary plan.
Upkins: Speaking as a creator who taught the subject for years, animation may just be the most challenging medium for any indie creator. Yet that didn’t seem to deter you at all. Why is that?
DG: Applied insanity? Delusion? LOL! It’s possible that those things are part of it. Many years ago in Trinidad I also used to be an MC (rapper) and producer. At the time no one in Trinidad had a clue how to produce Hip Hop, so I taught myself and then taught the engineers. So I have a bit of experience in diving into the deep end where angels would fear to tread.
Once we started getting the ideas, characters and story lines for T.A.S.K. down we realized that this was something that just had to happen. Of course the fact that we got such overwhelming support from brothers and sisters in the indie comic scene and animation helped a lot too.
Upkins: Tell us how T.A.S.K. came to be.
DG: I’d been creating characters since I was 7 years old and my crew of comic book geeks in high school went a step further and went so far as to make comics with our own characters. So the nugget of what would become T.A.S.K. existed a very long time ago. Fast forward through my “adulting” and I put comics to the side (but never out of mind). I got married and my wife and I had a daughter, then in 2008 I started getting back into the comics scene; specifically the Black Indie comics scene. I got hooked.
I started creating again and took the first steps toward T.A.S.K. The particular idea I came up with was ahead of its time and I probably wouldn’t have done it justice anyway. However what did happen was that I inadvertently sparked my daughter’s interest in comic book geekery. That’s where the turnaround happened. Because in my mind, that created a need for her to see superheroes that looked like her.
Of course once you look around you’ll realize how small that number actually is right? So I’d say around 2011-2012 the hamster that jogs on the wheel in my brain got a jolt of expresso and we were off to the races. Of course being me, I couldn’t just create one character…I had to create a whole universe.
Upkins: How did you connect with the other members of your team?
DG: Most of the members of the T.A.S.K. team are people I’ve known all my life or for the majority of it. My co-writer Zak Farmer is my best friend and we’ve known each other since we were seven. He’s got a degree in Film and has worked extensively back in Trinidad in every single facet of Film and Television. His film/TV knowledge and my theater background made the scripting process click.
My business partner Matthew is someone I’ve known since I was a teen and our fathers went to the same high school. Mario Sargeant, who designed the T.A.S.K. logo and tries to keep us on point with managing the brand (what a battle he has) is a friend and MC from my old Hip Hop days. The newest “team member” is Sean Izaakse who does most of the art you see for the characters.
Sean is from South Africa and we found him after an extensive DeviantArt search. His art was a large part of making
T.A.S.K. a “real thing” in a lot of folks’ eyes. Sean’s art made people stand up and take notice – of course that’s probably why Marvel recently snapped him up for a run on their Thunderbolts book.
On the animation side we contracted Echo Bridge Pictures from St. Petersburgh, FL to do the trailer. This was on the recommendation of Chuck Collins (Bounce) and his partner Keith Miller of Rat Ronin Studios. Meeting Echo Bridge was like meeting a second family. Esteban Valdez who’s the head honcho down there treated T.A.S.K. like his own baby. We’re partners in this thing now. We even hit up Kidscreen Summit (the world’s leading conference on the business of kids entertainment) together earlier this year and he was a huge help pointing us towards potential industry partners. That’s my mans ‘n ‘em right there.
Upkins: For the uninitiated, share with us the mythos of T.A.S.K.
DG: The world of T.A.S.K. is a world just like ours…NOT! It’s our world if “gods” (or something like them) were real and the American folk character John Henry was an immortal superhuman who created a UN sanctioned intergovernmental organization that enabled international police cooperation and action in superhuman matters. I like to call it “superhero action set in a truly global reality.” We’re dealing with a world where you can have a superhero from Tanzania throwing down against rogue British super soldiers.
So you have this almost 70 year old, established, international superhuman organization with members all over the world, having to deal with the fallout of an alien artifact falling into the hands of a 15 year old kid from Crown Heights, Brooklyn – an artifact that is known and feared throughout the universe. An artifact that could unleash untold destruction in the wrong hands.
T.A.S.K. has no choice but to upend this poor kid’s life and take him into their ranks, where he meets other young heroes-in-training; T.A.S.K.’s next generation. The battle for what he will eventually become is the tale of T.A.S.K. So we’re telling quite a personal story against the backdrop of a much larger tapestry.
Upkins: Which characters would you define as key players in the series?
DG: Of course our 15 year old Brooklyn native Leon Rodney aka Lightning Rod is our focus. This is a world we are introduced to through him. Leon is a kid who’s seen some pain in his life and is dealing with family issues when his world comes crumbling down. The other young heroes; Django (a Yoruba-Meso American demigod), Glitch (a tech savant character based on my own daughter), ONYX (blind enigmatic juggernaut), Mongoose Khan (an Indian animal spirit avatar) and Baskerville (from the cursed British family line).
Then there are some of the more senior T.A.S.K. members; John Henry, Meridian, Centurion, Obelisk, Kraken, Burning Tiger. Of course with heroes you have to have villains. Our villains belong to a group called The Factory and are led by a guy called Legacy. He is bad, bad news. Leon’s parents, particularly his NYPD detective father, are also very important to the story.
Upkins: As creators and storytellers, you and I both know there are a plethora of stories and projects out there. What do you think makes T.A.S.K. distinctive and appealing to prospective and existing audiences alike?
DG: Big Damned Heroes for Everyone!! Once people realized that was the direction we were coming from a lot of people got on. People get a sense that we’re going to be telling a REALLY big story and they’re excited for that. We are telling a really big story…and it’s a big story in a fully fleshed out world.
Just recently we introduced our fans to The First World – which is Africa’s superhuman team. There are members of that team that are also members of T.A.S.K. but people didn’t expect that we would do something like that or go that deep. Our goal is to create a universe as intricate and as expansive as the ones you’re used to in other forms of media and to tell a great story there.
We also work really hard to create characters. If the audience doesn’t care about the character you’ll never be able to take them on the journey with you. They just won’t take the plunge. That’s why our T.A.S.K. Tuesday character profiles are so in-depth. We have to pique your interest and make you want to join our world.
Upkins: Diversity in speculative fiction. Obviously it is a red hot issue. As a creator of color what has been your experience in producing and promoting your work? What’s been the reaction from fans and industry colleagues?
YouTube trailer DG: I feel we’ve been lucky in terms of our timing. When I say that I mean that we’re really coming into our own in a really fascinating period of social media. That T.A.S.K. trailer has been viewed more than 7,000 times on YouTube since we debuted it. Now that’s a small number for a video but it would be a huge number for issues of an indie Black comic right? So we balance those things in our heads.
Diversity is hardwired into T.A.S.K.’s very DNA so while certain people would see us as diverse, we simply see it as the way the world is. It’s diverse if you’re looking at it from a U.S. or Western media perspective but when you realize that the team behind the product is a group that grew up with a different world view….well one man’s reality is another man’s diversity.
I have to say that reactions across the board have been spectacular. The trailer definitely evokes that feeling that you’re a kid on Saturday morning and you’re on the couch with your cereal waiting for the adventure to begin. That’s the mark we wanted to hit and we got there. Earlier this year when we showed at Kidscreen there were industry professionals pulling their colleagues from meetings to see the trailer.
For a bunch of guys from Trinidad with no animation experience and an IP that no one there had been exposed to previously, I think we did very well. We definitely stood out and I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of those folks. It’s a business of content and contacts so we’ll see.
Upkins: What is your advice to aspiring creators? Specifically creators of color?
DG: Work tirelessly to make your concept the best it can be. Let people poke holes in your idea, let them find fault lines in your story, let them find cracks in your reasoning. That’s the way your concept gets better. When you have to justify your creative decisions it only makes you stronger as a creator. Your audience will thank you.
Creators of color have unique challenges of course but you have got to get out there and fight for your audience. I’m sorry but you don’t get a pass just because you’re a creator of color and I should be your audience. Many in the prospective audience are not at the consciousness level where that’s a thing that is going to happen. Would I love it if that were the case? Sure. But I’m often in two minds about that. I’m not sure it should be.
If people are going to pay money for a product, I think one should give them the best product possible. Some might think it’s a hard stance but the competition is a well-oiled, well financed machine with 60 plus years of brand recognition. If you’re going up against that, then as Trinis would say “yuh hadda come good.” Make the best product you can and then find a mountain, go to the top of it and scream day and night that you have got a good product. Quality rises.
Upkins: What is the current state of T.A.S.K.? What lies ahead?
DG: As many know I’m also part of The Operative Network which is a creative studio of writers and artists. We’re talking about guys like Hannibal Tabu (Aspen Comics, Stranger Comics), Quinn McGowan (Project: Wildfire, Legends Press Comics), Ray A. Height (Midnight Tiger, Action Lab), Thaddeus Howze and James Washington.
So while you’ll see more T.A.S.K. characters coming on our regular #TASKTuesday drops, Hannibal and Thaddeus are working on some prose pieces for adventures of characters within the T.A.S.K. Universe. I’ve already seen some early drafts and frankly you guys are not ready. LOL. You can also look forward to some spectacular new art pieces from Quinn McGowan and Ray A. height in the future.
Additionally we’re in talks with a couple distributors with regard to the animated series but that’s all I can say at the moment.
Upkins: Where can fans find you online and keep up with news about the series?
DG: Well they can find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/taskuniverse and more of our world and the Operative Network at www.operative.net. They can look out for #TASKTuesday drops and much, much more!